Our fair town received a rare treat last night; we hosted the Midwestern premiere of George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck in our own Orpheum Theatre. So here we are, finally exactly like New York and Los Angeles. At least as far as Clooney movies go. Galesburg is the home of Knox College, whose journalism program boasts Marilyn Webb among its faculty; one of her professors was Fred Friendly, played by Clooney in the film, and we were further honored to have the film introduced by Knox’s own Bob Jamieson. All in all, a regular single-film movie festival.
The movie itself has a beautiful consistency in terms of its subject matter and visual and acting styles. While Edward R. Murrow’s on-air joust with Senator Joseph McCarthy is the stuff of TV journalism legend, it was played with an understatement that today seems almost morose. Good Night, and Good Luck is valuable because it reminds us of what American Cool really means. Like Miles Davis and Chet Baker, Murrow and associates perform straight-faced, level-eyed; nobody sweats, and the deadpan wisecrack becomes the only discernible measure of emotion. Watching the film, I was reminded of Apollo 13, another movie in which monumental acts of heroism are performed by semi- (and not so semi-) nerdy guys (and gals, in Clooney’s movie) with horn-rimmed glasses and white shirts, people who know their jobs well and do them without drawing undue attention. These are rock-solid types who may be seething underneath, but on top all give us only a square shoulder and a frank gaze. I once saw Miles Davis perform; he wandered around the stage, eventually making his way behind the drumkit, out of sight of the audience. The horn never wavered, but the performer slipped away, never missing a beat. This attitude is captured perfectly in Good Night, and Good Luck, particularly by David Strathairn. While he allows his Murrow an occasional tic of the eye or drawn corner of the mouth, mostly it all comes down to a deep concentration nothing can break. It is an attitude that seems long gone; and the film for me seems to imply that we are in trouble without this cool in the face of the marching morons of politics and broadcast journalism.
There is so much to admire about this low-key movie; other reviewers will tell you of the beauties of its black and white–more like nuanced shades of gray–and the single exuberant touch of the jazz combo whose musical numbers throughout the film punctuate key moments. What struck me last night was the movie’s ability to make me long for a return to cool in the face of fire. We are always under one Blitz or another; I wish I could take mine with half of Murrow’s reassuring immobility.