On Wednesday evening, a small and somewhat exhausted crowd gathered at the newly refurbished Oak Room to celebrate a screening of After the Party, Australian filmmakers Kirsty de Garis and Timothy Jolley‘s documentary about the life of the novelist, crime reporter, and Vanity Fair columnist Dominick Dunne. Mr. Dunne, who is currently battling cancer, was unable to make the screening because of a scheduled surgery. His presence was distinctly felt, however, with friends like Nora Ephron and MSNBC’s Dan Abrams complimenting the film and eagerly sharing stories about the legendary writer.
We also spoke with editor Harry Evans and author Ian McEwan, who were seated across from each other and deep in conversation when we approached.
Mr. Evans, who has known Mr. Dunne for years, said watching the film was as if “you added water to the powder of a person and they sprang to life.”
“It was very, very moving and entertaining and brilliantly made. It’s so fascinating, that mixture, that strange eclectic collision between stars and criminals. Lunatics, murder, glamour–it was an extraordinary mix. Of course, Dominick is the presiding genius of connecting the world of grime and the world of glamour.”
Though Mr. McEwan doesn’t know Mr. Dunne personally, he said he very much enjoyed the film: “I loved it. I never saw a man repent so much in his life and I was very impressed. So much repentance without religion! You don’t need religion to repent.”
We asked Mr. McEwan how he’d spent Election Night: “With friends, watching and drinking. I’ve never seen so many grown men of great political sophistication sob…I’ve never seen so much sobbing.”
“I think it is a new era. I think the change in spirit will last,” said Mr. Evans. “I’ve spoken to a number of people today and the story is of sobs and a feeling of unity. When 9/11 happened there was that joyous exhilaration as well as the tragedy–or not tragedy, outrage is a better word–and when George Bush got up and said the message is ‘go shopping,’ the wind went of the sails, rather.”
“That was a very bad move,” Mr. McEwan observed. “That was the beginning of a lot of bad things.”
He added: “It’s thrilling. You have a rationalist in the White House! You have a man who gave an interview in September’s Nature magazine…He was asked about intelligent design and he gave a very sturdy response. He said it has no place in any discussion of science…You can’t take rationalism for granted!”
“An interesting thought about this election is the restoration of literacy as a value,” Mr. Evans offered.
“I read both of [Mr. Obama’s] books and he actually turns a very good paragraph,” said Mr. McEwan.
“He does, doesn’t he!” Mr. Evans said, sounding almost surprised.
“It’s almost unreal,” Mr. McEwan concluded. “It’s almost like a script session of The West Wing has gone completely out of control…Let’s have a black guy who’s a rationalist.”
Mr. Evans’s wife, Tina Brown, who was responsible for launching Mr. Dunne’s Vanity Fair writing career, said the film was great in that it “caught all his candor and his sense irony about himself, which is what’s so appealing about Nick.” (Mr. Dunne is called “Nick” by friends and family.) “There isn’t any pretense or fakeness to Nick.”
As for Mr. Dunne’s influence, she said “Good social reportage is very, very hard to find, particularly social journalism that has a heart and a point of view. And I came across Nick and I knew, this guy must be able to write because he has such a way of telling a story.”
And what did Ms. Brown predict for the future of journalism in general? “I think it’s a very depressing time for a lot of talent…I think we’re in the middle of a kind of industrial revolution in media. Just as the spinning jenny isn’t with us anymore, there will be shifts and it’s all about who can adapt and how fast.”
Ms. Brown added that, for journalism to survive, publications will be forced to go the way of her own newly launched project, The Daily Beast: “I think they will find a way to do it well online. It’s all about the management, they have to address as much online as they did in their magazines and newspapers. There may be a transition where there isn’t money being made, but the people with vision, who understand they have to stay with things and develop things, are going to be the ones who succeed.”
Ms. Brown had a supporter in Joan Didion, Mr. Dunne’s sister-in-law, who told us, “I hope [print] stays with us in some form…We all read print on the computer now, so I don’t see that as dramatically different.”
As for the film, she said, “I thought they did a really remarkable job. It got closer to my brother-in-law than anybody I have seen has gotten to him…He’s seen it and he feels the same way.”
And what were her thoughts on the election’s outcome? “I haven’t figured it out. I have to sit down and write about it and try to figure it out.” Did she believe the election would usher in an era of tangible change? “I don’t know. That’s part of what we’re going to find out. I mean, I think we all we all have high hopes, but who knows?”