Friday, May 23, 2008

Network (1976)

A reader request (long time in coming --my apologies Chris!)

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.

Peter Finch is 'mad as hell' in his Oscar winning role

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.

Read the rest...

Return and report. Have you tuned into Network recently?
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20 comments:

Deborah said...

It's a brilliant movie, in part because it's so prophetic, in part because it's unafraid to be cold, and in part because it is so damn funny. "You are toying with the primal forces of nature!" is hysterical, and the darkly satiric montage of romance between Holden and Dunaway always makes me laugh out loud.

Nick Davis said...

"I can’t think of a single film that’s more interested in stopping for speeches that also moves with breakneck speed through the twists and turns of its various plots."

So true. This might be my favorite review you've written. The whole movie in a nutshell, and so smart about what doesn't work in relation to what does. Love this.

kent s said...

Your review is so great, phenomenally matched with the film's brilliance. I love how you raved about Dunaway's performance. She gave my favorite performance of the film. I love this film! I'm going to give it another viewing.

jimmy said...

what's amazing in 2008 - more than 30 years after this movie - is all the reality crap and tasteless stuff that exists on tv today. some of the outrageious stuff they talk about in the movie - seems kind of tame today.

NATHANIEL R said...

i was going to mention but couldn't fit it in that the only way that Network ISN'T prophetic is it's finale when there's only 4 television screens again and we return to Beale's as the only one. It should've wiped him out with an ever expanding number of screens ;)

kent honestly... i was tempted to write 1000 words about Faye Dunaway's work alone. But I... controlled myself. I was never into Dunaway until a few years ago and now I'm going gaga.

vinci said...

great review. I just watched it a few weeks ago. It would make a compelling stage play, as you say.

Hayden said...

Beatrice Straight's win is one of my all-time favorites. It was such an inspired decision.

Deborah said...

I love how you raved about Dunaway's performance. She gave my favorite performance of the film.

I think she also gave my favorite performance of her entire career. (Except, I dunno, Bonnie & Clyde and Chinatown, so how do I choose?)

I can't believe it's been two years since I showed the movie to my son and wrote a review.

Alison Flynn said...

I haven't watched this in a long time, but I remember loving it the first time I saw it. It's brilliant.

I'll definitely be revisiting it. Great write-up as usual.

mrripley said...

"i'm your wife god damn it and if you can't work up a winter passion for me then the least i require is respect and allegience"


beatrice straight never has an ctress made 1 scene resonate with me until recently with susan sarandon in in the valley of elah the phone call about her dead son with tommy lee jones goosebumps nat goosebumps cannot understand the lack of love for her tiny perf much better than ruby dee.

Stefano said...

I deeply LOVE this film!!! "Network" has always been my favorite movie of all-time, and your review is really amazing. I can't think of another film as much prophetic as "Network". Sidney Lumet has directed one of the best satires of our times, an ageless masterpiece with some of the most brilliant dialogues ever heard on screen. And I adore the performances from the whole cast: Peter Finch is unforgettable ad Howard Beale, William Holden gives life to his last big role, and Faye Dunaway is simply superb as the ruthless network executive... Diane Christensen is such a wonderful villian, she makes me laugh out loud everytime I see the film! What else can I say?... FANTASTIC!!!

El Gigante said...

Great piece Nate, well worth the wait. So inspiring I'm going to give the movie another spin in the old DVD player.

Anonymous said...

"Hi, I'm Diana Christensen, a racist lackey of the empirialist ruling circles."

"I'm Laureen Hobbes, a bad-ass Commie nigga."

"Sounds like the basis of a firm friendship."

Can you even get away with this crackling dialogue in Hollywood? Such a brilliant, prescient film.

M

tim r said...

This was a terrific read Nat, and I speak as someone who actually dislikes the movie intensely, despite the great work from Finch, Dunaway and Beatty. You make me want to go back and give it a fairer shake. Damn you!

NATHANIEL R said...

thank u tim. I'd actually love to read some anti-reviews just to get a sense as to what the detractors weigh as important or not in its accomplishments.

because i did have qualms with it. Haven't seen it in a long time before this but I think it held up well, especially given how surfaced its agendas are...

magicub said...

I saw this movie about 5 years, and it becomes more prophetic.

magicub said...

What about the Julia's Review?

J.J. said...

I was all set to argue, figuring you'd make a wild, inaccurate claim that would not hold up in the eyes of someone mad like me, who has seen this movie probably 25 times, who has written papers on it, who thinks it's critic-proof, and who has memorized most of the big speeches and even recycled some of the great lines during dramatic episodes in real life (the "primal doubts" line is always a mainstay). But not bad, NR. It deserves your attention, and probably its own blogathon -- even for just its use of language. You really can't find "auspicatory" and "oraculate" in any dictionary or popular text. Yet I use them, because Paddy used them, and they work.

chels18 said...

For my english class we need to come up with some themes for the movie, Network. Could anyone help me come up with some more?

James T said...

I just saw it for the first time. I hope your review will be available again at some point. Liked it a lot but I don't see how a person of today could be really impressed by its message. Well-made and -acted, efficient but not as profound as it probably was at its release.
And I like the sentence Nick picked too. Weirdly stagey at some points.
I tend to focus on the negative stuff all the time. Again, I liked it a lot. It's just that its strengths are obvious to everyone, I think.