Thursday, October 13, 2005

Good Luck, Last Night

Our fair town received a rare treat last night: We hosted the Midwestern premiere of George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck in the remarkable Orpheum Theatre. So here we are, finally exactly like New York and Los Angeles. At least as far as Clooney movies go. Galesburg is the home of Knox College, whose journalism program boasts Marilyn Webb among its faculty; one of her professors was Fred Friendly, played by Clooney in the film, and we were further honored to have it introduced by Knox's own Bob Jamieson. All in all, a regular single-entry movie festival.

The film itself has a beautiful consistency in terms of its subject matter and visual and acting styles. While Edward R. Murrow's on-air joust with Senator Joseph McCarthy is the stuff of TV journalism legend, it was played with an understatement that today seems almost morose. Good Night, and Good Luck is valuable because it reminds us of what American Cool really means. Like Miles Davis and Chet Baker, Murrow and associates perform straight-faced, level-eyed; nobody sweats, and the deadpan wisecrack becomes the only discernible measure of emotion. Watching the film, I was reminded of Apollo 13, another movie in which monumental acts of heroism are performed by semi- (and not so semi-) nerdy guys (and gals, in Clooney's movie) with horn-rimmed glasses and white shirts, people who know their jobs well and do them without drawing undue attention. These are rock-solid types who may be seething underneath, but on top give us only a square shoulder and a frank gaze. I once saw Miles Davis perform; he wandered around the stage, eventually making his way behind the drumkit, out of sight of the audience. The horn never wavered, but the performer slipped away, never missing a beat. This attitude is captured perfectly in Good Night, and Good Luck, particularly by David Strathairn. While he allows his Murrow an occasional tic of the eye or drawn corner of the mouth, mostly it all comes down to a deep concentration nothing can break. It is an attitude that seems long gone; and the film seems to imply that we are in trouble without this cool in the face of the marching morons of politics and cable news punditry.

There is so much to admire about this low-key movie; other reviewers will tell you of the beauties of its black and white--more like nuanced shades of gray--and the single exuberant touch of the vocal jazz combo whose musical numbers throughout the film punctuate key moments. What struck me last night was the movie's ability to make me long for a return to cool in the face of fire. We are always under one Blitz or another; I wish I could take mine with half of Murrow's reassuring immobility.


James said...


I'm the would-be reviewer that you responded to on Roger Ebert's website. I noticed your response today, and felt compelled to discuss it with you, if you're interested.

My original letter to Ebert was a bit longer, though I can see why he cut it. I am not a stalwart defender of Joe McCarthy by any means; I would agree that he behaved like a thug, and his contribution to our history is certainly unfortunate. However, I am not fond of how many in the contemporary American left speak of the McCarthy-era as if it were on par with the Holocaust, and that every history professor I've had thinks it is necessary to devote hours of class time to him.

You'll note that in my original letter I use the word "smugly" before "left-wing". This is important, because it is key that my primary issue with the film was its tone, not necessairly its politics. Throughout the film, I felt like I was being directly lectured by George Clooney, smothered by his smarmy insistence that McCarthy was the most dangerous human being to ever live and that the almighty journalist is the only person with the bravery to do what is right. Whether or not it was made for my politics, I just could not stand it.

A few of my friends have suggested that I hated the film merely because I'm not liberal. Perhaps this is true, I replied, but then I could say that any liberal who enjoys the film only enjoys it because it caters to their interpretation of the world. When I began seriously considering a career in film criticism, I knew my politics could present a hurdle, though since your response to my letter is the first time I've ever seriously had to confront the issue.

If it helps your response, or lack thereof, I'll describe what I meant when I identified myself as a "somewhat politically conservative man". I would be considered liberal when it comes to abortion, middle of the road with education, environmental, and gay issues, and conservative with health care, taxes, and gun rights. I've been struggling to come up with a concrete political label for myself, with no success.

Hope to hear from you soon.


James Frazier

PS - I like your review style. You seem to have been doing it a long time, and have a way with words. Hopefully, I can catch up someday. If you're interested in my viewing my work (for reference, of course):

provides a quicker look than my own blog.

James said...

Wow, nearly three months with no retort. Criticism never particularly bothered me, though receiving it from men who were all too eager to dispense it and then dive under the sand certainly did.

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