Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck.

Good Night, and Good Luck is two movies, one a little bit better than the other. The better movie is made up of the archival kinescope footage of live television (it wasn't generally refered to as TV back then) coverage of a couple of Congressional hearings that occured in 1953 and '54.

A milestone in its day and still the best political coverage television has presented to this day, The Army-McCarthy Hearings is generally familiar to American viewers through Emile de Antonio's powerful editorial condensation, Point of Order. The other footage is culled from a Senate Subcommittee investigating hiring practices in the Armed Forces. This sequence is also very dramatic in demonstrating the bullying intimidations of "the Junior Senator from Wisconsin" toward witness Annie Lee Moss as contrasted with the protective libertarianism of Arkansas Senator John McClellan.

The other movie shows the behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations of presenting live TV, especially in the context of editorializing against the prevailing anti-Communist bullying and professional blacklisting. This, more scripted movie, is good, but not good enough. Edward R. Murrow, his producer Fred W. Friendly, network owner William S. Paley and the other CBS personnel are shown as decent, dedicated one-note stick figures. They seem to be living their lives according to the precepts of the Yale School of Jouralism and Miss Manners. There are no plot surprises or character revelations. As circumstances require, the brave network owner stands tall against his defecting sponsors, and the unfairly harried newscaster commits suicide. But the noble team of the CBS news department strides bravely on.

Just why writer-producer-director-actor George Clooney felt that GNAGL would be a film for our times is unclear. Joe McCarthy didn't create the climate in America that lead to neurotic our anti-communist fear and loathing, but he did capitalize on it. But he is also long ago dead. Maybe Clooney believes there are present day government officials who have re-employed McCarthy's bullying scare tactics and outrageous accusations to serve other ends than true benefits to the American people. Maybe Clooney presents the McCarthy era as a warning of the infringement on rights that America has to be on guard against.

At the end of the film, I sat through the credits, waiting for the character roll that would tell us what significantly happened in the further lives of the senators, witnesses and news personnel depicted. Maybe they are saving that for the DVD release.

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