Friday, August 20, 2010

Network (1976)

Starring: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, and Robert Duvall

Directed by Sidney Lumet




“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!!”

-Howard Beale (Peter Finch)


“Network” is an excellent movie. Pardon the cliché, but this is one of those films that get better with age. This is good news for itself, not so good news for our society. The great Sidney Lumet’s satire on the modern media predicted what was eventually going to come: a world dominated by a media that produces cheaply produced garbage where people can say or do anything they want with it having any sort of factual, artistic, or in anyway meaningful value. Many of the elements of the film have eerie similarities to “contemporary” cable-news programs and reality shows; this can also be extended to the content on the radio and Internet as well. In other words, it is so relevant that it is scary.

The film starts out with a brief to the struggling United Television Network, which is taken over by a major corporation. When the evening news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is fired, he announces that he will kill himself on his final broadcast, causing a sensation around the country. As events unfold, Beale not only finds himself keeping his job, but also becomes the centerpiece of a new programming schedule set up by Diana Christenson (Faye Dunaway), a new producer at the network. These new developments worry the UTN News president Max Schumacher (William Holden), who not only thinks that his friend is being taken advantage of, but that the fate of his entire profession is at sake.

Terrific acting and writing hold the intriguing plot of the film together. Holden and Dunaway play excellent as their respective contrasting characters, the old guard who wants to keep the dignity of broadcast news and the new up-and-comer who is only concerned with making a profit. At the same time, both of them admit to having flaws, which brings a certain human element to their roles. However, the best character of this whole thing is Beale himself, in what would be Finch’s last role in a feature film (he died not long after it was released in theaters and became the first posthumous Oscar winner for Best Actor, which he rightfully deserved). As he descends more and more into his own madness (he has a mental disorder which is never disclosed, though if I had to guess I would say he has schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) as well as the madness created by those around him, he makes the transition from anchorman, to prophesier, to corporate hack all within relatively short period of time. This is mostly thanks to a number of “well-crafted” rants, brought to the screen by Paddy Chayefsky (who also won a rightfully-deserved Oscar for his work on this movie, in his case for Best Screenplay). As a matter of fact, all of the dialogue that comes out of everyone’s mouths in this film is memorizing and really takes the picture to a whole new level of sophistication. Some of the speeches go on a long time, but it is all worth it.

So there you have it. “Network” is a film that remains vivid reminder of the dangerous path that a society can take when it starts to lose track of its ideals and humanity, a path that we may be lead down right now. In today’s hostile environment, it is a little hard not to watch Beale’s now-famous (or rather infamous) “Mad As Hell” speech without being a little disturbed by the idea that feelings held by those in the film are still being echoed almost thirty-five years later by many of us in real life who feel that we are losing control over our own lives and our whole world in general…and that we do not want to take it anymore. Nonetheless, this is one of my favorite movies of all time and I strongly recommend it.