On PBS, "Charlie Rose" Critics' Panel Unanimous In Supporting Clooney's Liberal Movies

January 2nd, 2006 7:30 AM

Before the new work year really kicks in, one little thing that caught my eye in between holidays. The PBS show "Charlie Rose" had a panel of film critics on to discuss the year in movies on December 21: Richard Corliss of Time, A.O. Scott of the New York Times, David Denby of The New Yorker, and Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly. (For cultural conservatives, consider this fact: an hour-long show on the year in movies and no mention of "The Chronicles of Narnia.") The perfect moment of taxpayer-funded liberal unanimity came in discussing George Clooney's movies "Syriana," and more specifically, the CBS-boosting "Good Night and Good News."

LISA SCHWARZBAUM: "Obviously he's telling a story that we can all feel much happier about. This is about how journalism spoke up to power and how they stared back at a bully. And It comes out at a time when the media wants to think about whether we need to stand up further to, you know, to pressures brought to bear. But I'm fascinated that Clooney is using this kind of charming, you know, "Ocean’s 12/13/14" kind of fame that he has in order to make these movies of what he takes as political importance. I think that's a very valuable use of his celebrity."

CHARLIE ROSE: "We all agree with that, don't we?"

CRITICS IN UNISON: "Yeah. Yeah. Yeah."

Scott, the New York Times critic, had just finished boosting Clooney in a strange way: "I liked 'Syriana.' I thought it was very hard to follow in a way that I found very engaging and bracing. I felt like the arguments it was making and the connections it was making were very interesting." (This transcript is mine, from correcting our closed-captioning printout against the tape.)

The liberal critics also liked "Munich," and a few minutes before the Clooney-boosting, several critics blasted conservatives. Time magazine's Corliss began: "Now, what interests me politically about this is that the Right, having attacked, complained that Christmas wasn't Christian enough. They're saying that Spielberg isn't Jewish enough. He's not taking enough of a pro-Israel position on this movie." Schwarzbaum of the other Time Warner magazine added: "This is, of course, the Christian Right that has not seen the film. Once again this is a situation where the political people who are speaking out, certainly the Christian Right, they haven't seen it." (It hit theaters two days after this show aired.)

Finally, it wouldn't be a panel of liberal movie critics without a Hallelujah chorus for "Brokeback Mountain," the men-in-love Western. After several minutes on the topic, the cheerleader squealing begins:

SCHWARZBAUM: And what is astonishing now, I think, is that this is, at this point, the front-runner for an Oscar, that this film –

ROSE: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.

SCHWARZBAUM: That's right, for Heath Ledger.

ROSE: And maybe Best Supporting Actress for his wife. (Cross talk about how it will five or six Oscars).

SCHWARZBAUM: That this major Hollywood movie... about two men in, may well, may quite likely win Oscars. This is fantastic! This is extraordinary!

Scott, the New York Times critic, then worried that all this liberal praise is going to send the wrong message on this "very mainstream" movie, that it will become a political cause instead of an artistic landmark: "This, I think, in a very interesting and powerful way is a very accessible, very mainstream movie that just takes some of those strong emotions from the sort of forbidden love melodramas of the 1950s and brings them into this very familiar but very different setting of the cowboy movie so I think that it is a kind of, I sometimes worry that it's being burdened with a little too much social significance. That there's a little bit too much of that this is an important movie and we all have to congratulate ourselves for, you know, being so liberal minded and going to see it which in a way sells it the wrong way."

Perhaps echoing Scott's praise of "Syriana," Denby found that "Brokeback" was "eloquently inarticulate." Corliss typified the liberalism of the movie critics by remarking: "That we are saying in 2005, oh, isn't it nice there's a good love story involving two men? How far behind is everyone?"