Good Night, and Good Luck. (PG)
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Well... I'm quite glad I didn't live in the 1950s. Surely there was lots of good stuff about the era, but lots of bad, as well. Of course, that's true of any era in history, I suppose. But... well, I remember reading about McCarthyism in history class and thinking how ironic it was that people like Joseph McCarthy were trying so hard to protect American values, that they completely abandoned the best things about what America was supposed to stand for in the first place. I always thought there was probably nothing more clearly un-American in all of American history than the House Un-American Activities Committee, itself. What could be scarier than living in a time and place where being honest and truly patriotic could get you blacklisted or even arrested (hell, maybe even executed) on utterly ludicrous charges of treason? And maybe not even being granted your constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial? Of course, this movie came out in 2005, in a post 9-11-2001 era which bore deeply disturbing similarities to the McCarthy era, and doubtless there are people who find such parallels in this film. Doubtless those parallels are not entirely unintended by the filmmakers, though I think for the most part it should simply be looked at as a historical drama... even if it's one that makes us think, and reminds us that we as a society must be ever vigilant and remember the lessons of the past, so that we don't repeat the same mistakes.
But anyway... I haven't actually said anything about the movie yet. Um... for starters, it's in black and white, which I think is appropriate. (I should also say I considered possibly putting it in the "art" category, but ultimately I think "period" is a bit more appropriate.) It's directed by George Clooney, who also cowrote the movie, and is one of its stars. He plays Fred Friendly, a co-producer at CBS News. But the main character is Edward R. Murrow (perfectly portrayed by David Strathairn), who was at the time perhaps the most trusted man in America, and who remains one of the all-time great icons of broadcast journalism. The movie had a bunch of familiar actors, such as Robert Downey, Jr., who played a reporter named Joseph Wershba, and Patricia Clarkson as his wife, Shirley (though their marriage was supposed to be a secret, since there was a rule against coworkers being married, for some reason). Ray Wise played Don Hollenbeck, another journalist at CBS. Frank Langella played William Paley, the head of CBS (who did his best to let Murrow do the news without censorship, though this was dangerous both politically and financially). And, well, there were other familiar faces, but for the most part I didn't really get to know any other characters well enough. Though there was an unnamed jazz singer who was seen and heard several times throughout the film, played by Dianne Reeves (and I must say, the music worked quite well in the movie). Also, Joseph McCarthy is seen periodically in archival footage, rather than being portrayed by an actor.
The movie is framed by a speech given by Murrow in 1958, but most of the story takes place at various intervals throughout 1953-54. Murrow hosted a news program called "See It Now," though he also hosted a show called "Person to Person," in which he interviewed celebrities... who were in their homes while he was in the studio. I don't think he liked doing that, and I can't blame him... it seems beneath someone of his journalistic integrity to do such puff pieces, but... it paid the bills. And afforded him the popularity that made it possible for him to do his more hard-hitting series the way he wanted to. In any event, the movie focuses on what Murrow's best remembered for, which is questioning Senator McCarthy's tactics in dealing with anyone who was accused of having Communitist ties. Of course, reporting honestly on such matters put people like Murrow in the position of being accused of Communism, themselves, whether it was true or not. (And of course, this was a time when having remotely Communist leanings in America was considered practically synonymous with treason, in and of itself.)
Well, I don't really want to say any more about the plot. That's basically it, the battle between Murrow and McCarthy. I suppose I could mention that the movie's title is a tagline of Murrow's, which he said at the end of every broadcast. And there's also a lesson from "Julius Caesar," quoting a line spoken by Cassius to Brutus: "The fault... is not in our stars, but in ourselves." This applies whether one is talking about allowing someone like McCarthy to use our fears to manipulate us, or just allowing technology such as television to fail to live up to its potential to enlighten, rather than simply entertaining. (Personally I'd take it a step further and say it's not just a matter of enlightenment vs. entertainment, but even the quality- or lack thereof- of entertainment, though I don't really blame myself; I blame the majority of the viewing public for preferring crap over quality. But whatever, that's a rant for another time.) This is the kind of movie I wouldn't expect most people to find entertaining, though I found it so... even if it's mostly enlightening. Then again, I also worry that a lot of people either aren't capable of being enlightened, or simply don't have any desire to be.... So it's probably just one of those things that mostly preaches to the choir. Whatever, at least I can take some comfort in the belief that, even if history occasionally repeats to a certain (sometimes alarming) degree, it'll probably never get quite as dangerous to be honest and open-minded in America as it once was. Or rather, not as ubiquitously dangerous; in some ways the post-9/11 era was worse than the McCarthy era, because some people didn't have to say or do anything suspicious to be treated as if they were guilty... But anyway... a rant for another time.