Did you know that being married is like being nibbled to death by a duck?

Monday, April 10, 2006

DVD Review: Good Night, and Good Luck

As this is a "political issue" movie, I am going to break this review into two parts. First, the review of the movie itself, then a look at how it presents the issue, and how factual it is (as I see it, through the wondrous power of research, at least).

The movie: First, let me say that for as much crap as I have talked about George Clooney in the past, the man knows how to make a quality movie. He knows how to create a mood, and cast the right people for each role. The production value of Good Night, and Good Luck is pretty amazing. There are great pains taken to set the mood of that era, from the movie itself being in black and white to everyone smoking all the time. Seeing as how I didn't live in that era, I can't vouch for how realistically it is portrayed in the film, but I can say that it did a great job of making me feel like it was the 1950's. Another plus to the movie is the length. I am getting a little sick of every single movie that comes out needing to take two and a half hours to prove that it doesn't really have a point. This one did it in 91 minutes. A bit of a refreshing change, if you ask me.

Overall, a very well done movie in a "quality" sense.

Now, the issue (this may get a little long, so feel free to skip over this): I admit wholeheartedly, that a year ago I knew next to nothing about the topic of "McCarthyism" and the "Red Scare." Since then, however, I have become very interested in it and tried to educate myself on the topic. This, it seems, is WAY too much to ask of George Clooney, as he apparently believes that Edward R. Murrow was single handedly responsible for saving the First amendment. Granted, I knew it would be one sided when I rented it. If I didn't, I could only fault myself. But the abuse of history taken by this film is of great interest to me. Why? Because it truly seems as if Clooney looks at this topic as if he is doing the world a great service by uncovering a story that no one ever thought to tell. Which is exactly how he portrays Murrow - as a lone crusader in a fight to expose evil where no one else has the courage to do so.

This brings up the question of how important of a role did Murrow actually play in the McCarthy scandal. From a great review on Slate, Jack Shafer uses the words of some who were involved:

The McCarthy program "came very late in the day," said one of Murrow's brightest
"boys," Eric Sevareid, in a January 1978 broadcast. "The youngsters read back
and they think only one person in broadcasting and the press stood up to
McCarthy," Sevareid said, "and this has made a lot of people feel very upset,
including me, because that program came awfully late." Sevareid named Elmer
Davis and Martin Agronsky as two broadcasters who had taken on McCarthy long
before Murrow.

According to Clooney's telling of the story, the world would be cold, dark place without the saving grace of Murrow. There are a number of scenes where there is almost a sort of divine light cast on the man, and a quiet awe that follows him.

The overall theme of the movie seems to be to address the abuse of power in government and the attempts to censor the media due to massive paranoia. Obviously, the makers of the movie are trying to draw parallels to today's political climate. But before you can make a comparison based on history, you have to have the historical account correct. In the case of Good Night, and Good Luck, it's not so much that they get history "wrong" so much as they just leave most of it out all together, and spice up a few parts that were mostly inconsequential.

A look at a few of the facts left out of the story:
1)Sen. Joe McCarthy was a raging alcoholic at the time, and got way out of hand. Of this there is little doubt. What the film doesn't show, however, is that there were several people in the journalism community who were pointing these things out long before Murrow. Why does Clooney imply that Murrow was such a lone crusader?
2)Murrow was not exactly a wonder of journalistic integrity. He spent most of his time interviewing celebrities. From part two of Shafer's review,

"If we're going to praise Murrow for producing fearless TV news, we should also
be ready to damn him for paving the way for Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey, and
all the celebrity bootlickers on red carpets."

3)The communist spy threat was very real. In the book The Venona Secrets, the unclassified details of the Venona project are brought to light and show just how far up into the United States government Moscow successfully reached with the likes of people like Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, Klaus Fuchs, et al. From Venona:

Fact: Venona has shown conclusively that the highest-level American
government official working for Soviet intelligence was Harry Hopkins, the close
friend of President Roosevelt.

Fact: Atomic scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer performed work on behalf of
the Soviet Union.

Fact: [most pertinent to the movie] The Left liked to use one of the right
wing's favorite complaints as evidence of its inanity - its belief that American
journalists, including some of the best known, had ben deliberately enlisted in
the Soviet cause. The Venona documents leave no room for doubt that this was
exactly the case...

Now, to me at least, that actually makes for better drama than a battle of words between a television show host and a drunk Senator who, by the account of the aforementioned book, really was quite irrelevant in the anti-Communist movement. Yet, that doesn't do much to paint the picture that Clooney wants - a stab at the big, evil government supposedly controlling the media by manipulating and using it to take away the freedoms of the people by way of scare tactics. And that's the gist of the movie. That if we don't look to our saviors (those fearless heroes in movies and television), freedom will be gone forever. It's quite the ego stroke for journalism, and media in general.

I could write a whole lot more (as if to say that you are all still reading by now), but there are two articles that are must reads on this subject that I need to link because they offer up a far more educated point of view than I do. The first is by William F. Buckley jr. He is actually part of the movie (albeit he is just mentioned by name), so it's very interesting from that perspective, and a short article. The second is Jonah Goldberg in classic form. Kind of a weird sense of humor, but very, very well written. As they say, read it all.

No comments: