thatcow

Obsessive about the opening

There's a technique used in some movies to pose, as a narrative question, why we begin with a particular scene. Sometime before the end, we learn what the significance of that scene was.

Quiz Show opens up with Dick Goodwin, a top-of-his-class young lawyer in the employ of a congressional oversight committee, looking at an expensive car in a showroom, in the late 1950s. Dick very much admires the car but begs off to the salesman, claiming his wife wouldn't like his being there all that much.

I found myself wondering about this scene for the longest time. Dick eventually investigates the game show Twenty-One, trying to tie rigging of the contestants to a wide conspiracy. Though the investigation goes well enough, there's nothing that ties us back to the car, nor any particular motivation drawn from that day that I see.

So, let's back up a moment. Quiz Show is based upon true facts - facts documented in the real life Dick N. Goodwin's book. Goodwin, in a story sense, amounts to a catalyst to bring things out of the other characters. However, real life does not work so directly with roles being perfectly assumed by individual people - hence a figurative meaning seems unlikely. This may have been something that actually happened, but I don't see how it ties into the narrative of the film. I'm left with setting and tone as the best explanation for what we scene. As the rest of the film is quite well constructed, I find myself not quite believing that.

By "well constructed", I mean exactly that. Quiz Show is an adaptation that actually works. Our characters react from reasonable emotions, with believable actions, and we do actually care about the outcome. I love the completely rounded and unique personalities of our two primary contestants of interest - Herbert Stempel and Charles Van Doren. The exploration of ambiguous moralities is fascinating.

But I can't get my mind off that scene. By the end, I'm determined the movie could have lived without it, though it probably is best to have something at the front to establish the pace, which is on the moderately slow end, but deliberately so. Now, mind you, the scene will not scream that loudly at the average viewer - that sort of thing is just on my mind right now, so I'm zeroing in on it. Besides, I'm sure every other review in the world is centering on the issues of morality raised by this film. I don't always have to be unique, but I'll try not to flinch when it happens naturally.

Speaking of that morality, the approach the film takes to it is interesting. The experiences of most of the players are treated with compassion, with the exception of those running the scheme. The opinions of the various sides seem to be well represented, but at the same time, there does seem to be some thin moralizing going on. It grates a bit because of how objective the film tries to be otherwise, but it is not greatly damaging. There are issues raised that are worthy of discussion. If we extrapolate them to our own times, they can be even more interesting. The film is quite worthy on these ground if you let the moralizing slide.

The cast here is incredible, featuring quite a few name people - many of them in bit parts before they actually made it "big". Our principal players are Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow, John Turturro, Hank Azaria, and Mira Sorvino. Also look for such people as Calista Flockhart, Ethan Hawke, Griffin Dunne, and acting directors Martin Scorsese and Barry Levinson. For a film that gets briefly into concepts of acting for an audience, the "acting about acting" is pretty impressive. I have no complains here.

Mainly I count off for that beginning scene and the slight bit of moralizing undertone. This is a great film I recommend to everyone - perhaps we shouldn't all think so hard about it.

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