M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Thursday, January 26, 2006  

Good Night and Good God

I saw Good Night and Good Luck the other night with Dirt and Banana, and a few things struck me about it right away. Besides being in an actual movie theater, that is. No, not just Ray Wise's hair, although it was impressive that the former Leland Palmer could not only play such a sad and vulnerable character, but do so from underneath that hair-lmet.

It also wasn't the constant smoking, although that was hard to miss. Yes, one recognizes intellectually that everyone smoked all the time in the fifties. Even the non-smokers smoked -- they just smoked filtereds. But then you see it on screen and it's a whole other level. When I used to see movies with BuenaOnda, she hated sitting through the credits with me. And then she would always have a cigarette in her mouth and a thumb on the wheel of her Zippo before we were even out of the theater, awaiting only the sight of daylight to strike flame after the longest interval of non-smoking she'd endured in weeks. She always twitched enviously in her seat whenever someone lit up on screen, but she stuck it out. She would have had to take smoke breaks from this one every ten minutes or so. Watching people smoking not only while hanging out and drinking, but also while working, walking, talking, eating, cooking, testifying before HUAC, sleeping, having sex, performing surgery, and scuba diving would have been too much for her. I'm not even going to mention the fact that Strathairn's Edward R. Murrow doesn't exactly speak with the voice of a man who has ever heard of cigarettes, let alone one who's always careful to hold his smoldering Kent clearly visible in the frame.

No, what really hit me was the way people used to make TV. My old boss at the radio show would be the first to admit that he's something of a technophobe, but whenever we traveled to a different town, the first things set up backstage were always the laptops and the Inkjets, and the only time I ever heard him curse was when he couldn't get a Word document to print ten minutes before a show. And then last night I see this movie about people making a television program, and they don't have a goddamn thing that you need to make TV these days except cameras and a studio, and I'm pretty sure that TV is several orders of magnitude harder than radio. Edward R. Murrow and his homies didn't have computers or e-mail or fax machines or video or Avids or chroma-key or any of that crap. All they had were manual typewriters, reels of film, so many cigarettes that I'm amazed that there are any left today, so much Brylcreem that there isn't any left today, and enough drive and energy to do it anyway. When they wanted to review footage, they couldn't go to the editing bay or pop a tape in; they had to thread it through a rickety projector, turn out the lights, and screen it on somebody's office wall. And then Murrow went on the air, live, with Fred Friendly sitting on the floor next to him holding a stopwatch and tapping Murrow on the leg with a pen when it was time to start talking.

Whatever Clooney's flaws may be as a director, screenwriter, or pinko activist, he certainly has internalized his dad's "when I was your age" stories about the TV biz. These guys were at the top of their field at the time, and they were putting together a show with fewer resources than your average public-access show has in 2006. It gave me the same feeling I had during Apollo 13, watching Tom Hanks as my dad's old squadron-mate doing calculus with a pencil while suffering from hypoxia, and you realize, my God, thirty-five years ago we were actually sealing perfectly good human beings into large pieces of cookware and firing them at the moon, with less computing power than I have in my cell phone. And my cell phone's a piece of shit.

I often felt the same way recapping Rome. I'd notice that Niobe was always cooking or prepping, and realize that that's because every meal probably took all day, every day. I'm a two-minute drive away from a store were I can buy a little pouch of grated cheese, a product that would have taken Niobe most of a month to produce. It just makes me wonder how or why anyone ever accomplished anything, instead of just lying in bed and waiting for someone to invent all the crap we now need to get through our daily lives.

And now a chump like me can sit at my computer keyboard, typing words that, through a series of mechanisms I can't even begin to understand, will shortly find their way onto the computer screens of perhaps tens of people I'll never meet. Compared to what a genius like Murrow and his hard-working boys had to go through to get their shitty ratings, it doesn't really seem fair.

On the other hand, I can't help wondering how many broadcasters of today would go back to that time in a heartbeat, if it meant having George Clooney tucked under their desk when they went on the air.

Today's best search phrase: "Why does trash leave me again?" I hope I never have to answer that.

posted by M. Giant 4:14 PM 6 comments


Thanks for making me feel guilty for having "stuff". Now I'm going to start throwing all of my technology stuff away, starting with my computer... right after I buy something on e-bay, and look up the lyrics to Giligan's Island, and buy a new cell phone I'm about to throw away, oh yeah, and look up a bunch of porn...

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 27, 2006 at 6:18 AM  

Excellent post.

On the other hand, I can't help wondering how many broadcasters of today would go back to that time in a heartbeat, if it meant having George Clooney tucked under their desk when they went on the air.

I would have gone into broadcast instead of print, and I would still be in it, if it meant having George Clooney tucked under my desk when I went on the air.

And all the audience surveys would say, "That girl on Channel 12 just smiles ALL THE TIME."

Hee hee.

Smooches to M. Small from MC D.Laney,


By Blogger grandefille, at January 27, 2006 at 6:36 AM  

Gosh, the greatest generation and all that malarky, ain't it just so cool and retro to see a movie about actual people who lived in a black and white world? I wonder if they, like, had indoor plumbing.

By Blogger Sven Golly, at January 27, 2006 at 7:52 AM  

I thought about this too when I saw Good Night, but sadly that thought was not enought to captivate me and make the film any more interesting to me. I actually fell asleep in the theater and forevermore the movie is known to me as Good Night and Good Night.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 27, 2006 at 10:05 AM  

Along the same line, my friends and I often comment about how parents today often mention that their kids need cell phones for "safety". Hell, I was a kid before the internet/cell phone age and I survived. My point is, although technology was more "archaic", people were intellectually the same. Humans weren't dumb, just not as advanced in gadgetry. In addition, culture was "simpler" in terms of its demands for technology in every day life.

On a different note - I love you M. Giant!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 27, 2006 at 3:55 PM  

You'd enjoy talking to my Dad. He a radio newsman/dj during the 50s and 60s. I always smile when I see his headshot from those days, he looks so young in front of the old fashioned microphone and with the station's call letters in the background.

By Blogger Teslagrl, at January 31, 2006 at 10:52 AM  

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