Saturday, March 31, 2012

Network

By Sati. Saturday, March 31, 2012 , , , , , ,
93/100 (121 min, 1976)
Plot: A TV network cynically exploits a deranged ex-TV anchor's ravings and revelations about the media for their own profit.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer:Paddy Chayefsky
Stars: Faye Dunaway, William Holden and Peter Finch


"You need me. You need me badly. Because I'm your last contact with human reality. I love you. And that painful, decaying love is the only thing between you and the shrieking nothingness you live the rest of the day."


"Network" is one of the most famous American films, which also won unusual thing in Academy Awards history - 3 Oscars for actors, including first posthumous statuette for late Peter Finch. The film follows the lives and the job of people involved in TV - one day Howard Beale, the anchorman, goes crazy on air and announces that because he lost his job he will commit suicide on air one week later. Instead of firing him, upon seeing how his actions made for great ratings Diana Christensen, ambitious vice-president in charge of programming convinces her boss Frank and Howard's friend family man Max to just let the show go on with unstable Beale.

With all the hoopla around "The Hunger Games" and all the talk about how it shows important issues and the dangers of reality TV all people need to do is just to watch this movie. 36 years ago "Network" showed the same truth with better story, superior execution and much stronger punch. The TV Network is prepared to show whatever it takes in order to gain ratings and in the process success and money. No matter what, no matter how much it destroys Beale and with no regard for the fact that while chasing their careers without any ethics and any consideration they will be left a shell of a person in the process.
It is a rare occasion when one of the actors raises to being the driving force of the movie. You know a character that appears and just infuses the screen with energy. Network has...four such characters. We have Diana, wonderfully played by Faye Dunaway who rightfully won Oscar for her mesmerizing and subtly heartbreaking work. She is a young woman, who puts her career on the pedestal. Even when she begins her relationship with Max she just treats it like her job, like she was following the words of the script, doing the things she thinks she should, never the things her heart tells her to do. She was left a shell of a person, so long not using her heart and soul, that she completely forgotten how to access them.

Max is a man who cares deeply about his friend Howard, but doesn't know how to help him. He is married yet he begins his affair with Diana. Even with all of that Max remains the only sane person here, the centre of the story, the moral compass and the bleeding heart. Somehow, although working in the Network so many years, Max is not affected by it. But maybe the decay already started? He didn't stop Diana and Frank from exploiting Howard and he didn't do much to help his friend. In fact he was the first one to use him - he was angry and he wanted to ridicule the Network so he just let Howard go on and on on air, talking about how much he despises the bullshit that is life.
Howard is truly a tragic character. Alone, insane and used by absolutely everyone around them. His monologues around which the show put by the Network revolve are amazing. He is just standing there, talking and you can't stop listening. There is one incredibly famous scene in the movie where Howard encourages people to go on their balconies, on the streets, out of their houses and scream "I am as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!". Howard is saying exactly what everyone feels and because of him people access the rage inside.

Although it all revolves around Howard's show he is in the background, he is just a device used by all the other characters. The movie is mostly about Max and Diana and how much their job means to them. Diana is so preoccupied with her job that she can't find room for anything else in her mind. Even when she is with a man she is doing so, almost because it is what's expected of her. Almost as if she was in a series, the audience would expect her to have an affair creating the hope and promise of love. But the promise is never fulfilled, because her life is just that - life. Not TV.
Max engages in an affair with her, probably because at that point things don't make sense. His job is being overseen by people who have no idea about television, his friend is going insane and his marriage from twenty five years lost its initial charm and excitement.Thankfully for him, he is still able to walk away before its too late, something other characters in the movie are unable to do, because their pursuit took them too far, either from reality or from humanity.

Then there is Max's wife, Louise whom he leaves for Diana. First she yells at him, but then they talk, like friends, like old companions. Because they both now Max will go back. His whole relationship with Diana is perverse - she is TV generation and it's almost as if Max wasn't in love with her, but with what she represents - television. Cheap thrills, carefully planned scripts with the events set to excite the audience. Because he lost his job in TV, he needed something new to give him excitement. And that was Diana's part.
There is also Frank, played by Robert Duvall, who is going along with the idea of Howard being on TV speaking whatever he wants, because he notices how much money and popularity it will direct towards the Network. He doesn't even wonder about the possible consequences for Beale or for the ethics of the programs on TV.

The only music heard in the film comes from commercials and television show themes. It's all driven by incredible dialogue, one of the most meticulously delivered and carefully written I've ever witness in a film. But the visuals never put the characters in the shadows, their passion and their ambition is what is the most important here. The story is what counts and it is always what the characters chose to do that pushes it forward. And because the audience is fickle and the characters are so hard to figure out, we never know what is coming ahead.
The film shows that if someone is on TV he has a power. Whatever he says, however insane or weird, is out there, inspiring people. At one point Diana has another idea for a show - to show real life crimes, shot by the robbers and criminals, she actually offers an hour of television every week and says that no matter what propaganda goes on there, she doesn't care. All she cares about is the success of the show. At one point Beale says that TV is the biggest force - and the media really are. They influence the people coming in contact with them on every possible level, their thoughts, their dreams, their behaviour.

Even when Beale tells people to turn off their TV sets, they keep watching. But then eventually Network's brilliant plan backfires when Beale turns the public attention toward what they hold dearest - money. And what transpires later is the very thing "The Hunger Games" tries to warn us about, but "Network" already did  in its powerful ending purposely clumsily shot, in a gritty way, without much realism, with a lot of slow motion and other television gimmickry. Because that's not life. That's TV.
One more thing - after Faye Dunaway won her Oscar for the performance in the film she stayed up all night long on the party. When she got back home, her husband took a photograph of her, being exhausted, sitting next to the pool with the Oscar on the table. It is probably my favorite picture of her:

8 comments:

  1. I love this film. It's so scary and brilliant. Loved Peter Finch!
    Great review btw :D

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    1. Thank you! He was just amazing here.

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  2. I had no idea people were taking "The Hunger Games" that seriousley but I agree with your statements about how "Network" tackled the same issues but with much better results. The great thing about this movie is that it doesn't feel dated. The themes and ideas of this movie ae still relevant today. Even more so. Wonderful review. I enjoyed it very much

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    1. Yes, it's truly one of these movies that didn't get old. Thank you!

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  3. Great review of one of the most biting satires of the TV industry I've seen.

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  4. The film that shows even in the 70s people were already cynical about the "news" being presented to them on TV. I remember being a little kid and seeing an "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" montage on a show I was watching - and not getting the joke. It wasn't until many years later that I saw Network and finally understood what it was all about.

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    1. I think it still remains ahead of its time, because the media still haven't crossed a line between life and death on such a scale at it is here, but I think one day it may happen :(

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