Sunday, January 30, 2011


Sometimes it's a bit difficult to watch these older movies, where a single line can hang over its entire legacy, and leave you waiting for it to come while you're trying to enjoy the story. Network's mad as hell line earns that fame though, in one of the film's most memorable scenes out of many. What's even more remarkable about the movie though is how much what its central ideas are still seem familiar today. It came out 35 years ago, but what some of the characters say about the world being a business rather than a collection of nations and people is still being said today. It's kind of a scary thing to think about, and I had no idea people were already seeing things that way back then.

So Network is roughly equal parts drama and dark satire. Things start when a retiring news broadcaster at a dying network named Howard Beale declares one night that he will kill himself on air a week later. The executives try to quiet him up and get rid of him, until Faye Dunaway as a programming developer realizes the ratings potential of a "mad prophet" cursing and yelling at people on the air every night. They keep him around, shifting it from a news program to a variety show with a number of segments with Beale as the star, preaching wildly to a studio audience and 60 million viewers at home. It's a pretty ridiculous scenario, but it serves as a solid platform for a lot of black humor and well written, apocalyptic speeches.

The movie is a showcase of talent as much as anything made in a long time, getting nominated for and winning a ton of awards, including five performances nominated for acting Oscars, three winning. Beatrice Straight's supporting actress win makes it the briefest role to ever win such an award, making me think it was kind of a light category that year, but pretty much everyone in the movie is excellent. Peter Finch won a posthumous award for playing Beale, and Dunaway also won playing a pretty unusual sort of woman. The last time I saw William Holden he was twenty five years younger, but he's also good as the first casualty of the internal conflict arising at the network, and Robert Duvall is solid as well. Sidney Lumet directed, showing off more of his talent for making scenes consisting of little more than people talking to each other for minutes on end completely compelling. The movie could have easily failed utterly, but they managed to turn a string of monologues intro truly compelling cinema.

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