BETWEEN THE LINES
Author and critic Kim Newman explores the dark corners of cinema
THERE ARE PLENTY of great films about newspapers, but precious few about magazines. The most accurate, honest depiction of magazine journalism is Joan Micklin Silver’s exceptional Between The Lines (1977). In the 1980s, I wrote for a left-ish London listings magazine very much like the film’s Boston-based ‘Back Bay Mainline’ — fashions and music had changed, but everything else was the same. Founded by students as an underground political sheet in the ’60s, the ‘Mainline’ is ageing (like its 30-ish employees) in the ’70s. Crisis hits when a mini-mogul (Lane Smith) wants to add the title to his publishing empire, perhaps at the loss of its soul — represented perfectly by the office manager (Jill Eikenberry) who really runs the publication.
Young writer Michael (Stephen Collins) lands a book contract which enables him to quit and become prematurely pompous, while perhapsmore-talented colleagues — burnout Harry (John Heard), manic music journo Max (Jeff Goldblum), young hustler David (Bruno Kirby) — seethe with envy. The detail is always convincing: a photographer needs to store her enlarging equipment at her old boyfriend’s pad because she hasn’t got room for it; the constant low-level feuding between the smug writing staff and the simmering advertising manager; the unending nuisance of trying to live a freewheeling creative life on a cripplingly low $75 a week (augmented by selling books and records submitted for review).
Photographer Abbie (Lindsay Crouse) skewers boyfriend Harry’s vision of writing in the country while she makes bread with a terrific speech about how his ambitions sideline hers (“and sometimes maybe I’ll get to photograph the bread”), then undercuts him when her real rapport with a stripper (Marilu Henner) he is interviewing gets more interesting answers than his aggressive quizzing. It also features a rare movie scene of a night out at a club which looks as if folks are actually having fun.
Michael J. Pollard — then the biggest name in the cast — weaves through it as the flake who’s on the streets actually hawking the rag, while the baton of character actor quirkiness is passed to young Goldblum, who shows off his patter skills in a custom-written role.
Robert Altman and John Sayles racked up substantial filmographies but the talented Silver — who casts from the same talent pool as her male colleagues and has a similar approach to ensemble drama — only managed one real hit (Crossing Delancey) before her career petered out, giving a dark edge to Between The Lines’ vision of the counterculture media as a boys’ club. BETWEEN THE LINES IS ON IMPORT DVD
Above: Star Michael J. Pollard as ‘The Hawker’, hawking.
Below: An early role for Jeff Goldblum as rock hack Max.