Sunday, January 4, 2015

Don't Make a Scene: Broadcast News

The Story: Broadcast News was James L. Brooks' first film since his extraordinary adaptation of Larry McMurtry's Terms of Endearment and it was full to bursting with good ideas. A smart film about smart people, it showed how even those with their wits about them can settle for the comfortable, how idealism can be steam-rollered for emotion, and how objectivity is an illusion where self-interest is concerned. And these are the people delivering to us what we need to know to run a representative democracy. Gosh, what do you think the ramifications of that might be? (Bear in mind this came out during the Reagan administration). These were issues that couldn't be brought up on the "Mary Tyler Moore" show, but no doubt Brooks was thinking about them. But you couldn't compare Ted Baxter with The Devil--it'd kill the comedic momentum (Brooks said that the three leads of Broadcast News each came up to him during shooting and asked "Is Tom The Devil?"). It is also one of those superbly written scenes where research informs character, where character informs humor, and where humor reveals truth. It's people using intellectual arguments to defend and disguise emotion. Note also Brooks' 'non-directorial" directing. Simple scene. But look how it's framed with Brooks and Hunter occupying their own spaces in the screen. How the architecture of the room is used--two doors to two rooms suggesting choices to be made, and how Hunter is usually situated on the landing, so she's higher--on a pedestal?--than Brooks (also it's practical to keep the elfin Hunter in frame with the taller Brooks). This is one of my favorite scenes in all of cinema, and it was delivered with consummate skill by Albert Brooks, who was amazing throughout the entire movie. Even he hasn't written himself something this good to display his talents.

The Set-up: Aaron (Albert Brooks) and Jane (Holly Hunter) work for a DC news network--he as a reporter, she as a producer. They are young, driven, devoted, idealistic and neurotic as all hell. They are also the best of friends. Then Tom (William Hurt) is hired on a fast-track to an anchor position. Tom is practical, without much depth, preppy-handsome and shallowly earnest. Where Aaron and Jane use story to evoke emotion, Tom just uses emotion. Tom and Jane are attracted to each other, while Aaron thinks he's a big phony. Tonight is an important night for Jane. She and Tom are going on a Big Date, but she makes the mistake of visiting Aaron to console him after a disasterous try-out as a week-end anchor. When Aaron sees her dressed up for her date with Tom it is too much to take and he angrily kicks her out of his house. But as she reaches the door, he regrets it.


Aaron: Come back here. C'mon. Don't go.
Jane(really upset): This is important to me!
Aaron: I think it's important for you, too! C'mon. Sit down. Siddown.
Jane (sits down on some magazines): What is this?
Aaron (irritated): I'll take it. (sighs)
Jane: What?!
Aaron: Give me one minute, please. This is tough!
(Aaron goes outside, gathers himself, and re-enters)
Aaron: Aaaaah, Jane! Okay. Let's take the part that has nothing to do with me.
Aaron: Let me just be your trusted friend now, the one that gets to say all the awful stuff, okay?
Jane: I guess? Yes.
Aaron: You can't end up with Tom. Because it totally goes against everything that you're about.
Jane: Yeah. Being a basket case...
Aaron: I know you care about him. I've never seen you this way with anybody, so don't get me wrong when I tell you that Tom...
Aaron:...while being a very nice guy... the devil.
Jane: (She's had it. She gets up to leave) This isn't friendship. You're crazy, you know that?
Aaron: What do ya think the devil's gonna look like if he's around?
Jane: God...
Aaron: Come on, no one's gonna be taken in by a guy in a long, red pointy tail.
Aaron: Come on, what's he going to sound like (Snarls and claws)

Aaron: No. I'm semi-serious here.
Jane: You're serious that--
Aaron: He will be attractive, he'll be nice and helpful.
Aaron: He'll get a job where he influences a great, God-fearing nation.
Aaron: He'll never do an evil thing, he'll never deliberately hurt a living thing. He'll just, bit by little bit, lower our standards where they're important.

Aaron: Just a tiny bit. Just coax along flash over substance. Just a tiny little bit.
Aaron: And he'll talk about all of us "really being salesmen."
(She turns away)
Aaron (sourly): And he'll get all the great women.

Jane(at the door): Hey, Aaron? I think you're the devil!
Aaron: You know I'm not!
Jane (Gets in his face): How?!
Aaron: Because I think we have the kind of friendship where if I were the devil, you'd be the only one I'd tell!
Jane: Well, you were awful quick to run after Tom's help when you--
Aaron: All right! Fine! Yes!
Aaron: And if things had gone well for me tonight then I probably wouldn't be saying any of this.
Aaron: I grant you everything!
Aaron: But give me this: He personifies everything that you've been fighting against.
Aaron: And I'm in love with you. (Jane is taken aback)
Aaron: How do you like that? I buried the lede.
(He falls back on the couch exhausted)
Aaron: I've got to not say that out loud.
Aaron: It takes too much out of me.
Aaron: I never fought for anyone before.
Aaron: Does anyone win one of these things?

Broadcast News

Words by James L. Brooks

Pictures by
Michael Ballhaus and James L. Brooks

Broadcast News is avaialble on DVD on Fox Home Video 

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