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'Good Night' from George Clooney

Film critic David Edelstein reviews Good Night, and Good Luck, a new film about Edward R. Murrow, tells the story of the famed newsman's clash with Sen. Joe McCarthy. The film, with David Strathairn in the title role, was directed by George Clooney.

06:39

Other segments from the episode on October 7, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 7, 2005: Interview with Donovan Leitch; Review of the Jazz album "Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall;" Interview with Suketu Mehta; Review…

Transcript

DATE October 7, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Review: "Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie
Hall"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli sitting in for Terry Gross.

Early this year the Library of Congress, jazz curator Larry Applebaum came
across forgotten tapes from a 1957 Carnegie Hall benefit concert. It included
a set by pianist Thelonious Monk, with John Coltrane on tenor sax. Monk and
Coltrane had been working together for months, but this was the first live
material to surface by their working quartet. Now that concert recording is
out, and jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says you know you want it.

(Soundbite of performance by the Thelonious Monk Quartet)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:

Shadow Wilson on cymbals and drums, ladies and gentlemen--yeah, yeah, with
Monk and Coltrane. In fussing over them, I didn't want to forget Wilson's
kickass drumming or Ahmed Abdul-Malik's rock-solid bass work. Monk always did
like a no-fuss, hard-swinging rhythm section. And did we mention Coltrane's
on here?

(Soundbite of performance by the Thelonious Monk Quartet)

WHITEHEAD: When Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane began a long stint at New
York's Five Spot in July of 1957--four months before they played
Carnegie--hipsters knew it was a major event. Monk was at last breaking
through to rank-and-file jazz fans who'd been slow to warm to his elliptical
piano style. And Coltrane was a rising star who was between tenures with
Miles Davis.

Monk and Coltrane recorded in the studio in '57, and there's a live album from
a one-time reunion a year later, but this is our first look at the working
1957 quartet live.

(Soundbite of performance by the Thelonious Monk Quartet)

WHITEHEAD: On first glimpse, the pairing looks odd. Monk, the master of
understatement, meets the hyperactive jackrabbit of the tenor. In practice,
it was perfect. The pianist loved lots of space in the music, and the
saxophonist loved to fill space up. It was the best symbiotic relationship
since Mr. and Mrs. Jack Sprat sat down to dinner.

(Soundbite of performance by the Thelonious Monk Quartet)

WHITEHEAD: Some jazz folks, like me, think the way to play Monk's music is to
take it on its own spare terms. But Coltrane became one of the great Monk
interpreters by doing the opposite. The saxophonist had a genius for playing
a million notes and making it sound like something--something more than
practice or showing off.

In a way, this newly unearthed stuff sounds oddly familiar because there's
other Monk and Coltrane out there and Monk's late '50s period is abundantly
documented. But Coltrane, who spoke warmly of this experience ever after, has
never sounded happier or more enthusiastic with Monk. The band accompanies
them with a double-time breakout on the ballad "Sweet and Lovely."

(Soundbite of "Sweet and Lovely")

WHITEHEAD: All in all, the CD "The Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane
at Carnegie Hall" is a literal find, a look at two giants on the cusp of
greater fame feeding on the differences between them. By the way, that
November 1957 benefit concert for the Morningside Community Center also
featured Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker and Dizzy
Gillespie, and the priciest ticket would have set you back all of 4 bucks.
Now you know what Steve Lacy meant when he spoke of New York in the '50s as
paradise.

(Soundbite of performance by the Thelonious Monk Quartet)

BIANCULLI: Kevin Whitehead reviewed "Thelonious Monk Quartet with John
Coltrane at Carnegie Hall" on the Blue Note label.

Coming up, "Maximum City"--the city of Bombay.

This is FRESH AIR.

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Interview: Writer Suketu Mehta discusses Bombay
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The book "Maximum City" is about the largest city in the world: its enormous
movie industry, its organized crime, its religious feuds and how
fundamentalism is affecting politics. The city is Bombay, also known as
Mumbai. Author Suketu Mehta grew up there. He left in 1977 and came back 21
years later to research his book. He spoke to criminals, policemen,
prostitutes and politicians. He even co-wrote a Bollywood musical. Mehta
also has lived in London, Paris, New Jersey, Iowa City and New York, where
he's based now. He's written for The New York Times Magazine, Harper's and
The Village Voice. In his book "Maximum City," which just came out in
paperback, Mehta writes, `With 14 million people, Bombay is the biggest city
on the planet of a race of city dwellers. Bombay is the future of urban
civilization. God help us.'

Terry spoke to Mehta last winter.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Now you describe Bombay as representing the city of the future. What are the
characteristics of Bombay that you think represent the city of the future?

Mr. SUKETU MEHTA (Author, "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found"): Right. I
think, Terry, that the 21st century will be dominated by these vast mega
cities, mostly in the developing world. The United Nations just came out with
a report predicting that by the year 2030, 60 percent of the planet's
population will be living in cities, and two billion people will be living in
slums. Now there's a group of cities such as Sao Paulo, Lagos, Jakarta,
Kinshasa, Bombay, which are composed of--well, the definition of a mega city
is more than 10 million people. But these cities have enormous numbers of
people constantly coming in from the countryside and living in these vast
shantytowns. They're also marked by a kind of breakdown of civic order and a
constant low-level strife. So in the case of the Brazilian cities, tremendous
influence by the drug gangs over the affairs of the city. And in Bombay, the
underworld specializes in extortion, real estate and film financing. And,
really, they've become pretty unpleasant places to live for most of the people
in it.

But these cities also represent hope for the people coming in from the
countryside. They're a beacon of hope for the young people in the
countryside. And their growth is added to because of the impoverishment of
the countryside, because agriculture is less and less viable in these
countries. And part of the reason for that is also the enormous subsidies
given to agriculture in the developed countries. So it means that the cotton
farmer or the wheat farmer in India can't get a fair price for his crops, and
his son will take the first train to Bombay and join the ranks of the people
in the swelling shantytowns.

GROSS: You write also about when you were living in Bombay that all around,
people asked you for money--your driver, your maid, your friends down on their
luck, strangers. How is that different from New York where, at the very
least, there's no shortage of strangers asking you for money.

Mr. MEHTA: Well, the difference is that in New York, we're not very rich.
In Bombay we were very rich because we were coming from New York, so we were
at the top of the pyramid. And from all areas, they zoomed in on us. We were
like a low-pressure system in an area of high pressure, and it got really
uncomfortable to have to continuously either bring out our wallet or refuse to
bring out our wallet.

GROSS: So what did you do more often, bring out the wallet or not?

Mr. MEHTA: Well, initially, we brought out our wallet quite a lot and we got
ripped off all the time in buying the simplest of services, till we realized
that it was a form of newcomer tax. That is, anybody who comes into a city,
any city, in the first year will get ripped off. You'll get ripped off if
you're coming to New York and you don't have a network and, you know, you
don't know which movers to hire or you don't know where to shop for the
cheapest clothes. So for the first year it was really uncomfortable and we
spent much more money than we should have. But then as we got used to it, we
realized that there were ways in which we could avoid con games, for example,
and know who to trust and who not to, and we discovered the best places to
shop for bed sheets, computers and oregano.

GROSS: Oregano?

Mr. MEHTA: Well, we'd come from New York and one thing we really missed was
Italian food, so we ended up cooking a lot of Italian food at home. And I
remember the heaviest item in my luggage going to Bombay was a giant can of
extra virgin olive oil.

GROSS: My guest is writer Suketu Mehta and his new book is called "Maximum
City: Bombay Lost and Found." He grew up in Bombay and returned there for
several years in the late '90s and early 2000s to live and to research this
book.

Seeing how Muslims and Hindus do not get along famously in Bombay now and, you
know, having researched what happened in the riots and having spoken to Hindus
who described how they killed Muslims, what is your reaction to seeing the
growing role that religion is starting to play in American politics?

Mr. MEHTA: I lived in Iowa for three years and so I've seen the growing role
of the evangelical churches in the American Midwest. And if people say that
much of India is a Hindu nationalist country, then by that definition much of
America is a Christian nationalist country. It's not something that, you
know, I see as a welcome development, but I also see that for many of those
people in the Midwest, their faith really is a reaction to the more
troublesome aspects of modernity. They really don't know how to deal with the
modern world and its changing values. And it's the same reason people in
India turn to the more extreme manifestations of Hinduism or of Islam. Except
in India, the trouble really happens in the largest cities; that is, in urban
India, not in rural India. You'll hardly ever hear of religious riot in the
countryside. And in America, certainly, the values crowd seems to be
concentrated in, you know, fly-over country.

The difference between the two countries also is that this spring, India voted
out the BJP. This was the party associated with Hindu nationalism. And, you
know, they were mostly voted out for economic reasons, but there was also a
large section of the country which felt troubled by this increasing
involvement of religion in politics. And I must admit that I was hoping that
the same sort of thing would happen here, but it hasn't yet. Maybe America
needs to experience a few more years of people who want to eliminate the
barriers between religion and politics and public life to really know what it
feels like to live with such a government.

GROSS: One of the things you got to do when you were living in Bombay is to
co-write a Bollywood musical called "Mission Kashmir."

Mr. MEHTA: Right.

GROSS: And how did you...

Mr. MEHTA: They're all musicals.

GROSS: They're all musicals, yes. How did you get to write for Bollywood?

Mr. MEHTA: Well, I wanted to study Bollywood from the inside. Now I
realized early on in my stay in Bombay that--you know, I'd always grown up at
Bollywood. I loved the movies. And I realized that I couldn't just go around
interviewing people. Most of these people are very busy. They have no time
for journalists, Indian or foreign. So the only way I could really understand
the making of this fascinating industry was to work in it; that is, to follow
the construction of desire in these movies from the inside by making myself
useful to them. So when a writer friend of mine invited me to come along to a
story session that his brother-in-law, a famous movie director, was doing, you
know, I came along. And the director started asking me questions when he
found I was a writer, and before long I became part of the script-writing team
for a movie called "Mission Kashmir," which is a film ostensibly about
war-torn Kashmir but with song and dance.

GROSS: So you had to show the film to the censor board of India. What are
the parameters for censorship in India?

Mr. MEHTA: All of these films are very heavily censored to a degree that
would be unthinkable in the US; that is, you're not allowed to have nudity;
you're not allowed to have open sex; you're not allowed to have swear words.
So it really stifles cinema in India. And the censor board is really made up
of people often who are very ignorant about cinema. They're drawn from the
community that is respectable, middle-class people, somewhat like the Texas
State Textbook Commission.

So I actually sat in on meetings of the Indian Censor Board and watched them
censor films on political grounds, that it would make the police look bad or
it would make the--a particular political party look bad. And the country
accepts this. So as a result, most of these Bollywood films--and even the
South Indian films--they get by on lots of double entendres and innuendo and,
you know, the famous wet sari scene in which the heroine will accidentally get
drenched in the rain and will dance around with her sari becoming
progressively more transparent. It's really quite disturbing when you're
trying to get across political ideas which reflect what's happening in the
country, and the censor board say that the country's absolutely not ready for
this.

GROSS: Where do the songs come in?

Mr. MEHTA: The songs, Terry, I think, are the most delightful part of the
Bollywood films. And there's a long tradition in India of advancing narrative
through music. So you'll find this in the folk theater of the country, in the
religious epics the way they're told; they'll be singing and dancing. And the
song isn't--it's not just a diversion from the plot. It actually advances the
plot in many ways. And even if it doesn't it's fine, because people come
there to have a complete entertainment, you know? There's a film out right
now called "Real Zara(ph)," which I also followed the making of, which is
almost three and a half hours long. Now, you know, most Americans would be
killing themselves if they had to sit through a three-and-a-half-hour film.
But for the Indian viewer, you know, he's worked all day in the villages and
in the evening he really wants value for his money. He wants to sit for three
and a half hours and watch these gorgeous people dance and have troubles and
resolve them at the end and have, you know, families reunified. He wants it
all. He wants action, he wants a bit of titillation, he wants song and dance,
because, you know, when he goes back there isn't that much to go back for.

So the films are kind of an exaggerated reality. And even the singing--you
know, often the singing really escapes logic altogether. There'll be a pair
of lovers, they'll be walking down Bombay Street, and one of--the man will
look at the woman and start singing and all of a sudden they'll be magically
transported to the alpine valleys of Switzerland. And no one in the audience
will blink an eyelid and think, `Well, this country it happens.'

BIANCULLI: Suketu Mehta, speaking to Terry Gross in December of 2004. His
book "Maximum City" has just come out in paperback.

Coming up, David Edelstein on "Good Night, and Good Luck."

This is FRESH AIR.

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Review: George Clooney's new film "Good Night, and Good Luck"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

`Good Night, and Good Luck.' With those words, Edward R. Murrow closed his
famous "See It Now" broadcast announcing the anti-Communist witch-hunts
spearheaded by Senator Joe McCarthy. It's also the title of the new movie
about Murrow, his network CBS, and what led up to that broadcast. George
Clooney directed, co-wrote and plays Murrow's producer, Fred Friendly. Film
critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:

At the midpoint of George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck," CBS Chairman
William Paley attempts to dissuade Edward R. Murrow and his producer, Fred
Friendly, from going on the air with an attack on Senator Joseph McCarthy. In
a big oaken office reeking of power, Paley, played by Frank Langella, argues
that McCarthy's going to self-destruct anyway. Later he says that viewers
expect objective reporting, not civics lessons. But Paley's case is
undermined by the very movie we're watching because what Clooney has made is a
civics lesson, an arousing and unapologetically one-sided one with a
melodramatic charge. The villain is not so much McCarthy, dead these 40
years, as a culture in which dissent is punished with innuendo and worse.

"Good Night, and Good Luck" is set in 1954, when the tide is turning against
the junior senator from Wisconsin and his overweening anti-Communist crusade.
But TV has yet to go along, and Murrow, played with affecting gravity by David
Strathairn, and Friendly, played by Clooney, have had enough of this
atmosphere of fear and intimidation. To keep their jobs, CBS employees have
had to sign an oath of loyalty to the United States and local affiliate anchor
Don Hallenback, played by Ray Wise, is being driven mad by a tabloid
columnists' relentless charges that he's a pinko. The script, by Clooney and
Grant Heslov, doesn't make the point, and maybe should have, that the TV
medium often lags behind print in afflicting the powerful, constricted as it
is by the interests of its sponsors and the celebrity status of its anchor
people. Nor does it tell you that Murrow came relatively late to the
anti-McCarthy party. But there's no doubt that his prime-time network TV
debunking of McCarthy reached a vast public and had a momentous effect.

The bulk of the film is set in the CBS studios and the cinematographer, Robert
Elswit, uses high-contrast black and white to evoke both the era and the
starkness of the forces in play. The movie feels electrified. It never
settles into a loitering pictorial. It has the chain-smoking jitteriness of
its protagonist. Cigarettes, by the way, are everywhere, and the way the
white smoke curls against the deep blacks is both beautiful and ominous. You
don't need to be told that Murrow died of lung cancer.

"Good Night, and Good Luck" is a hagiography, a portrait of a journalistic
saint who stands up to Paley and a network executive played as a pudgy,
complacent weasel by Jeff Daniels. There is no suggestion in the film that
some rational people at the time believed that Soviet communism was a threat
and that there might have been spies in the State Department. The focus is on
the many unjustly hauled before McCarthy's committee, their lives destroyed by
hearsay. Clooney has said he made this picture because of unnerving
contemporary parallels, like the TV host who declared critics of the invasion
of Iraq `enemies of the state' or the best-selling author who branded the
majority of Democrats guilty of treason.

I could tell you more about "Good Night, and Good Luck," about the moody
interludes between acts, smoky jazz numbers sung by Dianne Reeves or the
awkward subplot featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson as married
CBS employees who act as a kind of Greek chorus. But I'll shut up and let
Strathairn's Murrow have the last word, from the end of his legendary
anti-McCarthy broadcast.

(Soundbite of "Good Night, and Good Luck")

Mr. DAVID STRATHAIRN: (As Edward R. Murrow) Earlier the senator asked,
`Upon what meat does this our Caesar feed?' Had he looked three lines earlier
in Shakespeare's "Caesar," he would found this line, which is not altogether
inappropriate: `The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in
ourselves.'

No one familiar with the history of this country can deny congressional
committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but
the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the
junior senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. We must not
confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is
not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.

We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into
an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and
remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared
to write, to associate, to speak and to defend the causes that were, for the
moment, unpopular. This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's
methods to keep silent or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and
our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the results. We proclaim
ourselves, indeed, as we are, the defenders of freedom wherever it continues
to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at
home.

The actions of the junior senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay
amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And
whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of
fear. He merely exploited it, and rather successfully. Cassius was right.
`The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.'

Good night, and good luck.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for Slate.

(Credits)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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