It was nice to see CNN and other news outlets discuss the 30th anniversary of the film “Network” with director Sidney Lumet, who, in a truly prodigious career, also directed the films 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Verdict, among many others. As noted from the CNN story, Lumet (at 81) is still working and getting ready to direct another film (not only was his 1976 triumph great, but the Mad Magazine parody called “Nutwork” was hilarious also – I wish I could track down a copy of it somewhere).
This film, which I believe was the last ever written by the late, great screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, has enough smarts for about five other movies with some of the finest (and most surreal) screen dialogue ever written. It’s not possible to summarize all of it in a single post and do it justice, but I’ll recap some of it here (though the 70s clothing, hairstyles, and bits of dialogue are truly dated).
- The scene at the beginning with William Holden (Max Schumacher) and Peter Finch (Howard Beale) as Schumacher is firing him, with both men laughing and drunk, telling the story about the George Washington Bridge in NYC, set the tone I thought for some of the naked emotion shown in the film (see, Schumacher’s former boss told him once to get down to the bridge and bring a camera crew, in the middle of the night and all messed up, and Schumacher calls the cab and tells the cabbie where he’s going, and the cabbie, thinking Schumacher is going to kill himself, says, “Don’t do it, buddy. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you,” and then Schumacher tells that story again later in front of his staff, giving you the feeling that he’s told that story MANY times).
- The negotiations between Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), and terrorists Laureen Hobbs and the Great Ahmed Khan of the Ecumenical Liberation Army over broadcast rights of their criminal activity, with Khan, in total exasperation, firing a shotgun into the air and yelling “Man, give her the --- over head clause!”
- The vulnerability shown by both William Holden and Faye Dunaway’s characters was touching and a bit uncomfortable, with Holden saying to Dunaway as he leaves her that “you’re madness, Diana. You’re television incarnate.”
- I originally thought it was ridiculous that Beatrice Straight won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for only a five-minute performance, but I watched it again and took note of how well she portrayed controlled fury upon hearing the news that William Holden’s character was leaving her (accompanied of course by Chayefsky’s wonderful dialogue).
- Speaking of fury, the speech by Ned Beatty (as CC and A chairman Arthur Jensen) to Beale was a pivotal moment of course, partly because of the way Finch was photographed with that thunderstruck expression on his face (after Finch/Beale makes the speech about the Arabs buying up this country, which I believe was more prescient that Chayefsky could have realized). In awe, Beale tells Jensen, “I have seen the face of God,” and Jensen slyly replies, “You just may be right, Mr. Beale.”
- A very young Tim Robbins appears for a few minutes near the end of the movie (maybe his first screen role? Don’t know…) as one of Beale’s assassins.
And try explaining to me, by the way, how “The Howard Beale Show” (described by a ruthless young CC and A executive named Frank Hackett who is “turning out the old guard” of the network…a genius turn of acting by Robert Duvall…as “a big, fat, big-titted hit!”) is actually NOT a cousin of TV “infotainment” and “reality” television. Also, if anyone doubts just how much corporations hold sway on what we see, hear and read when it comes to news, just consider this once more and realize just how much of what was portrayed in “Network” has actually come to pass.
This is one of the memorable exchanges that take place in the film that are too numerous to mention.
Nelson Chaney (older executive, portrayed by Wesley Addy): “All I know is (Frank Hackett’s programming decisions) violates every canon of respectable broadcasting.”And I think this is one of the credos of the film Chayefsky wrote based on the lifetime he spent in the business (spoken/shouted, of course, by Beale):
Hackett: “We’re not a respectable network, we’re a whorehouse network. And, we have to take whatever we can get.”
Chaney: “Well, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t fancy myself the president of a whorehouse.”
Hackett: “That’s very commendable of you Nelson. Now, sit down. Your indignation has been duly recorded. If you wish to quit, I’ll accept your resignation.”
I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. (shouting) You've got to say, 'I'm a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!...You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'There’s no doubt in my mind; I think Howard Beale would have been one hell of a blogger :-)