I'm currently reading Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind (the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls guy) which details the independent movie scene in the 1990s. It's mostly centred on Miramax, but there's a lot of stuff about the Sundance Festival and Robert Redford's film community. It doesn't paint a particularly kind picture of Redford, but the stuff surrounding the creation of Quiz Show fascinated me. With the film apparently set up as initially a project for Steven Soderbergh before Redford himself took it on. I was never a fan of Redford's work, but the account of the films creation made me want to check it out.
Taken away from the politicing behind its creation the movie is kind of fascinating in of itself. For whatever reason this film feels vibrant and alive in a way that few Redford movies actually do, there are a number of shots and moments which just feel like they come from a completely different creative place from Redford's usual staid style. In particular a push in shot behind Van Doren, accentuating the audience he's staring at, is the kind of showy manouvere you don't often get in his films.
The story itself is fascinating and kind of tragic, exploring the inherent corruption of game shows in the 1950s. It seems to sort of represent a first clash between the government and television and it's a perfect indication of Redford's own views on Hollywood and the studio system. He paints both Herbie Stempel and Charles van Doren as people who made a mistake, focusing the film on their dissatisfaction at cheating and laying the blame on studio executives. The films final moments exemplify this with Charles van Doren's life in tatters whilst the TV producers, who concocted the sheme, are rewarded.
It's a very black and white look at a complex issue and it probably absolves van Doren and Stempel of their cheating ways. In particular the film goes out of its way to make van Doren into a tragic kind of figure, Fiennes polite and genteel performance really selling a kind of desperation to be accepted. It's an unusual, bitter, kind of David vs. Goliath story and I think it's succesful as a character study and as a shwocase for Redford's directorial talent.