By Christ it’s difficult to put fingers to keyboard after watching a film like Network (1976). When a film features some truly great writing, it’s hard to not compare your work. It’s like having to serve up a microwave pizza and Fanta to someone who’s just had the finest caviar and champagne. Anyway, the way things worked out is that Network and Rollerball arrived at the same time and I ended up double-billing them, which is something I surprisingly recommend. I expected a real clunk going from the violent future of Rollerball to Network, but they’re thematically similar. They both have evil corporations, moral bankruptcy and an unwilling figurehead being manipulated by shadowy suited jerks. Also some fantastic ’70s fashions.
When veteran newscaster Howard Beale (Peter Finch) learns he is losing his job, he announces live on TV that he’ll commit suicide on next week’s show and goes on a manic rant about how he’s sick of “all the bullshit”. Naturally, this causes a stir and soon network execs come around to the idea that Beale could be the answer to their ratings woes by packaging him as a “mad prophet”. I’m sure that Network’s premise was scoffed at as Hollywood fantasy back in the day, but the whole news-as-entertainment situation we’re in now is ludicrous. America has a handful of Howard Beales who preach social sermons to their confused and scared audiences.
Network is often described as an “actors’ film” and it is. Actors are given nice, meaty roles to tear into, full of breathing space and long speeches. Film MVP is definitely the late, great Peter Finch who gives a fantastic performance as Beale. His insane rambling monologues are film highlights. He draws you in and you find yourself being lulled into the same trap the audience of his show are. It manages to be the standout turn in a film full of top-level performances. It’s odd how the film doesn’t focus on Howard as much and keeps us with Diana and Max. It gives Beale a force of nature feel to him. Thankfully, Diana and Max’s relationship is almost as interesting. Network won 4 Oscars, three for acting and it’s deserved. Faye Dunaway plays an incredibly ambitious and driven career woman who nearly exclusively speaks in ratings, network notes and numbers. William Holden is great as Max Schumacher, giving us a world-weary man who knows he’s slipping into the murky moral depths and grimly accepts his fate.
Paddy Chayefsky’s script is as tight as a drum. One of my favourite elements of the film is how the speech changes from beginning to end. We start off pretty pedestrian with liberal F words and as the film progresses and Howard gets more and more influential, everyone starts speaking in lengthy monologues to each other, full of florid speech. It’s such a great touch. Ned Beatty’s monologue in particular is cracking and goosebump-giving. My only vague criticism is that the performances are quite stagey and melodramatic. I understand that’s the point, but I found them to be less engaging than the more naturalistic performances found in Sidney Lumet‘s previous work Dog Day Afternoon. They’re not bad by any stretch of the imagination though. Just comes down to personal preference.
Network is still a classic. I know it’s kind of a cliché to say that an old great is more relevant than ever, but at its core, Network is probably a sharper satire of current day society than it is as as a criticism of its contemporary one. Perhaps it’s because we’re still in the slow decline of profits over people mentalities. Nice depressing thought to leave you with there. Anyway, I can’t recommend Network highly enough.
Genre:Drama, Satire Distributor:Arrow Academy Release Date:23rd March 2015 (UK)Rating: 15 Director:Sidney Lumet Cast:Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Beatrice Straight, Robert DuvallBuy: Network – [Blu-ray]