REVIEW: Ivory Tower

11 12 2014

Ivory TowerFull disclosure: I watched “Ivory Tower” fully hoping its thesis was wrong, for my and my parents’ sanity.  I have one semester left in college, and had Andrew Rossi’s documentary proven that it was not worth the price tag … well, finish that sentence as you will.  (And I attend a private university, so the cost is considerably steeper.)

Still, it is nonetheless a topic that needs debate and discussion.  Costs have really spiraled out of control, and the college education that serves as the cornerstone of the American dream of self-advancement may eventually grow out of reach for many families.  Frighteningly, the price of college tuition has increased more than any other service in the United States.

There are plenty of threads a documentary on the contemporary university could follow, and Rossi really makes an attempt to follow just about all of them.  This proves somewhat detrimental to “Ivory Tower” in the long run as it provides a broad overview of the problems at the expense of a pointed conclusion.  Such an approach increases knowledge but discourages action.

Some topics, like the newly imposed tuition at the previously free university Cooper Union, receive an unduly amount of attention.  Since this is such an isolated case, too, it seems like an ill-advised use of precious time.  Issues like the impending student debt bubble collapse, or the false promise of supplemental online education, or even the rise of successful entrepreneurs without a college diploma feel like far more pressing concerns.

Still, this documentary packs enough punches to prompt some decent thought afterwards.  While “Ivory Tower” may lack the streamlined clarity of Rossi’s last non-fiction film, New York Times inside-look “Page One,” it raises many valid concerns that are likely to resonate with a much larger group of stakeholders.  B2halfstars





F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 9, 2013)

9 08 2013

With Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos buying up the Washington Post this week, I felt it would be an appropriate time to revisit Andrew Rossi’s documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times.”  The film, which takes a magnifying glass to the paper’s 2010 calendar year, is still fresh even though the news is old.  It’s packed with enough relevant and insightful discussion of the news industry in the age of Twitter that it stands as my pick of the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Rossi follows the reporters and editors of The New York Times as they deal with various journalistic challenges, including Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks revelations and the bankruptcy of the Tribune media companies.  Each provide fascinating fodder for thought on the role of the press in maintaing an open society and an informed citizenry.  Rossi’s camera catches all sorts of intriguing behind-the-scenes action to give the film the pop of an “All the President’s Men” (or even 2009’s Oscar-nominated doc “The Most Dangerous Man in the World“).

But as the slogan of the film hints, “Page One” is most concerned with the state of the paper – because as we are aware, we can get the news from a whole host of sources now.  No one is more painfully aware of this than the staff of The New York Times themselves, feeling tangible effects from the digital revolution in tandem with the collapse of their old advertising model.  They show how often we take the news for granted, often times as if it were some kind of public good.

The documentary finds a fun protagonist in David Carr, the paper’s media reporter whose blunt but always intelligent observations on the state of the industry provide a firm center for the film.  He’s an unconventional reporter who took a wild journey to end up at The New York Times, but he’s also a compelling cheerleader for the necessity of conventional journalism and the integrity that comes with it.

Carr and “Page One” make me proud to spend $8 a month to gain access to the newspaper, a decision announced during the timeframe covered in the film.  While I’m sure the monetization of my support has been helpful, the battle clearly isn’t over as I get endless mailers asking me to add home delivery to my subscription package…