Employing a tone that suggests Robert Redford's "Quiz Show" (1994), albeit on matters of greater moment, (director) George Clooney wades in this month with the much-anticipated "Good Night, And Good Luck," a chronicle of the real-life conflict in 1953 between TV broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and the now vilified Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
Murrow, whose World War II reports enthralled millions, was of that pioneering first generation of TV newsmen and women, who also were the last to take their cues from the process of print journalism, in which most of them had trained. It is not surprising that the best of them remain among the most respected. There were no beauty queens and talking heads.
For all the re-evaluation of the McCarthy era that has occurred in recent years, some of it useful, and attempts by some conservatives to resurrect the senator's sinister image, don't expect revisionist history on the subject from Hollywood, one of the main targets of the black listing of the time.
Character actor David Strathairn is a brilliant choice to play Murrow, the chain-smoking reporter with a fierce distaste for guff. Murrow and his hard-nosed CBS News staff, led by producer Fred Friendly and Joe Wershba, were literally the eye that never slept, as willing to thumb their nose at corporate and sponsorship pressures as they were to risk their careers in unmasking the Reds-baiting McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee.
Many capitulated to the HUAC's communist "witch-hunts." Murrow, one of the first to decry McCarthy's tactics, was merely emboldened.
The very public war of words between them escalated when McCarthy accused the anchorman of being a communist. How it all played out would have extraordinary cultural significance. Our only wish is that one might see more depth of characterization and complexity than the expected hero worship. Murrow was also an unabashed showman, and knew good theater when he saw it.
Clooney is proving himself to be a serious player behind the camera, a director with good instincts and a gift for working with other actors. Clooney and producing partner Steven Soderbergh have assembled a fine ensemble, which also features the director, Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Daniels, Frank Langella and Patricia Clarkson.
The decision to use archival footage of McCarthy instead of an actor, according to the Internet Movie Database, was made because test audiences thought the McCarthy "character" was overacting, not knowing it was real man.
Tilting at windmills
Terry Gilliam's ill-fated attempt to shoot "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" in Spain in 2001 (with Johnny Depp) was chronicled, painfully, in Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's "Lost in La Mancha." With "The Brothers Grimm" behind him and "Tideland" due out this fall, he has returns to quixotic idylls. Trouble is, the "Don Quixote" script is still owned by the film's insurers.
But Gilliam's still in there pitching, and hoping that Depp will be available should he regain the rights and finally bring his dream to fruition. It wouldn't be much of a stretch for the star of "Don Juan Demarco."
Polly want a movie?
Now that she's finished scheming in the TV miniseries "Rome," we're hoping 39-year-old British actress Polly Walker will return soon to the big screen where her dark good looks and aura of mystery receives the best play.
A former dancer who changed careers after sustaining a pivotal injury, Walker's movie roles have been quite varied.
She was a homicidal spy in "Patriot Games" (1992), perfect as the vain but vulnerable socialite in "Enchanted April" (1992), and the orphan Jane Fairfax in "Emma" (1996). Her last features were the 2004 thriller "Control" and a pair of 2002 pictures, "Savage Messiah" and "Eye See You," none of which affords the kind of exposure "Rome" is providing.
Still, we want you back, Polly.
The second annual International Film Festival Summit (IFFS) will take place Dec. 5-6 in New York City.
The 2005 summit will present two days of panel discussions, workshops and "breakout" sessions addressing the chief issues facing the film festival industry. Topics to be addressed include festival funding and revenue models, capitalizing on technology, measuring the economic impact of festivals, selling and justifying sponsorships, festival programming, and acquisitions and distribution.
More information on participating at the IFFS is available at www.filmfestivalsummit.com or by calling (917) 655-0818 .
Bits and pieces
Our own Valerie Van Norte, set dresser and prop master on a number of major Hollywood films, served as assistant prop master for Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown," which opens here Friday.
"Or (My Treasure)," a first feature from Israeli director Keren Yedaya, follows an upbeat Tel Aviv teenager named Or (Dana Ivgy) who tries to persuade her streetwalker mom (Ronit Elkabetz) to give up her dangerous life. ... French writer-director Jacques Audiard scores again with "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," a virtual remake of James Toback's 1978 cult flick "Fingers."
Count on it being better than the pretentious original about a young man (Romain Duris) torn between his allegiance to a mobster father and his concert pianist mother. ... Macedonia is a country trying to come to terms with its past, not unlike its ex-Yugoslavian neighbors Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.
The struggle to overcome its still troublesome circumstances are reflected in Ivo Trajkov's dreamlike parable, "The Great Water."