No one gripes more about the wasteland of television (and when Network was released, there were only 4 major networks with smaller, typically UHF channels for larger localities) than the people who make it. Every profession has its nay-sayers, but television not only has them, they can (in a supreme irony) televise them.
The plot is complex, so please bare with me. Howard Beale (Peter Finch) loses his mind on the air of the lowest rated evening news show on the fictional network UBS. At the beginning of the film, he says he is going to commit suicide on the air in two weeks. Naturally this causes a stir. The sane people (the ones at the network longest) want him fired; but a new breed led by Diana Chrisensen (Faye Dunaway) and the aptly named Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) want to keep him on once they see the ratings go up. The young mavericks focused only on ratings have him return. He apologizes, then goes off script. This is when the famous “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” enters the scene.
Diana, essentially head of programming, decides she wants his rants on all the time (she is also the brain child of something called the Mao Tse Tung Hour—a group of real domestic terrorists who film their high-jinks for ratings and money). She makes a total mockery of the news by hiring a ‘soothsayer’ and someone with gossip connections who they name Mata Hari. Beale is presented in front of a type of rose window where he delivers jeremiads against all things base. Things begin to go sour when Beale reveals a deal by the Saudis to buy the company that owns UBS. This brings down a strange wrath from the CEO (Ned Beaty in a fantastic role however small), who, after giving him a serious hell-fire speech turns him into a corporate lackey. Any more and I would give too much away.
Network is a version of everything old is new again, in my mind (I’m watching a series of movies from the Nixon era, for obvious reasons I think). What saves this movie from being a ‘woe is television and all who like it’ kind of movie is the biting satire and the fact that there is actually balance in the film.
The director Sidney Lumet (who also directed The Pawnbroker which I could not praise highly enough) knows how to create edgy scenes. Network is filled with them. It has the grip of a true hard-boiled cop movie. Each of the people in the cast take their roles so seriously as if the very air breathed by all of us was dependent on what he and she did. There is, also standard for a Lumet production, a whole passel of screaming.
I think the satire today is more fitting than it was at the time. Since we can, due to cable television and the 24 hour news cycle, American’s watch significantly more television and ‘news’ than we could have in 1976. Oddly though, the large amount of choice we have also mitigates the issues covered in the film—but only so far. Watching a darkly funny, and very poetic (the language is broader with rarer words tossed out as if very common—this means that paying close attention will give the language lover an extra reason to want to watch) story about what goes on behind the cameras may make some people aware that what they see when the cameras role isn’t necessary what is there. I think most of us are aware of this, but television has a way of fooling even the most grizzled, most cynical of us because it is packaged so well, usually with pretty people interspersed with more pretty people trying to sell us everything from toothpaste to a candidate for office.
Along with those mentioned, William Holden plays Max Schumacher who is sort of the oracle or conscience. While watching the film, when he has his love affair with Diana, I was put off—I just thought it was silly and thrown in to have a romantic theme so some people wouldn’t be bored watching a two hour movie that points the finger at everyone. But after his lengthy soliloquy I understood further why this happened. In hands less adept than Mr. Lumet’s, this kind of symbolism would be very heavy handed. He represents old television, she represents new television (to the point where her bedroom talk is about rating shares). Specifically, Max is the metaphor for old television losing its mind for a while and then coming to its senses. Max is the real, and in his words Diana is television: dispassionate, disinterested, and Arctic cold.
Network isn’t a movie that you just pop in the DVD and relax to. It requires thought and the language alone should keep you on your toes. The themes and how they play out are fantastic, but again, requires much attention.
On a final note, any film about contemporary culture made in the middle and late 1970s will be infested with people in hideous fashion. That, on its own, might be worth a look.
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Network is a 1976 New Hollywood drama film about a fictional television network, Union Broadcasting System (UBS), and its struggle with poor ratings. It was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, and stars Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty and Beatrice Straight. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.
Network has continued to receive recognition, decades after its initial release. In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2002, it was inducted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame as a film that has "set an enduring standard for American entertainment." In 2006, Chayefsky's script was voted one of the top ten movie scripts of all-time by the Writers Guild of America, East. In 2007, the film was 64th among the Top 100 Greatest American Films as chosen by the American Film Institute, a ranking slightly higher than the one AFI gave it ten years earlier.
Media madness reigns supreme in screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky's scathing satire about the uses and abuses of network television. But while Chayefsky's and director Sidney Lumet's take on television may seem quaint in the age of "reality TV" and ...