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Network

April 25, 2011

This review is dedicated to Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)

~

612. Network
Directed by Sidney Lumet
USA, 1976
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
Approx. fourth viewing

Synopsis:

When veteran newscaster Howard Beale (Peter Finch) learns of his retirement, he has a breakdown live on air and threatens to commit suicide. His best friend, network executive Max Schumacher (William Holden), gives Howard one last chance at a dignified send-off, but he once again stirs controversy with his impassioned ranting. Despite Max’s protestations, programming executive Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) decides to exploit Howard’s breakdown, formulating a trashy news show around him, making him “an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our times.” When viewers start following his bizarre instructions en masse, it becomes clear that Howard is a ratings sensation.

Essential Scene:

Having previously announced his intention to commit suicide live on air, Howard Beale is given one last chance at a dignified on-air send-off. Max Schumacher, executive producer Harry Hunter (Jordan Charney) and the team of directors watch from the control room as Howard once again strays from the script.

Howard Beale: Good evening. Today is Wednesday, September the 24th, and this is my last broadcast. Yesterday I announced on this programme that I was going to commit public suicide, admittedly an act of madness. Well I’ll tell you what happened: I just ran out of bullshit.

Harry Hunter: Cut him off.

Max Schumacher: Leave him on.

The monitor, which had gone black, flicks back to life.

Howard Beale: [aside] Am I still on the air?

Max Schumacher: If this is how he wants to go out, this is how he goes out.

Howard Beale: I really don’t know any other way to say it other than I just ran out of bullshit. Bullshit is all the reasons we give for living. And if we can’t think up any reasons of our own, we always have the God bullshit. We don’t know why we’re going through all this pointless pain, humiliation, decay, so there better be someone somewhere who does know. That’s the God bullshit.

Telephones have been ringing in the control room since Howard first uttered the word “bullshit.” Max answers one of the calls.

Max Schumacher: [on the telephone] He’s saying that life is bullshit, and it is, so what are you screaming about?

Howard Beale: And then, there’s the noble man bullshit; that man is a noble creature that can order his own world; who needs God? Well, if there’s anybody out there that can look around this demented slaughterhouse of a world we live in and tell me that man is a noble creature, believe me: That man is full of bullshit.

The director laughs.

Harry Hunter: What’s so goddamn funny?!

Director: I can’t help it, Harry, it’s funny!

Howard Beale: I don’t have anything going for me. I haven’t got any kids…

Harry Hunter: Max, this is going out live to sixty-seven affiliates.

Max Schumacher: Leave him on.

Howard Beale: …and I was married for thirty-three years of shrill, shrieking fraud…

A secretary bursts into the control room.

Secretary: Mr. Hackett’s trying to get through to you.

Max Schumacher: Tell Mr. Hackett to go fuck himself!

Howard Beale: So I don’t have any bullshit left. I just ran out of it, you see.

Howard finishes his piece and smiles to camera, satisfied.

Thoughts:

Historical perspective changes a film. Nowadays we watch Casablanca safe in the knowledge that the Allies would eventually triumph over the Axis, that Rick and Ilsa’s sacrifice would not have been in vain. It’s hard to imagine how it would have felt to see that film while the war was still being fought. It’s just as hard to imagine a time when Network was, as promised by the poster, “perfectly outrageous.” Many of writer Paddy Chayefsky’s wildest projections have since come to pass, and Network now seems eerily prescient.

Unfortunately, that means it’s also not as funny as it was intended to be. Unhinged ranting on the news? Ho-ho, imagine that! But while the comedy may be diminished, the drama is still powerful. The acting is superb, as I have come to expect from Sidney Lumet films. It’s not a visually enticing film, nor a particularly life-affirming one — in fact, it’s mad as hell. And if Paddy Chayefsky could see how right he was, he’d be madder still.

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing

Essential Scene:

Howard Beale walks in from the rain to give another one of his rants on live television.

He tells his viewing audience that he knows things are bad. People are out of work, kids are running wild, homicides are on the rise. What can we do about it? He doesn’t know exactly. He’s just a TV anchor. But he tells his viewers that for things to change, they must get mad. They must not take it lying down and they must not ignore it.

He tells them to stand up, go to the window, and yell:

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!

The control room gets excited. They are receiving phone calls from all over their network, saying people are doing exactly what Howard is telling them to do. People are yelling!

Max Schumacher is at home watching the television with his wife Louise and daughter Caroline. Howard rants onscreen:

Stick your head out of the window. Open it, stick your head out and keep yelling, and yell: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!”

Caroline stands up and starts to walk towards the window.

Louise: Where are you going?

Caroline: I want to see if anybody’s yelling!

Amongst the thunder and lightning, various people can be heard shouting “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!” People are standing on their fire escapes, or leaning out of the window, and they are yelling with all their might.

The power of television.

Thoughts:

Network is very much of its time and can be enjoyed purely as an intelligent satire of ’70s media and politics. But now it additionally serves as a warning we should have heeded.

As a modern audience, we adore when people lose it on television. That’s why the networks brought us reality TV: It’s cheap, it’s full of genuine emotion and often ruins someone’s life. Ratings galore!

The current TV networks even represent every milestone a person can go through. There are live births, extravagant weddings and death-bed ramblings; and it doesn’t stop there. We can now go online and witness some often unspeakable events. Why does this pass for entertainment? Have we become desensitised? Network answered these questions long before we asked them, in a sinisterly familiar manner.

Why the hell didn’t we listen?

A sad fascinating fact: One aspect of Network was inspired by Christine Chubbuck, a US TV anchor who committed suicide live on air.

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