Monday, 8 November 2010

Network (1976)

Another mid 70s American film. There's something about that grainy, washed out film stock and the convergence of fading Hollywood stars and young upstarts that really appeals.

Network is a much talked about film, mainly due to the frenzied rages of Peter Finch's doom-mongering newscaster Howard Beale and his cry of 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!' He's fired from the network due to failing viewing figures, but after he announces he' going to kill himself on air the figures start to climb. The network, desperate for the share of the audience eggs him on, puts him on prime time with a blank canvas and the nation becomes hooked on the ravings of this late middle-aged man who has got sick of the bullshit.

Then there is leather faced William Holden who plays his old boss and the only person who seems to have his interests at heart. He's having a fling with Faye Dunaway's ambitious programming director, who in turn takes advantage of Finch's rants and put him centre stage on the networks listings.
Robert Duvall puts on his bombastic, face rubbing act and really attacks the screen with his bullish network chief. An opportunist with some killer lines ("That's a big fat, big titted hit!") Duvall is the best thing in the film next to Finch.

Paddy Chayefsky won the Oscar for his screenplay and deservedly so. Its a stagey, overwritten and unrealistic script, but one that is suited to such an outrageous scenario. You could never accuse Network of realism. Insider jokes abound: especially funny are the programme pitches Dunaway has to sift through every morning, most of which involve a "crusty yet benign older man working with a brilliant, beautiful woman. S pointed out that this could equally be said of Dunaway and Holden - whether this was deliberate irony or just sloppy writing, I couldn't help seeing their relationship as the weak link, a magnet to get ticket sales at a time when Faye Dunaway was a big box office draw. 

Lumet excels at this kind of picture, withdrawn and observant, allowing his actors range to express themselves (or overact) and somehow managing to make great entertainment out of a bunch of cold characters. An enjoyable and highly prescient film, it seems that there has never been a time since its release that Network could not be held up as a mirror to the current era's television addiction.

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