“Newsweek,” the 79-year-old magazine is stepping into the present by axing their print edition to go fully digital in 2013. Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown announced the shift yesterday (tellingly on the Daily Beast site), and the polarized responses of crushing nostalgia, predictions of ultimate failure and it’s-about-time praise came from all corners of (again tellingly) the internet.
Whether it’s a signal of internal trouble or not, it’s where our world is heading, which is why it’s particularly encouraging in this time of transition to look back on some of the “Newsweek” covers of the past to discover that history tends to repeat itself. Someone should package that up and coin a phrase about it.
Of course, all of our choices are movie-themed, but as you’ll see from the selections, the ghost of the present seems to haunt the past even in the examination of the popular art. Even without the deep sentiment, it’s still fascinating to let nostalgia well up for the times gone by caught by these covers.
Predicting a Classic
The most obvious connection to the present here is the persistence of Indiana Jones not only in pop culture but also on movie screens just four years ago (even if some of you out there still deny Crystal Skull‘s existence). Maybe the early blockbuster was easy to root for, but it’s still impressive that the magazine called it a classic a mere three days after it was released. That’s a bold move no matter what, but they were right; Raiders went on to take a seat in the pantheon of the unforgotten.
That Art Deco-ish framing is a bit odd, but it’s great to see that shot so prominent (and weird to see a swastika on the cover of “Newsweek”).
In 1984, Robert Redford starred in one of the several iconic roles of his career, and he changed the name of his burgeoning Utah/US Film Festival to a much catchier moniker: Sundance. Nearly thirty years later, the festival has become a force in promoting American independent cinema just as Redford has remained a force in the filmmaking world. It has stood the test of time to become a yearly gauge and a launchpad for future talent.
Plus, on a non-movie note, does that whole Oil War thing seem familiar?
All Hail the Queen
Maybe Ingrid Bergman doesn’t seem exactly like a tie-in to the present at first (more on that in a moment), but there’s something intoxicating about looking into her steely eyes that sends shivers into strange places. By this point in her career, she was already a dynamo, having left Hollywood for a moment to portray an actresses playing Joan of Arc for a Broadway run of “Joan of Lorraine” that scored her a Tony award. That production was a play within a play about how the story of Joan of Arc affected the actors, but she’d take on the role of the French Saint herself the next year for Victor Fleming in the film Joan of Arc.
So how does she reflect the present? Beyond being another enduring icon that we still celebrate, the aforementioned film was not received well, partially for being too slow, but also because the public was aghast at the news of her affair with Robert Rossellini. This feels awful to say, but in at least one way, Bergman was the Kristen Stewart of her time.
Celebrating the Darkness of Summer
Obviously topical this month, the wide-eyed fierceness of Sigourney Weaver recalls Alien‘s current dominance in our Scariest Movie Ever tournament. Oh, and that whole Prometheus thing.
What Happened to Mr. Box Office?
This cover is the best kind of memory because it recalls a time when Eddie Murphy was at his best. It came out a month after Beverly Hills Cop hit theaters to colossal success. It represented the potential that was still ahead for the comedian who had transitioned beautifully into feature films.
However, it also raises the pesky modern question of who would be on a cover like that today. Landon and I both have been writing pieces since 2010 about the downfall of the traditional movie star – a position that is now being more widely accepted as franchises and high-visibility adaptations become the new “stars” drawing people to the cinema. Who is the last actor that could be considered Mr. or Mrs. Box Office?
Read on for an offer you can’t refuse.
The Horse’s Head
Whoa. Yes, it’s cherry-picking to find a cover featuring a movie that’s currently in your collection and call it relevant, but it’s Brando. Brado! The world lost him in 2004 (which was 35 years after Francis Ford Coppola lost him in Apocalypse Now), but The Godfather lives on. There’s even a slim possibility that someone might make a prequel someday.
The sad note here is that Coppola has become much more involved in his vineyards (and in truly bizarre experimental films with Val Kilmer), Al Pacino has become essentially a paycheck actor and, of course, we can’t look at that face without remembering the tragic passing of Abe Vigoda (who is still totally alive at 91).
For the 80s
A star for the ’80s? How about a star for the ’00s and beyond? Meryl Streep won her first Oscar in 1980 (for Kramer vs. Kramer) but she’s gone on to have 428 more nominations and close to 100 more wins (okay, just 1 non-80s win). The thing is, she’s arguably more important now than she was even then, capitalizing on the staggeringly rare status as a Working Icon. She’s quite possibly the best actor of our time (which can only be proven by a fist fight with Daniel Day-Lewis), and her output is consistently wide-ranging and excellent.
All that cover needs is a quick photoshop to erase the “8” and replace it with a “0.”
How cool is it that “Newsweek” featured a sexualized B-movie with a topless Jane Fonda? And how cool is it that she was three years away from an Oscar nomination and five years away from a win here? These days, she’s busy playing a ball-buster on The Newsroom and portraying Nancy Reagan in the forthcoming The Butler. The chances of her posing topless for “Newsweek” again are slim (because they won’t have covers anymore, of course).
Also, just for fun, imagine you’re a less movie-savvy reader in late 1967 when this blonde woman shows up with no clothes on, holding a long feather. What do you try to make of it?
We’ve got the corner on bloated budgets, right? Yes and no. It’s undeniable that big budgets are the norm for studios looking for a giant payday, but spending large amounts on spectacle wasn’t exactly born with Avatar. Elizabeth Taylor’s turn as the Egyptian pharaoh might be more famous, but Vivien Leigh starring in Caesar and Cleopatra was an even bigger box office flop.
Big names. Huge visuals. Giant paychecks. Large risks. None of these things are unique to the current state of studio filmmaking.
There was a time that auteur filmmaking meant having a beard. Hopefully that comes back.
Even if it doesn’t, we can still be startled by the vision of Stanley Kubrick. That’s one of the most enduring surprises that the past has in store for the present. From time to time, we tend to think of ourselves as bolder and more shocking than our mothers and fathers, but everything from Freaks to Peeping Tom to Kubrick can remind us that the past was also incredibly messed up. That’s sort of comforting, right?
Sad to see you go, printed “Newsweek.” Welcome to the present. So it goes.
Images found at the invaluable “Newsweek” Archive