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McCarthy's bark
A film review of GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK by Camus
 
"We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason."
Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn)

 

Sorry, Ed. The other George has already taken America there… Before bin Laden and the war against abstract nouns there was… (drum roll…)

C-C-C-Communism.

Such a small word (OK, four syllables but bear with me) but what power words have or in this case had in post war America. Senator Joseph McCarthy became known for employing that absurd but widely accepted logic that if you petted a dog, you were a dog. If you didn't like team A, it meant you worshipped or sacrificed yourself on Team B's altar. "If you are not 1000% behind our policies, then you are our enemy… an Islamic fundamentalist/ communist/bereaved mother of a Iraqi casualty (whatever)." Bush is trotting out the same ridiculous black and white-isms. Deep intake of breath. In short, this is moron logic. How McCarthy got away with it for so long is way beyond my Livingstone. But people in the 50s were scared, really scared at being incarcerated over a petty occurrence that threatened to define them, and tar them with a red brush. The accusation was akin to being branded a treacherous spy, a Nazi in the corridors of Whitehall. Americans were so terrified of the red threat that a cold war began which only really ended once one of the two behemoths was humbled and brought to its knees by progress. Big clue. One of behemoths was not the United States of America.

But during the actual era, there were brave souls on the air that resented the way McCarthy was polluting the atmosphere and challenged them openly despite the risk. And let's make no bones about this (what does that odd phrase actually mean, for Christ's sake?), if you were branded as a communist or a communist sympathiser ("As a small child of three, did you walk past Karl Marx once? Or was it twice?") you were screwed. People committed suicide over the allegations (as did, in fact, newscaster Don Hollenbeck - played by the always reliably good, Laura Palmer killer, Ray Wise). Hollywood was hard hit by McCarthy because as we all know, all film-making types are reds under the casting couch, leftish leaning creatives who wanted to bring down the US administration. Oh, please. It's a miracle a man like McCarthy survived for so long. He was a product of his era, no question but he was also an asshole.

I never met the guy (he died in 1957, a few years before I was born) so I have no first hand knowledge but of all historical (hysterical?) figures, his is the one that so easily invites scorn by the bushel load. As I said ‘moron logic' and how Bush still gets away with it fifty years on still fills me with incredulity. So to St. George and this particular dragon of McCarthyism.

Like his star studded, live and excellent TV broadcast of Fail Safe, Good Night was originally intended as a live TV event. What changed George's mind (the stark relevance of the subject matter?) matters little. It's important that movies like this get made. And seen. "See It Now" was the Newsnight of its day (well, maybe Panorama). Hosted by the David Attenborough of current affairs, Edward R. Murrow, the show covered many topics (from high politics to low celebrity pap) and the moron logic of Senator Joseph McCarthy really got in the craw of Murrow who chose to fight him over the airwaves. The risks, as I have outlined, were great but with support from his friend and production colleague Fred Friendly (played by Clooney to please investors), he carved out a liberal niche for himself as the voice of reason. It is oddly touching to see the physical support that Clooney's character offers Strathairn as Murrow. Just out of camera shot, Clooney lays at Strathairn's feet, physically nudging him cues. It's rather touching (no pun intended).

Strathairn's performance as Murrow is notable for one physical aspect - and it is a powerful one. He knows the power of stillness. Tobey MacGuire (or Spider-man to most of us) also has that extraordinary skill of communicating through stillness. Strathairn too uses this to a powerful effect. The crisp, sharp and ultra-detailed black and white photography (well, colour stock altered in post production) makes a tremendous virtue of this stillness. It imbues Strathairn's performance with a gravitas that borders on indenting the studio floor. You come out of this movie with a sense that reason will prevail.

But it won't.

Which is why we need to be ever-vigilant.

In 1954, a Senate committee was formed to investigate censuring McCarthy who, by this time, was not only famous but also quite infamous. Their report contained the following and about bloody time: McCarthy's behaviour as committee chairman was "inexcusable", "reprehensible" and "vulgar and insulting".

That was then.

Bush is now.

Fight. Fight hard. Please?

Good Night and Good Luck

USA 2005
93 mins
director
George Clooney
producer
Grant Heslov
screenplay
George Clooney
Grant Heslove
Fred W. Friendly (uncredited)
cinematography
Robert Elswit
editor
Stephen Mirrione
production design
James D. Bissell
starring
David Strathairn
Robert Downey Jr.
Patricia Clarkson
Ray Wise
Frank Langella
Jeff Daniels
George Clooney
review posted
10 December 2005