Quiz Show – movie discussion

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There is a theological belief that it is a greater sin to tempt than to be tempted, and this movie firmly reminds me of it. It is based on a true story which takes place in the 50s, the early days of television.

A grating know-it-all named Herbert Stempel  (John Turturo) has been winning for weeks on “Twenty-One,” a popular American tv trivia quiz. He did so well partly because he was being given the answers. Still, after some time the executives decide his appeal of ‘an ordinary man’ and ‘an underdog’ is wearing thin – Stempel can hardly be called handsome and he sometimes behaves like an obnoxious sycophant in public. Dan Enright, the producer, is breaking the news to him: he’s had a free ride long enough, now it’s time to lose.

Stempel takes that news very badly but acquiesces to it for the sake of the promised tv career. Meanwhile  America likes his successor, an attractive, disarmingly intellectual WASP Columbia lecturer named Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), far better than him. Blinded  by money and  by fame, Charles, like Stempel and many others contestants before him, agrees to cheat.  When Stempel, not being given a job he expected to get, blows the whistle on the whole setup  a Congressional investigator Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow) tries to bring the deception tumbling down. Still, being so attracted to the genteel intellectualism of the Van Dorens (who, at a family dinner, read poetry and play a Shakespeare trivia game) Goodwin attempts to expose the quiz shows on Stempel’s testimony alone, while giving Van Doren a pass – just because he likes him. Will he manage to reveal the ugly underbelly of tv politics and make real perpetrators pay for their sins?

Rameau: Spoilers ahoy.

Anachronist: Spoilers? In a case of such an old movie? Released in 1994? Old news, really.

Rameau: When a film is old enough it can be like new again after people have stopped talking about it. Like with this one. I didn’t know anything about it other than it was directed by Robert Redford and you apparently love his films.  

I do love some of his films that’s true. So, can a movie be interesting without a romantic story arc?

Yes, it can. And I’d call Quiz Show a good film even if it was painful to watch. The shame, all that shame.

Painful? Well, it’s a drama and no, the tv Goliath is not conquered by a small, smart David. I would call it  educational pain.

Not like that. The acting. It was painful even when it was good. I honestly don’t know what they wanted to do with Ralph Fiennes’ character. It was like an attempt to show Voldermort before he went bad, only that hope fell flat as well. Also, Rob Morrow, I only remember him from that Alaska show.

No, not Voldemort, please. Fiennes was brilliant as Charlie.

Really? It’d make sense. A good hearted, brilliant and beautiful man makes a misstep and ends up falling flat on his nose. And losing it.

Lord V was supposed to be bad to the core from the very beginning, mind you. Charlie is not bad, he’s just greedy. He wants to achieve the same status as his daddy and uncle but faster, in a more brilliant manner. He is like a modern Faust – making a deal with the devil of a big corporation.

I’ve not read Faust so I can’t comment on that and I never really believed in that bad to the core explanation. Dehumansing a villain always takes away from the story and its stakes.

Agreed. Still Lord Voldemort had very few redeeming qualities whereas Charlie…he was the golden boy. Charming, handsome, a dutiful son from a good family, he had it all.

The family aspect was the best part of him, but I still kind of hoped it hadn’t ended the way it did. It would’ve been more interesting character arc had Van Doren embraced the corrupt world and not had second thoughts about it. It was given that the big industry was going to get away scot-free, but on a more personal level the story left me cold. Based on true events or not. In this case, I’d argue that fiction can do better.

Van Doren still pursued that ideal of a knight – remember his father’s remark about Don Quichotte? If you act as a knight you are one, no matter what people say. And you know what I wanted? It will be shocking, prepare yourself…actually I wanted a hint of  gay romance. Between Dick and Charlie. It was close, wasn’t it? ;p

This is why shipping happens. Actors have chemistry and because Hollywood insists on writing all the good parts for men, obviously people are going to ship slash.

So you think I am not completely delusional or kinky here?

No. Just another rational movie viewer.

There was so much fascination on both sides. The wife of Goodwin snapping and yapping like an angry dog, him defending poor Charlie who in fact didn’t need any defence at all.

Infatuation is the word you’re looking for.         

Perhaps. Anyway it seemed to me the director really had to restrain himself in order not to suggest more. Speaking about feelings, what were yours, after watching that one? Because every time I watch it I experience some kind of catharsis at the end. That’s the part of the appeal I suppose.

Nothing really. It was just another film I’d seen. Didn’t affect me that much. As to why Redford wouldn’t have suggested more, it was the early 1990s. Two decades ago and a totally different time. The great public wasn’t ready.

😦  Your heartless assessment makes me a bit sad but I’ll survive.  

Films don’t affect me that much anymore. Maybe a few I’ve loved since childhood, but new films come and go. This applies to old films I see as an adult too. I’ll either like them or don’t, there are a very few I love.

Would you recommend that one? To anybody?

Definitely. I’d recommend it to people interested in the period, political true stories, and good films without romance. Or if someone describes their ideal film and that description matches this one.

I think it is one of truly intelligent movies I would recommend to anyone. It is an interesting story and it features great, three-dimensional characters, difficult to pigeonhole as white or black hats. And young Ralph Fiennes used to be so handsome ;p.

And had a nose.

Who doesn’t?


;p ;p ;p  Harry Potter begone!

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7 Responses to Quiz Show – movie discussion

  1. Red Witch says:

    I saw it years ago. I thought it was good at the time but then I also was a fan of that Alaska show.

  2. xaurianx says:

    I have never seen this movie, but I blindly accept that tv shows are fake. I love the Storage Wars series and spin offs, and I know the treasures are totally planted. No one would leave those behind in a storage unit and not get them out before they stopped paying rent.

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