catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Good Night, and Good Luck

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George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck, about the conflict between journalist Ed Morrow and anti-Communist Senator Joe McCarthy, is getting some rave reviews. Locally, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton both gave it five stars, their highest possible rating (“I’d give it more if we had a bigger scale”, added Margaret). Indeed, there are things that are good about it. Aided by black-and-white photography, it convincingly looks like the 1950s, with its feeling of authenticity enhanced by the use of archival footage of McCarthy, rather than getting an actor to play him. For the characters who are not playing themselves, all the acting is good. But for me it was a 3 or 3.5 star experience; I did not feel I had wasted my money, but nor would I see it again or recommend it to others.

The problem is that it lacks tension and character interest. Anyone with a little knowledge of post-war US history will know how it ends – with McCarthy being censured by the Senate. That McCarthy over-reacted and falsely accused many people of being communists is (rightly) the conventional wisdom, surviving in the term ‘McCarthyism’. The film is not advancing any unusual or controverisal proposition. None of the characters in the film experiences any serious doubt that they are right, the kind of internal tension that may have made up for the lack of historical tension in the narrative. The only dilemma they deal with is how far they can go in attacking McCarthy before CBS, which broadcast Murrow’s show, loses its nerve.

A much more interesting film would have tried to explain why McCarthy behaved the way he did. By coincidence, I had been reading Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 in the days prior to seeing Good Night, and Good Luck, a useful reminder of how frightening communism was in the 1940s and 1950s. The widespread communist use of front organisations and infiltration helped create suspicion around people who were left-of-centre, though not communists. As was subsequently discovered, a few of the people McCarthy accused of being communists were in fact Soviet agents (though McCarthy lacked evidence for this at the time). But Good Night, and Good Luck doesn’t even give us this context, let alone explore McCarthy’s psychology.

The film’s popularity among critics owes something to the historical parallels. Communism then, Islamism today. Witch hunts then, suspicion of Muslims today. As Pomeranz said, “and it’s so important, because it’s about things that are really vital today”. Certainly, when liberal socieities are faced with murderous, totalitarian political movements we must do our utmost to protect civil liberties while protecting ourselves from external and internal threats. But surely it would be odd, in fifty years time, to make a film about the Howard government’s terror legislation without mentioning September 11, Bali, Madrid or London?

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Written by Admin

December 30, 2005 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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