Paul and Holly Fine rank high within a distinct minority group: the prides and joys of local television. The Fines, a husband and wife cinematographer and film editor team, have produced genuinely superior documentaries and news features for WJLA-TV and scooped up nearly every conceivable award in the process. Their walls must be sagging with plaques.
This week on Channel 7's 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts, the Fines tour Washington "On the Night Side," offering a broad composite portrait of life and death in the new city that rises each day after the government has fallen and the suburbanites gone home to their Sonys.
As often happens, the visual images are so good, so well-captured and put together, that the words on these reports are miles behind. It doesn't help that reporter Ed Turney simply doesn't have the voice or sense of authority for the assignment. Nor is he a poet, as his highfalutin introduction to the series verfies:
"They call her the daughter of darkness. She's restless. She's sexy.Her eyes are a thousand lights."
Once this bit of misplaced loftiness is over, the Fines bring the rhythms and textures of the city at night into fresh focus. The first report includes a visit to a bar where Sonny Jurgenson is watching football on TV and a stopover at a 3 a.m. poker game for off duty workers at a Metro construction site.
The series takes on more substance Tuesday, when the birth of a baby at Columbia Hospital is contrasted with the death of an unnamed victim of an inner city shooting. We see the scarred arms of an addict at a junkie hotel and behold a full moon over the Capitol Dome.
Wednesday's report includes shop-talk by a 14th Street prostitute, the police stakeout and bust of a brothel, and an interview with a male stripper at the Cinema Follies theater, visited a week before a devastating fire closed it down. The male stripper says he likes nighttime because "you look better" then.
Holly Fine was still editing Thursday's and Friday's segments yesterday. They will include a trip inside a halfway house for alcoholics and, on Friday, moments from an all-night revival meeting that proceeded oblivious to dope deals being made across the street from the noisy church.
Strictly speaking, the information value of these reports may be low, but they convey the essence of little-seen events in a way that seems earnest and valuable. Also, this is about five minutes per night on the news that will not go to gossip, analysis of a Redskins game, or dubiously helpful hints. The Fines don't squander their time or ours.
In truth, also, the birth and death depicted did not occur on the same night. The one-week profile is the result of three weeks' shooting. But the Fines did arrange the reports so that anything shown on Tuesday night actually happened on a Tuesday night; in this way, they were able to appear to be several places at once.
Paul Fine, 32, met Holly Fine, 30, at WJLA, where they have each worked for about eight years. The married six years ago and say that neither married life nor working life suffers from their unusual arrangement.
"We argue, we fight, that's the way it's done," says Paul. "I can say things to her that I wouldn't say to any other film editor, and I know she says things to me she wouldn't say to any other cameraman."
They are not hard-nosed investigative journalists. Paul says he thinks the news should be "entertaining," and he dreads the replacement in TV news of film by videotape ("E.J." - for "electronic journalism") partly because "tape doesn't have that fantasy that film has."
Still, the work of the Fines looks less compromised by "fantasy" than much of what appears on local news shows. They've been able to maintain dignity in a business that sometimes resembles a rat race staged at a circus.
But one feels their work would stand up almost anywhere. With "Night Side," the Fines again use potent images to communicate impressions of things that matter. Good for them. Good for us.