"Good Night, And Good Luck" The Incorruptibles By Klaus Eder
by Klaus Eder
For his film “Good Night, And Good Luck” George Clooney received in Venice (besides the FIPRESCI Prize) the prize for the best script; David Strathairn was awarded as best actor of the festival.
The early 50s. Television is on the rise. George Clooney plays a news editor at CBS. He doesn’t talk much. He sits on his desk in the newsroom and watches what’s going on around him. This milieu is familiar to Clooney: his father worked for three decades on a broadcast news desk. That’s why George Clooney sees the characters in this film with a certain warmth, affection even; he has a certain knowledge of their jobs and tells this story with a certain nostalgia (he even shot the film entirely in black & white). His hero is Edward R. Murrow, an early broadcast journalist who anchored two shows on CBS, “See It Now” and “Person to Person”. Edward R. Murrow is an real person, even if Clooney (who scripted the film) has possibly changed his contours. David Strathairn plays Murrow as an upright, thoughtful and gentleman-like person who exudes an aura of seriosness, noblesse and dignity. His Murrow sets standards for television news and documentary shows, probably much like the real Murrow did those days when TV was still in its infancy and innocence.
The film’s other protagonist is not played by an actor, but created through the use of archive footage: the Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy, chairman of the “House of Un-American Activities Committee”. This committee became notorious for its merciless chase of “communists” that — perhaps — worked in public sectors of American life (including Hollywood ). McCarthy was a hardliner who found it reason enough to summon someone if he was even only suspected of thinking left, and the inquisition did not need further proof or any proof at all. This dreadful chapter of American history is well-known, and it is a topic on which many books have been written and films have been made, mostly by victims who had been blacklisted, but also by contemporary witnesses who had denounced their colleagues and had later on tried to justify their behavior
Now, approximiately fifty years later, George Clooney does not need to adopt a tone of accusation or defense, nor one of self-justification or apology, in order to tell the story of McCarthy, his committee and how it interrupted the everyday lives of American citizens. Clooney needs ‘only’ to show what happens after Edward R. Murrow dares to accuse McCarthy in public of undemocratic methods and dares to question his authority and legitimacy (using the case of a navy pilot who had been kicked out of the military for being a security risk). And that’s all Clooney needs to lay bare the era’s machinery of oppression, intimidation and intervention.
There’s not much action in the movie, nevertheless, it’s rich of an inner movement. Clooney focuses in on the discussions that take place in the newsroom: namely, if and how to go online with the news. He shows how McCarthy reacts: by accusing Murrow of being a communist. And Clooney unfolds how members of the senate, how the military, how sponsors, how a conservative and right-wing majority try to stop this daring journalist. Clooney centers his film on Edward R. Murrow who continues imperturbably and incorruptibly to tell the truth, supported only by his editor (Clooney) and the vice-chief of the station. The film is composed of a lot of dialogues, indeed. Clooney uses these to create an atmosphere of fear, of danger, of intimidation. The black & white images recall the atmosphere of the ‘black series’, the detective movies of the late 40s (the period in which McCarthy had already started his activity). The only difference: the gangsters here are the politicians, well, most of them.
In the end, Murrow pays a price for his boldness: he loses his primetime broadcasts. But he and his CBS colleagues celebrate a triumph: the senate ends McCarthy’s activities – and if this was not entirely the doing of Murrow and CBS, it was at least in part because of them.
This is history? Yes, it is. But at the same time, it is a warning and a lesson for the United States of today, on the significance and importance of an incorruptible journalism, that existed in the 50s, in their own country.