Making the Grades
A pet project of actor/director George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck is a dramatization of a turning point in America history. While attention was being focused on Senator Joseph McCarthy and his finger pointing of anyone he felt might be guilty of promoting communism, Clooney asks us to step back for a moment and recognize how that "focus" was accomplished.
The "McCarthy hearings" were not only pivotal in altering our perspectives about government interference in personal liberties, they also made for good television. The new upstart medium was just beginning picking up speed in the early 1950s, and at that point wasn't really considered a serious source of news and information. That was until the senator from Wisconsin began his witch-hunt, and news journalist Edward R. Murrow put his career on the line in hopes of exposing the resulting personal carnage for the accused.
Portrayed in silvery hues of black and white, don't expect to sit in front of this movie and be taught a history lesson. Instead, Clooney (who, aside from manning the creative helm of this film, plays Murrow's producer, Fred Friendly) assumes you know the start and finish of this film before the lights begin to dim. There is no voice over to guide you, and only a couple of titles appear on the screen--usually letting you know what date the events are taking place.
This assumption of knowledge allows the creator to get right to the plot. In barely more than 90 minutes, he sets the stage of the era, and even wedges some "extras"--like a candid interview with Liberace where Murrow (played by David Strathairn) questions him on when he might be thinking of getting married. Another sixty seconds allows a highly manipulative smoking advertisement to give us pause about the way we did (and still!) perceive media.
The Liberace interview and many other scenes of the senate hearings are all pulled from kinescope archives, giving this film an additional sense of relevancy and perhaps even truth. Using exceptional editing techniques, dramatization and reality pull together seamlessly, to the point where this film raises a further question about media: How accurate is Clooney and Strathairn's interpretation of Murrow and other CBS figures? Like the cigarette commercial, this film is so exceptionally crafted, we need to remember what is fact, and what is fiction.
This isn't a movie your kids will be clamoring to see, but for teens, it's one you may want to bring into their view. As was typical during the era (especially in broadcasting) smoking is rampant, both in front of and behind the camera. Also, a character uses a gas stove to commit suicide. Aside from these issues and a couple of mild profanities, there are really no other content concerns.
Easily considered one of the best-made films of 2005, Good Night, and Good Luck may be accused of championing news media or being a metaphor for current political situations. Hopefully audiences will instead see and hear the message of how vital freedom of expression is in maintaining a healthy democracy.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Good Night and Good Luck.
This film will prompt discussions on the role government plays in protecting citizens from perceived risks (in this case, the threat of communism); the role media plays in providing information to the public; and why we as citizens have a personal responsibility in searching out the facts for ourselves.
Edward R. Murrow was a respected journalist who was known for uncovering stories and issues. Do you think this type of journalism still exists today? Is it still required? What are the pros and cons in relying on journalists to provide us the “truth?” Can you think of any other methods for millions of people to be aware of current affairs and events?
What methods do the man in the cigarette ad use to convince you to smoke? Are these techniques still used in advertising today?