MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #64. Network (1976)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
Network

“Hi. I’m Diana Christensen, a racist lackey of the imperialist ruling circles.”

It’s one thing for a movie to perfectly, accurately and unflinchingly capture its time.  It takes a little more balls to perfectly, accurately and unflinchingly satarise its time.  It takes balls and sheer brilliance to perfectly, accurately and unflinchingly satarise its time, while also perfectly predicting the future.  I assume Network was intriguingly subversive in 1976.  I assume Network was darkly hilarious in 1976.  But I would be surprised if anyone knew just how accurately prophetic Network was in 1976.  And with each year, it becomes less darkly hilarious and more depressingly hilarious as we see our media become more and more like the then-insanely hyper world of Network.


The ratings are falling on Howard Beale’s nightly news broadcast.  In retaliation, he declares live on air that he’ll blow his brains out in one week, live on air.  While his complacent crew in the control room are too oblivious to notice, the rest of America’s media does.  So he’s immediately fired by his best friend and news director, Max (William Holden).  All the while, in the back offices of the network, the ratings obsessed Diana (Faye Dunaway) is trying to figure out what sensationalist freak show will be the next ratings winner.  While the money obsessed Frank (Robert Duvall) is obsessed with cutting the news department’s massive, money losing budget.

It turns out, Howard Beale’s proposed suicide saves them all.  Diana gets her sensationalist grotesque, which saves Max’s news department, while raising Frank’s revenue.  But this is a recession obsessed, 70’s America, and one modest hit isn’t enough.  Soon, Diana and Frank are rebuilding their entire network around the clearly mentally unstable, false prophet, Howard Beale.

I’d seen Network a couple of times before this viewing, but seeing it in 2015, all I could think of was just how shitty Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom was.  When The Newsroom was happening, I would read the odd unflattering comparison to this movie, and I could see the thematic similarities.  But I hadn’t seen Network recently enough to really notice them in detail.  Now, all I can see is how monumentally Sorkin shat the bed.

He clearly set out to say basically the same thing as Network’s director, Sidney Lumet, and writer Paddy Chayefskey.  The news isn’t something that should be dictated by ratings and revenue, it needs to be unfiltered, unobstructed and pure.  The difference is, Lumet and Chayefskey used (what was then) outlandish satire and exaggeration to do just that.  All Sorkin gave us was the out of touch view point of a rich, privileged, white man.

Dunaway by the pool at the Beverley Hills Hotel, the morning after winning her Oscar for Network
Dunaway by the pool at the Beverley Hills Hotel, the morning after winning her Oscar for Network

“The only reality she knows comes from a TV set”.  That’s a line of dialogue that Paddy Chayefsleky wrote for this movie almost 40 years ago.  That’s the kind of thing that made Network amazing in 1976, and better and better with every single year that passes since its release.  How many movies are scathing satire on release, that only gain more and more power with every year, every decade that passes after their release?  Network is that movie.  And possibly, the only that can claim that honour.

And if nothing else, the IMDB Trivia page for Network reveals, “Peter Finch died before the Academy Awards were to take place, where he was nominated for Best Actor. He won, making him the first performer ever to receive a posthumous award at the Oscars. The second winner was fellow Australian Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight.”.  So, Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!  Oi, oi oi!  I guess.

Network
Directed By – Sidney Lumet
Written By – Paddy Chayefsky

ACADEMY AWARDS
Best Picture (nominated, lost to Rocky)
Best Director (Lumet nominated, lost to John G Avildsen for Rocky)
Best Actor – Finch
Best Actor (Holden nominated, lost to Finch for Network)
Best Actress – Dunaway
Best Supporting Actress – Beatrice Straight
Best Supporting Actor (Ned Beatty nominated, lost to)
Best Original Screenplay – Paddy Chayefsky

8 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #64. Network (1976)

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