You might think that a 45 year old movie warning us about the dangers of television – written by a playwright (Paddy Chayefsky) who made his name writing TV dramas in the 50s – would not be a salient or pressing concern for audiences today… audiences who like as not don’t even consume network TV anymore. But think again. Network is a scorcher; a burning, angry film which tells it like it is, like it was, like it always will be, so long as the corporations control what we see and hear and think.
Here’s the story: when veteran newscaster Howard Beale (Peter Finch) has a breakdown under the pressure of the push for ratings and his own self-disgust, ambitious network executive Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) realizes that he’s the biggest viewer magnet the news department has ever know. She gives him a prime slot to rant and rave, and his scalding declaration “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” becomes a phenomenon. Then what… ?
Lumet and Chayefsky go out for full blown satire, and it cuts hard and deep. Never more so than in the ten-minute monologue delivered by studio head Ned Beatty towards the end, one of the most radical speeches ever voiced in a mainstream American movie.
The movie was a big hit and won four Academy Awards, including a post-humous Best Actor Oscar for Peter Finch.
Consider the profuse, explosive suggestiveness of Network, and the spectacle it represents of Lumet hanging on for dear life to the flying reins of Paddy Chayefsky’s reckless script, which only dares to be bolder as it encounters every difficulty… Network has no doubt about the dangers of television and the way it has played into the hands of vile businessmen and the ever-available stupidity of the public. This could sound like the warning description on one of the more radical movies ever made in America – and in fact, that estimate is justified. Network is, among other things, the record of how a kind of hysteria took over.
David Thomson, Have You Seen….?
Absurdly plausble and outrageously provocative… Sidney Lumet’s direction is outstanding.
Aug 7 & 9: Introduction from filmmaker and teacher Harry Killas
Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight
Best Actor and Actress in a Leading Role (Peter Finch & Faye Dunaway), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Beatrice Straight), Best Screenplay, Academy Awards 1977