Film Review: SMILING THROUGH THE APOCALYPSE
The title of the documentary is based on the book of the same name about one of the greatest periods of American journalism as exemplified by Esquire Magazine under the guidance of editor extraordinaire Harold Hayes (1963 - 1973). Hayes, a man with Hollywood good looks, charisma, charm and vision and driven by a seemingly endless amount of innovative creativity was able to attract the best talent and get what he wanted from them while allowing them the maximum creative freedom. He boldly changed the look of Esquire and influenced the look of magazines ever after. It would appear that most of his adult life was being documented. There are copious interviews by most of the authors, art directors, photographers and publishers that knew or worked with him. And the portrait that comes through is of a man with a magnetic galvanizing personality which made everyone want to work with him knowing that they would not find a better showcase with better company. The list of writers, a Who’s Who of “New Journalism”, includes Nora Ephron, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Gay Talese and Tom Wolf (“Electric Kool Aid Acid Trip” was comprised of articles for Equire). He hired a young unknown Diane Arbus. Art Kane produced one of the iconic photographs of all time for Esquire: A Great Day in Harlem, about which an Academy Award nominated documentary was made. They must have been heady times. Boundaries were being pushed in all directions and everyone seemed to be having a ball.
The film is a lovingly told recollection by Harold Hayes’ son, Tom, with lots of charming grainy black and white photos and videos of the two of them from his childhood and adolescence. They seem to have had a great relationship and it is a fitting tribute to a man who was so loved and admired by so many. I assume that the apocalypse in title of the original book was based on the turbulence of the sixties - Viet Nam, Civil Rights movement, Apollo 13, Woodstock, assassinations of JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King. There was a lot of revolutionary stuff going on in those days, tectonic shifts in politics and society and it must have felt apocalyptic. What should we call our reality today?