Last night’s Sony screening of “Julie and Julia,” at the Lincoln Square movie theater, was bananas. It was more like a Woody Allen opening on the Upper West Side, and you know what that is like. People were waiting downstairs in an extraordinary wrap-around-the-lobby-press-line-poor New York Times critic Stephen Holden showed up not at all early and actually did a double take between the press tickets table and the end of the line. (To his credit, he hopped on the back of the line.) There were even people in the line who had been turned away from the last big-theater pre-screening. This screening looked a lot like the one, held in the same theater, for King Kong-a crazy rush of anticipation. Why? Could it perhaps have been… all the pre-press?
Nikki Finke is on the warpath over the New York Times and Nora Ephron: “At last count, 15 mentions of Nora Ephron in The New York Times online and in the paper in just the past 30 days.” There are many nefarious suggestions there: her husband used to work for the Times, and Times TV “critic” Alessandra Stanley threw her a party, and maybe her “contributing columnist” title at the Times means she receives money from them.
Nikki’s not wrong! The Times is basically live-blogging from inside Nora Ephron’s living room. But none of that quite accounts for what’s going on.
There are two things, I think, working in conjunction. One is that there is a newspaper that, for the most part, has no idea what lies beyond its own fortress walls, and also lacks communication between sections. (Let me double-assert the “for the most part” there; there are definitely Times critics and editors and columnists who are not in the bubble chamber, who do not spend all their time with each other.) But Ms. Ephron is absolutely a citizen of the land of the Times, and at a time when sections like Arts & Leisure exhibit absolutely clearly that they have very little idea anymore what readers are, or even should be, interested in. Ephron knows the paper’s bigwigs quite well; that is one of the worlds she travels in quite happily; she is deep inside their bubble.
But it’s also bigger than that. Nora Ephron is perhaps the most masterful social butterfly of her age group. At least in part, that is because she is delightful, and witty, and actually somewhat powerful, at least as much as any person working in the arts can be. (That is to say: she knows a lot of rich people!) She is available to reporters large and small (she once responded to an email of mine for a story, having no idea who I was, even though she was out of the country), which is an insanely charming attribute. And she represents an important and rare bridge between New York and Los Angeles, between publishing and film, a bridge that has narrowed in recent years. (The days of everything produced by “hot young magazine writers” getting optioned ended a while ago.) Surely people believe that a word from Ephron can get their whatever onto whoever’s desk out on that mysterious other coast.
Nora Ephron possesses a strange sort of magic here in New York, in this odd period after the reigns of Pat Buckley and Mrs. Astor and before, I guess, the doyenneships of Tinsley Mortimer and, uh, whoever. Her friends are extremely fancy. And, unlike most of the women in various points in time at the top of what I guess you could call cultural society, she actually makes and does something. In a town where there’s actually not that much going on-really! It’s pretty bleak here!-it’s easy to pay attention to a charming, fun whirlwind.