Goodnight and Good Luck

Mel and I had a good meal and movie night, which was especially welcome after a very disappointing French film during the week, Hidden. With Daniel Auteil and my beloved Juliette Binoche we thought it was a sure-fire thing, but it turned out to be dreadfully dull and impenetrable, so we left thinking what the hell was that about? And then we thought, we don’t really care…

But last night’s movie was a very different beast, Goodnight and Good Luck. The subject matter of the McCarthy witch-hunts may not be to everyone’s taste (although the cinema was packed for it last night) but as well as addressing an important part of 20th century history this has as much resonance for a contemporary audience as for those with a taste for history. It is too director George Clooney’s credit that he gives his own character in the movie a background role, allowing David Strathain’s portrayal of Ed Murrow to dominate the screen. Although the implications of events in the 1950s have obvious parallels to contemporary events, especially in America, (you’re with us or against us, anyone who criticises or questions is a traitor, the erosion of civil liberties ‘for the common good’) the film sticks mostly to those events and allows the audience to draw its own parallels rather than preach to them.

Of course, the right wing talk radio hosts will still hate it and no doubt it will confirm their fears of a biased liberal media. But since they are all insane and frequently lie, who cares what they think. Besides, this story actually can be seen as a criticism of that very contemporary ‘liberal’ media and the Fourth Estate’s often gutless, spineless kow-towing to the current US administration and their innefectual inability to hold the government to account for their actions (which is, after all, one of the primary roles of a free press in a democratic society).

I first came across the principal character, Ed Murrow, way back when I was studying history at school because he was a friend and colleague of the journalist and history writer William L Shirer (who reported on the advance of the Nazis from within the Third Reich before American joined the war), who was required reading (and a writer I would seek out in later on because his life was so fascinating). Murrow, of course, famously reported the Blitz to a rapt American audience, almost certainly influencing people there that the fight against the Nazis had to be joined. Ed was reputed to actual take a mike up onto the roof of buildings and broadcast as the Luftwaffe rained bombs on London – no wonder a man who faced that wasn’t cowed by McCarthy.

The film is also aesthetically beautiful, shot in a gorgeous, luminous black and white, an artistic decision but also a comment on the way people like McCarthy see the world; the viewer however can see the numerous shades of gray between those extremes on this luscious, silver screen. Strathairn’s portrayal of Murrow is excellent, while the use of TV-style extreme close-ups enhances the sense of intrigue and paranoia. Its a gorgeously crafted and very powerful movie and as with many films (or books or shows) which deal in historical events it has huge relevance to the modern world. A shame I suspect it won’t be viewed in the White House of Downing Street any time soon; I think perhaps Tony Blair and Jack ‘forget my youthful ideals, I’m a bitter old politcal hack now’ Straw might find it sits uncomfortably with their plans for detention without trial and ID cards.