September 22, 2018

THERE IS NO NON:

The Hollywood Reporter: Remembering the New Yorker's Lillian Ross, who chronicled the second half of the twentieth century with her trademark brand of reporting, one year after her death. (DAVID HAYES, SEPTEMBER 17, 2018, Hazlitt)

In May of 1950, a thirty-one-year-old New Yorker staff writer named Lillian Ross became the talk of the town when the magazine published her sharply-observed, massively detailed profile of Ernest Hemingway. Around the same time, she began following the noted screenwriter and director John Huston as he was making his much-anticipated movie, The Red Badge of Courage, based on Stephen Crane's Civil War novel.

Two years later, "No. 1512," Ross's remarkable anatomy of the Hollywood studio system and the fate of Huston's film, appeared as a four-part serial in The New Yorker and in book form, as Picture: A Story About Hollywood, a few months later (available again in April 2019 from NYRB Classics). Hailed at the time as one of the first examples of nonfiction written like fiction--it wasn't, of course; fictional devices have been used by writers of nonfiction since at least the nineteenth century--Ross is on record as having consulted with New Yorker editor (and later her long-time lover) William Shawn early in her reporting, telling him: "I don't know whether this sort of thing has ever been done before, but I don't see why I shouldn't try to do a fact piece in novel form, or maybe a novel in fact form." [...]

Granted by Huston and the studio, MGM, the kind of carte blanche access that has virtually disappeared in today's spin-doctored culture, Ross, using her favorite 3 x 5-inch spiral Clairefontaine notebooks and micro-point Uni-Ball pens, recorded the making of the movie with stenographic precision, detailing all the compromises, the noble intentions, and self-absorbed foolishness of Hollywood, often in long chunks of what seem to be verbatim dialogue. It feels as though she's present everywhere, a technique that's similar to "participant observation," a form of qualitative data collection used in sociology and anthropology. In the introduction to her 2015 anthology, Reporting Always, Ross simply called it "writing a piece as if it were a miniature movie."

Posted by at September 22, 2018 9:02 AM

  

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