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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists: The Art Is Still Alive and Kicking



Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists - the documentary on HBO - is lots of things.  A paean to an age of journalism (Breslin would say "reporting," as this movie tells us) which is either gone or transmuted into another form, depending upon whom you listen to.   A story of New York City, which, also, is either dead or transformed.   But definitely a story of two uniquely gifted writers who indeed worked on a deadline, the deadline of timely reporting, i.e., at most, last hour's or yesterday's news, not last week's.

The two - Jimmy Breslin (1929-2017) and Pete Hamill (1935- ) - were actually very different in style.  Breslin was straightforward, kick in the gut, say what needs to be said reporting.  Hamill was much more poetic, stringing together descriptive phrases like Monet did with watercolors.

The New York City and beyond that the America they described, each in his own way, is one I grew up in.   Their defense of the written word, as essential both to their own very lives, but also the lives of the city and our country, is one which I always felt a part of.   Indeed, in our age of Trump and his savage attack on the press, I feel that way more than ever.  (See, for example, this panel I took part in on Fox Nation the other day, the lone progressive holding forth vis-a-vis three conservatives.)

Breslin, in particular, had a suitable contempt for the NYPD.  Years before Black Lives Matter, Breslin was unafraid to lash out at the bad cops in the NYPD who brutalized African Americans.  Hamill and Breslin had the fortune-misfortune to be right there when Robert F. Kennedy was shot.  (I was on the phone with my girlfriend, Tina, later my wife, when we heard the horrible news on television.)   Breslin ran on a ticket with Norman Mailer for Mayor of NYC.  Hamill dated Jackie Kennedy and Linda Ronstadt.   At one time, both wrote columns for the New York Daily News, which advertised that you could read one or another of the two at least six days a week.   That's the way it was when you wanted to read something of the story of our lives.

All of that and more is vividly portrayed in image and interviews in this superb documentary (hats off to Jonathan Alter and the other people who wrote and directed).   That, in itself, is one of the reasons I'm with the people who think that hard-hitting poetic reporting is still very much alive and kicking.  It may not be in print on paper as much as it used to be, but it's with us on cable, streaming services, and yes, this Internet, which is still mostly comprised of words, and reaches far more people than the combined tabloids of New York City ever did.


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