name has become synonymous with yellow journalism, conspicuous consumption, and
raw power. The son of a self-made mining
tycoon, William Randolph Hearst always fancied himself a champion of the working
people and to his credit, he usually had a good sense of what they wanted to
Leslie Iwerks profiles the man and the media empire he launched in Citizen Hearst (trailer here), which begins a
run of special nationwide screenings this Thursday to celebrate the one hundred
twenty-fifth anniversary of the Hearst empire.
Indiewire’s Leonard Maltin observes
in Citizen, Charles Foster Kane was
not exactly Hearst, but it was not that far off. On the other hand, Citizen Kane’s treatment of his actress-lover Marian Davies was
pretty harsh. Dropping out of the Ivy
League, Hearst started his empire with the San
Francisco Examiner, which his father had won as part of a gambling
debt. Hearst built what had always been
the shabby second fiddle to the Chronicle
into the model of his brand of yellow journalism. It was a formula he expanded nationwide,
eventually expanding into newsreels and early television stations. Of course, there was also San Simeon, the
compulsive collecting, his mostly unsuccessful political campaigns, and his
scandalous relationship with Davies.
Citizen emphasizes the
up-and-down nature of Hearst’s fortunes within his lifetime. While never destitute, he was humbled at
times. That is certainly good dramatic
fodder, but only about a third of Iwerks’ film is dedicated to Hearst proper
(and completely ignores his principled anti-Communism). The rest of the story follows the company
after the death of its larger than life founder. The most fascinating post-Hearst development
by far was the fate of the Examiner,
a consistent voice of Hearst’s brand of populism, brought to a standstill by a
violent union strike. With Examiner advertisers openly intimidated
and employees attacked, the 1968 conflict led to one death. Ultimately, the Examiner would be absorbed by its old non-union rival, which in turn
was absorbed back into Hearst.
this point, Citizen Hearst essentially
becomes a promotional film for the Hearst of today, celebrating its profitable
business decisions, such as changing the A&E network from an arts showcase
into a reality programming freak show.
Sure, it made money, but what would an art collector like old man Hearst
think? Still, there are some interesting
conversations with Norman Foster, the architect of their new innovatively green
New York headquarters, but he has his own documentary available, How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr.Foster for those intrigued by his geodesic style.
Maltin, Citizen Hearst talks with
many of the Hearsts still involved in the family business. Dan Rather also appears, presumably representing
contemporary disgraced facts-optional yellow journalists. Iwerks even gets celebrity assists from
frequent Hearst cover model Heidi Klum and Oprah Winfrey, a television host who
once had an afternoon show that was very popular but has since largely
disappeared from view. Indeed, the final
third of the documentary has the tone of an E! network special.
Hearst, the self-styled progressive, would likely
approve of most of the media conglomerate bearing his name today. However, the further Citizen Hearst strays from the enigmatic title figure, the less
interesting it will be to non-Hearst employees.
Though there is good stuff in the first hour, it is probably best saved
for subsequent home viewing. For those
soon interviewing with a Hearst division, it screens this Thursday (3/14) in
New York at the Clearview Chelsea and 1st & 62nd Street Theatres.
Labels: Documentary, Norman Foster, William Randolph Hearst