Since I first saw him on ER, I’ve always found Clooney to be not just an admirable actor, but an individual whose choice of films showed great taste and engagement in the issues of the day:
“No one is encouraging me or anyone else to do things that aren’t going to make any money,” Mr. Clooney said, speaking recently by telephone from his home in Italy. “On the other hand, 20 years from now, you want to be able to say to people that you stood for something besides your own career.”
My respect only deepens to read of Clooney’s commitment to exposing the world to important ideas and themes greater than his own personal well-being.
Clearly, the film intends to plumb the depth of Murrow’s legacy for not only his own time, but also our own. Though Clooney demurs slightly on the subject of the film’s relevance to today:
“Good Night” never reaches for the present in arch or ungainly ways, which is partly what makes it seem less like propaganda and more like a movie. Even though civil liberties advocates have sounded alarms over the current effort to strengthen the Patriot Act, Mr. Clooney said he did not set out to construct an allegory.
“This is a movie about broadcast journalism and its responsibilities, which I think have been shirked,” he said. “I think a good many people would admit that they dropped the ball. This is a reminder of what is possible.
But read this quotation featured at the film’s official site whose stentorian cadence also calls out to us from the past about the dangers a hubristic U.S. faces today both at home and abroad:
“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine; and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Good night, and good luck.”
– See it Now broadcast, March 9, 1954
Remember these burning lines: “We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” They speak poignantly to the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, the unrivaled military/security buildup no less than they spoke of Joe McCarthy.
These days, my wife and I hardly get to see a film with 3 kids at home under the age of 4. But this one is one we will not miss! A.O. Scott, the Times’ film critic agrees with us in his glowing review and quotes the title of Murrow’s famous TV show in suggesting that his readers should See It Now.
A few notes about Ed Murrow and Fred Friendly. I learned a few years ago that he was born in a log cabin without electricity or running water in Guilford, NC and that his family moved when he was 5 to Blanchard, a farming town in Skagit County (30 miles south of the Canadian border). He became interested in debating in high school, which in turn propelled him into local campus student politics at Washington State College (now Washington State University). When he became a national student leader, he decided to leave Washington State and moved to New York where his broadcast career began a few years later.
As an undergraduate at Columbia University’s School of General Studies, I took an honors history seminar on America in the 1950s. That semester (this was the 1974-75 academic year), Fred Friendly began what would become the renowned Columbia seminars (now the Fred Friendly Seminars) whose first subject would be America in the 50s, the Cold War, the Oppenheimer case, etc. I remember seeing actual Manhattan Project scientists attending, which amazed me. Friendly was one of those avuncular, but penetrating hosts whose anecdotal asides were riveting.
He recounted his creative, but tension-filled relationship with Murrow noting in one case that Murrow seriously doubted whether or not he should air a program defending Robert Oppenheimer (my memory may be hazy about the subject but this is what I recall). Friendly played Murrow’s alter ego devil’s advocate and encouraged him to stick with the show and air it. He did and the day following its airing wrote a telegram to Friendly: “You were right…as sometimes.” In hearing Friendly recount this charming and telling story I felt like I was a personal witness to journalism history and watching my very own academic version of See It Now.
Though I haven’t seen the film yet, I have seen clips from the movie at the site. I’ve got to say that while I find David Straitharn to be a remarkable actor (and have deeply admired his roles in many John Sayles films), he just doesn’t do it for me as Murrow. The most remarkable physical qualities of Murrow were his deep, resounding voice, his dark, bushy always-furrowed eyebrows, and his brooding face. Straitharn’s voice carries little of Murrow’s convincing baritone. The speech I refer to above comes across as funereal and dreary rather than deeply convincing as it should be. I’m perfectly willing to be turned around on this–a first impression, after all–after seeing the film.