Much of “Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People” is devoted to explaining how the pioneering newspaperman redefined American journalism. He pushed for language that the masses could understand. He devised visual presentations that accounted for how readers’ eyes might skip around to different parts of a page. And his papers engaged in a sensationalist style that, as described, was only slightly more responsible than that of William Randolph Hearst, with whom Pulitzer competed during the buildup to the Spanish-American War.
None of these skills, except perhaps a flair for direct, comprehensible explanations, apply to the movie, a standard biographical primer from Oren Rudavsky. Notwithstanding the dynamic layouts from Pulitzer’s New York World, the film hasn’t found the material to make this subject pop visually. Historians and other experts describe Pulitzer’s life and ethos accompanied by the usual archival photographs. Adam Driver narrates, while Liev Schreiber speaks Pulitzer’s words, appropriately if distractingly mimicking a Hungarian accent.
Perhaps the biggest surprise from today’s standards is how freely journalism in the late 19th century served as a revolving door with politics. (We hear about how Pulitzer, serving in the Missouri State House, promoted his own agenda in print.) And Pulitzer’s life — as an immigrant who championed other immigrants, the poor and unions, but had high-society ambitions that clashed with those ideals — is a fascinating study in contradictions. While there are amazing anecdotes here, there is little to catch the eye or ear.
Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People
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Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes.
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