• U.S.

Cinema: Maniacal Zest

3 minute read
Jay Cocks


Directed by JERRY BRUCK JR.

“In the job of covering a capital, there are really certain basic assumptions you have to operate on. The first is that every government is run by liars, and nothing they say should be believed.

That is a prima-facie assumption unless proven to the contrary.”

There could be no more salutary time than the Watergate era for a tribute to a journalist with such a credo.

Jerry Bruck Jr.’s superb and loving documentary about I.F. Stone matches its subject in humor, skepticism and the ability to snatch truth deftly out of deep puddles of propaganda.

Lasting just 62 minutes, unobtrusively narrated by New York Times Columnist Tom Wicker, the film takes its title from Stone’s newsletter, which was written, edited, proofed and published by Stone for 19 years. In December 1971, having reached the age of 64, Stone closed the last issue. Bruck ends his film with Stone saying goodbye to his printers —a sequence of rushed, embarrassed feeling—and a sort of postlude in which Stone gleefully admits something that has been obvious all along: “I really have so much fun I ought to be arrested.”

Bruck seems nearly to adopt the tone and format of Stone’s paper. The movie is compressed, ironic, a little crude in style, but vigorous and cutting in its anger. Stone used to box off conflicting quotations or incidental insights for ironic illustrative effect in the news letter, and Bruck does something similar here. He shows Stone making a general point about the dangers of newsmen getting chummy with their sources, then cuts away to a scene of Ron Ziegler playing tennis with an ABC correspondent, while Tricia Nixon looks on. He shows Stone elaborating on the general slipperiness of public officials, with their easy command of doubletalk, then brings the point home with a fast, funny clip from an old press conference by then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in which McNamara steps around a tough question with the hurried delicacy of a haughty pedestrian avoiding something ugly on the sidewalk.

There is also a brisk biographical precis, with a few glimpses of some of Stone’s colleagues, including his wife Esther, circulation manager of the newsletter. I.F. Stone’s Weekly would have been better if it had been longer, with more footage devoted to Stone’s apprenticeship and the time, admittedly slight, that he spends away from work. But throughout, Bruck catches the same animating qualities that the artist David Levine did in his famous caricature of Stone lifting up the Capitol Dome—what Stone himself calls “that combination of maniacal zest and idiot zeal.”

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