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
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
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
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.
who wrote the screenplay, had worked in television in its early days (most
famously, writing Marty
), 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.
-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)
Copyright 1998-2015 Orrin Judd