Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Movie Still of the Day, Ingmar Bergman Edition: Fanny and Alexander

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - First Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) two days ago, now Michaelangelo Antonioni yesterday (1921-2007). Who's next---Godard???

Regarding the cinematic achievements of Bergman and Antonioni, I'll leave it to more experienced and knowledgeable cineastes to write more eloquently about them. For me, their deaths just reminded me of how little I actually know their respective bodies of work---as opposed to merely knowing of them. (I still haven't seen either Persona or L'Avventura yet---and I call myself a film buff! Pathetic, I know...pathetic.)

Still, I didn't want to leave their deaths unacknowledged in this blog. So my contribution will simply be another movie still, this one of a Bergman film that I have seen, and one that I admire very much: from the opening moments of Fanny and Alexander, a wonderful film that functions both as a warm, loving portrait of turbulent childhood and an investigation of one artist's beginnings. For those put off by Bergman's gloominess and rampant introspection in most of his other films, Fanny and Alexander may be a lot more approachable, because it covers typically Bergmanesque territory---faith, God, religion, human connection, etc.---in a perhaps more accessible style (read: less gloomy, for the most part). I just might watch it again sometime this week (I was planning to catch up on the first two Jason Bourne films in anticipation of this weekend's release of The Bourne Ultimatum---but I have a feeling that, however good those films may be, an Ingmar Bergman film would probably be much more rewarding in the long run).

I haven't seen enough of Antonioni's major works to have much fresh things to say about him as a film artist---Blow-Up is pretty much my only personal experience with his celebrated '60s oeuvre (I did see his contribution to the three-part anthology Eros, "The Dangerous Thread of Things," and I'll just say that I like it a lot less than I do Blow-Up). But what I admire about Blow-Up---its evocation, through Antonioni's meditative visual style, of a disengaged soul amidst a hedonistic (if admittedly rather attractively so) society---is apparently what Antonioni's body of work is all about.

Boy, so many directors dying whose work I'm barely familiar with! Well, at least I've seen some Bergman and Antonioni; when it comes to the late Taiwanese director Edward Yang, who passed away a few weeks ago, I pretty much know nothing about his films except that he made the celebrated A Brighter Summer Day and Yi Yi and that his films are the humanistic and sympathetic kind that I respond to quite intensely.

So many movies, seemingly so little time. (Sometimes I feel like I should just take a break from everything and go into a private movie retreat for a few months...)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

It's Still Good, It's Still Good!: The Simpsons Movie

(Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Though I still watch The Simpsons fairly regularly, at this point I'm mostly doing it out of loyalty. Let's face it, as subversive as the show was when it hit the airwaves in 1990, The Simpsons has become an institution itself, and while the show occasionally has its moments of comic gold (its recent parody of 24 boasted a few witty visual gags in spoofing various facets of its parody-ready target, right down to its split-screens and its familiar narrative twists), mostly it just seems like a bland, if sincere, imitation of its former masterful self---not unfunny, but nowhere near as satirically sharp, emotionally touching or as out-and-out memorable as it used to be in its best years (pretty much anything before Seasons 9 or 10, I'd say). More often than not, The Simpsons seem more like they're coasting on the good will of those amazing early seasons---and I guess I still watch (and intermittently enjoy) because of that same good will. The achievement of the show and its place in television history is hard to deny, but watch some of the newer episodes and, despite the amusement one might find in them, one might have a difficult time figuring out what exactly made it so great over a decade ago.

On the other hand, maybe it's too much to expect a groundbreaking series that has been on the air for 18 seasons to be as fresh or as sharp as it was as a younger show, especially when its influence---its pop-culture takeoffs, its attacks on comfortable bourgeois notions of family life and of American society in general---has been absorbed so completely into the mainstream and into newer shows like Family Guy and South Park. (These days, I'll readily admit that I'd rather watch a rude, crude but thought-provoking South Park episode than another, relatively tamer Simpsons episode.)

So perhaps one shouldn't go into The Simpsons Movie (**½ out of ****) with expectations that it'll somehow singlehandedly restore the series to its former brilliance, and instead enjoy it for what it is: a fun, amusing, occasionally touching CinemaScope transplantation of the TV series. It doesn't exactly push the boundaries of the show for the big screen in the same way the South Park movie did---it's mostly content to be another summer movie adventure, albeit one with a distinctly satirical Simpsons edge to it---but it's good enough to not only entertain non-fans, but also remind devotees what they loved about the show in the first place. At the very least, it's probably the freshest The Simpsons has felt in a long time.

Its best section is probably its first third, which, as is typical of many of the more recent episodes, proceeds mostly as a loosely connected collection of rapid-fire sight gags and topical jokes and one-liners. Opening with an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon (great) in 1.85:1, the screen expands to 2.35:1 right after Homer castigates us in the audience for being stupid enough to spend money on something we could get for free. Green Day makes an appearance early on in the film, performing a hard-rock version of Danny Elfman's immortal Simpsons theme song; when Billie Joe Armstrong is about to start talking about an environmental issue, the Springfieldians pelt the band with tomatoes (one of them yells "preaching!"); the pollution in the lake on which they're performing causes their platform to break apart and sink, taking the band members along with them (all while they're playing one last song, Titanic-style)---their funeral leads to a performance on the organ of "American Idiot: Funeral Version." Oh, and what about the bottom-of-the-screen news crawl that pops up at a random moment? And the various (if rather typical for this show) digs at organized religion? Such topical comic grace notes are something The Simpsons have always excelled, and the writers---all 11 of them, including show creator Matt Groening himself---throw so much of them at you in the film's first half-hour that the effect is exhilarating in the same way as one's first viewing of Airplane!: even if one gag drops with a thud, another one comes along to crack you up. Gag overload.

The rat-a-tat comic pace starts to slow down a bit once the plot proper kicks in. After an environmental accident---of, of course Homer's doing---leads the power-hungry head of the Environmental Protection Agency (voiced by Albert Brooks, who has lent his voice to the series on a number of memorable occasions) to conclude that Springfield is too much of an environmental hazard, the EPA puts a literal glass dome around the town and seals it off from the rest of the world And once Springfield finds out Homer's role in all of this---involving a pig, and that's all I'll say---the family finds themselves forced to relocate to Alaska, of all places, to escape an angry mob that has developed to take the Simpsons down. Once there, Homer and Marge once again find their marriage tested, leading Homer to a soul-searching session reminiscent of his hallucinations in the eighth-season episode "El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Homer" (without the instigating chili, of course). The second and third acts of The Simpsons Movie still contain laughs aplenty, but it's fairly conventional blockbuster stuff by this show's standards, and even though I was entertained all the way through, I felt a little disappointed by the end that this long-awaited jump to the screen didn't take more chances with its satirical targets, didn't quite make the leap into true subversive inspiration. (Who knows? Maybe they could have turned this big-screen adventure into an assault on big-screen adventures a la Team America: World Police...) By the end, the usual---dare I say, almost sitcom-cliched?---family lessons about togetherness have been learned, and everything is happy ever after---at least, until the next episode, anyway.

Eh, but I suppose a fan shouldn't carp too much about a movie that still manages to wring as many laughs as this, and one that evinces a genuine heart, too. The emotions that support the laughter in this movie may remind fans of how well The Simpsons used to be able to balance touching character drama with satire. And heck, as a fan, I've lived so long with these characters that, even if the movie slightly disappoints---and by slightly, I mean veeeery slightly---I can't feel to cynical about seeing them in glorious widescreen (the TV episodes are still broadcast in 1.33:1).

The Simpsons Movie isn't quite the great leap to the big screen that one may hope...but, to steal a line from "Lisa the Vegetarian," "It's still good! It's still good!" Well, in this case, good enough.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Brief Life Update No. 18: Fall Internship Search Results So Far/Movie Still of the Day No. 2: Playtime

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - As my internship soon comes to a close, I'm trying to find another internship to possibly make up the last six credits of my journalism major in the fall. My efforts bore some fruit yesterday morning with a trip to the Time and Life Building in New York to visit someone in Human Resources at Time Inc.

Remember: during this past spring semester, I applied and was also accepted into Time Inc.'s summer internship program---I was all set to be an editorial intern at People magazine. But, of course, I had to reject the offer because I had already committed to the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund internship program. But I held onto the contact just in case, and hopefully that decision will pay off.

At the very least, I think my interview with the woman at Human Resources yesterday went quite well, and she sounded fairly enthusiastic about looking out for some kind of internship opening in the fall. We talked for about an hour, discussing things about the Wall Street Journal, my duties at the Targum and my other work experiences. Heck, we even talked briefly about the difficulty of parking in New York, and also briefly about Queens---my birthplace and apparently her current residence. I know, it's not necessarily the quantity of an interview that's important, but the quality. Well, all I know is that I left the Time and Life Building feeling pretty good about things. My instincts aren't always trustworthy, but hey, at least I didn't leave the interview feeling like I said something stupid or anything (nothing like the gaffe---although maybe a fortunate one, in hindsight---about not being committed to working for a whole summer that got me fired from that NJPIRG canvassing job a couple years ago).

I might be going to the city again next week---another interview, this time with a smaller magazine I had heard about through the Rutgers journalism department. It's supposed to be some kind of leisure magazine for physicians. Right now, I'm not being too picky, or else I may not get anywhere. I hope that's the right approach, anyway. (I made it a point during the interview yesterday to emphasize that I'd be willing to work at any magazine, as long as I was getting the experience. Obviously, considering my obvious predilections, there are magazines I suppose I'd prefer working over others, but I'd rather expand my options rather than limit them at this stage.)


I always find it fun to go to New York, and, despite the mugginess---which certainly didn't help me keep the sweat from breaking out all over me as I was walking around with my long-sleeve shirt, tie and, yes, suit jacket, in addition to my long black pants---yesterday was no exception. Or maybe it was partly because of the mugginess---as Robin Williams quipped in his Live on Broadway special, "the women take the twins out for a walk."

Sorry, had to get that in there. I can be immature like that.

On a more mature note, how about a movie still to evoke the experience of looking up and seeing all the tall buildings pointing skyward, Babel-like? Thank you, Jacques Tati, for making Playtime, which may be the ultimate movie about life in a big, modernized city. (And of course, thank you, Criterion, for putting out this extraordinarily rich film in its usual immaculate manner on DVD.)

That pretty much sums up the way I felt looking at the buildings from my worm's-eye-view---awesome in a perhaps clinical way, but it made my head swim. Either that, or maybe the sight just reminded me of Playtime.

I wonder if it's good or bad that I seem to be associating a lot of things with movies these days...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Movie Still for the Day: Barry Lyndon

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I don't really have much to report today. Basically, this weekend was a long bout of do-nothingness, notwithstanding a day trip to the beautiful Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and a lot of YouTube-surfing. Maybe one of these days I'll divulge some of my YouTube discoveries---some more of that nostalgia-inducing Mandarin pop music I discussed many entries back, for instance, and even some newly discovered (by me, anyway) Cantopop---but for now, allow me to entertain you all with a still from Stanley Kubrick's underappreciated masterpiece Barry Lyndon to give you all a sense of how it felt standing in the Italian Water Garden in Longwood Gardens.

Obviously, you have to imagine it with people wearing modern-day casual dress instead of Milena Canonero's elegant, flowing period costumes. But the Italian Water Garden looks something like that one. And on Saturday, when my family and I went, the fountains were shooting gloriously up, which enhanced the beauty of the sight. When I saw the place, I couldn't help but thinking of Barry Lyndon---just because the sight reminded me of this particular image, that's all. Nothing much more significant than that. But hey, in my book, memorable images are more than half the battle when it comes to what makes movies great.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Brief Life Update No. 17: Murdoch Ahoy?/Horizontal Cliffhanger/The Fall of the Comma

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Late tonight, in the closing minutes of my shift at the Wall Street Journal, the news came in: Dow Jones took a major step toward a deal with Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. by basically agreeing in principle to the media mogul's $5 billion offer to buy the organization. All it needs now is approval from the majority-holding Bancroft family---and at this point, approval from the family isn't a sure thing. (55-year-old Christopher Bancroft, for one, has been sniffing around for other alternative deals.)

As Radiohead sang in an admittedly different context: "We are standing on the edge."

Whether Dow Jones is standing on the edge of a good thing is, of course, the question of the day (or the past few months, more precisely). Jack Shafer, the entertaining media columnist at Slate who I've been reading a little more of recently, has been adamantly anti-News Corp. merger, voicing suspicions toward Murdoch and his promises that he'll keep his hands off the Wall Street Journal's news coverage. Other news outlets have published stories detailing his history as a genuine force in the media---from his business beginnings in Australia, to his purchase and transformation of The Sun in the U.K., to his acquisition of the New York Post here in America, etc.---and some of the problems he has run into in all of his endeavors with supposed broken promises and such (supposedly he ordered one of his outlets, HarperCollins, to put an end to publishing a memoir by Chris Patten, the last British Governor of Hong Kong and someone I guess Murdoch plain didn't like).

, in particular, ran a cover story a couple of weeks ago in which the magazine interviewed Murdoch. Granted, he was, on the surface, fairly honest in looking back on his business past, admitting that he probably has made mistakes along the way. None of that candor, however sincere it may be, quells my own suspicions toward his claims that he's going to stay out of the Wall Street Journal's way as far as covering news goes (and he seemed insistent on this point in the Time article, saying "Why would I spend $5 billion for something in order to wreck it?"). Wouldn't conflict of interest automatically come up if News Corp. was involved in some kind of corporate scandal or something? How would the paper report on it, knowing the big man Rupert Murdoch was looking over its shoulder?

No, I think there is something to be said for the Journal's current independent state. Somehow, it just seems right to me that the nation's premiere business paper does maintain a certain amount of distance toward Wall Street and other areas it covers. The Journal being absorbed into one of the world's biggest media empires, then, seems almost like a bad joke, or a supreme irony, or whatever.

But hey, it's certainly provided for a welcome amount of drama during my abbreviated stay at the paper so far! And perhaps that drama is about to come to a climax, if it hasn't already.


On the subject of my personal life: not much to report, really. Did I mention the TrailManor RV my parents bought a few weeks ago? Well, the family and I took it out to upstate New Jersey this weekend to do some camping and some nature-walking in Pennsylvania. The most interesting part of the weekend for me, by far, was seeing Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park, a huge expanse of land made up of rocks...lots and lots of rocks left behind when glaciers melted 20,000 years ago in the last ice age. When we were there on Saturday, there was quite a crowd trying to walk on the boulder field. I tried, too---rather a hair-raising experience, I must say. To me, it felt like rock-climbing except horizontal instead of vertical; one wrong step and you might fall into a whole and hurt yourself. I got pretty far, but not nearly as far as my dad and my two younger brothers. None of us made it all the way across (which supposedly spans 400 ft. north to south). Otherwise, lots of camping out, a few mosquito bites, a brief trip to a local pond...and nice, hot weather.

And you know what hot weather means? Exposed female flesh, and lots of it.

(Sorry, I'm a pervert, so I just had to get that in there.)


To close this entry on yet another bit of copy-editing geekiness: one of my fellow copy editors alerted me to this article on MSNBC.com about the ostensible fall of the comma in writing and what the author of the article, Robert J. Samuelson, thinks its current underuse suggests about our society. According to him, it is a sad but inevitable symbol of how constantly-on-the-go American life has become---so hectic that we can't even be bothered to put in simple commas anymore to mark of prepositional words or phrases, or words like "Once" or "Naturally" that might begin a sentence.

Not sure if he's right, or even if he's serious (I do get a bit of a sense of tongue-in-cheek when I read this piece). But I am often surprised, when I'm editing stuff at the Journal or looking at proofs, at how often I think I see missing commas in copy, and how often those missing commas seem to make it---or, more accurately, not make it---into the final print paper. So, for instance, in a proof I might see a sentence that starts with the word "Inevitably" and not see a comma after it, and marvel at how another editor felt that comma unnecessary.

Should I have put a comma after "in a proof" in that last sentence?

This is the kind of thing copy editors, I guess, consider "topics of discussion" at the copy desk in addition to all the usual news items of the day and all. I say that more out of observation than criticism.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Movies I've Seen: A Long-Overdue Update, Part I

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - My internship is going well, but today I felt like taking a break from updates about the Wall Street Journal to (finally!) put in some words about some of the films I've been watching recently. Yes, I'm still watching those, and trying to do my best to keep up a one-movie-a-day quota. I've seen some interesting stuff (though I highly doubt I'll get to all of them today).

Unfortunately, Live Free or Die Hard (** out of ****) can't be said to be one of them. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. As can be evidenced by this piece I wrote for the film blog The House Next Door last year, I am a big fan of the original 1988 Die Hard; as far as modern-day action films go, I haven't really seen a more effectively thrilling fusion of high-tech special effects, suspense, character development, emotion and witty humor. But as far as its sequels go, only Die Hard With a Vengeance---tellingly, directed by the same man who took the helm of Die Hard, the underrated John McTiernan---has come close to recapturing that magical fusion. This most recent third sequel strikes me as more aligned with the breathless---if rather soulless---action pyrotechnics of Die Hard 2: the action pretty much never stops from the word "go. "(At least Len Wiseman, the director of Die Hard 4, has enough human decency not to feel the need to kill off 200+ innocent people in a tragedy---and then barely make a mention of it afterwards---as Renny Harlin does in Die Hard 2 just to show us what a coldblooded asshole the villain is.)

Even more so than in Die Hard 2 or Vengeance, however, Live Free or Die Hard feels more like an action cartoon than ever, and though Bruce Willis's wisecracking cop has acquired some welcome world-weariness over the years since No. 3 (in 1995), he's even more of a superhero than one might remember from the original. So while the original film made a point of seeing McClane bruised and bloodied as he tried to keep himself alive---in one memorable scene, he was forced to walk on glass in order to escape from Hans Gruber's clutches, and a few shots later we saw him crawling on his back into a bathroom with blood coming out of his cut-up foot---he barely seems to sustain any life-threatening injuries in this new incarnation of Die Hard. Surprising, indeed, considering that he has to duck from cars flying in the air, fight a baddie while trapped in a car in an elevator shaft, fly a helicopter on only a few lessons' experience, and more. In short---and this should be properly credited to Matt Zoller Seitz from his review of the film on the aforementioned House Next Door---he seems more like Superman and less like everyman. And McClane's ordinary-guy nature was part of what seemed so disarmingly fresh about him in 1988, especially in the midst of the pandering macho action cartoons of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in the '80s up to then. Not that McClane has quite become as cartoonish as John Rambo, but everything that happens to him in Live Free or Die Hard has a cartoon weightlessness that takes it far away from the McClane I knew and loved in the original.

Many people are giving backhanded praise to this film for basically being an old-school action flick reliant on stunts rather than CGI to dazzle. Certainly I'd sit through Die Hard 4 again rather than sit through Pirates of the Caribbean 3 once. But the movie, on a whole, struck me as fairly generic stuff, and while some of the action is quite amazing to see---particularly one towards the end where McClane, driving a truck, has to face off against a fighter jet on a highway---without the emotional weight behind the action to make us really care all that much about what happens to anyone onscreen except in the most perfunctory ways, there isn't much to remember from this film except mechanical pleasures (of which there are certainly a few). And as for its topical hacker-shuts-down-parts-of-America plot: despite some interesting twists and turns, I couldn't help but feeling that this kind of comic-book exploitation of real-world fears felt like too little, too late especially after sitting through six seasons' worth of ever-worse terrorist plots on 24, a TV show which certainly owes something of its existence to Die Hard, John McClane, and maybe to 20th Century Fox. (Like McClane in this new film, Jack Bauer seems to get no personal satisfaction even as he's saving the world on a consistent basis.) Besides, the typical summer action-movie ethos---more bang for your buck---eventually takes over and leaves whatever tantalizing threads there are in the plot pretty much buried.

You mostly get what you pay for in Live Free or Die Hard (although, yes, because of the PG-13 rating, McClane's immortal "Yippee-kayyay, motherfucker" line gets muffled when it gets to the f-bomb part---a slight disappointment, because aren't you allowed one "fuck" even in a PG-13 movie?), but not much more than that. I got more overall pleasure, then, out of Brad Bird's new animated feature, Ratatouille (***½ out of ****)---which, believe it or not, uses its story about a rat with a love of cooking as a springboard for a meditation on art-making, the agonies and ecstasies that go with it.

"Anybody can cook," claims Chef Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garrett), the cook that inspires Remy the rat (voiced by Patton Oswalt) to become a passionate food connoisseur and wannabe chef. But, if Brad Bird's previous feature The Incredibles indicated anything, it's that Bird is not one to necessarily subscribe to that view. Clearly, there are some people that can cook---and, by extension, create good art---better than others. Remy is obviously a better cook than the hapless human Linguini (voiced by Lou Romano), who's really only looking for a steady job and becomes known as a great cook by accident (thanks to Remy, who helps him create a satisfying soup while Linguini only tries to cover up a spill early on in the film). Certainly, that doesn't mean that only the great chefs deserve to be cooking food; it's just that the great ones deserve to be pointed out and celebrated, just like the superhero family at the heart of The Incredibles, most of whom suffered when their naturally heroic instincts were stifled in bland, ordinary suburbia.

And professional critics, Ratatouille suggests, don't necessarily have a monopoly on good taste. This tendency toward arrogance is exemplified by Anton Ego (voiced, sublimely as usual, by Peter O'Toole), who is at first presented as a classic kid's-movie cartoon villain, bathed in chiaroscuro shadows and given a scary stare as he discovers, to his displeasure, that the restaurant he panned---Gusteau's---is now re-emerging as a major force in the Parisian restaurant scene. He is initially quite fearsome in his stubbornness, in his belief that he has the power to influence public opinion above anyone else, that he has greater taste than anyone. But Bird---who also wrote the screenplay---reveals his trump card in the concluding moments of this film when Ego finds out the truth about who's been making the food at Gusteau's that he now enjoys so much. Ego, in voiceover, ends the film with a beautiful, multifaceted speech that can be read either as a celebration or as a criticism of critics. Indeed, what right do we have to judge the works of others, since we basically just sit in judgment and some of us---myself included---do not actually create art ourselves? And yet---if the rest of Ratatouille suggests anything---isn't the search for beauty and pleasure something worth pursuing? For all of us, not just the professional critics?

Obviously, that's the part that sealed my absolute love of this movie for me, speaking to me as a moviegoer who likes to think he's part of that pursuit. Of course, a movie that dares to take on the subject of art---doing it through a story set in the cooking world, and creating characters that suggest the various ways art and commerce may intertwine (one of the main chefs, for instance, wants to create a Gusteau's franchise, a proposition of which Linguini inadvertently gets in the way)---risks viewers asking the question of whether the film itself could be considered art. I guess, then, I'll just wimp out by saying that it might be too early to speculate on that point, that time usually determines the lasting value of a work (heck, I wasn't even willing to call Inland Empire "art," as much as I loved and admired it). Let's just say that Ratatouille is not only beautifully animated and pleasurable to look at (though in a less immediate Pop Art way than The Incredibles), but it also strikes me as admirably unpretentious itself---a movie about the pleasures of art that doesn't knock you over the head with its own artistry. In a way, its near-total lack of pretension works hand-in-hand with Brad Bird's view of art: perhaps not everyone could make a movie like Ratatouille, but anyone can certainly enjoy it.

I think I'll leave it at that for now. Sicko, Black Book and Mario Bava perhaps await Part II.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 28: Cold Calling

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - The copy chief was nice enough to give Tyler (the other intern) and me a day off on the Fourth of July. Not that I did a whole lot with the day off---other than seeing Michael Moore's new film (or "documentary") Sicko (which is good-veering-on-great in unexpected ways for Moore---less emphasis on politics, more on affecting universal human stories and tragedies---and not-so-good in typical ones. I keep saying this for other new movies I've seen, but I hope to write a little bit about it in some later blog entry), I didn't even bother to watch the fireworks on TV. I think I lost my capacity to be dazzled by fireworks displays years ago, sorry to say, since they're always just about how bright and noisy they are. These days, I guess, brightness and noisiness doesn't quite do it for me (which probably explains my generally lukewarm reaction to the new Die Hard flick, as dazzling as it occasionally is).

I was back at work today---back at my 4:30-11:30 p.m. shift, which seemed especially super-not-busy tonight. There were a lot of Saturday Pursuits stories to edit---but the assigning editor for the night must have given most of the big ones away to the more experienced interns of the group. And by more-experienced, I mean pretty much everyone other than myself.

Still, the night was not without interest.

Every night, after 7:30 p.m. lock-up for the U.S. edition, each one of us gets a couple of page proofs to quickly look over. So if we see a mistake or something, we can let the paginators know and they can fix it for a later edition.

Today, while looking over one of the proofs I got, I discovered a fairly large error---a name that was misspelled. I checked our archives on Factiva, and I checked the company's press releases, and let the deputy editor know about the error. He insisted that I try to contact the reporters (two of them wrote the story in question) to get their verification.

This was the challenge of the night for me. Up to now, I haven't had a great need to make any physical calls to reporters to check up on something. Usually, if I had queries, I simply send someone an e-mail and wait until he/she gets back to me. For me, being as shy and self-conscious as I sometimes am, I prefer the relative anonymity of e-mail over talking on the phone. Today, though, I found myself in the position of having to try to track down these reporters doggedly until I got a response from them. I'll admit it---it got me nervous, probably because I tend to get nervous about the possibility of failure. My faint fear wasn't helped by the fact that neither of the two reporters were getting back to me at all---not at their work numbers (although I kind of expected that, since it was around 9:30 p.m. at night when I discovered the mistake), not at their home or mobile numbers.

Turns out...e-mail was the medium that got me the answer I needed. E-mail and Blackberry, since one of the reporters got back to me on his Blackberry. It was too late to get it fixed for the all-important four-star edition, alas...but at least I didn't fail. It wasn't smooth or pretty, but I got what I was looking for (I was right about the name being spelled incorrectly). What started out looking like a night in which I would end up obsessing over how clumsily I carried out my quest for an elusive answer ended up being rather more upbeat (although I wonder if I could have gotten the correction made for the four-star edition had I not accidentally x-ed out of my Microsoft Outlook when the reporter sent me the response e-mail; it took me a little less than 20 minutes to check again and discover the note. Oops). I feel like I genuinely accomplished something new today. Maybe next time I won't feel so nervous about picking up the phone and making a call to a reporter or editor if I absolutely need to do so.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 25: A Change of Pace

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Today I started the night shift at the Wall Street Journal copy desk, 4:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. And what a change it was from the usual hustle-and-bustle of the day side---at least for tonight (which I hear is usually pretty slow in general at nights). The deadline for the national paper is 7:30 p.m., and so what's really left for the rest of the night is random stuff, really, only some of it related to the upcoming national paper. So sometimes there might be substories or something that need to be edited for tomorrow's paper. Often editors are looking at stuff that'll be published later in the week. And---this is pretty cool---we may get two pages of proofs to comb over for mistakes.

Overall, though...it looks like the night shift will be a lot slower and more relaxed than it is during the day shift.

Today was pretty dead, even for a supposedly slow shift. So what was I doing as the night dragged on? I was alternating between roaming around aimlessly in the laid-out pages and readied-for-publication articles, and surfing Internet Web sites. Throughout the night, I was a little nervous that I might be giving an impression of laziness by staring at the IMDb page for Die Hard 2 (in remembrance of its cheerfully sadistic, mechanical pleasures after seeing the less sadistic but almost as mechanical Live Free or Die Hard today---neither one being a patch on the justly-celebrated 1988 original) while looking at copy on Hermes. But I wouldn't be surprised if the four other people who were left by the time 9:30 p.m. rolled around weren't doing something similar in their cubicles. In fact, one of the editors warned me early in the shift, "Be prepared to do a lot of Web browsing." Fine by me, as long as I have nothing better to do, haha!