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Network (1976)

Network (1976)

Movie Review


This past weekend, the enormously talented director, Sidney Lumet died. He leaves behind an impressive body of social commentary on celluloid. Perhaps his most prophetic work is Network, starring such colossal talent as Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, and Robert Duvall.

To watch Network today, I find myself shaking my head in wonder and horror, thinking¬† “My God, Lumet was not only an artistic genius but a soothsayer!”

He saw the future of television and its influence on popular culture and society. I wonder if Lumet and the rest of the players involved fully grasped how truly prophetic this movie would be. Network was intended, for all purposes, as a satire but in hindsight it was actually an oracle; a crystal ball super imposed on the big screen.

Peter Finch (who won a posthumous Oscar for Best Actor) plays Howard Beale the nightly news anchor at UBS. A one time big shot journalist his ratings (mirroring his personal life) have been in descent for some time now. It’s up to his best friend and the News Division President Max Schumacher (William Holden) to fire him.

The following night, Beale announces that he’s being forced to retire in two weeks due to low ratings and that he will commit suicide live on the air before then. Naturally, a media frenzy ensues with network heads demanding Beale be fired immediately but up and coming network executive Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) only notices the sharp increase in ratings. This spike in ratings follows this incident and the subsequent one in which Beale presumably will professionally say goodbye to his audience one last time in a dignified manner. Instead Beale goes off script again.

The beautiful, ambitious and amoral Diana is the future of television. Everything and Everyone is reduced to ratings. Howard Beale’s breakdown as well as a bank robbery by a quasi marxist terrorist group simply serves as inspiration for her unending quest for ratings. The ideas cooking in Diana’s head are what we now know as “reality tv”.

Frank Hackett’s (Robert Duvall)¬† character is also the future of television. He could not care less about the news division or even the quality of the network for that matter. He is a CCA (The Communication Corporation of America) man. This is the company that has purchased UBS and as far as Hackett is concerned UBS exists to serve the interests of CCA and it’s shareholders. And to that end he approves of Diana’s programming schemes once he sees the ratings skyrocket.

Mind you, this film was made years before all the cable “news” networks even existed and way before we had people willing to give up their privacy and what little dignity they have left on national television just to be recognized and become reality show “celebrities”.

The performances are all powerful and magnificent even the brief on screen time by Max Schumacher’s wife is gut wrenching. Beatrice Straight won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in what is arguably the shortest time on screen for any winner previously or since. Faye Dunaway also won for Best Lead Actress as did Paddy Chayefsky for Best Screenplay.

Watching Laureen Hobbs (Marlene Warfield), the African-American communist spokesperson for the Ecumenical¬† Liberation Army’s transformation from marxist, power-to-the-people revolutionary to greedy, capitalistic business woman fighting over her cut (they’ve got a reality show) is hilarious.

I think it’s a testament to a REAL actor’s talent when they can make the audience forget the movie star who’s interpreting a role and focus on the character. As I watch Network, I don’t see the movie star Faye Dunaway. I only see Diana Christensen. The same is true for Holden, Duvall and Finch. This is what masterful acting and movie making is.

To order NETWORK on DVD from AMAZON click here.

If ordering from the UK click here.

If ordering from Canada click here.

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