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It couldn't be more related to today. Turn on the news and you see videos of how horrific the war on terror is and how horrific American society has become, but it stays on the air because people don't want to see the good things in life. They care about the bad and the corrupt. People must have laughed it off back then, but it was such a foreshadow to the near future. The performances are just as brilliant as the social commentary. Each actor becomes so absorbed into their characters that you can't even tell they're acting. It feels like you're watching these people in their daily lives, interacting and becoming more and more corrupt. Finch and Dunaway easily give two of the greatest performances of all time. I could write 20 more pages about it's brilliance, but I'll stop now to keep me from rating. I just have to say that it's so rare to find a film as incredibly flawless as this.
Children should be raised on the truth instead of fiction.
Television seduces, entertains, divides, desensitizes, and corrupts not just kids but adults as well. It's gotten so bad over the years it's like some kind of a disease now. Most people believe everything they see, read, and hear. Fortunately for me, I'm not most people. There are things that I question and there are things that I know are very wrong. Lying to the American people in every possible way is very, very wrong.
I've never seen anyone open up their window and stick out their head and yell that they're as mad as hell and they're not gonna take this anymore. I've never seen anyone say that they were a human being and that their life had value. We're so screwed up in the head we don't even deserve to be called human beings. We're like pre-programmed, numbered, clones enslaved from the cradle to the grave; clones that are programmed and structured to obey authority of all kinds.
"Network" deserved the Best Picture Oscar for '76, but it lost to "Rocky". How the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences allowed that to happen is beyond me.
That's all I have to say about that.
This movie is avant-garde in it's ability to convey the message of greed first democracy second, or third, depending on the sponsors of the Howard Beale Show... An incident was determined traumatic or not traumatic by it's lucrative marketability potential!! Terrorism is not terrorism if it means ratings!!! The character assassination of all the people in this movie was at the grass roots level!! Their avoidable flaws were entrenched as irreconcilable!! Any people with any conscience whatsoever (William Holden & his wife) were decimated by reveille with selfishness, now it is imperative that they pick up the pieces!! How many imitations of this movie have there been...thousands!! Network however was the first movie of it's kind to effectively portray the concept of "dying Democracy and dehumanization" probably the best movie of it's kind as well... This is an illustration of how heinous tragedy has to be stomached by the television audience, their response to clinical trauma transcends the impact suffered by the actual victims involved!! It is a proverbial case of ratings eclipsing reality!! The film "Network" resonates itself to a point whereby the American people are reduced to meager by-products of the Fortune 500!! I wish there could be a movie of this caliber made again!! I am angry that there has not been a sensationalistic masterpiece to come around for some time, and I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!!!
Now, it's ridiculously overwritten -- NO ONE is as articulate as the characters in this film, and most certainly, no one who works in television is as literate as Diana Christensen (the Faye Dunaway character). I doubt that poet laureates or even Eminem could spew as witty an aside as "muttering mutilated Marxism." But damn if that isn't part of its charm. Plus, outside of Max Schumacher (William Holden), the characters are pretty much archetypes instead of real people (the Robert Duvall character might as well wear a black cape and top hat), but their two-dimensionality works as a good metaphor for Max's seduction into the "shrieking nothingness" or television. Plus the actors are so superb they make screeching caricatures into almost-sympathetic characters: Duvall is a credible and charismatic villain, Finch is a fine mad prophet and Faye Dunaway manages to make a shrill, manipulative, soulless neurotic so damn cute and sexy you'll want to leave your wife for her, too, just as long as she promises to keep sitting cross-legged on your desk and hitching up her skirt. (Therein lies the real eroticism, forget the intentionally mechanical, unerotic coupling later in the flick). Anyway, this is complex, high art masquerading as popular entertainment, go rent it now.
The story of the failing network that didn't have a show on the Nielsen Top 20 and resorted to extreme measures to ensure that this changed seems so today: we see how channels that once had failing ratings churned out shock television right smack in the daytime while still applying Standard and Practices to other "prime-time" shows that could be taken the "wrong" way. Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Rikki Lake, Oprah, Mark Burnett, MTV -- they're all here under different guises, all competing to have their voices heard on television, all eventually becoming as ratings-hungry and establishment-friendly as the CEOs running the show.
Today we don't quite have Howard Beales ranting and raving about the ills of society on national TV (although they do "tell" us how we should feel, when we should laugh if we're too stupid to get the joke, who to vote for, the "truth" about the tobacco industry). Today media is all the rage and televises even a fart if it deems it interesting and guarantees more viewers. Today shows like "20/20" or "60 Minutes" bring us 'exclusives' even if it's at the cost of journalistic integrity. And now, with 'reality TV' still the dominating novel trend even in little-seen cable channels, creating stereotypes in leaps and bounds while claiming authenticity of the events depicted, there hasn't yet been a need to create a lunatic who could sermonize everything and make us Mad as Hell. On this aspect alone NETWORK has dated: the 70s were all about counterculture, anti-establishment, revolution, leftists, Patty Hearsts, Lennon and Yoko, "Nova", the Mansons, the hippies, the Earth-lovers, the militants. Nowadays, buff bodies parade themselves in shows containing outlandish competitions where eating the most grotesque concoctions are the norm, or enduring a barrage of extreme insults has become entertainment (i. e. "American Idol") and the very concept of dignity flies out the window. Of course, after signing an extensive release form in which they free the network of all responsibilities if something goes wrong because we all know networks can't be held liable for any faux pas. In short, nowadays people from all over try to become the next It person and outlast their 15 minutes of fame. Nowadays, everyone has their own reality TV show depicting their 24 hour day activities. I wonder if Diana Christensen isn't alive and well and exerting absolute control over the networks in general, bringing anything and everything that can garner a little bit of shock value (Boy Meets Boy, or any reality TV self-made "villain/villainess") and eventual ratings, taking over actual scripted shows with real actors.
NETWORK is a powerful movie of which I can't praise enough about even if its screenplay, by Paddy Chayefsky is a little too verbose. No one talks the way he makes his characters talk, using impassioned speeches with big, even archaic, words, and more than once the script makes the characters go completely over the top but even then it makes its point. Of the actors, William Holden's quiet portrayal of a former television exec, Max Schumacher, who has a conscience, but still feels some attraction to danger and risks his own family to experience is who is at the heart of this crazy story who was ahead of its time. Peter Finch's Howard Beale never comes through enough as a real human being: just someone who was pushed too hard and decided to shut down for the remainder of his life. But Holden holds the moral glue of the story, and interestingly enough, is wise to know that his affair, perfectly scripted as he even states, will end on a high note -- he'll return to his sanity and his wife, and Diana Christensen will bask in her own executive madness, since this is all she knows and holds dear. In her last words -- "Let's kill the son of a bitch." -- she informs us this is all she is about without so much as batting an eye. Who comes, who goes, is irrelevant to her, as long as the network can be number one. And that is the inhuman reality of television -- a media directed to entertain humans.
Once I had seen ALTERED STATES and read the novel, I was hungry to find out more about the late novelist/playwright/screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, and sought out this movie. It blew me away years ago, but I find it even more stunning now. Not just because of the writing, Sidney Lumet's taut direction or the Oscar-caliber performances by everyone involved, all of which are almost beyond being lauded with superlatives.
But what knocks me out is how Chayefsky seemed less to be writing from the power of his imagination, than channeling Our Times Now. As if he was capable of some form of mental time travel; able to look into the Nineties and beyond to see the coming of SURVIVOR, or Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, Bill O'Reilly and Paris Hilton. Even HE probably didn't know how he knew, but he sure as hell felt it and wrote it down for us to marvel over today.
Sure, there are political and cultural analogies throughout the picture that are dated. But the core of his vision remains startlingly clear and eerily prophetic. As for Howard Beale, there is not one single "celebrity" who mirrors that character today, but maybe he is a composite of several different personalities with whom we have become all too familiar in the world of "news-fo-tainment." Or maybe he simply hasn't materialized yet. Maybe that is just how far ahead of its time NETWORK really was.
After all, being "mad as hell" nowadays has so many more layers of meaning than it did nearly thirty years ago...
The acting in this film is superb. Peter finch stars as the TV anchor who becomes an "angry prophet who denounces the hypocrisies of our time." We gradually see how he first preaches to the common everyman, but is then exploited by the slick executives to achieve their one goal: Ratings. Faye Dunaway also shines as the Vice President in charge of programming who finds herself becoming less aware of the difference between television and reality. William Holden also lends fine support.
As the acting and directing in this film are exquisite, the message it portrays is a very strong one. This scathing indictment of TV is necessary for everyone to see.
Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is an on-air personality that, after finding he is not bankable anymore, snaps and starts to speak his own uncensored, and highly inflammable commentary about the hypocrisy of modern life.
In his mad-hatter routine, somehow he sparks his audience's interest, and in a twist of fame finds himself, the not bankable as prime market share for prime time television. And naturally, his bosses and those who stand to profit from his actions, use his fame to better their own cause.
Beale's rise to stardom is only one facet of this intricate story about how the mob influences media. Throughout "Network" we as the audience are constantly shown, to nausea, how ruthless popularity and trend mold what we see as consumers of entertainment. Most of the main characters are in fact trapped in their roles - and powerless to the bottom line, which is that media relies on advertisement and ratings to generate revenue.
In fact, I believe that is what the point of "Network" is - this movie shows us, that "news" is entertainment, and how we as viewers (whichever demographic you are) are willing to suspend all common sense, class, independence, honor, integrity for a few moments of triumph or more pragmatically, how we relish tragedy.
"Network" is too heavy for most people - it is meant for people who do not like TV, who think that product placement is ridiculous, and in general do not like to think of themselves as a "market". If you need your reality spoon fed to you, this movie is not for you.
However, if you have had enough, and wish to feel for a moment like you are an empowered free thinker, i would humbly suggest that this movie is for you.
'Network' is Paddy Chafesky's riveting and grim tale of the sleaze surrounding the American television industry. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, 'Network' is without a doubt one of the most powerful, influential and meaningful films ever made. One of the reasons 'Network' was so well received by both film critics and movie-going audiences was because it possessed a certain quality that most films unfortunately lack -- intricate and involving characters in realistic situations. 'Network' definitely makes my list of the top 10 films of the 70s, and it's an absolute shame it didn't pick up the well-deserved 'Best Picture' Oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony in 1976.
The film follows a low-rated television network trying to keep it's head above water. The network, UBS, has decided to fire an aging veteran news anchor, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), in an act of desperation to boost ratings. Beale is given a two-week notice, and instead of going out with his tale between his legs, Beale announces on live television he was fired and is going to kill himself. This raises panic and chaos at UBS, until they get the memo that Beale's crazed rant just bumped the ratings significantly. The UBS execs, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) and Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) decide to give Beale his own show where he complains and screams bout the problems with the world, while Beale's best friend (William Holden) feels it's inappropriate for the network to take advantage of a mentally-ill man. Besides exploiting a mentally unstable man, the company execs also work out a weekly program with a anti-establishment African-American communist, Laureen Hobbs (Marlene Warfield) following political terrorists and their violent outbursts.The film also stars Beatrice Straight as Schumacher's boring wife, Conchetta Ferrell was an assistant working for the network and Ned Beatty who plays the sinister boss of the UBS television network who always gets what he wants.
'Network' boasts one of the finest and most intricate screenplays ever written that rightfully earned Paddy Chafesky the Oscar for Best Screenplay. Sidney Lumet's directing is absolutely incendiary and the movie has an incredibly strong cast. Faye Dunaway gives what is perhaps her very best screen performance as the cutthroat Network executive, while Robert Duvall is just as brilliant as the ruthless Frank Hackett (which should have earned him an Oscar nomination, period!) Beatrice Straight is solid in her role (not quite Oscar-worthy if you ask me, though) and Marlene Warfield is just as great as the sassy pinko sistah (excuse me for that phrasing). The two performers who really steal the show however are William Holden and Peter Finch. Both nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the Academy Awards in 1977, Peter Finch gives a startling and powerful performance as the 'mad-as-hell' (not to mention crazy-as-hell) Howard Beale, while William Holden gives a subtle but none-the-less outstanding performance as the conflicted Max Schumacher. It's hard to say who was better, but if I absolutely had to decide I'd choose Holden's non-Oscar-winning performance slightly over Finch's sympathy Oscar-winning performance (he still was extraordinary,m though). I honestly believe if Finch hadn't died just after the film, Holden would have taken home the Oscar gold for Best Leading Actor, both were still magnificent though. The only player in the cast that I felt wasn't that great was Ned Beatty. In a role far-deserving from an Oscar nomination (which he for some odd reason received), Beatty plays the angry little man role he always does. Besides Beatty's performance and marginal pacing problems towards the middle (you are gonna get that in any 70s film that isn't a Kubrick film), the movie is utterly perfect.
I can't recommend you seeing 'Network' highly enough. If you want a carefully made motion picture that makes you think and reflect on how cutthroat our society has become (especially TV broadcasting), 'Network' is a absolute must. What are you waiting for, go out and rent 'Network'! It might just alter your perspective on things. Grade: A-
MADE MY TOP 300 LIST AT #46
One of the most famous lines in film history is as impactful today as it was when it was first uttered by fictitious news anchor Howard Beale in Paddy Chayefsky's (seemingly) parody of where TV and TV news is heading, 1976's NETWORK.
The astonishing thing about this terrific motion picture is how prescient it is. News is now entertainment. Appeal to the disaffected masses. Drive our message to the viewers. Be provocative. The 6:00 news had "less than 1 minute of hard news, the rest was sex, scandal, brutal crime sports, children with incurable diseases and lost puppies."
Sound familiar? This isn't from today, it came from this movie that was made 42 years ago as a cautionary tale of what might happen.
Besides the social ramifications, how does this film hold up? Quite well, indeed. A rare 10 star BankofMarquis film. Starting with the great Paddy Chayefsky's Oscar winning Screenplay. This was the capper on a brilliant career from Chayefsky - who also won Oscar's for his screenplay for 1972's THE HOSPITAL (I'll have to check that one out) and 1956's MARTY.
What does a terrific screenplay do? It attracts top-level talent clamoring to be in this - and they all deliver. Start with Faye Dunaway who won the Lead Actress Oscar for her role as Entertainment Head Diane Christensen - a driven, work hard, play hard individual who has the idea to make news "entertainment". Lost in the fog of time (and MOMMIE DEAREST) is the fact that in the mid-1970's, Dunaway was, perhaps, the greatest leading actress of the day and her skills are in sharp display in this film.
Joining Dunaway in terrific supporting turns are Robert Duvall, following his turns as Tom Hagen in GODFATHER I and II, as network head, Frank Hackett, Ned Beatty as Ned Jennings, President of the company that owns the network - he has a speech towards the tail end of this film that is as good - both in performance and in the way that it is shot - as anything put upon the screen - it was masterful. Speaking of masterful, Beatrice Straight won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in one of the shortest performances to ever win. She is in this film for about 6 minutes in total - but she won her Oscar for a 5 minute scene that is, most definately Oscar-worthy.
And then there are the leading men. William Holden gives one of the last great performances of his extraordinary career as the "voice of reason in this film". He is our everyman caught up in the bizarre, absurd circumstances that evolve around him. It is his effort to try to make sense of this insanity that jumps off the screen. Holden was, deservedly, nominated for a Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar, but lost (rightfully so) to Peter Finch's turn as crazed newsman turned prophet, Howard Beale. His maniacal (but not over the top) turn is one for the ages. If you do nothing else, see this film for his performance (but there is so, so much more to love here). Unfortunately, Finch passed away from a heart attack in between his Oscar nomination and win, and was the first posthumous winner in an acting role (sadly, Heath Ledger would join this "club" years later).
Finally, enough cannot be said about Sidney Lumet's direction. A movie like this would not succeed without a sure, steady and seasoned hand at the helm - and this is how I would describe Lumet's direction. He lets the camera roll and lets the actors and the screenplay take center stage, not drawing attention away, but adding to the themes of the film throughout - especially in Beatty's speech at the end.
NETWORK was nominated for (but did not win) the Oscar for Best Film of 1976. Did it lose out to other nominees ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN or TAXI DRIVER? Nope, it lost to ROCKY.
Let that sink in.
If you get a chance to watch (or rewatch) this film, I highly recommend you do so. For me, it was GREAT to watch this on the big screen with an audience, one of the reasons I love - and will continue to attend - the SECRET CINEMA series of films.
Letter Grade: A+
10 (out of 10) stars and you can take that to the Bank(OfMarquis)
In a way, this is a higher budget, bigger star update of the 1950's film "A Face In The Crowd" starring Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal. Howard Biel is very much the character Lonsome Rhodes was in that film. The difference is that while the earlier film went totally off the deep end, this one stops at just the right spot. The issue Howard Biel highlights here of Foreign Money and Big Corporations and Big Government taking over the world and screwing the little person- well let's fast forward to when it happened after the movie was made.
When Government decided it had to tax Senior Citizens Social Security benefits for starters as this requires some Senior Citizens as high as in their 90's to have to file income taxes. Then they are paying taxes on top of benefits they earned that were already taxed.
Then in the 1990's, Howard Biel would have come in handy when NAFTA passed by a corrupt Federal Government, which had started in 1986 to offshore jobs by changing the Federal Tax Code, the working man needed someone to stand up and say "We're Mad As Hell and we're not going to take this anymore!" Black people needed it when a huge Federal Program threw thousands of blacks in jail during the 1990's too. Then when the Big Banks talked a willingly corrupt government in the 1990's into deregulating them, removing restrictions FDR put in place to prevent the system from another 1929 meltdown, we needed Biel again.
Then in the 2000's, when big drug companies bribed a government into passing a drug law that made them wealthy and then allowed them to put out dangerous new drugs like "opoids" without regard with what they do to the public? Of course then 2 political parties who have disregarded any chance of term limits and have made themselves rich by sucking the taxpayers dry like kittens do their mom-ma cat?
Could a real Howard Biel have really done anything about that? Unfortunately the answer is no, because the big corporations, big money, mass media and corrupt governments appear to have won since this movie was made. Even though there are 2 great films warning us this could happen, we are at a point today where a whole lot of little people are no longer counted in a system that is rigged.
Yes, we should be "Mad as Hell" about it, but the out of touch media and those kittens living in a glass bubble still have not woken up as reality is being more hidden today than it was in 1976.
With William Holden, Faye Dunaway, and a huge cast, Sidney Lumet brings off a classic here that even has cameos from John Chancellor and Walter Cronkite. This movie portrays things as they are. Heed the warning, and educate yourselves as to what has happened since 1976. Even today's protesters need to watch this to really understand what they are doing, and why.
The true brilliance of this film is that all elements of it fade appropriately behind the actors and their messages. The film is completely a work of storytelling and, at least for the writer, stunning clarity of message and purpose. Political films come and go but few remain in the annals of film because of their effectiveness at their own message.
The cinematography, editing, sound, costume design, art direction and production design are all quite simplistic. In some scenes the film can be accused of being almost ugly. However this all lends to the back-washing of the film so as to allow the message to ring loudest. In my opinion, Sidney Lumet took this just a little too far and thus I give it a 9 instead of a 10.
This is certainly a film for the history books. Every connoisseur of film should be exposed to this movie at some point in their life. If you happen to be cynical, then you will love every minute of this movie as its stark view of life in the 1970's (and onward) touches the hard of even the hardest of cynics. For those educators out there, GREAT film for classes on Media and Politics.
Paddy Chayefsky; the writer, is the real protagonist in here, for his keen vision on creating a fiction in a white-collar office and still keeping it real and resembling towards the practicality is what helps the stunning craft sail off to the shore, safely. Sidney Lumet is in his A game and along with a beautiful cinematography and conservative editing, the 'directorial' objective is successfully achieved. Faye Dunaway and William Holden are convincingly good in their parallel role but the real game changer is Peter Finch as a supporting cast. Network is not your typical controversial informative feature, but is more brutal and dark that is depicted nicely with the help of a cunning script, stellar performances and brilliant execution on its side.
Plot is quite simple: long time news anchor (Howard Beale) has breakdown after being fired and loses it on air, bigwigs (Diana Christensen) notice said breakdown brought in more ratings than ever before and nurture this tendency until a monster is created that is against their best interests ($$) and now must destroy this monster. All in the way this is portrayed is what makes it so much more.
This is a deeply cynical movie, and quite prescient. A few years after this movie, the TV world was going to experience crudity on levels it had never imagined before. Morton Downey Jr. to Geraldo would usher in an age of the normalization of TV as spectacle, prurience and depravity we are very much still engaged in today. The kernel of the idea of capturing eyeballs with such content has simply been even more economically fine-tuned by other mediums, especially the Internet. Want to see beheadings, torture porn or video of people being shot to death? Sure you do. Diana predicted it. The natural progression of major character Diana's ideas are present for all to see. Only, it may not have been cynical enough in some ways. Could they have predicted reality TV? Or the endless line of meaninglessly competitive shows like Cupcake Wars? Jackass? At the beginning, it even toys with the idea of 'The Death Hour', filled with suicides and assassinations and car wrecks. We haven't seen anyone purposely killed on live TV to get ratings by a network, to my knowledge, but I doubt that is far away based on current trajectory.
Not to mention the brilliant critique of business by Arthur Jensen's (Ned Beatty) epic speech to Howard Beale. We are all just a subsidiary to business interests, AS IT SHOULD BE. The richest 1% own half the world's wealth. This was not an accident or survival of the fittest in a meritocracy, this was planned from the inception.
While the dialogue is brilliant, this dialogue is meant to convey ideas, not especially to capture how people really talk in various situations. It is more theatric than realistic. That brings us to probably the weakest part of the movie, the romantic aspect. It plays a parallel plot to the main one, and while it does serve to show that Diana is a 'Humanoid' in Beale's terms-seemingly human, but not really-it's also the weakest element. Hence, the lack of one star.
A point must be made about Faye Dunaway. This is her greatest movie. Bonnie and Clyde may have opened the door, but this broke it down. She encapsulates the inherent cynicism and calculating nature of Diana Chirstensen (play on offspring of Christ?) with near perfection. Her sheer physical presence is something to behold as well. From her impossibly high cheekbones to her lithe figure wrapped in chic 70's elegance, she steals every scene she's in. Just do yourself a favor and don't look up her more recent pics, plastic surgery is not her friend.
Will young people like this movie? Not if they want a fist bumping silly night, but if they sense they are being manipulated and want to know why, this is one place that was at ground zero.
I gave this a shot(totally embarrassed typing this), after bumping into several reviews lately, and my oh my.. What on earth have I been missing.
Not only the people in media industry need to watch this. Any human alive should watch this movie.
After watching Network, I watched it again and again. 3 times in a month. That was like a public apology. Not only a bulls eye projection as it is, also contains many micro similarities with the simple human behaviour today. The materialism, sincerity, mind games, nasty tricks, its all there.
Would that it were so.
Today we have Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Howard Stern, etc. etc. etc. At the beginning of the movie a drunken Max Schumacher (William Holden) fantasizes about a show called "the Death Hour" comprised of films of car crashes, suicides, train wrecks, and so forth, to be put on Sunday night in prime time. "It'll blow Disney outta the f------g water!" he laughs. A few years back some network put exactly such a show - "Eye Witness Videos" - on the air. On Sunday night. In prime time. In short, as most everyone here has commented, "Network"'s horrifying vision - brilliantly written by the incredibly prescient Paddy Chayevsky - has been truly and frighteningly prophetic, and rings absolutely true today.
The movie is a veritable feast of tour-de-force acting from all involved. In particular William Holden's wrenching performance as the burned-out but still sensitive Max is drop-jaw stunning. I feel he, not Finch, should have gotten the Oscar, though Finch's work is not exactly chopped liver either. And what a brilliant device on Chayevsky's part to make the lunatic Howard Beale the only one of the bunch with clarity of vision.
That the film is intended to be a satire and a comedy is clear from the narration, especially the final comment about Beale becoming the first man to be killed because of lousy ratings. But it is without doubt the blackest black comedy ever filmed.
A lasting legend of filmmaking art.
The story's theme is as valid now as it was thirty-three years ago. The theme is that the ratings business has corrupted television, because ad revenue, and therefore profit, is tied to the ratings. Programs and events then, and now, get aired if, and only if, they are likely to result in high ratings. It's all very seamy, very dishonorable, very shabby, and very relevant to today's world of ten thousand channels.
Though most of the characters in "Network" end up being corrupted by television, Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is one who does not. His vision is pure. And he speaks the truth: "... television is an ... amusement park ... a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of ... story tellers ... jugglers, sideshow freaks ... and football players ... You're never going to get any truth from us (television) ... We lie like hell ... We deal in illusions, none of it is true. But you people ... believe the illusions ... You do whatever the tube tells you ... you even think like the tube". Worse yet, people elect their leaders based on how they look and sound, and how their words are interpreted by boob tube "pundits".
"Network" is a film wherein thematic import is conveyed almost entirely through dialogue. Some of the dialogue devolves into speechifying, which may come across to viewers as preachy. Still, the film's message was highly prophetic. Except for the film's climax, everything predicted in this film has already happened. And credit should go to script writer Paddy Chayefsky for his futuristic vision.
Some parts of the film seem superfluous in retrospect, like the romance between two main characters. But the film has a sense of realism, helped along by the use of technical jargon and a general absence of background music. The film's technical elements, including direction, casting, acting, editing, and cinematography, are fine.
As social commentary, "Network" is one of the best films ever made, despite a dated, time-bound, story. That "there are no nations, only currency" is becoming increasingly obvious, and as Ned Beatty's arrogant character explains in a frighteningly ominous tone: "The world is a business, Mr. Beale".
Network was scripted by Paddy Chayefsky, who was less the angry young man of the anti-Vietnam generation, and more the grumpy middle-aged man of any and every generation. Appropriately enough the picture is a cynical and grouchy rant. It is preachy, hysterically so in places, and yet it is so pessimistic, offering no solutions to the problems it builds up to ridiculous proportions, that watching it is a rather draining experience. Its message is not as clever as it thinks it is, conflating a new technology with ongoing social problems, as short-sighted cynics have done for centuries. There is even a none-too-subtle dig at women who take on masculine roles, which just goes to show how bitter and reactionary Network is. And the idea of someone so obsessed with an idea it causes them orgasm prematurely is simple a sad mix of bad psychology and playground puerility.
And yet, the 70s were also a time in which Hollywood was starting to regain some semblance of professionalism, after the unevenness of the previous decade. Network seems to have been made by a highly consistent production team. Sets and costumes are designed to perpetuate a pattern of regular black and white shapes arranged in rows. Not just ceiling lights or skyscraper windows, but filing cabinets, radiators all conform to this same style. Director Sidney Lumet, with his usual mode of subtle stylisation, even keeps it up in the few outdoor daytime, with the even framing of the tree-lined boulevard in the scene after Ruddy's funeral. Lumet also often has opposing shots of two actors with one in bright white and the other in black, so the switching back-and-forth between them is like a light flicking on and off.
The 70s was also a time in which acting really started to successfully reconcile dramatic realism with theatrical exuberance, and here we have some great examples of both. William Holden, looking decidedly weary and craggy, seems to have entered the age which suits his style best, and he brings a layer of genuine humanity which Network sorely needs. Beatrice Straight gives a small yet impassioned performance as his wife, and though barely five minutes long her performance is among the more memorable. Another excellent bit performance is that of Ned Beatty, whose glorious hamming is the complete opposite of Straight's straightness, but nevertheless provides one of the most entertaining scenes of the whole picture. Of course any more than a few minutes of screen time and these two performances would unbalance the entire thing. Which brings us onto Peter Finch, who again is pure ham, but of the classic Charles Laughton variety, putting every ounce of strength he has into a compelling act. Had it not been Lumet's policy to ensure the real-world cinema screen never becomes the same as the film-world TV screen, we in the audience would be truly mesmerised by those mad prophet speeches.
And thus Network delivers its message with great force and power. And of course the film has now gained a new raft of fans because this banal grumble about TV was supposedly "ahead of its time", except that TV never has been and never will be quite that way, because audiences – human beings – are not as stupid as Chayefsky thinks they are. In fact, the thing that Network probably best predicts is the wave of movies like Fight Club that didn't really say much but said it with an original twist and thus became cult hits. Which is a pity. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to watch the new series of X-Factor, which though lowbrow at least makes good entertainment.