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Good Night, And Good Luck/Network

| March 30, 2006 | 0 Comments

Warner Brothers

In a 1961 speech to the National Association Of Broadcasters, FCC Chairman Newton Minnow challenged those in attendance to watch what they were producing and really look at what was on the air. If they could “keep [their] eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.” Thus, from that day forward, that’s been exactly how television has been known.

It wasn’t always like that, however. In 1958, legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow used the medium and his celebrity to take a stand and challenge the members of the government who tried to muzzle and cow the press with the mantra of “if you’re against us, you must be a commie.” In the midst of the Red Scare, it was Murrow who stood up to Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy’s tactics of smear and finger-pointing.

After covering the story of how Air Force officer Milo Radulovich was discharged for being a communist sympathizer with no evidence presented at his hearing, Murrow and his producer Fred Friendly decided to take the fight national. Despite the reservations of the higher-ups at CBS, Murrow challenged McCarthy with the facts. McCarthy shot back by trying to peg Murrow as a communist for challenging him, but the argument never took, and McCarthy’s tactics would eventually come under investigation by the full Senate.

Good Night, And Good Luck finds director George Clooney and the cast, especially David Strathairn as Murrow, in top form. Clooney, who has strong roots in the news business (his father Nick was a longtime anchor in Cincinnati), also makes the wise decision to use the actual footage of McCarthy, instead of an actor. Shot in black and white, the film perfectly captures the look and feel of late-’50s CBS.

The DVD carries only a commentary track by Clooney and co-writer/producer Grant Heslov, and a behind-the-scenes feature with descendants of Murrow and Friendly, as well as the real-life Milo Radulovich.

Extended extras are not needed, as the film speaks for itself. The sad part about Good Night, And Good Luck, is that something like this, no matter how desperately needed, is never going to happen again. With the myriad network choices and the 24-hour-news cycle, the pull of ratings and access is simply too great to concern one’s self with facts and journalistic standards.

If only someone could have predicted this situation . . .

In the late Paddy Chayefsky’s Network, crusty news director Max Schumacher describes his mistress, high powered network exec Dianne Christensen, as television incarnate, searching for anything to fill the shrieking nothingness inside.

At long last, one of the greatest films of all time gets the special-edition treatment. In 1976, Network was released and viewed as pure satire: a savaging of the perceived state of network television and news.

As long-time network news anchor Howard Beale is fired because of low ratings, his on-air breakdown causes his audience share to skyrocket. Naturally, he is kept on as the corporation that has taken over the network instigates its anything-for-ratings-scheme.

In his Oscar-winning role as Beale, Peter Finch’s “Mad As Hell” speech is now the stuff of film legend. However, the amazing thing about Network is that “Mad As Hell” is only one of many equally memorable monologues. As corporate CEO Arthur Jensen, Ned Beatty’s rant against Beale tampering with the primal forces of nature is a masterpiece of writing and directing. Sidney Lumet has directed several films worthy of inclusion on anyone’s Top-50 list, but Network stands as his greatest achievement.

The two-disc set comes packed with features such as a profile of Chayefsky in the six-part making-of feature, commentary by Lumet, and an interview with the director just to name a few.

Who would have thought what was considered outrageous satire in 1976 would end up being the blueprint for modern day television. With the glut of reality shows, government sanctioned news channels, and the celebrity trial of the week, Schumacher might have been wrong about the shrieking nothingness.

If you turn the volume down, you might just hear Paddy Chayefsky rolling in his grave.

Timothy Hiatt

Category: Columns, Monthly

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