The Rest Of The Story


Who reads newspapers anymore?  I mean real newspapers, printed on paper, with ink and typeface and pages and ads and bylines and “continued on,” above or below the fold or in tabloid size.  My guess is that anyone below the age of 15 has no idea what an actual newspaper is.  (Hint:  They’re larger than a smart phone.)

But there’s still one place where you can actually read a newspaper.  And that’s in—old movies.  By which I mean (some fanfare music needed here)—

The Whirling Newspaper Headline!

Anyone acquainted with movies made before 1960 knows this bit:  Out of seemingly nowhere, the front page of a newspaper wheels onscreen, twirling before before us like a spin cycle gone mad, then screeches to a halt (no actual soundtrack screeching, but there oughta be), with one fat line of text bulging at us, screaming the News.  And not just any news, but one that’s a a highlight on a plot twist, or a climax to a narrative crisis, or a compressed chunk of story thrown out at us, fast and furious, thereby saving time (and budget) on tedious exposition.

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What a great narrative shorthand⁠—an optical bang-bang!, with motion, music, and a flash of block-type print (a throwback to silent-era title cards?).  It’s like a visual version of the town crier hollering at the top of his lungs.  The news headline would hang on the screen, long enough (as I recall once reading in a movie book) for an intelligent cat to read 17 times, letting us absorb its information, before whirling into offscreen oblivion—often followed immediately by another whirling headline, with even more news to absorb.

(As a newsworthy aside:  The phrase ‘intelligent cat’ is a tautology.)

I have to hand it to those behind-the-scenes guys, whoever they were and whatever studio department they were in, who put together those whirling news pages.  Not only did they understand drama, they knew how a real news page looks.  You’ll note on these spinning pages how the Screaming Headline never appears alone, but is always bolstered by other, ancillary articles, presumably included for verisimilitude.  Just as you’d find on a real piece of newsprint.  And not a lorem ipsum text, either, but something written and set out, with headlines of its own. Something that takes time, thought, and effort to put together.

Surely such diligence should be appreciated.

Not only appreciated, but investigated:  Just what was in those other, non-screaming headlines?

Here, by virtue of the freeze-frame screenshot, is a look at those other columns on the news page that headline-montagers thought important to include.  Which can look mighty interesting on their own.

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When it comes to newsworthy drama, I suppose there’s little that can beat the announcement of a rampaging, indestructible Golem lumbering round town, sowing terror and ruination in its wake, and against which modern weaponry has the effect of a spitball on granite.  (While we’re here, can we just take time to appreciate that strange phrase, “Artillery Like Pea Shooter”?)  The Golem’s a subject that, in its vast historical, religious, and mythological associations, seems almost too big for mere news reporting.  Not even a sub headline, noting how Angry Mothers Block Killer Street, can lessen the Golemic impact of the main story (though the thought of all these rampaging, indestructible Mothers surely piques some curiosity…)

However, I find my own curiosity drawn to that little item on the left—the one about how Brewers Face Monopoly Probe Over Pubs.  As someone who’s fond of a pint or two on Saturday nights, I’d be pretty concerned about an inquiry that might affect my intake of the divine hopsian brew.  I mean, Golems may come and go, but Beer—now that’s important!

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Ah, so here we have news of the beautiful Mrs. Clayton Anderson chairing a Christmas Charity Ball.  To raise necessary funds, I’m sure, for a worthy charitable cause.  If you lean in and squint your eyes at the article’s first paragraph (or if, reading it as it whirls by onscreen, you can whiz through—I knew that high-school speed-reading course would someday pay off), you can make out that Mrs. Anderson intends for her ritzy gala to make previous ones look like small-town bake-offs.  So, hats off to the gorgeous and glamorous Mrs. Anderson for her noble fundraising ambitions (and, for the sharp-eyed among you, yes, that IS the gorgeous and glamorous Lana Turner in the photo, as she appears in the early scenes of her film Madame X, which I, a Lana fanatic, wrote about here).

Now, if some of you want to toddle off to Mrs. Anderson’s fancy fête, well, I won’t stop you.  But as for me, I’m all agog about what’s gonna happen when, as per that little column on the left, those Dental Hygienists Announce Awards.  Yup, while you’re all ogling Lana and Co. at her jolly jamboree, I wanna know who’s gonna get the medals for Best Technique In Incisor Polishing and Most Informative Flossing Demo.  Think of it—all those noble young dental hygienists are finally gonna be recognized for all those years of digging in and around the gums and bridgework.  What a moving ceremony that’ll be.  I mean…can’t you just picture the excitement?

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Those busy magnificent Andersons.  While Mrs. Anderson is (see above) putting up plush pageants for the plentifully endowed, Mr. Anderson is jetting off to prominent Paris meetings, negotiating, per the headline, agreeable accords with the French.  Nice to know our diplomatic corps is watching out for our international interests, rushing in if ever a whisper of friction pops up among the posh palavering of our policy makers.  (And when you think how recently the French have been ticked off with us, sous-marine-wise, we could probably use Mr. Anderson—and his party-savvy wife—right now.)

However, I find my eye is drawn not to Mr. Anderson’s political endeavors, but to a partial headline in the left-hand corner.  Cut off by the film frame, what remains of that news item makes for a teasing string of words:  Guillotine at Neck School.  A guillotine at a neck school?  What meanings are hidden here?  My first thought is that, in regards to the well-known actions performed by guillotines, the headline is a nasty joke about such (guillotines, necks…).  My second thought is of a possible connection between scholastic guillotines and trips to France (where guillotines originated…).

And my third thought is to wonder, extra-diegetically-wise, just what kind of day the headline-montager who put together this cinematic news page was having…and to be glad I wasn’t there…

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Good heavens, you’re all wondering.  What grim news have we here, in these two headlines?  The first announcing the imminent electrocution of the unlucky Dan McCormick (whose unlucky crimes I covered in my post on Man Made Monster); the second announcing the at-large wanderings of an “Escaped Alien Murder Suspect” (whether Grey, Reptiloid, Venusian, or a Little Green Man, we’re not informed).  Life, as these headlines make us sadly aware, is not all gay gatherings of the politically well-connected.  And the news, of course, must reflect those harsher aspects of existence, if only to give us something to ponder, during our quieter moments—about the fates of those less fortunate than us, or those whose encounters with life’s stern vicissitudes may position them as victims of circumstance beyond anyone’s best intentions…

Whatever.  That’s not what interests me here.  What I’m interested in is how each of these news pages contains, in a subsidiary column, the exact same news item—namely, that the Lenox Horse Show Opens Tomorrow (below the “Cor” of “McCormick,” and next to “At Large”).  How fascinating that two different newspapers, headlining two different leads (and at two different studios), should both carry the same announcement of an upcoming show of Equine Excellence!  Doesn’t that sound exciting?  And newsworthy?  And so, while I’m sorry about poor old Dan’s impending date with a fryer, and while I may be concerned about homicidal maniacs of extraterrestrial origin gadding about the landscape (which I looked at in my post on Confidential Agent), tomorrow I shall be off to the races (metaphorically speaking), to enjoy a display of fine horseflesh in the, er, flesh, so to speak.  How fortunate that we have newspapers!  That have news!  Just what would we do without them?

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Here’s what I’d called a basic meat-and-potatoes item of local news interest:  A disbarred attorney indicted on gambling charges during a police sweep.  Nothing sensational—no rampaging Golems, for instance—yet newsworthy enough to warrant an all-caps headline in boldface type.  It gives you the story’s gist in a few words, and lets you know the facts right away:  A crooked lawyer has been hauled in for suspicion of participating in illegal wagering.  You almost don’t have to read any further, the headline tells you enough (though if you do read more of the article, you’ll soon find it has nothing to do with the headline but seems mere copy-n-paste filler.  Now we know why these pages whirl).

But then there’s that little headline right below it:  Meteorite Falls Near Baby.  Like the disbarred-attorney item, it’s blunt, basic, to-the-point.  But, honestly—I want to know more.  I mean—something big and heavy falls outta the sky right next to an infant?  Are we missing something?  What kind of meteorite?  How large?  How far from the baby?  Like…don’t leave us dangling!  You could almost fashion a script around it, kinda low-budget 1950s sci-fi:  Plonk comes this meteorite, out of it crawls an unpleasant Something (a Grey, a Reptiloid, a Little Green Man…); then parents snatch child and run screaming for the police (interrupting their gambling sweep), whole town in an uproar heads for the hills (interrupting Mrs. Anderson’s charity fête), then comes the Army, with pea-shooting artillery ablaze, while more unpleasant Somethings come onto the scene, then the big Standoff between Town, Police, Army, and Somethings, everything tense and exciting, Will the World be Saved?—and then, of course, the Disbarred Attorney redeems himself by doing just that, ridin’ into town (probably on a steed from the Lenox Horse Show) to defeat the Somethings with…something, I’m not sure what, a secret weapon, like microbes, maybe, but he saves the day, gets the girl (I haven’t figured that angle yet), and All Ends Happily.  Or something.  But, I mean—c’mon, headline-montagers!  That’s real news!


Now here’s a seemingly unexciting headline:  Shares issued from a company manufacturing a pill called Tranquilax go sharply south.  Seems that a pastor’s disapproving sermon sent the stock into freefall.  News of interest, no doubt, to investors and speculators who own a share.  And to company executives and workers, whose jobs may be affected by declining profits.  And to stores that carry the product and patients who depend on it.  Once you consider this headline’s ramifications, you realize its wider human interest.  What might have seemed dull or sober news can be highly dramatic indeed.

However, let your eyes pass over that headline to the one on the right—the one that reads Burton and Liz Plead With Film Chief—yeah, that one—and then you’ll realize:  Who gives a damn about stocks or shares?  Because the subjects of that second item, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, were always news, and were always speculated about.  Because Liz ‘n Dick were Drama in spades; the Most Famous People in the Universe, Olympian gods who, descending to earth, bored into our ears and chewed into our brains, settling in and usurping whatever other human interests resided there.  You might call them the celebrity version of earwigs, only much prettier.  And more insidious.

Unlike the Golem or Dan McCormick or the Charitable Mrs. Anderson, Burton and Taylor were also—Real People.  Written about in Real Headlines.  Which is why this fake movie-created newspaper column grabs us.  Because we know who they are.  Look, says the headline, Liz ‘n Dick are pleading—pleading, just think of it—with some bigshot producer, and of course you wanna know why, because, I mean, who wouldn’t?  And you can picture the scene, can’t you?  Burton, with his thundering voice shaking the rooftops (I bet that vicar could learn a thing or two for preaching purposes), and Liz, heartstoppingly beautiful Liz, with that heart-shaped face and those luminous violet eyes…the poignancy of it.  And about what could they have been pleading?  Who knows?  Maybe a sleazy gossip item.  Maybe a bad review.  Maybe a movie project gone south.  We don’t need the details.  All we need are Liz ‘n Dick, in all their real-life glory, and then our minds (our beautiful-celebrity-earwig-infested minds) will supply the rest.

However, if it’s a film that Liz ‘n Dick are pleading for—hey, I’ve got one I could suggest to them…just this modestly budgeted sci-fi affair, but it’s got such potential.  You see, it starts with this meteorite landing next to a baby…


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