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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Got Wood? Heds Up For An End To Vinnie’s Plenty

V. A. Musetto has left his Post after editing its film section for 25 years. As a movie reviewer, he’s got swell taste and has said he’ll continue to contribute. He writes headlines, too. And what headlines! Here’s how he described that gift to People magazine in 1987: “Zap, zip, zonk, nix, those are good verbs. Short. Short and powerful. They’ve got to convey a sense of urgency. Nouns? Tots, kids, fire, you know—SIX-ALARM FIRE. Blaze is good, but fire’s shorter. Siege. Siege is good. Madman, maniac, fear. My favorite word is ‘coed.’ When you see coed, people want to buy the paper. I don’t know why—just some young, innocent girl getting into a lot of trouble. It’s the dirty old man in people. It’s a very sexy word…Without the hyphen. Some people spell it with a hyphen, we spell it without the hyphen.”

The mechanics are simple, the punch is simpler: “Writing headlines is being able to say a complex story in three or four words that will attract a reader. It’s like advertising on TV.” But it’s day-to-day, hed-to-hed combat. “Anybody can put a newspaper out when it’s all happening—if they shoot the President of the United States. It’s when nothing’s happening—you have no stories, you have no photos—that’s the pits. That’s when you really earn your money.  I wrote HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR, the most infamous headline in journalism.”

But that memorable slug is a shrug to Musetto. “It’s not one of my favorite headlines… One afternoon I got a report that there had been a murder in a bar, and that one of the victims had had his or her head cut off. Someone said it might be a topless bar, but we weren’t sure, and then the idea of the headline came around, so we were really questioning to make sure it was a topless bar. We sent the reporter, this girl, and she so determined that it was a topless bar. I just wrote it, and everyone said ‘ha ha,’ but I didn’t think it would live in infamy.” His personal favorite? “GRANNY EXECUTED IN HER PINK PAJAMAS. It was about a woman who went to the electric chair, and she wanted to wear her pajamas rather than prison garb, so they let her. I don’t think you could pass that headline without reading the story. You see that headline and you immediately want to know what it’s about. It’s just the picture of this woman, this poor woman, you feel sorry for her, she killed somebody but you still feel sorry for her.”

Not many people have done the job so well for so long. He’d dreamt of it always. “For some reason I was always good at writing headlines. I think it had to do with my childhood, reading newspapers… I read the Post, the Herald Tribune, the Daily Mirror, the Daily News, the Journal-American and the World-Telegram. There were seven papers in New York City then; it was great. I used to dream about writing front-page headlines.”

“I came to the Post in 1975,” Musetto recalled to People. “The Post was dying before Murdoch bought it. It probably would have gone out of business. The woods—we call headlines “woods” because big type used to be made of wood—were always, you know, basic woods. Murdoch brought in a lot of guys who used Fleet Street-type headlines… “I WANT MY ROSARY BEADS.” We ran that a little while ago. Previously the headline would have read PRISONER SAYS HE ASKED POLICE FOR HIS ROSARY BEADS. And the headlines became physically bigger. I thought it was great. Murdoch sort of made headlines pop art.”

There’s something about wood: “Writing headlines is a good way to impress a woman. When you first meet her you tell her what you do. And then when she’s walking down the street, she sees this headline, and she says, “Oh, he wrote that. That guy I went out with last night wrote that.” And when you break up, they can’t ignore you. You’re on every newsstand. There’s no escape.” [More at the link.]

[A misattribution of one of Musetto’s titles has been corrected; h/t Lou Lumenick.]

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“Roger Ebert claimed that the re-editing of The Brown Bunny after Cannes allowed him a difference of opinion so vast that he first called it the worst film in history and eventually gave it a thumbs up. This is both far fetched and an outright lie. The truth is, unlike the many claims that the unfinished film that showed at Cannes was 24 minutes shorter than the finished film, it was only 8 minutes shorter. The running time I filled out on the Cannes submission form was arbitrary. The running time I chose was just a number I liked. I had no idea where in the process I would actually be when I needed to stop cutting to meet the screening deadline. So whatever running time was printed in the program, I promise you, was not the actual running time. And the cuts I made to finish the film after Cannes were not many. I shortened the opening race scene once I was able to do so digitally. After rewatching the last 4 minutes of the film over and over again, somewhere within those 4 minutes, I froze the picture and just ended the film there, cutting out everything after that point, which was about 3 minutes. Originally in the salt flats scene, the motorcycle returned from the white. I removed the return portion of that shot, which seemed too literal. And I cut a scene of me putting on a sweater. That’s pretty much it. Plus the usual frame here, frame there, final tweaks. If you didn’t like the unfinished film at Cannes, you didn’t like the finished film, and vice versa. Roger Ebert made up his story and his premise because after calling my film literally the worst film ever made, he eventually realized it was not in his best interest to be stuck with that mantra. Stuck with a brutal, dismissive review of a film that other, more serious critics eventually felt differently about. He also took attention away from what he actually did at the press screening. It is outrageous that a single critic disrupted a press screening for a film chosen in main competition at such a high profile festival and even more outrageous that Ebert was ever allowed into another screening at Cannes. His ranting, moaning and eventual loud singing happened within the first 20 minutes, completely disrupting and manipulating the press screening of my film. Afterwards, at the first public screening, booing, laughing and hissing started during the open credits, even before the first scene of the film. The public, who had heard and read rumors about the Ebert incident and about me personally, heckled from frame one and never stopped. To make things weirder, I got a record-setting standing ovation from the supporters of the film who were trying to show up the distractors who had been disrupting the film. It was not the cut nor the film itself that drew blood. It was something suspicious about me. Something offensive to certain ideologues.”
~ Vincent Gallo

“I think [technology has[ its made my life faster, it’s made the ability to succeed easier. But has that made my life better? Is it better now than it was in the eighties or seventies? I don’t think we are happier. Maybe because I’m 55, I really am asking these questions… I really want to do meaningful things! This is also the time that I really want to focus on directing. I think that I will act less and less. I’ve been doing it for 52 years. It’s a long time to do one thing and I feel like there are a lot of stories that I got out of my system that I don’t need to tell anymore. I don’t need to ever do The Accused again! That is never going to happen again! You hit these milestones as an actor, and then you say, ‘Now what? Now what do I have to say?'”
~ Jodie Foster