Thursday, September 5, 2013
CANON OF FILM: "GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK."
Director: George ClooneyScreenplay: George Clooney and Grant Heslov
It always strikes me, how a movie so short and bare can be so powerful every time I happen to get sucked into George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck.,” I thought I was a little early, when I discussed it upon original release as being comparable and even better than other such investigative classics about journalism like “All the President’s Men”, the film its probably has gotten the most comparison to, but I don’t think I was. Granted, one’s about the uncovering of a crime, while in “Good Night….,”- well there is a crime being committed, but it’s really about a showdown better two people, the first of such kind to take place, in the newest and more important of mediums, television.
Bookended with the famous speech Edward R. Murrow gave in 1958 about the state of television journalist that both warned about and foreshadowed the tabloid and infotainment age of television news, this claustrophobic masterpiece “Good Night, and Good Luck.” ranks as one of the best films ever made about journalism.
Also unlike, “All the President’s Men”, I’m not sure the audience knew the outcome going in, which says more about the audience than about the film. There’s nothing complicated here, it’s the story of how Murrow (Oscar-nominated David Straitharn) took down Senator Joseph McCarthy, not just by using investigative techniques, but by using television and the forum to dismantle his claims and investigative techniques not only as un-American but unlawful. This was George Clooney’s second film as a director; both of his first two dealt with television. His first, the highly kinetic “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” was based on what can only be describe as the “unauthorized autobiography” of game show creator/host Chuck Barris, showed Clooney was more than capable of directing anything. It’s easy to see his fascination with the medium. His father used to direct local news and game shows, and Clooney spent years as a lowly television actor, with occasional recurring roles on such shows as “The Facts of Life,” and “Roseanne.” (My favorite statistic is that he was cast in the pilot of two different shows called “ER”.) He takes a small part here as TV producer Fred Friendly, so as to focus his attention on the film. I forget he’s even acting in the movie half the time.
Behind the director’s chair is where I picture him with this film, and it’s strikingly different from all his other directorial works. How he masterfully uses frames and windows to foreshadow the futures of some of characters, how he chose to shoot in black and white and use the actual McCarthy footage, essentially letting McCarthy cast himself, and watch as he comes off surprisingly caricaturist and not-at-all like the grand presence that is usually equated with mention of brief power in American history books. These don’t seem like difficult directing choices, but they aren’t the natural ones to make. I wouldn’t be surprised if a third of the movie consisted of old television footage. With six Oscar nominations, it became the first completely black and white movie to earn a best picture nomination since “The Elephant Man.”
The other directing choice is how insular he made the movie. We never get the homelife of any of the characters; for instance, or learn anything particularly new about them. It’s not an expose, it’s simply a statement of facts while trying to get the feeling of living in McCarthyism America. Actually, I’m wrong, there’s only one minor subplot in the movie, involving two co-workers (Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson) as they try to keep their marriage a secret and worry about being found out as it was illegal for CBS employees to be married to each other at the time. Other than that, there often seems to be only two locations, the CBS studio newsroom and a local bar where a jazz singer (Dianne Reeves) occasionally performs songs that undercut the tension. I’m sure that Clooney also wanted to draw parallels to some of the actions the Bush administrations and others had began undertaking, but I think more importantly like Murrow, and me, Clooney considers television not simply as a box with tubes that shows pictures, but as the best educational tool since the printing press. We all know that it’s not always used for that, and too many people seem to generalize or forget that, but despite our twenty-four hour news cycle of exploitative journalism, occasionally you do see moments where the limitless power of television were used to its fullest potential, and that’s not just journalism, that’s across the entire television platform.
What’s amazing is how through television, Clooney is able to use film to its fullest potential. Also like Murrow making the choice to go after McCarthy, Clooney didn’t have to make this film; he chose to.
Posted by David Baruffi at 5:46 PM