Serving as something of an overstuffed sampler platter, the documentary “The Pulitzer at 100,” marking the centenary of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer’s effort to place journalism on equal footing with arts and letters, is big on variety but comes up frustratingly short on substance.
While the one-off production is clearly better-suited as a limited PBS-style series, it’s as if filmmaker Kirk Simon entered into the project without a carefully thought-out agenda, instead opting for more of a free-form approach that constantly undercuts its effectiveness.
Although it’s encouraging to see such a diverse representation of assembled winners, the decision to have the likes of John Lithgow, Helen Mirren and Martin Scorsese lend their A-lister cred by giving readings from works of Pulitzer winners who are no longer living ultimately detracts from far more compelling stuff in the embattled journalistic arena.
At the end of the day, those iconic images from Kent State and Vietnam (“Napalm Girl”), as captured by the lenses of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers John Filo and Nick Ut, respectively, and, the newly relevant Watergate coverage by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (who offers a chilling anecdote about John Mitchell) ultimately carry more weight than watching Natalie Portman emoting Eudora Welty.
Instead of delving more incisively into that ever-pertinent observation about news being the first rough draft of history, Simon is content to simply rest on his laureates.
‘The Pulitzer at 100’
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills