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Thread: A commentary

  1. #1
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    A commentary

    Good Night and Good Luck; a film by George Clooney

    Shortly after the red menace scare of the 1950’s, this country went to war to stop the spread of communism based on the lies of an American President. At this point you might ask, what has a history lesson to do with a film review?

    As in the art of editing, juxtaposition is everything. Certainly when Clooney began writing and conceptualizing this film, the subject of W. Bush’s excuses for war must certainly have been on the entertainer’s mind. For while the subject matter may have been about the esteemed broadcaster, Edward R. Murrow, the core of the film’s sentiment was juxtaposed against the current background of another government lying to its electorate as it leads us down one more slippery slope. Whether intentional or not, Mr. Clooney sharpened the focus of our current dilemma in trusting and believing our elected officials when they tell us why they are declaring war, whether it be on the communist or the terrorist.

    Outside this commentary on intent, the film is an Ansel Adams photograph, full of fine details beautifully crafted in a perfectly chosen frame. Adams photographed nature in black and white, oddly enough with a large format camera, the type used during the opening scene at the party. Strangely, a flash is shown off screen to indicate the picture was taken. Yet seconds before, the camera had no flash attached to the top. Despite that distraction, Clooney has crafted a fine work of art not seen since “The Last Picture Show,” also in black and white (that film and this are dissimilar to Schindler’s List). There’s something about shooting a film in black and white that lends cinemaphotographers to do their best work. There are subtle lighting effects sprinkled throughout that lend the air of the Guggenheim. Between the acting and the photography, this film should easily be recognized come February.

    Murrow had a keen intellect. His compatriots like Eric Severeid and Howard K Smith were giants in their new divisions and sharpening their rapiers of wit when it came to their command of the English language. It’s a shame his insights were largely lost on a bored and dulled television audience seeking celebrity gossip and less concern over the misgivings of a crumbling democracy. While his battle with Senator Joseph McCarthy is recreated with incredible detail, the real message of this film has more to do with unspoken subtleties. When Murrow finishes one of the many celebrity interviews he’d been arm-twisted to do, David Strathairn’s face demonstrated with just a relaxed nature everything Murrow must have felt. If that’s not the Best Actor of the year, I pack it in for Wisconsin. Dianne Reeves lyrical blues singing set the low key tone for the piece between sultry and sad.

    Ironically, as I watched the various versions of the evening news this week on CNN, PBS, NBC, and CBS, I caught a strange parallel to Clooney’s film. There was David Brooks and other Republican spokespersons crying “McCarthyism” when Democrats attacked the President this week for lying to the American people using false information to justify their war in Iraq (remember the Gulf of Tonkin?). It struck me as ironic that someone like Murrow couldn’t counter with commentary, no longer allowed by television journalists, when the Republican pundits cried “Mia culpa!” When it’s been the administration that has used McCarthy tactics of character assassination on their critics.

    The final shot in the film couldn’t illustrate juxtaposition better. President Dwight D Eisenhower is discussing the rights of citizens and use of habeas corpus. Currently in Cuba and other secret bases around the world, such rights have long been abandon for countless numbers of nameless men being held in the dark, all alone, and accused of being an enemy of the state. For them, Democracy and the Geneva Convention don’t exist, and Ike’s words are ashes in the mouths of those who feel free to trample the constitution in the pursuit of their goals.

  2. #2
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    Well said, bon.
    It's clear director/co-writer Clooney recognized the contemporary relevance of Murrow's courageous exposure of McCarthy and his contention that television had become a vehicle "to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us". Good Night and Good Luck, also Murrow's sign-off, is no nostalgia piece. David Strathairn, winner of the Best Actor prize at Venice, is quite convincing as the steely, nervy Murrow. Clooney's decision to use vintage footage for the scenes involving the junior Sen. from Wisconsin demand the use of b&w elsewhere, resulting in a seamless you-are-there effect. Brief interludes of a jazz combo playing at an adjacent studio provide (welcome?) relief but give the false impression that 50s TV was hip to jazz. The Constitution purist in me wishes the film had questioned the morals of attacking any Americans for their beliefs, even communist Americans. Still, an important and well-made film.

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    I used to wake up every Saturday morning to the strains of Louie Armstrong and The Dave Brubeck Five. Of course, many others of the Fifties liked Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk. My mother and father were jazz freaks, starting with Benny Goodman in the 30's. While Bessy Smith was replaced by Sarah Vaughn and Frank Sinatra, we still listened to "swing" and "jazz" more often than not. Mom and Dad were not fans of Perry Como! If you are reading this and none of these names means anything to you... well, consider yourself culturally deprived!


    Hope you were safe during the last big blow. And I pray our friend in Paris is safe, too.

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    Just some roof damage, no electricity for 13 days, and no internet service yet. Otherwise fine, thanks. Chris is safely out of France. Your parents sound very "with it". Dad liked Big Band but I don't think he listened to Armstrong much. I've been a jazz fan since I was a kid, and I love you for mentioning Bessie Smith (even if you misspelled her name). Lady Day her only equal.

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    My dad liked New Orleans jazz (he called it, 'dirty' jazz; St. Louis blues; Chicago style (hip); and clean jazz, that would be New York. Mama loved the blues. In addition to the King of Swing (Goodman), Mom and Dad liked the Count and the Duke. Dad liked Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Harry James... Mother loved Artie Shaw. The Hi-Fi rocked Saturday mornings... mother got up early, the smell of coffee drifted up from the kitchen. The big old wood-frame house was cold in the Michigan winters. Seven children huddled in their beds as mother slapped the dough and fired up the furnace (which she turned down to 50 degrees at night!)

    But when Dad got up, he'd pick out his favorite albums and stack the hi-fi. The music was so loud, it shook the floorboards. Before long my sisters were making orange juice and my older brother and I would be outside shoveling snow. The whole family congregated around the kitchen table by 9 o'clock to feast. This was no quiet gathering of pilgrims. You had to shout to be heard. Each person tried to top the other with funny stories. My father left at 9:30 to open up his businesses (he had three) but not before I got my dose of jazz. After the kids lined up to do the dishes (one washed, one rinsed, the rest dried and put away) we all went our merry way.

    I called my mother last night. She was a huge Murrow fan having listened to him during the war (she's 84). She can't wait to see the film but has to drive over a hundred miles to the nearest theater. Her best friend (also 84) is coming to get her to go this weekend.

    Glad you are ok and Chris, too.

  6. #6
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    Well don't know if commentary on the film would be approrpriate amidst all this talk of jazz, boy how easy it is to get sidetracked. But for my money Ella Fitzgerald was better than Billie Holiday, much better.

    As for the film it has the feel of a television broadcast. It's short, to the point, and leaves out a lot of unnecessary details. There's a great cast of actors here, most of which go nearly unused. Jeff Daniels has about two speaking scenes, but I guess everyone wanted a piece of this film. There is humor thankfully, and not just when they poke fun at the now laughable McCarthy.
    I love the scene where Murrow says "Fred (George Clooney) and I will pay for the ads".
    When the boss replies "Have you talked to Fred about this?"
    Murrow responds with "So he won't be able to get any Christmas presents this year".
    "He's Jewish"
    "He'll be sorry to hear that, he loves Christmas."

    Clooney is coming into his own as a director, and I think all that associating with Steven Sohderberg has paid off. This doesn't jumble the narrative around, or really play with editing, but it's well crafted. The whole film is awash in smoke, and I think the effect works, because hell everyone was a chain smoker in the 50's, at least according to movies. Granted you always walk on shaky ground making a black and white film today, because no matter how you look at it, it is a gimmick. This handicap usually makes us much more critical of the films being made. I don't think the film is the best of the year, but it is good, and it does have a great pace to it. If anything is gonna hurt it down the line it'll probably be it's early release date. For some reason award voters can't seem to remember a film that came out before December.

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    Why Have Any Downey & Clarkson?

    After watching this movie, I couldn't come up with much cinematic reason for the roles of Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson in the movie. Their presence didn't seem to contribute much to the film nor did they interact much with the other characters. They really appeared to be incidental and used mostly for backroom intrique and humor. But since the mainstory pacing was almost too slow for me to the point of boredom, I would have thought that more action involving the main story and use of humor in the main plotline would have permitted a better continuity and focus on the Murrow/McCarthy battlelines, unless Clooney was running out of material or just wanted to help Mr. Downey out with more acting opportunities.

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    I agree with your observation, however they act to establish a kind of background about the film's subject matter that would have to be explained to audiences not familiar with the time period. The best way to do that would be through the two characters representing the thousands of people that were quietly persecuted behind the headlines by the extreme right wing conservatives led by McCarthy.

    Did you notice that around the time the film was released, several conservative commentators were saying (in so many words) "Oh, McCarthy wasn't so bad... he got the Communists out of the government, didn't he?"

    That kind of "glossing over the bad" thinking has given us Bush and his extremists taking our liberal system of government apart, bit by bit, piece by piece, year after year, as long as they're in power, until all our rights and privileges have been eroded to non-existence.

  9. #9
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    Aren't you getting slightly off subject?

    I also found the Downey Clarkson characters to be superflivilous (I hope my vocabulary is right), but the film was so damn short it needed something. I mean even with their scenes it was barely hitting 90 minutes, then again how many times can you say McCarthy was a moron?

  10. #10
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    superfluous, excessive, more than enough...

    You may be right about the filler part, however, I believe Clooney did want to make his point clear about McCarthy to this new generation that has largely turned its back on history... Vietnam, Watergate, McCarthyism, etc.

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