Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill's glory days as New York newspaper columnists coincided with dark days for the city.
High crime. A bankrupt municipal government. Deteriorating infrastructure and public services. Migration of business and population.
The HBO documentary on Breslin and Hamill, which aired Monday night, touches on events of the city's downward spiral, mainly through Breslin's work.
For all of its troubles, New York was an exciting place for new music, art, literature and sexual and social experimentation. The city was packed with exotic small businesses. Each block was electric with adventure. The city had a vibrant middle class of workers, who read the tabloids that published Breslin and Hamill.
The documentary juxtaposed two photos. One from several decades ago showed New Yorkers on a subway car, all of them immersed in tabloid newspapers. The other, from today, shows subway riders transfixed by their smartphones.
These days, a billionaire makes news by buying an apartment on Central Park for $243 million. Small shops, and big ones, are squeezed out by high rents.
On a once lively Westside area now called billionaires row, residential towers blot out the sun and stars. The hulking monoliths stand empty most of the time. Their owners are Arab oil titans or Russian oligarchs who don't actually live in Manhattan.
The documentary was OK, if predictable. The usual array of talking heads, making unoriginal points. Snippets from Breslin's greatest hitts, which showed that he was a greater writer and journalist than Hamill. I loved Hamill's memoir, "A Drinking Life," but his newspaper work was overwrought. Breslin displays a truer sense of language.
In Hamill's corner, photos of the glamorous women he dated, including Jacqueline Onassis. A few shots of Hamill's battle for control of the New York Post. A mention of Rupert Murdoch taking the Post off the scrap heap, but no discussion of his turning the once liberal newspaper into a right-wing print version of Fox News.
Interviews with Breslin and Hamill shot before Breslin's death in 2017 captured the devastation of aging.
The documentary ended with the fact that The New York Daily News, which once employed Hamill and Breslin, has gone from 400 employees to 45. Gloria Steinem and others pushed the unconvincing argument that journalism like Breslin's will survive in different forms.
That was taped before several digital web sites announced massive layoffs.
Breslin and Hamill reached a mass readership. Now, those people on their cellphones find a disparate clash of voices. Yet the digital revenues are controlled by Google, Facebook and Amazon.
The city is much richer today, and much poorer.
I wish someone would do a documentary in which Breslin's columns are read, like poetry, or the Gettysburg Address.