>I am publishing a short review of every movie I see. There’s a lot of movies out there I’ve always meant to get around seeing, but that I keep putting off for one reason or another. Time to put that Netflix queue to good use.
“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this any more!” – Howard Beale, UBS News Anchor and Mad Prophet of the Airwaves
I’m always a sucker for good political satire in a movie. Dr. Strangelove is arguably the most famous, and most lasting, of these. But Network feels more attached to the modern crisis of media exploitation and conglomeration than any thirty-four-year-old movie has any right to.
It’s the story of Howard Beale, a news anchor for a fictional fourth network in the late 70s, who’s been put out to pasture. His on-air retirement/suicide announcement shocks the nation and renews interest in the Beale brand. An up-and-coming, cynical producer (Faye Dunaway) sees the potential for a ratings boon, and soon the network’s flagging news division has been transformed into a for-profit, infotainment circus spectacle with a mentally-unfit Howard Beale as the paranoid ringleader. The only problem is, his particular brand of crazy rings a little too true for the interests of the network heads…
Network is sublimely biting and over-the-top in all the right places, and theatrical and wordy like few motion pictures are (or ought to be, for that matter). It’s amazing to watch this movie and realize that author Paddy Chayefsky gets it — He knows the Year Two-Thousand-and-Ten, even if he was speaking from across an ocean of time.
Watching this movie made me realize that our last decade has been the companion piece to the 1970s–a decade of economic malaise, frustration and mistrust of government, and embarrassing political fumbles at home and abroad. The 1960s had lots of tragedy, sure–but there was also a list of tangible achievements, great gains made in society and technology that by the end of 1969 made it all somehow feel like the sacrifice had been in the service of something bigger.
The 1970s didn’t have that. Neither does today.
Network is a fine-tuned, very well executed and eminently watchable movie. Funny and ridiculously excessive exactly how it needs to be, but not so much that we lose our connection with the characters. The movie asks the right questions, points its finger at the right entities. The camerawork is all it needs to be, nothing more, nothing less. The film is carried by a pitch-perfect script and a remarkably talented cast (William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall…)
Some criticism has been lobbed at the movie’s use of long-form, theatrical-style monologue, often delivered by some red-in-the-face character in a moment of hotheadedness. (Film critic Pauline Kael subtitled her review, “Hot Air.”) But the frustration that carries through these characters is at the very essence of the movie’s spirit. And it’s a frustration shared by many, including myself.