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STUDIO: Warner Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes
• The Making of Network 6-Part Documentary
• Tune in to How a Movie Landmark Caught Media Lightning, with Sidebars
on Paddy Chayefsky, Getting Mad As Hell and Walter Cronkite’s Reflections
• Vintage Paddy Chayefsky Interview Excerpt from Dinah!, Hosted by Dinah Shore
• Commentary by Director Sidney Lumet
• Private Screenings with Sidney Lumet: Turner Classic Movies Host Robert Osborne Interviews the Director
• Theatrical Trailer
What if Glenn Beck had tried doing his thang in 1976?
Starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Paddy Chayefsky
When news anchor Howard Beale (Finch) has an on-air meltdown, he gets the axe, only to have the head of the network’s entertainment division, Diana Christensen (Dunaway), re-imagine his newscast as a new kind of variety show. At first, Beale’s best friend and head of news, Max Schumacher (Holden), finds the whole thing atrocious but then falls in love with Christensen and has his own issues with upcoming network exec Frank Hackett (Duvall). Quite simply, one of the most prophetic films of all time. A bona fide classic.
A bunch of white dudes being completely disappointed by having to eat boring salads plus a corded phone being delivered to the lunch table. That’s it. That’s funny enough, people.
Black comedies, as a genre, tend to ride that line between hilarious and scary. Just take a look at nearly any movie in the Coen Brothers oeuvre and you’ll find moments that, given just a slightly different approach, would be more horrifying than hilarious — the wood chipper scene in Fargo comes to mind first. And if the filmmakers don’t play the notes just right, not only will they not be hilarious, they’ll land with resounding thuds without being anything but awkward, at best, tasteless at worst. Fortunately, Chayefsky’s script along with Sidney Lumet’s masterful direction and otherworldly performances from the entire cast make Network sing beautifully.
Actually, Network pulls off that rare feat where you’re laughing because it’s so terrifying. You might even call it a horror film if you happen to be a news junkie. And it’s all because of just how amazingly prescient Paddy Chayefsky was. Not only did he foresee the merging of entertainment with news, but he practically created the template for the rise of Glenn Beck. Arguably one of the best cinematic Nostradamus moments ever for a screenwriter, which makes for a spectacular film, yet such a depressing reality for the rest of us since we’re basically living in its reality. Aside from nailing the dynamics of media conglomerates, it’s remarkable just how little has changed in the world in the 35 years since Network was made. In the film, they talk about gas prices being up 20 percent and wars in the Middle East, yet what makes the headlines? Popular news anchor Howard Beale resigning. Some things never change.
Wasilla is beautiful this time of year.
A perfect storm of talent, Network just works on every possible level. Chayefsky was trained as a playwright and his love for the monologue shines here, his juicy word choices crafting lines that any actor would kill to read. Usually that sort of dialogue doesn’t make for scenes that are very cinematic, but Lumet’s taut direction keeps it all in check, using the camera to keep that filmic feel. There are moments that come off like we’re watching performers on the stage, but they’re few and far between and we just don’t mind because the dialogue is so razor sharp and hilarious that we want more.
Chayefsky couldn’t write a throwaway line if he’d wanted to, using five-dollar words when a nickel phrase would do — and he not only gets away with it, but he makes it fresh and new when he does. There are plenty of fantastic moments that must’ve had actors drooling when they read the script – Beale’s “I’m mad as hell” scene, Arthur Jensen’s (Beatty) oration to Beale, of course – but, one that I found incredible was when lovers Schumacher and Christensen have their final row and she calls him a terrible lay, instead of saying it like that, of course, Chayefsky gives them this glorious phrase that I encourage people to use way more often in common parlance: impugn one’s cocksmanship. As a verb, impugn on it’s own is vastly underused; used in that phrase, though, it’s on a whole new level.
The Bible in scroll form was required in all of the offices at Fox News.
Granted, it helps that William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, and Ned Beatty are the ones reciting Chayefsky’s words. While Lumet was instrumental in putting this film on celluloid, it’s truly Chayefsky’s film. So much so that the opening credits provide a title that I’d never seen before and most likely never will again. Instead of getting a “film by” or a “written by” credit, Chayefsky gets an overall “by” credit, as in “NETWORK by PADDY CHAYEFSKY” as if you were reading the title of a play or a novel rather than a film. Incredible given how directors are treated as auteurs and that this particular helmer had just filmed one of the classics of 1970s cinema, Dog Day Afternoon. It shows how much respect everyone had for Chayefsky, his vision, and his script; it’s the kind of thing that, as a lover of film and writer myself, I love seeing. Because while film is a highly collaborative medium, without the founding blocks of a story, of characters, of words on a page, actors won’t have any lines to recite or actions to express. Without them, directors won’t have scenes to shoot. Without Chayefsky, there’d have been no Network.
For all of his incredibly accurate prognostication, there was one part of the whole vision of news media that he got wrong. In the film, despite Beale’s on-air lunacy hurting the network’s upcoming major business deal, head honcho Jensen kept Beale on the air, something that Roger Ailes certainly didn’t do with Glenn Beck, whose own plummeting ratings led to his contract not being renewed with Fox News. Unfortunately for us, though, Chayefsky certainly did get most of it right, especially the line, “And when the 12th largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network?” I wonder if Chayefsky himself knew just how far it would all go.
Bishop the android, several hundred years before getting torn in half in outer space, found his previous job in casting to be way, way worse than flying the Sulaco.
Excellent on all levels and chocked full of features. Although, if you already have the two-disc special edition from a few years ago, you probably won’t need this edition for the the extras. Still, it’s a gorgeous film in 1080p. And if you don’t already own the DVD, pick this up; the 6-part making-of documentary alone is fantastic. Plus there’s commentary by the recently departed Sidney Lumet, a true master of his craft.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
“WHERE IS THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE!?”