Femmes Fatale and Yellow Journalists at No6 Cinema

A 70-year-old cult film classic about a dodgy American newspaperman, starring a young Kirk Douglas, is being shown at Portsmouth’s independent No6 Cinema on Saturday October 5 at 7pm. Peter Edwards reports.

This website’s co-founder – our very own Tom Sykes – believes the film Ace In The Hole may have some interesting resonances for today. Douglas plays a nasty amoral hack, Chuck Tatum, who bribes the local sheriff with good publicity so that he can keep his big story exclusive. Kirk Douglas, the father of famous thespian Michael, is today very much retired, aged a mere 102.

The film, made in 1951, tells the story of Tatum covering an incident where a man is injured and trapped inside a collapsed Indian mineshaft. Tatum is more interested in keeping the story going and turning the rescue into a carnival than saving the desperate man.

Tom said he had been interested in the film both as a writer and journalist himself and also as an analyst of the media. His own new book, Realm of the Punisher, a ‘political travelogue’ about the Philippines, looks at how the media represents life (or actually doesn’t represent life) in that country. ‘It’s an example of where, in my opinion, the press have been wrong to invoke stereotypes, or they have been inaccurate or misleading about life in the Philippines.’

Talking about Ace, he says he believes the film captures both the journalistic ideal, where you objectively pursue a story for the truth and accuracy and the broader pressures to get the story whatever the costs. ‘That’s where corruption and unethical practices can come in,’ Tom added.

He quotes from Nick Davies’ recent book, Flat Earth News, which has suggested that the news media is in a worse state than it’s ever been. ‘Davies uses the word “churnalism”, a pejorative term for a form of reporting in which press releases, stories provided by news agencies and other forms of pre-packaged material, instead of reported news, are used to create articles in newspapers and other news media. Its purpose is to reduce costs by reducing original news gathering and checking sources.’

When Ace in The Hole first came out one critic described it as a ‘distortion of journalistic practice.’ However, Tom believes that in today’s world the film may not be quite as far-fetched as it seemed. A lecturer at Portsmouth University, Tom said there are often cases today where people will sell their soul for a story.

‘We’ve had examples of national newspaper reporters who were so desperate to find a story that they were prepared to listen in to private celebrity phone calls.

‘Then we have “clickbait” websites where web content is aimed at generating online advertising revenue, often at the expense of quality or accuracy.’

He added that he enjoyed the film but wondered if Wilder was making a comment on ‘how twisted moral senses had become by turning a tragic event into an opportunity to make money.’

With the summer over, and the days drawing in, what better pick-me-up than No6 Cinema’s Dark Prophecies film season, that explores the bleaker side of human existence. Collecting together some of cinema’s grisliest tales of corruption, extremism, moral and spiritual decay, these films lay bare the world at its worst. From fascist ideologues to purveyors of fake news, the villains that stalk these pictures are both cinematic icons and grim harbingers of contemporary politics and society. So, join us at No. 6 for our festival of foreboding – our celebration of the cheerless – and remember Ace in the Hole’s antihero Chuck Tatum’s dictum, ‘bad news sells best. ‘Cause good news is no news.’

Photo used under a Wikimedia Creative Commons Licence.