Good Night, and Good Luck

| October 15, 2005

Italicized portions refer to comments spoken by David Strathairn.
German born Paul Nipkow developed a rotating-disc technology to transmit pictures over wire in 1884 called the Nipkow disk. This was the very first electromechanical TV scanning system ever produced.
Over a century later, what started out as a primitive and simplistic idea, has now blossomed into a full-fledged tornado of swirling wires, frequencies and illustrated images.
Television in many regards has seeped its way through the pupils of the public like an epidemic. Creating in turn, an infectious blend of entertainment and enlightenment.
With this device lighting up the human subconscious like a Las Vegas motel sign, the determination of appropriate entertainment and education becomes somewhat blurred in the eyes of the beholder.
“When I was just starting out, I took a 7 week course in Clown College. Graduation was basically you would go out and do skits. But that’s a story for another time. You know, in a way though, this film peaks out from under the big top of broadcast journalism; back what it was in the 50’s. Today, you walk in the gate of more than a three-ring circus of what news is now. It’s more than just one little elephant and a clown. It’s an amazing wilderness out there.”
Sitting comfortably in a plush armchair, David Strathairn discusses his thoughts and attitudes over his latest role in Good Night, and Good Luck, directed by George Clooney. Projecting forth the crippling effects of fear and falsity on an ignorant public, the film illuminates the dark corners of the human mind, and instead, displays the courage needed to overcome adversity and injustice.
Strathairn plays Edward R. Murrow, a news correspondent for CBS and currently the host of See it Now, a program that examines a variation of topics ranging from political and social issues, to the arts and entertainment.
Over the years, Murrow has been welcomed whole-heartedly into the homes of the American viewer. Having first covered the bombings in London during World War II, Murrow has now become a household name; both beloved and hated by a significant number of people.
In 1953 though, with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hunt for communist activity in full swing, the words and actions of the journalistic community have become threatened by the radical and absurd notions of a power-hungry individual.
With injustice and suppression banging loudly on his doorstep, Murrow takes action against this witch-hunt, and plans to lay to rest the warped ideas of a misguided politician.
Along with the show’s director Fred Friendly, played by Clooney, Murrow provides the viewing public with the facts; showcasing the true nature of McCarthy’s ruthless campaign.
Like the bombs falling in London, soon a war erupts within the studios and offices of CBS. Murrow and McCarthy battle each other with the intensity of two boxers trying desperately to survive the grueling rounds.
In the end though, Murrow lays to rest the clouded ideals of McCarthy, and instead brings forth a new chapter of Broadcast journalism; one that aims to pull forth the truth and righteousness deserving to each and every individual.
Supported by an all-star cast which includes Jeff Daniels and Robert Downey jr., Good Night and Good Luck examines the fearful nature of man, and its effect on the civil liberties of the general populous.
Clearly, the prime component progressing both narrative and thematic devices is the realistic and inspirational performance by Strathairn.
With his words and actions not only consuming the minds of the viewer, but also those of the characters around him, Strathairn successfully channels the spirit of Murrow onto the screen. Creating in a sense, the ultimate champion of the common man.
“Well, parts like this come around, maybe once in a lifetime. And especially somebody as historical, and legendary and important as Edward Murrow. And at best, through physicality and voice, you can channel the spirit and emotion of that individual. So with Murrow, a person who everyone knows mostly from television, it was a huge challenge to be respectful of him, or at least bring forth the things people remember about him; such as his voice, his smoking of cigarettes, his elegance of dress and the way he related to the camera. And so I immersed myself in a lot of archival footage.”
Supporting the powerful performance by Strathairn, the technical and photographic aspects employed by Clooney and his design team as well secure the desired atmosphere of the picture.
Sleek camera movement and low-key lighting create a classic noir world for the events to manifest in. Although fast-talking femme fatales and gumshoes sporting a revolver do not show their faces, the subject matter and attitude still very much give off a menacing aura.
With Joseph McCarthy breathing down the neck of the journalistic community, every reporter, anchor and writer feels they could be the next to burn at the stake. Clooney clearly recognizes these dark and fearful emotions, and transforms them into rewarding components of both cinematography and set design.
“Well, George understood that. You know, his father Nick Clooney was an anchorman in Cincinnati and a champion of the common man. And Edward R. Murrow is one of his heroes, and George would say that his father is his hero. Television was his babysitter as it was for many of us at that age, and he would hang out with his father in those studios. And from that, he developed this tactile sense of the surroundings. So he knew the newsroom. Which is evidenced in his direction. You know, you see the cameras moving and the television monitors, and it gives you this sense that the news is happening right now. So he did an excellent job with that.”
“And with Robert Elswit’s cinematography and design, for me, with the aesthetic black and white, throws you back. It’s nostalgic and more simplistic. But also, the camera movement and design, allowed for more interesting angles and framing, which kept the energy up all the time. And George recognized that from the get go.”
In many respects, the film is commenting on the power of television. In Murrow’s final monologue, he states that television is much more than just a box with wires. It is something that can inspire and educate society. But one must recognize that, along with entertainment, the need for social and political programs is even more vital.
Information on foreign and domestic policies need to be taught to children and adults a like. Often times a classroom can be limiting. With many students choosing to ignore the demands of their instructors.
Television though, can reach a much wider audience. Through the actions of reporters and entertainers, a gateway into the inner workings of government, life and culture can be opened.
“And it can teach, and it can illuminate, and it can inspire. But he was right in saying it can only do so, in the means it is used in. It depends on how it is used. You know, entertainment is a great thing. I think this film is very entertaining. But it’s also a very informative and educational film. And, an inspirational film as well. It’s a very tricky world out there, in terms of how we learn who we are. Or, what do we want to learn? It’s a jungle in order to navigate our way to an answer. And it is a classroom. For so many people, it’s a classroom.”
With Good Nigh and Good Luck, George Clooney showcases the frightening effects of mass political and social hysteria. Ingrained deep within Edward Murrow is a desire and a will to fight not only for the common man, but also any individual deserving of the basic moral freedoms granted to all human beings.
Strathairn gives a tour de force performance as Murrow. Although his actions are calm and subtle, his willingness to fight for injustice burns hotter than the cigarette permanently glued to his hand.
Loyalty plays a major role within the picture. The question of loyalty centers not only on the relationships of a personal and professional life, but also the desires that eat away at one’s conscience and heart.
What is worth standing up for? And is it always right to fight injustice, even though the consequences may be detrimental to the well being of the individual?
Murrow recognizes that danger lurks behind every doorway, microphone and camera lens. But by sitting down, and rolling out the welcome mat for tyranny and oppression, the life loved by so many people would be thrust into a dark place. One that has a difficult time allowing light to enter.
“To pursue not only life, liberty and happiness, but also pursue the truth. To be able to live your life to the fullest, and respect for everyone else’s desire to do that. I would hate to have any civil liberties taken away from me because of the economic, or political or religious doctrine of one particular group of people in power. That would be so frightening.”
Superbly acted and photographed, Good Night and Good Luck stands as an inspiring instance of journalistic perseverance. One that displays the need for factual words, rather than bigoted, ignorant beliefs.

About the Author:

Matthew Vasiliauskas is a graduate of Columbia University. His work has appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Berlin’s Sand Literary Journal, Chicago Literati and The Pennsylvania Review. Matthew currently lives and works in Los Angeles.
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