Reviews

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

Lamenting the loss of 'people who are uncompromising,' Clooney says, 'For us, this movie is a success if some kid in Austin, Texas sees it, who is studying journalism, and says, 'That's the guy I want to be like.' Then we win.'"


Good Night, and Good Luck.

Director: George Clooney
Cast: David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Ray Wise, Frank Langella, George Clooney
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Warner Independent Pictures
First date: 2005
US DVD Release Date: 2006-03-14
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If you wanna have fun, come home with me.
You can stay all night and play with my TV.
TV is the thing this year, this year.
-- Dianne Reeves, "TV is the Thing This Year"

Is this the start? Are you taking sides?
-- Don Hollenbeck (Ray Wise), Good Night, and Good Luck

"David came to the project because he was the cheapest actor we could afford. He was available... If I'd played the role, it would have cost considerably." Listening to George Clooney's commentary for the DVD of Good Night, and Good Luck, you get the idea that he's fond of his own jokes. Lucky for him -- and the rest of us -- his most excellent partner in filmmaking, Grant Heslov, also appreciates his dry humor. Their collaboration not only conjured a terrific movie, but also a smart, engaging commentary track, part reminiscence (of the shoot, of the McCarthy era, of Clooney's childhood, watching his newscaster father at work), part entertainment (jokes about the sexiest man alive award, his costarring with Governor Freeze, Clooney's performance here), part celebration of cast and crew and those remarkable historical figures they perform.

As the film begins, Clooney and Heslov describe the tone they seek: "We sort of wanted it to be a little bit of a Deer Hunter sort of opening. We wanted to be able to spend some time with the characters in the beginning before we introduced them." And throughout, Good Night, and Good Luck treats its many characters with respect, the only one earning its overt revulsion being the monster Joe McCarthy, who plays himself, via archival footage.

The film evokes a period when media makers and consumers were less cynical and less downtrodden than they seem now. Here, Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) faces his arch-enemy, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, straight, inviting him onto his show, accepting his challenges, and revealing his ugliness in brilliant, precise prose. With CBS more or less behind them, a least for a time, Murrow and his staff, including producer Fred Friendly (Clooney), do their work. Nobly, shrewdly, and above all, tenaciously.

As the film considers a specific moment in Murrow's career (focused on the journalist's work and not his life beyond CBS' offices), it sets up a moral and political opposition: resistance and righteousness versus industry and fear. These terms appear to be neatly embodied in Murrow and McCarthy. Both are products of the early days of tv, both reside in history as larger than life images. But the movie is also more complicated than a look back at an especially golden/scary age. Beyond positing this opposition as one of willful individuals, it also interrogates the cultural and political landscapes that made them possible and perhaps inevitable.

As Clooney notes, McCarthy seemed for a time unstoppable as well. It was only when he overreached obviously -- going after Eisenhower, the military, and Secretary Stevens -- that his Republican colleagues in the Senate began to stand up to him. Until then, it was Murrow who put himself in front of this runaway bus, making himself visible and vulnerable. When Murrow makes his first broadcast As Clooney describes the broadcast ("I think it's one of the great moments in television"), he also praises Strathairn's impeccable performance: "When you're a director and you can stick a camera on a guy for this long and not move it, it ain't directing, believe me. It's about a really good actor saying really good words."

Cowriters Clooney and Heslov rightly drop names for costumes (Louise Frogley) and cinematography (the exquisite black and white images are by Robert Elswit), further demonstration of the movie's striking attention to detail. This attention makes it partly reverential, partly probing. It pursues truth through incandescent fiction, at once presuming you get the context and providing some. When Annie Lee Moss testifies (again, in archival footage, to "show actual techniques of these guys"), Clooney underlines that "no one defended her as to being a Communist or not being a Communist, in fact, Murrow says on his show, 'I do not know whether or not she's a Communist.' But she has the right to face her accuser."

In its earnest, elegant defense of such basic rights -- and its use of Annie Lee Moss as the emblem of someone who stood up to McCarthy -- Good Night is emphatic about what's at stake: politics is here defined as images, the business of media, dissemination, consumption, even spin. This is how the world works. Figures are framed repeatedly, by doors, windows, camera lenses and television screens. Murrow first appears in what might be termed the film's future, 1958, accepting an award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for his remarkable work as a journalist. As he reads his acceptance speech, you realize that this work is not only investigative or even resistant to the powers that be, but also gorgeously written.

Murrow accepts his prize with a mix of arrogance and remonstration. He lectures his fellow newspeople, assembled to venerate him, that their situation is increasingly untenable. As you might infer from Clooney's own well known views on the states of politics and journalism, the speech resonates for 2005 as much as it must have in the '50s. Admitting that he is "seized with an abiding fear regarding what [television is] doing to our society, our culture and our heritage," Murrow says,

For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word "survive" literally... If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then some courageous soul with a small budget might be able to do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done -- and are still doing -- to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizens from anything that is unpleasant.

From here Good Night cuts back to 1953, as Murrow's measured, sustained response to McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee is getting underway. Murrow and See It Now producer Friendly decide to step up when the Senator charges a Navy pilot, Milo Radulovich, with disloyalty. Having been dismissed without trial as a security risk because he refuses to denounce views held by his father and sister, Radulovich agrees to an interview.

When the show catches McCarthy's attention, Murrow's own history comes under scrutiny. CBS president William Paley (Frank Langella) calls him into his deeply shadowed office and arranges a punishment: fewer documentary and opinion broadcasts, more episodes of Person to Person, the mostly celebrity interview program that Murrow detested. Good Night includes an ostensibly "easy laugh" bit with Murrow and Liberace, in which the latter professes his desire to "settle down" with a good woman, perhaps Princess Margaret ("She's looking for her dream man too"), but the underlying point is more cogent than the joke, that the celeb show, then and now, is performance dressed up as confession, artifice pretending to be truth.

The film underlines that McCarthy is a symptom, not the problem in himself. Murrow's colleagues at CBS, Shirley (Patricia Clarkson) and Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jr.), are prohibited by contract to be married, and so they remove their rings at work. Another CBS anchor, CBS Views the Press' Don Hollenbeck (Ray Wise), is increasingly undone by a New York columnist's ferocious name-calling, eventually to the point of suicide.

Opposed to Don's poignant meltdown, Good Night posits Murrow's implacable, pained crusade. Though perpetually disturbed and ominously chain-smoking (Clooney says they included a Kent cigarettes ad to showcase this problem: "The reason we did this was simple. We know that we were making smoking look sexy, and we felt responsible for it but you can't change history. And most of these guys actually died of lung cancer. So we thought we'd put in a piece to show how utterly ridiculous the smoking era was, in terms of false information"), the man will not be deterred.

To help make this point, Murrow and Friendly's efforts in the studio seem almost to pulse with energy. The HUAC footage is also striking, as when McCarthy accuses Moss of being a Communist, a charge so patently baseless that Arkansas Senator John McClellan finally demands that McCarthy and Roy Cohn produce proof. The original tv camera reveals Moss' surety and the white power brokers' shuffling their papers, displaying that as his end came near, not only were McCarthy's seams showing, but also the bigger picture was suddenly visible, exposed by this amoral technology called television.

Also provocative are inserts of jazz singer Dianne Reeves, who appears as a sort of punctuation, singing standards that comment on the action ("Straighten Up and Fly Right," "Who's Minding the Store"), recording at CBS. While this specifically black woman artist provides insight and hope concerning the film's gloomy world, the folks in the upper floor offices don't hear it. Their bottom lining persists.

Lamenting the loss of "people who are uncompromising," Clooney notes that Murrow and Friendly are, following the showdown with McCarthy, "pushed to the back" by CBS (this even as McCarthy comes under investigation himself). "Everyone seems to be compromising now," says Clooney. "But, it sure would be nice to have 10 guys who sit back and say, 'Well, we're not gonna show cart chases as news,' because it's not news... For us, this movie is a success if some kid in Austin, Texas sees it, who is studying journalism, and says, 'That's the guy I want to be like.' Then we win."

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

Next Page: Potent and Ferocious

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

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Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

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Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

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