One thing I suspect about director Sidney Lumet: He likes his drama super sized. I'm talking Empire State Building big. No 800 lbs gorillas in the room please, make it King Kong. Give them 16 tons of drama. Lumet wants grunting, sweating, lunging, screaming, gargantuan desperate drama like the kind you get in Dog Day Afternoon, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Serpico. Never mind 12 Angry Men. How about 1 Angry Man, Sidney Lumet himself, and in the case of Network -- arguably his best film -- one angry fictional man named Howard Beale" (Peter Finch). Network eventually gets around to naming Beale the “mad prophet of the airwaves” but it’s also a self descriptive tag. This movie is mad as hell and prophetic, too. Network is Howard Beale and Howard Beale is Network. This impressively large but also miniature film --it's not hard to imagine it as a stage play --swings wildly from mood to mood just like its bipolar madman.
A lot of movies steal from Network but I love the borrowing that it does right out of the gate, in ominiscient detached voiceover.
In his time Howard Beale had been a mandarin of television. The grand old man of news with a hot rating of 16 and a 28 audience share. In 1969 however his fortunes began to decline. He fell to a 22 share. The following year his wife died and he was left a childless widower with an 8 rating and a 12 share.That calm voiceover, giving numbers as much if not more weight as the man's personal life, has already begun the chilling process of reduction. It's overtly reminiscent of both All About Eve's arch view of the theater world and Sunset Boulevard's ghost-eye view of Hollywood. Network’s target is television. Is it boldly proclaiming itself the final third of the Holy Trinity of Self-Loathing Showbiz Pictures? Whatever the intent, it moves with utter confidence, thereby forcing itself into the godhead.
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Return and report. Have you tuned into Network recently?
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