Clooney’s directorial piece Good Night and Good Luck begins, the stars of this film as glamorous as they would be on an awards show in reality, the saxophone playing in the background. A man introduces 1950’s television news anchor Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn). He makes a speech towards his colleagues and people who work in the television industry, but when the camera cuts to them, it doesn’t look like he’s preaching to the choir. But that’s not such a bad thing.
And fine, while we’re at it, I’ll admit that my first encounter of the film is through the “Simpsons” parody, Kent Brockman becoming our century’s Murrow as Lisa eggs him on. This is probably how we first experienced other movies, knowingly or otherwise.
Did you know that the real Edward Murrow looks less Strathairn, and more like Harry Dean Stanton. Murrow would have been a perfect role for Stanton in the 70’s. But surprisingly, I don’t remember any anti-McCarthyism in films, not even with Hollywood class president and lefty extraordinaire Warren Beatty making controversial films like Reds.
The double threat taking Beatty’s place is George Clooney, and don’t worry guys, I’m heading somewhere with this tangent/segue. There was this CINNSU/ Bloor Cinema alum who once told me that Clooney wanted to direct a remake of Network. The word ‘remake’ seems like a pariah even to people who aren’t film geeks, but as the alum said something like, ‘Paddy Chayefsky’s like Shakespeare, why not?’ I wish the rules of cinema bent like that too. I suppose the closest we can come to seeing a remake of Network is Good Night and Good Luck, the story of Murrow combating McCarthyism and its abuses through televised journalism. And we’re back!
There are many differences between this film and its predecessor. The man in front of the camera is sane even if the world or the institution controlling it isn’t. Howard Beale is a deluded puppet while Murrow is a leader who still writes his pieces. Strathairn, in his best role yet, delivers perfectly, mastering the elocution that the real Murrow and gentlemen of his time might have had. Here, the fictional Murrow goes head-to-head against the real Joseph McCarthy, the menacing figure on the upper left side of the screen, the latter’s own words and pictures used to defame him. He gets criticized by some newspapers as ‘selective,’ but Murrow’s integrity stands strong.
In this scene, both Murrow and McCarthy quote “Julius Caesar” like many do with the Bible, choosing lines to further their cause. The Shakespearean play is about an unnatural shift in power, deceit and constancy, that latter quality being something that McCarthy doesn’t have.
CBS begins an investigation piece on the firing of US Air Force Officer Milo Radulovic – who is Irish, apparently – because of his father’s suspected Communist affiliations. The film uses authentic newsreels of the accuser and the accused, this one being rough looking but eloquent. Murrow, then, and CBS seems to have chickened out by doing celebrity profiles. An insipid few minutes with Liberace becomes subversive once we remember that ‘he doesn’t intend to marry soon.’
But don’t worry, the Air Force will retain Radulovic.
‘I’ve got my eyes on you/I’ll set my spies on you/Keep your eyes on me.’ As if she’s agitating the enemy, whispering sweet aggression to his ear.
The racial politics in Good Night and Good Luck are muted, the black woman doing her numbers in between the skirmishes where the white men fight for her constitutional rights. The actors doing the fighting, however, seem to be suppressing the outrage they would normally have if their names and the names of their friends are stained by Cold War paranoia. This film’s tone is less bombastic and more quiet. No dramatic music, no hammy speeches, nothing. But instead of a breathtaking experience that most great films should give its audience, its tone is its own, feeling like a last slow dance in the middle of the night.