Fine and Mellow

I have mixed feelings about the movie Good Night, and Good Luck. But not about the soundtrack...

There are quite a few vocalists and singers out there trying to capture the magical sound of the small combo pop-jazz that emerged after the demise of the big bands. The pinnacle, of course, are the two albums Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded in the late 50s with the Oscar Peterson trio and Buddy Rich: Ella and Louis and Ella and Louis Again. This soundtrack is not in that league. But it is graced by the deliciously savory voice of Dianne Reeves, possibly the best jazz singer out there these days. And it's good to know that someone is still reaching for the heights, instead of just fooling all those nice people laptop-tapping away at Starbucks.

October 27, 2005 4:04 PM | | Comments (1)



Ms. Bayles,

Your article in the Weekly Standard is a very thought-provoking piece, and I can completely see where you're coming from. But perhaps we were looking for different things from Good Night, and Good Luck. I sought an artful commentary on a fascinating chapter of broadcast journalism. I gather that you sought a comprehensive portrayal of Edward R. Murrow and the McCarthy proceedings. Make no mistake: McCarthy isn't the focus of this film. Rather, this is a movie about early news media. There's McCarthy, but there's also an interview between Murrow and Liberace, questions about the role of television in society, and other fascinating staples of an industry in the "adoption" stage.

The "deadwood" sub-plot between the two Murrow staffers plays an important role of grounding viewers in the social mores of the time. To produce a movie in 2005 about events that happened fifty years ago, a screenwriter needs to "place" the viewer in the time. And that's not simply achieved by "meticulous re-creations of early-1950s offices, TV studios, and hotel bars." Today's high school students, for example, won't understand the social context of the 1950s (or the witch hunt that ensued) without a foil. The sub-plot provided this context: not only was TV "unfree," as you suggest, but so were those who produced its content. This was still the "Father Knows Best" era; the hippies' colorful progress was still a decade away.

I thought casting Joe McCarthy as himself was brilliant. The comment I read said that test audiences felt "the actor playing McCarthy was overacting." Using the archival footage preserves McCarthy's peculiarly impassioned presence. These images add credibility to the story: THIS is what Murrow, Friendly, et al were up against, and THIS is how they used the dawn of the television newscast as a discussion forum to address it.

McCarthy isn't the only character without a body. As far as I can recall, the cast is limited to media types. There are no bartenders or street-sweepers. Rather, the film concentrates on the industry. The exception is Dianne Reeves, who is another foil for the time: a Jazz Age remnant whose lyrical music broods with social undercurrent. In one poignant scene, a beleaguered Murrow and Friendly watch Reeves through sound-proof glass. She and her songs somehow provide escape from their world.

Finally, I think the speech Murrow gives to the Radio-Television News Directors Association serves as an amazing bookend to the story. One realizes how little television has changed in 50 years. Programs are still tied to sponsor funding, and they're often loaded with sass and style in lieu of meaningful messages. As the credits roll, the audience recognizes this as the thesis statement for the entire project. It's not about Communism. It's about Journalism. And it ends here with this quote from Murrow:

"...This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box." (For full text, see

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Serious Popcorn published on October 27, 2005 4:04 PM.

Talk About a Sleeper was the previous entry in this blog.

Essay Contest is the next entry in this blog.

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