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Forum discussion on the film Good Night and Good Luck

by Zettel 

Posted: 26 February 2006
Word Count: 1610
Summary: Political Issues arising from the film Good Night and Good Luck.

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It is some time since I posted anything in this group. Which is a shame from my point of view because I am more interested in what we may call the journalistic platform for writing than almost any other.

I am posting this because although a debate relating to a film review, as will become clear it spreads into general journistic and political issues of some weight.

As Cornelia - Sheila is a member of this group, please accept Sheila that I am not trying to get at you twice. Indeed I am not trying to get at you at all. But simply to explore important issues as well and as fully as I can.

"Hey Sheila

Motivation. Two things we probably agree on: 1. There is no such thing as the ‘right’ view of a film. So I have no interest in trying to show I’m right and you’re wrong. Doesn’t make sense. 2. An honest assessment of a film needs no justification.

As reviewers, critics, we have offered WW readers something they will rarely get in the general print media – two honest, diametrically opposed views of the same film. Since the days of critics like Pauline Kael, George Melly and Dilys Powell, distinctive voices in film reviews have I believe become hard to find. Press reviews tend to be samey and industry Mags like Time Out and especially Empire, tend to be a bit close to the industry for comfort. Especially as they rely on interviews with stars etc to fill pages. I am beginning to recognise your ‘voice’ and I hope mine is distinctive too. This is a writers’ web site after all and improving our writing is part of the objective. I am not aware of reviewers debating responses to films in the media, so maybe this forum is offering something else worthwhile.

There are parts of your review I just don’t understand and others that of course we disagree on. Sinatra’s ratpack movies were vanity projects, only the first of which, Oceans 11 was watchable. ‘Bratpack’ was always a bit of journalistic laziness and the only parallel with the ratpack was being lionised for behaving badly in public. The only ‘bratpack’ movie I can think of as a ‘genre’ piece is ‘Young Guns’ where the audience were encouraged into the cinema simply by the names and notoriety of the young actors in it a la Sinatra and his chums.

I see absolutely nothing in GNAGL that relates it in any way to the Bratpack as a group or the vanity, celebrity-based movies they made.

GNAGL is not, and does not try in any way to be a Biopic. Of whom? Murrow? We learn nothing of his life outside the studio, or anyone else for that matter and precious little of events before and after the critical McCarthy period which the film is about. Only if this were a biopic would your criticisms hold. To criticise a film for failing to achieve something it never remotely set out to do seems a bit harsh.

‘Political thriller’ sort of works but only in the sense that say ‘All The President’s Men’ was a political thrilller. I would regard films like ‘In The Line of Fire’ ‘Absolute Power’ ‘Manchurian Candidate’ say as political thrillers – they have the right plotted, narrative thriller structure. GNAGL and indeed ATPM if we must pigeonhole them, surely are simply dramas about politics each based to a degree on real events. This only matters for the same reason as above – if GNAGL was remotely trying to be a political thriller in the sense I suggest, then of course it comes up short. It has no real plot, contrived narrative twists etc.

I don’t really care how we categorise films, most generic films are formulaic anyway. But you set up expectations in your readers in your first paragraph which you then unpack into what for me amounts to complaining that a fox makes a lousy eagle because it can’t fly and has the wrong number of legs.

Whatever else GNAGL may be and whatever cynicism you have about Clooney’s intentions, I know of no critic who doubts that this is a serious movie, with a serious intent, about an important issue. Sorry but I think that makes your last paragraph, a nicely written, amusing, but totally unjustified cheap shot.

If GNAGL is “underwritten” then it is so in the same way as Brokeback Mountain is ‘underwritten’ i.e. its essential aesthetic is cinematic. BM’s extraordinary achievement is to achieve a sense of emotional depth with very few words especially about emotions. True to its characters and their setting. GNAGL achieves something even harder – it chrysalises, distils, ideas of courage, honour and personal and political principle, almost entirely cinematically. But its rigorous discipline and care with the words is does use makes them precise, powerful and inspirational.

This film isn’t about the rights and wrongs of any particular political ideology – it is about every American citizen’s right (and by extension, ours) to hold any views or beliefs they choose without being pilloried, disadvantaged or discrimated against because of them. It is about their fundamental First Amendment right to freedom of thought and the free expression of it. And McCarthy’s hate campaign of fear and lies, which at least 2 million people in Britain and many more millions in Bush’s America, may think parallels frighteningly the most acute of current political issues in our contemporary world. It isn’t about the rights and wrongs of Communism, Maoism, Scientism, Anarchism, indeed any 'ism', or we may add fundamentalist or moderate Christianity or Islam etc etc. It is about the right both to hold and to dissent from any and all of them. Murrow, Friendly and their team, many of whom were instinctively and honestly conservative or anti-Communist in their personal beliefs stood up for the rights of those who had different beliefs to both hold and express them. That is why I described this film as both inspirational and important. This isn’t a personal statement as you put it, or agreeing with something because it accords with my political views. It is because all citizens in a democracy should defend before all else, the right of all to religious and political freedom of opinion and belief conditioned only by the necessity to acknowledge that right in others, however detestable to you their opinions are. Despite the undemocratic, unprincipled rhetoric of Bush’s White House, shamefully supported by Mr Blair, terrorism is not an ideology it is a totally unacceptable expression of one. It is sin of action not of thought. The lesson of GNAGL is that the greatest threat posed by Bush and Blair’s attitudes and rhetoric, is not to Iraq or Iran or to North Korea but to democracy itself .

Ed Murrow GNAGL “we cannot defend freedom abroad by denying it at home.”

If you think I am erecting an edifice of ideas and values on a slight and ineffective film then all I can suggest is that you see it again. I don’t want to persuade you, or anyone else who sees it, of anything, I want you to see for yourselves what I passionately believe and will argue is there.

I don’t want to re-state my review, it’s all in there. And in the spirit of the above remark all I can ask is that you re-read it with good will and an open mind.

As for your remarks about Clooney’s reticence about the film. I haven’t noticed that myself. But don’t you think he might consider we have had enough half-baked hubris from self-important megalomaniacs and their vanity projects like Mr Costner, oh yes and even Mr Beatty. You find Warren Beatty a convincing commentator on political issues? Wow Sheila. Reds was not a bad film but it had Hollywood written all over it. As a genuine exploration of the moral power of Marxist ideas which Reds did but GNAGL does not, claim to address, it is close to intellectual farce.

My critical heroine is Pauline Kael, and not just for her wonderfully luminous, funny, lucid, perceptive writing about a medium you, I and she all love. But also for her implacable, scabrous rejection of crap films about worthy subjects. Either all my instincts have been killed off or your review of GNAGL misses almost everything that it is about and why it is a serious, effective and quite extraordinary film to have been made and funded within a globally expansionist corporatist culture. And I haven’t even mentioned GNAGL’s challenges about the misuse of TV and the media.

I don’t usually do this but my humble recommendation to any WW readers is – if you only see one film this year then make sure it is Good Night and Good Luck. It is quite simply a superlative film. Don’t take my word for it. Two quotes from GNAGL.

Murrow on challenging McCarthy:

“If what I say is responsible, then I alone am responsible for the saying of it.”

Murrow on TV which he sees simply as a tool that can be used to educate, inform, inspire, move and challenge but which is in danger (speaking in 1958) of becoming a means to distract, amuse, delude, insulate:

“If that is what it is used for then it is merely lights. And wires in a box.” Just so.

(Sheila I admire and enjoy your writing. I respect your honesty and point of view. But respectfully I passionately believe you have got this one absolutely wrong.)

Apologies to everyone for this being so long. And congratulations to anyone who got this far!"



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Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 07:11 on 27 February 2006  Report this post
I skim read the two reviews of the film and this (sorry, just no time at the moment) and must admit that I was disappointed by the film as a film. I will come back to this later, but admit that I am surprised by your vehement defence of this film. Personally, I wouldn't recommend it and put the Oscar nominations down to the fact that it was a subject close to the Americans' hearts and their cultural history.


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