Cinema’s love affair with news is a long and storied one. The association between the two goes back to the early 20th century, when newsreels would often air before the main feature in a cinema, as television had not yet supplanted its necessity.
In fiction, newspapers and news articles have been used repeatedly, as images of spinning newspapers and paperboys selling their wares on street corners from some of the earliest noir films pervade the collective consciousness.
Additionally, films such as Network, Sweet Smell of Success, Broadcast News, Ace in the Hole, The Front Page, Gentleman’s Agreement, Citizen Kane, All the President’s Men and It Happened One Night all deal directly with newspapers or the news-making process in a detailed manner, and countless others prominently feature journalists or newspaper reporters.
The association with the news goes beyond mere representation, however, as filmmakers and screenwriters turn time and again to news articles for their inspiration and stories to bring to the screen. This is likely because a news story usually offers such a pure version of events that screenwriters can take the bare facts, use that a structure, and elaborate on it with their own imaginings.
Conversely, the old adage “truth is stranger than fiction” comes into play here, as some articles are so bizarre they could only take place in the movie theatre. In fact, some screenwriters have even had to tone down the real life content for the screen, as seen in, well, basically any film that’s used Ed Gein as character inspiration.
The following is a list of twelve films which utilised a newspaper, magazine or journal article for their primary inspiration. Each of the films utilise their source material to varying degrees, presenting everything from faithful “to the letter” adaptations to loose reimaginings, and everything in between.
12. The Bling Ring (2013)
Between 2008 and 2009, over $3 million worth of goods were stolen from Hollywood mansions belonging to some of the world’s most famous stars, including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom.
The thieves were not professionals, but merely rich teenagers (the “Bling Ring”), often using methods no more complex than gathering the spare key from under the welcome mat. Nancy Jo Sales’ March 2010 Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” presents the reader with an elite world revolving around celebrity worship and wealth, of which the members of the Bling Ring inhabit.
It makes sense that director Sophia Coppola was drawn to a story like this; with such highly esteemed family members as father Francis Ford Coppola and Nicholas Cage, she would have experienced the “fame monster” for all of her life. She approaches the material with a certain empathy for the vacuous lives of her thieves as they live in a world governed by class, fame and materialism.
The film really shines through its performances; Emma Watson’s performance as Nicki Moore (based on Bling Ring member Alexis Neiers) is convincing enough to have you believe she’s never addressed the UN on anything more important than handbags, let alone pressing global issues.
Some performances even highlighted our society’s blind obsession with fame: Brett Goodkin, chief inspector of the case, chose to play himself without considering the consequences, and was subsequently investigated for a potential conflict of interest as the relevant cases had not been resolved.
11. Bernie (2011)
Skip Hollandsworth is a prolific writer of true crime stories, though it is hard to believe he’d ever written a story quite like that of Bernie Tiede. In “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas”, written for Texas Monthly in January 1998, Hollandsworth depicts the true story of Marjorie Nugent’s murder by Tiede. Bernie, who was widely loved by the townspeople of Carthage, had struck up a close friendship with Nugent, the “richest widow in an eccentric town full of rich widows”.
When it turned sour, Tiede murdered her. However, due to his esteem within the town, and Nugent’s relative detestment, Bernie wasn’t shunned or deplored. In fact, even after Bernie’s admission of guilt, the DA requested his case be moved out of the county, as he didn’t believe a fair case would be held due to bias.
Richard Linklater, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Hollandsworth, uses his considerable skill as a director of both screwball comedies and meaningful dramas to create a wonderful piece crafted around the unique personalities that make up an East Texan town caught up in a scandal.
Jack Black stars as the titular Bernie, in a role that allows him to show off his criminally underused dramatic acting talent, although there is room for plenty of laughs in this dark comedy.
10. Top Gun (1986)
Perhaps seen as a spiritual follow-up to Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff”, the article “Top Guns” by Ehud Yonay appeared in the May 1983 issue of California Magazine. It told of fighter pilots and their day-to-day dealings at the Miramar Naval Air Station, located in San Diego, self-nicknamed as “Fightertown USA”. Stating that it looked like “Star Wars on Earth”, producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer endeavoured to secure the rights to the story straightaway.
The resulting film, “Top Gun”, went on to become the highest grossing film of 1986. Furthermore, it helped to establish Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer as bankable stars.
Additionally, the film had a major impact on the US Navy itself, with the release of the film ostensibly increasing Naval Aviator applications by over 500%. Finally, while much of the movie is based primarily on the article, it seems that the volleyball scene was plucked straight from Scott’s imagination.
9. Frank (2014)
The story behind “Frank” is based on Jon Ronson’s experiences while playing with English cult hero Frank Sidebottom’s Oh Blimey Big Band, which appeared in a Guardian column on May 31st 2006 as an obituary for the man inside Sidebottom’s costume, Chris Sivey . Ronson, whose other works include The Men Who Stare at Goats, played keyboard in the group, which at times included popular English media personalities Chris Evans and Mark Radcliffe.
As for the film, it is a thoughtful and poignant presentation of the creative process which follows a young man and his attempts to become a famous songwriter, before he stumbles into a chance to play with a band on the verge of stardom.
Michael Fassbender plays the titular character with remarkable pathos considering his face is obscured by a papier mache head for virtually the entire film. He approaches the role with a tenderness which may have been mangled into absurdity by a less talented actor. He is well complimented by Domnhall Gleeson, whose ulterior motives for fame play as a good foil to Frank’s good-natured creativity.
8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Before Terry Gilliam’s 1998 cult classic reinvented Hunter S. Thompson’s thinly veiled alter ego Raoul Duke as a popular Halloween costume, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream” began life as a two-part series appearing in the November 11 and November 25 1971 editions of Rolling Stone.
Accompanied by Ralph Steadman’s uniquely grotesque illustrations, Thompson’s odyssey through the City of Lights was one of the first major counterculture literary contributions of the 1970’s. It dealt away with the broken promises of the 60’s and the “Summer of Love” with a fiery abandon that would become a staple of his journalism.
Gilliam’s take on Thompson’s work was met with ambivalence at the box office upon initial release, though it proved a hit with the home video and DVD market, becoming somewhat of a cult hit.
Critical reaction remains mixed, however; many detractors hold the assertion that Thompson’s fervently apocalyptic writing style wasn’t translated onto the screen effectively, stripping the story of its significance and brutal humour.
In any case, the quirky, cartoonish performances by Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro must be admired if only for their commitment to the outlandish world they inhabit in the film.
7. The Killing Fields (1984)
For much of the early 1970’s, Sydney Schanberg reported from warzones in South-East Asia and the subcontinent. He won numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his work in Cambodia. However, his most important and well known piece he wrote about his friend who was kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge.
“The Death and Life of Dith Pran”, published by The New York Times Magazine on 20 January 1980, is an in-depth memoir of Schanberg’s time spent in Phnom Penh as the Khmer Rouge regime assumed control of Cambodia. It particularly addresses his close friendship with Dith Pran, his loyal assistant who saved his life when the purges began.
Based on the aforementioned memoir, “The Killing Fields” depicts one of the most horrific periods of 20th century history with scrupulous authenticity, as each scene, shot on location in Thailand, is meticulously crafted to evoke the vicious terror that was the Khmer Rouge’s state of Democratic Kampuchea.
While Sam Waterson as Schanberg does a stellar job, it is Dr. Haing S. Ngor, playing the part of Pran, who steals the show. A survivor of the Khmer Rouge purges himself, Ngor won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, as he brings the necessary gravitas to the pivotal role, in what could have been an overly dramatic turn for an actor without his life experiences.