Network – 1976

I’m not sure why it took me so long to watch Network.  I love Sidney Lumet and you have to live under a rock to have never seen the “I’m as mad as hell” scene.  But, no, I never saw it.  So I remedied that today.

I never realized how handsome Peter Finch was.  Let me get that out of the way.

I remember reading in one of the many screenwriting books I read over the years that Network is one of those films that follows the perfect screenwriting outline.  So I’ve always had in in my head that, even though I never watched it, Network was probably a perfect film.  Let’s find out.

It’s already dated in that this is before the 24-hour news cycle.  But so far that’s the only place I can see it dated (well, that and the many references to shows on TV at the time, such as Disney, Mary Tyler More, Tony Orlando and Archie Bunker).  Howard Beale is the anchor for a fictitious network (UBS) but nowadays even if he was the anchor of a local, small-market news station, the announcement that he was going to kill himself on the air would get immediate, national attention.  So either way, in 1975 or 2010, the shitshow that will ultimately follow wouldn’t be so different.

William Holden’s character, as Beale’s boss and best friend Max Schumacher, seems to be the only one with even a hint of a soul.  The appearance of Robert Duvall as a network suit immediately makes you want to kick him.  How did he pull off Tom in The Godfather because that’s one of the few films he’s in that doesn’t make me dislike him.

Faye Dunaway.  Good lord, I loved her when I was younger.  I watch her films now, though, and see the queen of over acting.  And that was long before Mommy Dearest.  On the other hand, it’s cool to see a strong, tough female character in 1975 but I think this one goes over that and is just evil.

Terrorists.  The film has terrorists (the fictionalized version of the SLA).  They could totally remake this film to fit in with the modern day.  I hope they don’t.  I tire of remakes of films that did it right the first time.  But it’s amazing and a little sad at how relevant most of this film is in 2010.

Dunaway’s glee at the possibility of using terrorists killing ambassadors and bombing bridges is so wickedly funny and sad at the same time.

She wants “angry shows’ and “counterculture”.  Good lord she’s the model for Fox News.

William Holden is amazing. “Tell Mr. Hackett to go fuck himself”.  I like his devotion to Beale.

They have meetings to be discussed at other meetings and Max (Holden) is getting the ax.  Well, he’s being asked to resign because of Beale’s “Bullshit” rant.  I’m not lying when I say I’m eager for the “Mad as hell” rant.

Is it just me or do movies from the 70s always include scenes that bore me?  Although Conchata Ferrell reading off possible TV pilots, each with the same basic aspects, made me chuckle because, again, not much has changed (see my entry about Outsourced).

On the other hand, Duvall and Dunway discussing whether they should put Beale back on the air or kick him to the curb is riveting film.  Two of the slimiest characters in film volleying back and forth is fascinating to watch.  God, Duvall’s a dick.

Beale and Schumacher together…Holden and Finch have amazing chemistry.

The scene where Holden and Finch find out that the Network wants Beale to go on TV to rant.  No one in the television division wants him to be “An angry prophet denouncing the  prophecies of our times’ until Beale admits he wants to do it.  It’s upsetting to see how easy people take advantage of someone as twisted as Beale is.

After being asked for his resignation, Holden’s character is asked to stay on and we watch as “the novelty” wears off the viewers after only a handful of shows.

“We want a prophet not a curmudgeon” Dunaway tells Holden.  She wants to take over the news show with Beale being part of the entertainment, not news, division.

Holden wants to end Beale’s reign of “depravity” but Dunaway wants to warp it and make it even more depraved.  As he says in he scene, Holden doesn’t seem to get it.  Dunaway promises to take away his news show.  And, ew, he’s going to sleep with Dunway.  Men.  Always leading with their dicks even if the woman is the devil.

Faye Dunaway does this thing with her mouth that drives me nuts.  It affects the way she talks and I hate it.  Now she’s trying to woo Holden over dinner by telling him how much she sucks in bed.  Let’s talk stock:  She’s annoying. She’s evil and she sucks in bed but William Holden is going to throw away his marriage and his career on her.

And now Beale is hearing voices.  So he’s genuinely losing his mind and everyone is all too happy to take advantage of that.

Some day we’re going to find out this is exactly what happened with Glenn Beck.*

Schumacher decides Howard is no longer the angry prophet but Beale decides to tell people about the voice he was awakened by on the news.  So he talks, less ranty, about what the voice wanted him to tell the world.  I find Howard Beale much more sad than funny.  I wonder if people felt the same way when they watched it first time around.  *Beale trying to explain to Schumacher that he isn’t crazy he’s just experienced clarity sounds extremely Glenn Beckian.

Beale faints in the office when Schumacher tells him he needs help.  He stays at his friend’s home and then wanders off in the middle of the night in the rain.  I’m guessing this leads up to the “Mad as hell” rant and we aren’t even an hour into this two hour film.

Robert Duvall is losing his own mind because they can’t find Beale, blaming Schumacher for his disappearance.  Dunaway doesn’t care that Beale is crazy and tells Holden so.  We now learn that Duvall gave Dunaway the show and it’s falling under entertainment.  He also fires Schumacher who vows he has to be dragged out.  He also drops a ton of F-bombs.  Seems like Duvall has taken over the network.  In this scene he acts as crazy as people think Beale is.  Interesting.  I wonder if it’s on purpose?  Also, this is then end of the lovey-doveys between Holden and Dunaway.

“I must make my witness!”  Mad as hell rant coming up in 4-3-2…

This monologue still rings true.  That is totally depressing.

Watching all the people in William Holden’s neighborhood yelling out the windows should be funny but, given what’s going on right now, I find it really quite sad.  I want to yell out the window myself.

Listening to Dunaway planning out that terrorist acts need to be planned for every week for the new show she wants to developed around the terrorist group ripoff of the SLA is chilling.  Are we so far from this actually happening?

Does this movie have the most uses of the word “fuck” in 1975?

Okay, the new news hour in front of a studio audience is so over the top (“With Sybil the Soothsayer!”) that I worry it will actually happen.

A network show that tells you to turn off your television and ends with the host passing out…that would get millions of views on YouTube.

Dunaway and Holden are definitely going to start up the affair again, aren’t they?  I guess Dunaway wasn’t as shitty in bed as she thought.  So much for the wife.

The “romance” between the two of them drags this film.  I shouldn’t be thinking “Man, this movie is long” during the scene where Dunaway and Holden get back together.

Three secluded spots together and all she can talk about is work.  I’m not seeing how this is romantic.  Sadly, I know people like this in real life.  Stop talking about work for 15 minutes, chickie.

Okay, Dunaway finishing early (as she mentioned she does) while they have sex only interrupting her ramblings about work to orgasm, going right back to babbling when she’s done, is pretty damn funny.

He tells his wife about the affair?  You blow a marriage for the chick who talks about nothing but work?  You’ve been screwing the evil chick for a month and you tell your wife so she can throw you out?

Incidentally, Beatrice Straight is remarkable.  I just Googled her and she won the Best Supporting Actress for this role and she only had five minutes and forty seconds of screen time.  I’m not surprised.  She does more with her on-screen time than Faye Dunaway does in the entire movie.  (Of course, Faye Dunaway also won the Academy Award.  Evil often wins out.)

“She learned life from Bugs Bunny” he says about Dunaway, yet he’s choosing her over his wife.

He’s already telling her he’s coming back to her when he’s done with Dunaway.  This is why I’ll never marry, good Lord.

A Lance Henriksen sighting!  He plays a lawyer for the terrorists but he hasn’t had a line.

This film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won four and as of an hour and a half into the film, not one musical montage.

As an aside, it’s too bad that both Holden and Finch kept getting nominations for Best Actor against each other.  Holden lost out every time.  They were both equally strong in this film.

Beale ranting against the company that owns the network having a connection to Saudi Arabia seems to be the beginning of the end.  He wants the people to send telegrams to the White House.  The people seem to like it when he passes out at the end of his rants.  Happening more than once would have made me stop watching it.

Beale gets the call to meet with the chairman of the company that owns the network.  A Teddy Roosevelt-looking Ned Beatty who, after greeting him with “They tell me you’re a mad man” goes on a Beale-worthy rant of how Beale has ruined things by getting the government involved in stopping the business between the Saudis and the company.

“No one particularly cared to hear his life was utterly valueless.”  Beginning of the end, indeed.

Meanwhile, after six months Holden and Dunaway are still together.  Suicide or finally coming to his senses?  Holden doesn’t like to be the other man to Dunaway’s telephone and he feels lousy about hurting his family given his wife is so depressed that his daughter had to fly out to be with her.  He misses his home and he misses simple human decency.  He knew all of this six months ago.  I’m impressed by the scene but unimpressed by what the character is going through.

Did Faye Dunaway have surgery on her mouth and/or cheekbones to make it go that way?  God I hate it.  It’s so distracting.  Especially when she talks.  Go back to Beatrice Straight, Billy.

William Holden is really powerful.  “There’s nothing left in you I can live with.”  Damn.  Paddy Chayefsky gets right to it, doesn’t he?  “And here are a few scenes from next week’s show” is one classic goodbye line.

Dunaway thinks Beale is killing the network and wants him off the air but Ned Beatty wants him to stay on.  He doesn’t care about the ratings, he cares about the message.  This puts them, as Dunaway so eloquently puts it, “in the shithouse”.

Wait, they assassinate Beale?  Seriously??  How did I never know this?   The way his assassination is being so casually discussed is both chilling and, oddly enough, really funny.

Wow, right in the head the moment he went onstage.  HEY that’s Tim Robbins as one of the shooters!!!

And it ends with us seeing two out of the four networks covering the assassination while commercials go on as scheduled on the other two.  We keep seeing Beale lying dead on the stage with a bullet hole in his forehead.  I’m stunned.  Like I was at the end of Thelma and Louise, stunned.  How could such a, relatively, light-hearted movie end so dramatically.  And how am I supposed to like that ending?

“This was the story of Howard Beale.  The first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.”

Holy cow.  Damn powerful film.  Disturbing, yet I really enjoyed most of it.

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