starring Dustin Hoffman, John Travolta, Alan Alda, Robert Prosky and mIa Kirshner
directed by Gosta-Garvas
This is a great film, something to entertain you and make you angry, and eminently timely, too. Dustin Hoffman is an established great start, and John Travolta is a rehabilitated great star (his success in QuentinTarantino’s Pulp Fictionre-established his career, drooping since his Academy Award from Saturday Night Fever in the 1970s). Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) and Robert Prosky (Hill Streetblues), perhaps best recognized form their television work, are excellent character actors. I love Alan Alda.
Does television show the news or make it?
Today is the age when the image is the message; when people associate reality with what they see on television; and, appearing on television, especially as a celebrity, is perceived as a sign of authenticity and authority. Therefore, whoever gets their face on TV or gets their face on TV first has a great advantage in the world. Furthermore, whoever makes the decisions about television broadcasting holds tremendous power.
This is what Mad City is about. It is not only about the media’s manipulation of the appearance of events on TV but also the manipulation of the events themselves. In other words, the question is does television show the news, or make it? And, how much and to what extent are the two mixed together?
John Travolta plays slow-witted Sam Bailey, unemployed museum guard, wow returns to his workplace with a gun and explosives to confront his former employer. Television news report Max Brackett, played by Dustin Hoffman, just happens to be in the museum’s men’s room after finishing an unrelated story there when Sam enters and begins the hostage ordeal.
Max plays Sam like a fiddle from the beginning. He takes advantage of Sam’s dullness to build the story up into Max’s image of a proper television news story, thereby increasing his own reputation and forcing open a door to Big Time network TV.
Explaining his behavior to his young student intern, Max says, “You have to make a decision whether you’re going to be part of the story, or whether you’re going to be there to record the story.” It is obvious that in Max’s mind it is much better to be part of the story rather than just to stand by passively and record it all. I think it’s a false contrast. Being there to record the story implies that one is part of it, not that one is passive in it.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and Max Brackett is not at the top of the news business feeding chain. He has a contract with the network where even bigger predators swim - namely network news anchor Kevin Hollander, played by Alan Alda, who arrives to steal Brackett’s drama from him.
It’s all quite unsavory, immoral and infuriating. Yet it would not be true to say that such characters and situations don’t exist because the sad truth is that there really are people like this out there. Mad City is excellent, so wee it if you can.