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Friday, June 13, 2014

DVD Review: Top Hat & Tales: Harold Ross And The Making Of The New Yorker



Top Hat & Tales: Harold Ross And The Making Of The New Yorker sets the stage by opening with footage of New York in the roaring twenties. We learn that Harold Ross, founder and editor of The New Yorker, was a high school drop-out (something I hadn’t known), and then the film immediately goes into thoughts on the magazine by writers such as Philip Hamburger and Stuart Hample.

The film is as much about the influence and style of the magazine as it is about its origins. It includes interviews with many former and current employees of The New Yorker, as well as lots of images of art and cartoons from the magazine.

There is some information near the beginning regarding investor Raoul Fleischmann, and also about some of the magazine’s first writers. Brendan Gill talks about how the magazine was really the product of three men who knew nothing about New York City or the Jazz Age. He says (about Harold Ross, E.B. White and James Thurber): “They were all, in effect, hicks. They were all total outsiders.” John Updike says: “What Thurber and White did bring to The New Yorker was a sense of nervousness. I think they were both truly nervous men.” It was Katharine White who helped provide the sophistication which Harold Ross envisioned for the magazine.

This documentary provides first an overview of the magazine, its style and so on before then providing the viewer with information about Harold Ross himself and his upbringing. We’re halfway through the film before we learn much about Ross, and it is that material that for me is the most interesting. The fact that he began working for his local newspaper in his early teens and then left home for California at age eighteen is interesting. Even more interesting is the story of how after enlisting during the first World War, Ross walked to Paris to work on The Stars And Stripes, and became the editor of that paper. Also intriguing is all of the stuff on how World War II affected the style of the magazine.

Top Hat & Tales: Harold Ross And The Making Of The New Yorker was directed by Adam Van Doren, and is scheduled to be released on DVD on June 17, 2014 through First Run Features. The DVD contains no special features.

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