TV - The New Yorker Presents

New Yorker

Susan Omand discovers a series on Amazon Prime that really does have something for everyone as she watches episode 1 of The New Yorker Presents...

From award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney's Jigsaw Productions, Amazon Prime Video presents a groundbreaking new series that brings America's most award-winning magazine, The New Yorker, to the screen with documentaries, short narrative films, comedy, poetry, animation, and cartoons from the hands of acclaimed filmmakers and artists.

I must admit this series has been on my “may watch” list on Amazon Prime for a while, as I liked the idea that it seemed to be more of a visual realisation of the magazine itself rather than a fly on the wall documentary of how the magazine is produced. I think most people have heard of The New Yorker magazine, even if they haven’t read it, so I was interested to see how they would bring the concept of the wide range of articles and subjects from the magazine to bear in a half hour programme. Well, they did it in exactly the same way as they do in the magazine; in a series of short and very eclectic visual articles in the form of a collection of short films, sitting side by side with no particular flow between them. The series even handily provided a contents page at the start so, if you wished, you could “flip” to the article you wanted and showing that you didn’t have to watch from start to end.

So what did we get in episode one? The starting point, the magazine editorial if you will, gave a snapshot of the Fact Checking department of The New Yorker, listening in to people on phones checking dates, locations, even flavour descriptions, so that the articles when they are published are actually factual. This is something that is so often missing from the immediacy of internet journalism today where rumour and sensationalism seem to rule the Wi-Fi waves and it is better to be first than it is to be right. Not so at The New Yorker where there is a sign on the wall that says True is Better than Done. Hooray, there is hope for “proper” journalism yet.

Next up was an incredibly interesting article on the psychology of the Truman Show delusion. Now before you laugh, or start looking at the mirror in the bathroom wondering if it is two-way, this is a real medical condition where people do actually believe that their friends and family are actors following a script and they are the subject of scrutiny via hidden cameras for entertainment or experimentation. It was explained in the short film through the eyes of Tim, an artist who suffered and recovered from the delusion and his descriptions, and drawings, of the emotions he went through were amazing.

After a single panel topical cartoon from Roz Chast, we went on to a short fictional film about the French writer Balzac’s thoughts as he drank his rumoured 50 cups of coffee every day, allegedly to help his writing. This really reminded me of a Terry Gilliam short, as it had that same surreal feel and was highly entertaining as each cup got a comment, from too much cream to too little, saying he’ll get up at the 10th cup and actually getting up at the 12th to his introspection of the bean itself around cup 35 and realising that he was speaking Spanish by cup 41. Quite.

A short interlude, of a beautifully shot film about a man letting white doves out of a pigeon loft to fly over the city, led on to the “main” article of this episode, a 20 minute documentary by Alex Gibney himself called The Agent, where various ex FBI agents are interviewed about the truth behind the story that the CIA could have stopped 9/11 happening if they had shared certain information with the FBI. As we have come to expect from Alex Gibney, there was compelling evidence presented in a non sensationalist way and it is left up to the viewer to decide what is or is not real.

So, I think you’ll agree it’s quite an eclectic mix for one episode and, looking at the synopses for other episodes in the series this diversity continues with episode 2 promising Bull Riding, Racist Violence explored through art and the effect of the closure of a casino in Atlantic City and future with articles as diverse as gay Mexican Wrestlers to a composer inspired by Alaskan landscapes, from  preachers to chicken fryers, from pesticide use to Bill Murray (yes, really) with a good sprinkling of fiction, art, poetry and cartoons thrown in. The thing that I loved most about the show, though, was that it really did feel like I was reading the magazine, the articles were all intelligent and engaging, never feeling too long but never skimping on information either. And it’s a fantastic way to bring the art of the short film, of which there are so many brilliant examples, to the general public in a way that is easily accessible.

Images - Amazon

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