"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…)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
is why we need to be ever-vigilant.
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".
Fight hard. Please?