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...a sweatshop of moxie

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Finally. A night at the picture palace.

The day after Hurricane Katrina hit, almost all of South Florida went to the movies, as cinemahouses were the only ones with lights, and the blessedness of air conditioning.

Packed they were, so I expected no less the night BEFORE a hurricane, as it was Saturday.

Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour, but the crowds to see my movie of choice were scarce to the point of having the auditorium to myself, joined by a mere dozen others.

Here I must confess I go to the pictures as much for the communal experience, than to see a film itself.

I like to arrive early. Grab a capuccino at the Café bar which my local multiplex has inside. And observe people as they mill around, just before the film begins.

You can always tell the kind of movie on offer, without seeing its name or knowing much about it.

Older. Distinguished. Elegant. Capote.
Teens. Sean Johns from tip-to-toe. Fluorescent mobiles. Doom.
Young parents. Toddlers. Teens. Wallace & Gromit.

My crowd ran the gamut of styles; always a good sign.

One lady I observed, looked as if she had just stepped from the pages of Palm Beach Society magazine, complete with the latest Prada handbag (Summer '06, I wonder how she got it, the wench), and wearing enormous Bollé sunglasses at almost midnight.

If she had had her chihuahua inside a Louis Vuitton carrier, I would've confused her for my mother.

The Kitty Carlisle clone was standing next to two scruffy Greenpeaceniks, complete with Birkenstocks, and if I'm not very much mistaken, turquoise beads wrought in silver, overcharged in Arizona by Navajos trying to make a buck.

As for me, I doubt anyone could pin me down for type. Black pipe-leg trousers, black matte ankle-boots, and a darkish tan cord turtleneck.

Can you guess my film from that? Good Night, and Good Luck.

I'll spare you the film review, largely because the film didn't inspire me enough.

No, not the politics. It's just that its tempo was too languorous, saved mercifully by the lead, the fantastic character actor, David Strathairn.

I've always been a sucker for character actors, and his measured, stately portayal of the measured, stately Edward R. Murrow, surely America's most respected journalist ever, more than made up for the inadequacies of the endless clips, and ANY lack of true feeling, or tension in this film.

Rarely have I seen an actor carry an entire film on his back, and yet be such a team player in an ensemble cast, as in this film.

I can sit for hours watching British Pathé or Movietone newsreels, but this film had a surfeit of constant grainy newsreels, which goes a long way to explain the general choppy editing.

It is easy to conjecture why.

George Clooney wanted the story to be told, as much as possible, from first-hand accounts so that the events could speak for themselves.

This would preempt critics' right to call it "typical lefty Hollywood" artistic licence with factual events, but he did himself a disfavour for not going with an actor for Senator Joe McCarthy, or even Roy Cohn.

It's this remove from the characters who are the centre of the story, that gives the film a lack of true drama.

This in turn would've gone a tremendously long way to bucking up an already dry storyline.

Black-and-white modern films are my special delight, but here I felt the hand of Mr. Clooney a little too oppressively.

As he had Edward R. Murrow via David Strathairn say, there are some issues which do not have two sides of the story. The HUAC hearings is one of them, by implication.

In other words, it's either black. Or white. You're either for it. Or against it.

But more than that, it's either wrong. Or right. There are no in-betweens in moral imperatives.

Obviously, only a dullard couldn't see the underlying message of the film was an allusion to the Iraq War, but especially the pliability of the media, and their lack of standing up for what is "right" in the face of so much popular "wrong".

Clooney, when questioned about the Iraq War=HUAC inference, said that was not his purpose.

"My goal is not to attack any administration, my goal is to raise a debate", he said. I didn’t make the film as a political statement, I made the film as a historical reference."

And no one believes this for a minute, especially when Morrow portentously addresses a receptive audience, past and present:

We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility.

The film is told in retrospect, and it's almost as if at the end, the implicit plea from the producers is for the media to finally stand up and to denounce current events, as Walter Cronkite did with the Vietnam War.

Both Murrow, and later Cronkite used their fatherly perches to condemn points-of-views they didn't agree with.

But here's a conundrum of the film.

The presentation is that most of the media then were cowed by the anti-Communist rabble-rousers in power.

But it's implicit in the film that most of those in the news media had ideals formed by the Great Depression, and were if nothing else, pro-Left. That's never questioned.

Since the McCarthy Era, media have chastised themselves for dropping the ball. It's an unacountable breach of faith, to have said nothing for so long about a national infamy, in their eyes.

And since that time, they've been making up for it, by being vocal in their adversarial stance against the US government of ANY administration.

They are our self-appointed watch dogs. Watergate, they believe, was their finest hour.

But it's not enough.

Certain people believe that MSM are too cozy with the goals and directives of the US government, and this film is aimed directly at them.

If journalists are oppositional to ANY administration, what makes Mr. Clooney believe they are not now? There is no end of attempted opposition.

Easongate, Rathergate, Plamegate -- just the briefest sampling of attempted MSM shock-stories aimed towards undermining the credibility of the US administration currently in power.

The problem is that, unlike Ed Murrow versus McCarthy, and Cronkite versus Vietnam, these they were successful fights.

The litany of 'gates' I listed above all go down as losses. Huge losses. Election-losing losses.

Worse than that, brought about in large part by the watch dogs of the watch-dogs -- Blogosphere.

In the 1950's, it was a given there was a news media power structure that dared not be contradicted by outsiders.

They worked hand-in-glove with each other, a very elite, cosy club.

And it cannot be understated how much a role newspapers played then, for the elites, and for "the folks" everywhere.

That's why in one scene, the characters are eagerly awaiting newspaper writers' reactions to the flaming of McCarthy by Murrow.

They rush out to get and read the New York Times, the New York and Washington Posts.

What would be the first impulse a person would have today, if say, a noted journalist condemned President Bush's Iraq policy on air? They'd turn to the Blogs. Full stop.

Firsty, there are no more Morrows and Cronkites in modern-day journalism: the focal point, the above-it-all reporter.

Jennings is dead. Rather, retired. Brokaw, never really a part of that hallowed club.

Who would be the Murrow today? Blitzer? Amanpour? Russert? BRIAN WILLIAMS? Come on.

Even Jim Lehrer, who is now dean of MSM by default, has a limited impact on Americans' minds, being exiled to PBS -- and that would be like preaching to the choir.

Only a Morrow could have gotten away with such a challenge to McCarthy precisely because he had the gravitas to do so.

Unestablished journalists in opposition to Bush are a dime-a-dozen. They can't make their name opposing the status-quo.

They had had to have made it before, for it to be effective and not look to the public like just another hack spewing his views.

But that's not what Clooneyites want. They want the Voice of Reason. And what they got is the Voice of Partisanship.

That's just not going to do it.

Finally, blogs' immediacy and variety in opinions are second-to-none.

Those are two crucial differences. But here's an even more important one.

The 1950's lacked blogs, but what they also lacked was a Fox News, or the alternate news outlet where it is not understood those in the news media are pro-Left.

It's that alternative which holds newsmen back today. The political tendencies they espouse are the same. But when you have a choice, you risk less for fear of losing eyeballs.

No doubt, it is this which frustrates that side of the aisle the most, and why Blogosphere is the most frustrating part of the modern-day news puzzle to a side used to sententiously condemning from on high, and for everyone to fall in line afterwards.

I don't see that changing any time soon.

Good film? It's fine. It drags in parts but has a magnificent soundtrack, and an unusual storyline aimed to a certain kind of person.

And it would be a very big surprise to Mr. Clooney, to find out I'm precisely that kind of person.

Suggested Reading

An excellent site which compares TWO SIMILAR FILMS to each other, called Movie Squared.

This week: Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) -versus- All The President's Men (1976).

Smackdown: Edward R. Murrow v. Joseph McCarthy


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