Film Studies: George is talking sense - but is anyone listening?

The film is set in the age of Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin, the demagogue with the sleepy eyes who hit on the game that there were so many card-carrying Communists in the State Department, at The New York Times or under your bed. In modern history, by which I mean the age of television, McCarthy was the first man who reckoned to change reality if he told enough lies in a sufficiently actorly way. He has had followers.

Fred Friendly (George Clooney) and Edward R Murrow (David Strathairn) work for CBS television in the sacred news department, and they feel the need to confront McCarthyism. They have waited for the feeble Congress and a jittery president (Eisenhower) to disown the man from Wisconsin. But his reckless power is growing - careers in the media were destroyed; academia was rife with Cold War paranoia; the "security" of the nation (albeit the most powerful in the world) was said to be in such jeopardy that civil rights might be restricted.

All of this really happened. Murrow - who had made his name first in radio, with commentaries from London during the Blitz - was a Lincolnian figure. Friendly was his producer. Their CBS was then the best network on television and it was headed by William Paley (Frank Langella) who led the way in television entertainment, who believed in news and who trusted Murrow up to a point.

It's a very simple story, told with tight-lipped economy. These TV people have no private lives to distract us. And the picture is shot in black and white just because its great coup is to cast Joseph McCarthy as himself. McCarthy and Murrow never met. They were faces on each other's screen. And since McCarthy lived and died by television, it is entirely proper to use the old kinescopes of his hearings. Indeed, he built his fame as a bully on TV, and he died there in the celebrated Army vs McCarthy hearings when a great lawyer, Joseph N Welch, asked him in front of the nation whether he had no decency left. At last the nation got the point, just as if McCarthy had been played by some actor like Broderick Crawford as shambling, sweating and incoherent.

This is the moment to ask those critics who didn't quite get George Clooney's debut film, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), to stay after school and see it again. Confessions was also a film about television in that it dealt with Chuck Barris, the brilliant inventor of silly game shows, and a man who said he was working for the CIA. It is the more inventive film, one in which levels of reality struggle for supremacy. Good Night, and Good Luck is remorselessly simple, yet it is inspired by how far television is now the camp fire at which our tribe gathers to stay warm.

Still, you have to watch Good Night very closely to see how its sliding camera and its sudden cuts do marvels to create the feeling of paranoia. No one knows at this CBS who can be trusted and who not. There are secrets within secrets; there are fears about job security and holding back panic. The portrait of William Paley is essential to this: he is smart, brilliant even, and a liberal at heart. But he has reached that point where the good of the business is close to smothering the good of the good. Yes, it's a film with heroes and villains, and inescapable connotations for 2005 no matter that no link is underlined. But if we had a president who watched television, or movies - this is what he deserves. Of course, his advisers don't allow such things. They prefer to keep him in the dark. And so the dark spreads. Good night - and good luck.

'Good Luck, and Good Night' closes the London Film Festival, 7pm, 3 November, www.lff.org.uk, 020 7928 3232

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering