Friday, May 23, 2008

Target #210: Network (1976, Sidney Lumet)

TSPDT placing: #267
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Paddy Chayefsky
Starring: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty, Wesley Addy

Perhaps it was a poor idea, prior to watching the film, to mentally link Network (1976) with Alan J. Pakula's true story of newspaper journalism, All the President's Men (1976). Whereas the latter is an absorbing dissection of the go-getters behind the written media, Lumet's film would probably feel more at home alongside Dr. Strangelove (1964), an intelligent satire that occasionally oversteps the line of credibility, but, because we've gone with it this far, we're quite willing to take those few extra steps. The film is a stern indictment of the unscrupulous executives behind television, and also society's own obsession with mindless entertainment. Diana Christensen and Frank Hackett may very well be miserly, immoral reptiles, but it is ultimately their viewers, us, who drive their crooked dealings. Lumet delicately places the blame on his audience; we are the "ratings" for which the networks hunger so fanatically, and it is the crumbling state of our own culture that fuels absurd endeavours like "The Howard Beale Show" {thirty years on, I think we can all agree that things have only gotten worse}.A perfect example of the film's style of satire can be found early on, after veteran news anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) learns that he is to be fired in two weeks' time, on account of poor ratings. The following evening, Beale calmly announces to millions of Americans his intentions to commit suicide on the air in a week's time. The show's technicians idly go about their duties, oblivious to what their star has just proclaimed, before one employee tentatively ventures, "uh, did you hear what Howard just said?" The network, in their ongoing quest for high ratings, was so blindly obsessed with perfecting all their technical aspects that the mental-derangement of their leading anchorman went almost completely unnoticed. At first, there is an attempt to yank Beale from the air, but one forward-thinking producer, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), proposes that the network could double their current ratings by keeping him in the spotlight.

Peter Finch, who was awarded a posthumous Best Actor Oscar for his performance, is simply explosive as the unhinged anchorman whose volatile outbursts of derangement are celebrated by a society which, in a better world, should be trying to help him. Beale's memorable catch-cry – "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" – symbolises his revulsion towards the crumbling values of today's society, and, as fanatical as he might be, most of his raves are worryingly close to the truth. William Holden is also excellent as Max Schumacher, Beale's long-time colleague, who resents the networks' treatment of his friend, but does little to interfere. Schumacher's adulterous relationship with the seductive but soulless Diana (Dunaway) consciously follows the conventional path of a television soap opera, ending with the realisation that his affair with the ratings-obsessed mistress is sapping him of any real emotion or humanity; in Schumacher's own words, "after living with you for six months, I'm turning into one of your scripts." Television corrupts life.

Currently my #3 film of 1976:
1) Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)
2) All The President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula)
3) Network (Sidney Lumet)
4) Rocky (John G. Avildsen)
5) The Omen (Richard Donner)


ressot3 said...

I really want to see this one.

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Oh yeah. :)

ackatsis said...

It's very entertaining. Just don't come into it expecting a newsroom version of "All the President's Men." It leaves you thoroughly confused...

And, just because I like to show off, here are my Sidney Lumet rankings. The first two are all-time masterpieces, the third is brilliant, and the rest range from good to excellent.

1) Fail-Safe (1964)
2) 12 Angry Men (1957)
3) The Pawnbroker (1964)
4) Network (1976)
5) The Verdict (1982)
6) Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
7) Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

ressot3 said...

Ah. Another one I have to see. ;)

Lame. You put my two favorites at the bottom. I've only seen three anyways.

Anonymous said...

Hi acky: Trevor from South Africa here: nice blog, btw.

Network is still a great film and if my memory is correct, the SA Censors wanted to ban it at one point.

I can't think where their brains were ~ I dunno if they had any.

ackatsis said...

Hey there, Trev. South Africa wanted to ban "Network?!"

Any particular reason why?