Media madness reigns supreme in screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky's scathing satire about the uses and abuses of network television. But while Chayefsky's and director Sidney Lumet's take on television may seem quaint in the ag... more »e of "reality TV" and Jerry Springer's talk-show fisticuffs, it's every bit as potent now as it was when the film was released in 1976. And because Chayefsky was one of the greatest of all dramatists, his Oscar-winning script about the ratings frenzy at the cost of cultural integrity is a showcase for powerhouse acting by Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight (who each won Oscars), and Oscar nominee William Holden in one of his finest roles. Finch plays a veteran network anchorman who's been fired because of low ratings. His character's response is to announce he'll kill himself on live television two weeks hence. What follows, along with skyrocketing ratings, is the anchorman's descent into insanity, during which he fervently rages against the medium that made him a celebrity. Dunaway plays the frigid, ratings-obsessed producer who pursues success with cold-blooded zeal; Holden is the married executive who tries to thaw her out during his own seething midlife crisis. Through it all, Chayefsky (via Finch) urges the viewer to repeat the now-famous mantra "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" to reclaim our humanity from the medium that threatens to steal it away. --Jeff Shannon« less
"Paddy Chayefsky's 1976 blockbuster hit "Network" is, I truly believe, the best film satire ever made. It might well be the best film regardless of genre ever made in the United States, better than "Citizen Kane," better than "The Godfather," better than any of the other numerous contenders. The first time I saw "Network" was on television about ten years ago, a supreme irony that became more and more amusing as the film progressed, and the powerhouse dialogue, performances, and set pieces captured my imagination unlike any other film. I have since watched this film so many times that at one point I could quote large chunks of dialogue verbatim with the greatest of ease. Over the past several years, however, I haven't seen Chayefsky's masterpiece as often as I would like. When I decided I would finally tackle the daunting prospect of writing a review for this movie, I rented the DVD version and resubmerged myself into the dark world of Howard Beale, Max Schumacher, Diana Christensen, and Frank Hackett. And I rediscovered something I always realize every time I watch this magnificent piece of cinema: "Network" is as great a movie as it was the first time I saw it, and it's prescience to our modern world continues to astonish.
"Network" takes the viewer inside of a major television network, UBS, during the 1970s. Their prime time newscaster, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), has just received word from his boss Max Schumacher (William Holden) that the network is terminating his contract due to low ratings. Perturbed about leaving his position, and with nothing else in life to live for, Beale breaks down on television and promises his audience that he will kill himself on live television the following evening. Not surprisingly, this revelation causes quite a stir amongst the suits on the upper floors. Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall), the new overseer of the network since its acquisition by a larger corporation called CCA, threatens once again to clean house. Schumacher convinces Hackett and the other executives to hold off because Howard is essentially insane, and he even manages to get Beale back on the air the following evening in order to issue a public apology. Max has his own reasons for supporting Beale: the network is threatening to cut the budget of the news division in order to decrease the debt load, a decision they failed to notify Schumacher about beforehand. When Howard goes off on a rant about the sicknesses of American society the following evening, Max refuses to cut the live feed as a protest against the network's unfair treatment.
Hackett hits the roof, but when entertainment division chief Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) convinces him that Beale's rants brought in a record number of viewers, a new idea quickly forms. What if the network encouraged Howard's irrational behavior? What if they made a program based solely on his prophecies about the state of modern America? That's exactly what Christensen and Hackett accomplish when "The Howard Beale Show" debuts on UBS. In front of a roaring crowd, the former newsman raves about the evils of corporatism, the corrosive effects of television, and public corruption. At the end of each tirade, Beale collapses in a faint in front of the cameras. Audiences eat these histrionics up, and ratings for the show go through the roof. UBS is well on its way to turning a profit. Meanwhile, a subplot about Max and Diana plays out. The two embark on a tempestuous love affair despite their professional quibbling about Howard and Max's longtime marriage. While Christensen sets about creating new programs highlighting left-wing revolutionary activities, programs like "The Mao Tse-Tung Hour," Max leaves his wife and moves into Diana's apartment. Their relationship resembles a television program, and as Howard's ratings slip after he receives a readjustment to his worldview from CCA chairman Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), Max and Diana's union also falters. The film's conclusion is as cruel as it is darkly hilarious.
I've never seen, nor do I expect to ever see again, a film like "Network." Each element of the film fires on every cylinder. Time stops while watching this picture. The performances from major and minor characters are sublime, but it's Peter Finch who grabs the spotlight with both hands and refuses to let go. His Howard Beale raves, rants, gesticulates, and issues statements on the world that spellbind with their power and elegance. His monologue to Max about his mental state, his lecture to audiences about the illusion of television, and his take on corporate buyouts brings me to my feet every time I hear them. Just as memorable is Arthur Jensen's mind-blowing analysis of the true nature of the corporate universe and the ultimate fate of mankind if the citizens of the world allow his ilk to have their way. The film ends with Max Schumacher labeling Diana Christensen "television incarnate" because of her total inability to form meaningful emotional connections. In fact, the mindlessness and callousness of television, how it reduces every aspect of human sentiment and interaction to one-dimensional superficialities, ultimately destroys every character in this film.
I could keep going ad infinitum, explaining how Max represents the common man faced with the daunting task of giving in to his cravings for television (re: Diana) or simply turning it off for good by returning to the wholesomeness of family life. I could also examine how Chayefsky shows us television destroying not only those who watch it but also those who fill the medium with images, i.e. the decision Hackett and Christensen feel they must make concerning Beale's plummeting ratings. What I really want to do is fill this review with line after line of the brilliant dialogue uttered in this film. I won't though; you need to see this tour de force motion picture for yourself. And realize how much of it pertains to our society today. Mad as hell, indeed!
Strikingly contemporary even 30 years later
Jeff in Philly | Philadelphia | 12/14/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I watched Network again last night, for the first time since the film first came out. I remembered that it was a good movie with a lot of good acting, but given that the things this film predicted about television have all come true - and been surpassed in spades - I was expecting that its indignation over the commercialization of television news would seem quaint and certainly dated.
Good heavens, was I wrong. This movie hasn't lost its edge a bit in 30 years. William Holden as Max Schumacher is the only real human being, and he wanders through this film looking slack-jawed, as if he'd landed in Toon Town and can't quite believe his eyes. As it turns out, he has: the cartoonish, conniving antics of Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway leave all of us laughing guiltily.
The screenplay emphasizes the comic-strip nature of these characters by giving them dialog that no real human being could ever utter with a straight face. The one sex scene between Dunaway and Holden is one of the most horrifyingly hilarious moments I can remember from any film. Add Ned Beatty - who doesn't say much through most of the film, and then erupts like Lucky in "Waiting for Godot" with a single, five-minute monologue that will peel the paint off your walls - and this is one of the darkest, funniest films of the last 50 years.
They should re-release this film in theaters. Especially now.
TERRIBLE TRANSFER OF A HOLLYWOOD MASTERPIECE
Nix Pix | Windsor, Ontario, Canada | 04/15/2003
(1 out of 5 stars)
"The film which introduced us to the now legendary quotation, "I'm as made as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore," Sidney Lumet's "Network" is a scathingly brilliant and ominously accurate prediction of what network television circa 2004 (in particular the news division) has become.
When stalwart television news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) suffers an on air mental breakdown he is encouraged to continue ranting as "the angry prophet, denouncing the hypocrisies of our time" in order to boost the network's Nielson ratings. Shifting the focus from hard news to factoid entertainment, the new Howard Beale show is the brain child of Dianne Christensen (Faye Dunaway, marvelously on point as the neurotic programmer). Dianne is an oversexed cutthroat who will stop at nothing to exploit Beale for a thirty share. She usurps Max Schumacher's (William Holden) position as head of the news division and later destroys his life and marriage with the broken promise of a torrid affair.
The cast also includes Robert Duvall as maniacal Frank Hackett, a shrewd corporate executive whose sell out mentality is successful at turning the once prominent art of journalism into its lowest common denominator - sensationalism. In an all too brief though nevertheless poignant performance, the late and very great Beatrice Straight delivers a masterful turn as Max's betrayed wife, Louise. The film's eerie clairvoyance on contemporary television makes it one of the truly outstanding American films of the 1970s.
However, Warner Home Video's import of a previously released MGM DVD is one of the worst DVD transfers I have ever seen. The film is anamorphic widescreen but colors are horribly muted, dull and incredibly faded. Flesh tones are so inaccurate that there's really no point in suggesting any consistency. Either they are a pasty pink or garish orange, but never natural looking. Contrast levels during night scenes are so low and marred by excessive film grain and digital grit that fine detail is not even an issue. Day scenes tend to suffer from over exposure and way too high contrast levels. Light browns, oranges, beiges and flesh tones all exhibit an undistinguished muddiness. There is also an incredible amount of film and digital grain throughout the transfer that makes for a completely unsatisfying viewing experience, no matter the size of your television screen. There is nothing, I repeat - NOTHING, to recommend this visual presentation. The audio is mono, strident and unnatural sounding. There is also background hiss in many of the more quiet scenes. The only extra is a theatrical trailer. This classic needs a complete and meticulous restoration.
You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale
Dawoud Kringle | New York City | 05/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mr. Chayevsky has made, easily, one of the greatest contributions to the art of cinema; one that transcends mere entertainment and holds court within the realm of the social, psychological, and political. My fellow reviewers have been eloquent in pointing out the details, merits, and slight flaws within this movie.
With the exception of the brutal murder on the air, every single outrageous idea that the film is now, 30+ years later, part and parcel of standard TV programming. The most banal mediocrities, the most mindless sensationalism, the most blatant lies, are all so common on modern TV that it not only goes unnoticed, but is accepted as being good programming. Even people who know they're looking at mind destroying garbage continue to watch it!! All fo this was warned about in the movie; all of it has come to pass.
And still, we watch. We have no idea how the economy is controlled or who is making the decisions that will affect the lives of entire nations. We don't have a clue exactly why wars are fought, or even exactly what wars are being fought. We are blind to science, art, philosophy, and religion. we hardly bat an eye when we hear about industrial pollution on a biblical proportion, atrocities and genocide, or natural disasters wherein thousands of people die. But we know how things are going between Brad and Anjelina, who won last night's game, what soap star had sex with who, went into rehab, and what some loudmouth idiot with a talk show said that shocked and amused all of America the other day.
This is what we have become; and Network warned us, every step of the way.
But what I am impressed with is how the film exposes the horrifying economic and social realities of our time. Ned Batty's brief scene in the conference room with Finch's Beale character has proven itself to be frighteningly accurate in its description of the disingenuous oligarchical tyranny we live under today. His explanation of the fact that there are no nations; only corporate entities, is exactly the world we live in - with the exception that the corporations are subservient to international banking cartels.
No video collection should be without "Network": nobody can afford to ignore this film.
For my own part, I refuse to permit television in my home."
Glad as hell they did this right
Flipper Campbell | Miami Florida | 03/02/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
""I think I'd like to be an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our time," fallen news anchor Howard Beale tells coworkers in the dizzying opening minutes of Paddy Chayefsky's masterpiece "Network." Writer Chayefsky, equally mad as hell, used his black comedy about a raggedy fourth TV network to denounce the hypocrisies of 1976 and warn of media evils to come.
Like his creation Sybil the Soothsayer, "Paddy was capable of seeing the future," director Sidney Lumet says. Chayefsky warned of entertainment masquerading as news, corporate meddling, violent reality shows, the tyranny of ratings, foreign ownership of U.S. media -- essentially the strip-mining of what was already a vast wasteland. "The vision that the movie displayed so eloquently is alive today," producer Howard Gottfried maintains. "TV today has become its own satire," Lumet adds.
Disc 1 includes a sober but quite good commentary from Lumet, who focuses on who won what Oscar, why he rehearses actors, and the thinking behind the "Network" lighting scheme, in which "even the camera is corrupted" as the movie descends into anarchy.
The extra features leadoff on the second disc is a making-of by DVD docu specialist Laurent Bouzereau. It includes chapters on the late Chayefsky, the "mad as hell" phenomenon and the film's powerhouse actors. The docus cover a lot of material and get the job done, but don't expect much of that loopy "Network" spirit.
Also on disc 2, the late Chayefsky talks up the film on a segment of the old talk show "Dinah! The message of "Network," he said, was, "When do we say 'Hold it!' A human life is a hell of a lot more important than your lousy dollar."
Faye Dunaway's portrayal of lone-wolf programming vp Diana Christensen won her the best actress Oscar -- and it is her top-billed performance that gets the most attention in the DVD extras. The part "wasn't easy to say yes to," Dunaway says. "I was advised not to do it. Because, you know, she didn't have a soul. She was a TV baby. There was a vacantness behind those eyes. People were afraid I'd be thought of that way."
Walter Cronkite, whose daughter Kathy played the film's Patty Hearst lookalike, is interviewed on another extra, saying the film's legacy is "it waved a banner of warning to the TV industry that it better not let things do as far as it did on that (UBS) network."
The new! improved! "Network" DVD smokes Warner's bare-bones versions of 1998 and 2000. Images are suitably colorful and handsome for a '70s film, although the presentation suffers from some speckling and unwelcome grain. The stereo Dolby Digital seems challenged by the audio's occasional spikes, lessening their intended impact."