Monday, November 1, 2010

#87. Network (1976)

Directed By: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch

Tag line: "Prepare yourself for a perfectly outrageous motion picture!"

Trivia: According to Sidney Lumet the "Mad as Hell" speech was filmed in one and a half takes. Midway through the second take, Peter Finch abruptly stopped in exhaustion. Lumet was unaware of Finch's failing heart at the time, but in any case did not ask for a third take

I’ve always been a sucker for smartly-written characters, and Network, penned by Academy-Award winning screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, has them in spades. 

The film features a handful of fascinating individuals, and, thanks to Chayefsky, every single one - no matter how insignificant their role may seem - plays a part in this story of TV ratings and corporate vice.

UBS, a television network that’s consistently at the bottom of the ratings chart, has decided to make a few changes. To start with, they fire their long-time news anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch), giving him just two weeks to clear out. 

As you might imagine, Howard doesn’t take his firing very well. In fact, during his very next broadcast, he announces that he will commit suicide on live television in exactly one week. 

His producer and best friend, Max Schumacher (William Holden), thinks Howard should be committed to a hospital for his own safety, but the new chief of the news division, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), sees Beale’s outburst as something more than the ravings of a madman; to her, its ratings gold! 

While Max tries his best to convince everyone Howard needs professional help, the network executives are publicly canonizing Beale as the ‘prophet of the airwaves’, giving the anchorman carte blanche to say or do whatever he wants. 

Every step Howard takes towards the edge translates into one more ratings point for UBS, but it’s anyone’s guess as to when he’ll finally go off the deep end for good.

In conjunction with Peter Finch’s mad prophesizing, Faye Dunaway’s callous pursuit of ratings, and William Holden’s moral conscience, Network features a bevvy of fine supporting players. Robert Duvall’s Frank Hackett is a volatile executive who has set his sights on the top spot. He’s as anxious to succeed as Dunaway’s Diana, yet has a much different agenda. 

Beatrice Straight won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Max’s dutiful wife, Louise, despite the fact she has only two significant scenes in the entire film. One of those scenes, however, in which Louise reacts to the news that Max has been having an affair, is easily one of Network’s most poignant moments. 

Then there’s Ned Beatty, who makes a rather brief appearance as Arthur Jensen, the CEO of UBS’s corporate entity. Without elaborating, I can safely say that, If Finch’s Howard Beale is indeed the “Prophet of the Airwaves”, Arthur Jensen is the wrath of God on a corporate level.

Its humorous moments aside, the basic premise of Network is the need people have to hear someone speak the truth. Howard Beale was declared a television prophet because he was honest, and gave voice to what others were feeling. In the film’s best sequence, he proved to millions of Americans that they, too, were mad as hell, and they shouldn’t take it anymore. Howard used television to spread his word around, and the viewers loved him because he provided an outlet for their own pent-up frustrations. 

When Howard Beale spoke, people listened, and thanks to the public airwaves, he was pretty much guaranteed an army of followers.

Well, at least until he slipped below a 48 share in the ratings.


Larry Taylor said...

One of my favorites. Sidney Lumet is such a treasure that is overlooked too often.

DVD Infatuation said...

Thanks for the comment. I agree that Lumet is overlooked far too often in any discussion of great American directors. His filmography (12 ANGRY MEN, THE PAWNBROKER, THE VERDICT, PRINCE OF THE CITY, SERPICO, and of course DOG DAY AFTERNOON and NETWORK) is enough of an argument for his inclusion, not to mention the fact that he's still turning out quality films (I really liked BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD)

Anonymous said...

I selected Network as the "Best film watched in 2011"

The fact that I waited that long ... well I don't know what to say haha..

You know, it is difficult being 26 and a film buff. You have SO MUCH catching up to do!

If you would like to read my entry about Network, I will be happy to provide you with a link.

Thanks Dave! Always a pleasure

Guy S. from Video Word Made Flesh.

DVD Infatuation said...

Guy: Thanks for stopping by!

NETWORK is a great selection for Best of the Year. And I have to admit I'm a bit envious of the position you're in, getting a chance to watch so many classic films for the very first time! Unlike other things in life, the first time with a movie is usually the best!

Please do pass along the URL for your take on the film. I'd love to read it (it won't create a hyperlink here in the comments, but others can cut and paste it into their address bar to also check it out).

Thanks for the comment! Have a good day.

Anonymous said...

Sure thing Dave!

I think I figured out how to hyperlink it though.. maybe

Best Film Watched in 2011

It is a joint post, with mine at the very bottom.

DVD Infatuation said...

Guy: You figured it out! Excellent! Glad it's on here as a hyperlink.

And it's also a great write-up of an awesome film. Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave. Glad you enjoyed it. And yeah, the comments allow you to use HTML tags, so I just tried that. It worked!