For 1 Year, 100 Movies, contributor/filmmaker Trey Hock is watching all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year. His reactions to each film are recorded here twice a week until the year (and list) is up!
I want to talk to you about “Network,” but first you’ve got to get mad. You need to get mad that the only scene that anyone ever shows from this exceptional film is the one where a disheveled Howard Beale (Peter Finch) stands and asks for everyone to get angry about the state of the world.
And why should you get mad? That scene’s great, but you should get mad because there are four knockout performances, and Sidney Lumet’s direction is as tight as a drum.
The story begins with Max Schumacher (William Holden) telling his old friend, and colleague Howard that he will be let go in two weeks time as the news anchorman of UBS, a national television network. These two newsmen go out to drown their sorrows and reminisce of the glory days of television.
Wearied and broken by the news, Howard puts on a good face but when he goes back on the air he makes an announcement. (Sound starts at 12 seconds.)
The programmers hardly notice until a couple of the lower ranking members of the programming staff bring it up. This small moment is a ruthless comment on the nonhuman efficiency of television programming. The scene takes place in the control room, and has little to do with Howard. Instead we get a critique of the programmers, who are concerned with ins and outs, and commercial breaks first, and content a distant second.
Still Howard’s announcement causes a dust up and he is removed immediately. Meanwhile in upper management offices upstairs, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) is searching for a new voice to articulate the anger of the American public.
Faye Dunaway, you are awesome. Dunaway plays strong and driven, yet never alienates the viewer. She is able to walk a fine line throughout the entire film between sympathetic and stone-faced, tragic and frightening. It is little wonder why she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Lead Role for 1976. It was just one of three acting awards “Network” won that year.
After an appeal to Max for a more suitable farewell, Howard returns to his anchor desk. Again he lashes out, but this time he just claims he’s tired of all the “bullshit.” Since Max is angry about the network’s relationship with it’s parent company, he let’s Howard stay on for his rant. The ratings for the segment skyrocket, and Diana gets her prophet of anger.
After an argument with Diana, Max decides to keep Howard, but as a straight newscaster. That night Howard has a vision, and shares it with his audience.
“Network” inched up two spots from the 1998 original to the 2007 revision of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies. I believe that it is due to the almost prophetic way that this film anticipates the mixing of religious cues with political and social commentary. Watch one hour of Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann, and one would think the end is nigh. These media hounds draw audiences by reaffirming our own desires, and playing on our fears. Howard Beale may have been in the throws of a psychological breakdown, but the people in charge of the network played him like one of our modern day heralds of socio-political doom. And when Howard goes missing only Max attempts to stand up for his friend.
Watching Holden and Robert Duvall, as Frank Hackett, is like watching two bulls fight, while Dunaway, as matador, holds her own between both. Holden would ultimately lose the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Lead Role, but the award would go to the other nominee from “Network.” Which brings us to this fantastic, if overused scene.
It would be easy to overdo the character of Howard Beale, to make him into a laughable caricature, but Peter Finch, an actor who had a tumultuous past of his own, makes Howard real. Failed relationships and alcohol plagued Finch, and because of this I think he understood Howard and his psychological breakdown. Finch died before they could give him his Oscar, but posthumous or not, the honor was well deserved.
The story begins to become muddled and Paddy Chayevsky’s script bites off way more than one film can chew. Chayevsky wants to critique media, politics, sexism, racism, and the view of women, and he crams stuff into this script ‘til it pops. Thankfully, Lumet keeps the focus on Howard, Max and Diana. He even makes room for a touching and tragic romance between Diana and Max.
This scene is one of the most human moments in “Network” and would be lost if all you watched was the highlight reel.
Is “Network” perfect? Not even close. There are any number of unresolved side stories and sub plots, but in spite of its problems this film should be cited for its scary ability to foresee the media world to come. Some twenty years before a twenty-four hour news cycle, “Network” saw the blending of news and entertainment. It’s a troubling vision that now seems all too familiar.
Up Next #63 “Cabaret” (1972)
For links to #70 – 79, click on 1 Year, 100 Movies #70 A Clockwork Orange (1971)
For links to #80 – 89, click on 1 Year, 100 Movies #80 The Apartment (1960)
For links to #90 – 100, click on 1 Year, 100 Movies #90 Swing Time (1936)