Friday 31 January 2020

The Current Cinema - Is BOMBSHELL (Jay Roach, USA), the greatest ever piece of cinematic schadenfreude?

One of my Christmas presents was the book “Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another’s Misfortune” by Tiffany Watt Smith. It devotes 160pp to the subject in a most amusing way, most notably in delineating the subtle variations that schadenfreude takes in our daily lives, with copious actual examples large and small. I recommend it. One thing it does is explode the myth that only the German language has a single word to describe this phenomena. Quite a number of languages have a similar word it seems. One anecdote I can recall is of the film-maker Kenneth Anger who in discussing schadenfreude called it “the peculiar Hunnish characteristic”. Whoops.

But now to Bombshell, Jay Roach’s clinical dissection of the life and times of Roger Ailes, a political and personal thug whose work went all the way back to advising the arch political thug Richard Nixon in the practice of his evil art. I have to immediately say I haven’t seen the recent Russell Crowe impersonation yet so I came to John Lithgow’s performance uninformed by any recent knowledge of the ogre.

What’s immediately apparent is that this is going to be a serious hatchet job. Among the first words Ailes/Lithgow utters are a taunt about James Murdoch to the effect “You cant tell me those lips have never done a blow job.”… or something like it. Interesting that it’s directed at James but there you are.

But the movie is really the greatest example I’ve ever seen of schadenfreude on a screen. Nothing is left out in Lithgow's rendition/impersonation of Ailes. From his odious and bloated face, his walker, his technique of getting pretty young women to perform sex acts, the lies to his wife, the bullying of his staff, the wife's ludicrous anti-liberal politics, the dedication to Ailes' pro-Trump (eventually) goals. It’s all there or enough of it to keep you smiling as the downfall looms.

The film is quite tricky. It does make the drama turn on Megan Kelly’s final decision to join in the dance on Roger’s destruction rather than try and analyse what a pack of turds the whole lot of them were/are and why and how it operates. And Murdoch and his sons come off as principled…please. But the collective schadenfreude at Ailes downfall drives the whole thing and the details of it are what you revel in.

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