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Network (1976)


    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!'
        -Howard Beale (Peter Finch), Network

Recently purchased by a large conglomerate, mired in fourth place in the ratings, the UBS network is increasingly under the effective control of corporate hatchet man Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) who has brought in Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) to pump up its ratings. As one of the new team's first steps, they've decided to get rid of the long time anchorman of their evening newscast, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), this despite the objections of his friend Max Schumacher (William Holden).  Max is head of the news division, though his power appears to be slipping away.  But then Howard goes on the air and announces that he plans on killing himself on air in one week's time and suddenly he's got a top-rated show.  Diana who cares about nothing (and no one) other than ratings, jumps all over the situation, recognizing that they can exploit Beale's apparent mental breakdown to lure in viewers.

This works briefly, but when the curiosity factor dies out the show begins to slide.  Then, after a meeting at which Max is humiliated to find out he no longer has any real control over the news, he lets Howard go on the air in an obvious state of disarray.  Howard launches into the impassioned speech for which the film is most famous (see above), about how the country is going to the dogs and it's time for everyone to stand up and say : "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore".  Now, instead of just being a novelty act, Howard seems to be speaking for the legions of disaffected and frustrated Americans.  He's become the prophet of doom--he even experiences visitations--who Diana has been looking for and she's ready to get the most out of him.

Once the chase for ratings gold begins it quickly spirals out of control.  Howard is soon joined on his show by a soothsayer and a studio audience.  Rather than do the news, he now comes out on stage and rants for several minutes before collapsing to the stage floor.  Diana hires an Angela Davis-style Marxist revolutionary to help develop a show that opens each week with self-shot footage of a terrorist act carried out by the Symbionese Liberation Army-like "stars"; it's the advent of terrorist reality tv.  When Max loses the power struggle with Hackett, he's forced out of the network entirely, though he continues an affair with Diana.

In one of the very best scenes ever in the movies, Mrs. Schumacher (Beatrice Straight in an Academy Award winning role), refuses to accept his decision to leave her.  She lays out in the starkest terms possible the quality of his betrayal of her and of their marriage :

    Get out, go anywhere you want, go to a hotel, go live with her, but don't come back! Because, after 25 years of building a home and raising
    a family and all the senseless pain that we have inflicted on each other, I'm damned if I'm gonna stand here and have you tell me you're
    in love with somebody else! Because this isn't a convention weekend with your secretary, is it? Or - or some broad that you picked up
    after three belts of booze. This is your great winter romance, isn't it? Your last roar of passion before you settle into your emeritus years.
    Is that what's left for me? Is that my share? She gets the winter passion, and I get the dotage? What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed
    to sit home knitting and purling while you slink back like some penitent drunk? I'm your wife, damn it! And, if you can't work up a
    winter passion for me, the least I require is respect and allegiance! (She sobs) I'm hurt! Don't you understand that? I'm hurt badly!

Just as the Network is sacrificing integrity and quality in favor of sensationalism and profits, so too is Max shown to be sacrificing personal integrity, his own dignity, and his obligations to his wife in the pursuit of mere sensation.  By the time that even the Marxist guerillas are arguing over who owns syndication rights for their series, it becomes plain that everyone's values are for sale as television consumes and cheapens all human emotions and ideas and then regurgitates a debased pabulum that entertains without making any demand upon the viewer.  When Howard Beale begins to reveal this truth to his viewers :

    You people and sixty-two million other Ameicans are listening to me right now. Because less than three percent of you people read books.
    Because less than fifteen percent of you read newspapers. Because the only truth you know is what you get over this tube. Right now,
    there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube. This tube is the gospel, the ultimate
    revelation. This tube can make or break Presidents, Popes, Prime Ministers. This tube is the most awesome, god-damned force in the
    whole godless world. And woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people and that's why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy
    died. Because this company is now in the hands of CCA, the Communication Corporation of America. There's a new chairman of the board,
    a man called Frank Hackett sitting in Mr. Ruddy's office on the 20th floor. And when the twelfth largest company in the world controls
    the most awesome, god-damned propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what s--t will be peddled for truth on this network.
    So, you listen to me! Listen to me! Television is not the truth. Television is a god-damned amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival,
    a traveling troupe of acrobats, story tellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers and football players. We're in the
    boredom-killing business. So if you want the truth, go to your God, go to your gurus, go to yourselves because that's the only place you're
    ever gonna find any real truth. But man, you're never gonna get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you want to hear. We like like hell!
    We'll tell you that Kojack always gets the killer, and nobody ever gets cancer in Archie Bunker's house. And no matter how much trouble
    the hero is in, don't worry. Just look at your watch - at the end of the hour, he's gonna win. We'll tell you any s--t you want to hear. We deal
    in illusions, man. None of it is true! But you people sit there day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds - we're all you know.
    You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here. You're beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives
    are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube. You even
    think like the tube. This is mass madness. You maniacs. In God's name, you people are the real thing. We are the illusion. So turn off your
    television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off. Turn them off right in the middle of
    this sentence I am speaking to you now. Turn them off!

exposing the shallowness and tawdriness of their lives, and the exploitative nature of the medium, panic sets in at the network.  They determine that Howard must be gotten rid of at any cost.  And when Max finally realizes that Diana is the very personification of television--empty; emotionless; profit driven; an observer of, rather than a participant in, reality--their relationship too falls apart.

Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote the screenplay, had worked in television in its early days (most famously, writing Marty [1953]), when there was a genuine commitment on the part of networks to balance out the prevalent dreck with some quality programming and with a commitment to news as a public service.  The future he imagined for television may have seemed  pessimistic at the time but has more than come to fruition.  We live in an age when the networks show suicides, car chases, workplace and high school shootings live; put people on desert islands and pit them against each other; sell time to psychics; compete against one another to show ever more explicit sex, violence, and profanity; don't cover political conventions and presidential speeches, but provide blanket coverage of celebrity deaths and arrests; and so on, ad nauseum.  In retrospect Chayefsky's vision was nowhere near dark enough, nor Howard Beale mad enough.

(Reviewed:26-Apr-02)

Grade: (A+)

Websites:

See also:

    -INFO : Network (1976) (Imdb.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Sidney Lumet (Imdb)
    -PROFILE :  Holly Wooden : Legendary director sees 'a stupefying dullness' (JEFF CRAIG, April 27, 1997, Edmonton Sun)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Paddy Chayefsky (Imdb)
    -REVIEW : of Network (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW : of Network (James Berardinelli  Reel Views)
    -REVIEW : of Network (Tim Dirks, Greatest Films)
    -REVIEW : of Network (David Bezanson, filmcritic.com)

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