BY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!
ON THE COVER
CP: A nearly surgical dissection of the issues surrounding Mayor Nutter’s three years at the city’s helm and his potential for re-election. Whether you follow the city’s politics closely or hardly at all, there’s a great deal to be learned; the narrative of all the biggest knocks against the Mayor is easy to trace, and each is thoughtfully examined. Try this, a take on the trope that “He’s accomplished nothing.”
Nutter has fallen short in some of his own biggest goals, so far: ethics reform and crime reduction. The mayor promised to reduce murders by 30 to 50 percent within three to five years. Last year, they were down only 22 percent. So far this year, murders are up. And while the mayor recently announced new ethics rules, he’s been unable to get other elected bodies, like Council, to do the same.
Yet the very example used by Street and Kinney to illustrate the mayor’s utter ineffectiveness — 311 — might actually make a decent case for the opposite point. A Pew study last March found Philly’s 311 service cheaper than similar programs in other cities and fairly popular: 68 percent of people who had called the hot line said they had been satisfied with the information they got. A few months ago, City Paper discovered that the city’s 311 call center had established a presence on seeclickfix.com, a website that allows residents to report concerns online and track their complaints.
“It’s far better than what we had, which was to call the streets department and get an answering machine, which is full, or address your city councilperson,” acknowledges John Boyle of the Philadelphia Bike Coalition, who holds the honor of being the site’s third-most-active user (Philly311 is the first).
It’s this kind of small, unglamorous innovation that hasn’t won the mayor much press, but that, members of his administration argue passionately, represents one of the most radical things the mayor’s trying to do: make the city’s sprawling bureaucracy more accessible to regular people and take politics out of the equation of city services.
Easily-overlooked bits of Nutter’s mayorship (mayoralty? regime? Ah, the hell with it) and little victories will go overlooked no more, I’d say.
PW: A byline I don’t recognize usually means “intern-penned.” Quick scan of the masthead: hmm, maybe not. Sometimes, an enterprising freelancer manages to find an opening — depends on your tolerance of trees and barking up them. In any case, major props to Micaela Hester, whatever she is, for this week’s cover story on the Toynbee Tiles documentary, because it’s damned good. Creativity, obsession, sacrifice, PROCESS (rare to find), and not a lick of plot summary or spoilerism: It’s got everything cinematic journalism should have.
“You go in with certain ideas and you recalibrate as you go,” says Foy ruefully of the early filmmaking process. He started out by filming Duerr at some of the Philly tile sites reading the messages into the camera, but they soon realized that this wasn’t particularly compelling. The four newly minted filmmakers decided to hit the highway to check out tiles in other cities, trying to retrace the footsteps of the artist. Foy would film the road trip, and they figured maybe the investigation would make for a good story, even if it didn’t go anywhere.
“I assumed that … we wouldn’t make any headway in terms of actually solving any kind of mystery,” says the ever-pragmatic Smith. But he piled into the car anyway.
Their first trip took them from St. Louis to Cleveland to rural Michigan to Washington, D.C., and a bunch of places in between. Sleep and bathroom breaks were secondary to cramming in as much mileage per day as possible—lives, jobs and vacuums were waiting back in Philly.
Sometimes they’d arrive at a site to find the tile had vanished, eroded by traffic or bulldozed by new construction. But after that first trip, the film became an obsession. The four spent hours researching in libraries and online, investigating even the most obscure references. They saw potential links in a Mamet script and in crackpots on Larry King’s call-in show. When a lead showed promise, Foy got his camera and they hit the road.
They became familiar with underground art collectives and fanatic subgroups, and found themselves attending a short-wave radio convention and knocking on recluses’ doors. They even spent some quality time with a man who makes machines that he claims can talk to the dead
Eh, I guess it has one thing that journalism, cinematic or otherwise, shouldn’t have: an artless delivery of a flashback: “But let’s start with a flashback.” It’s hard to do, I know, but the fact that Hester has to resort to it shows she’s aiming high: the chronology and the sense of the time that Foy and the rest of the film’s creators sunk into this project comes through in a big way.
INSIDE THE BOOK
CP: New head of PHA may be a policy Wonka. Attention law enforcement: we’ve found the guy who “liquefied ALF and E.T. and drank up their plasma.” Cue salivation: meatballs in “more than 2,000 possible combinations.” “Build a Prison Where You Live, Mayor Nutter”: It would help him win the Southwest Philly vote, that’s for sure.
WINNER: It’s an embarrassment of riches this week, with strong material all around. I think I have to give the crown to PW, because I see so few movies in the theater, and the piece made me wonder when it would come to Philly — after the Sundance victory lap, of course — and, more importantly, made me want to see it.