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Lumet And Chayefsky's Prescient Media Tale,
This review is from: Network [DVD]  (DVD)
Sidney Lumet (director) and Paddy Chayefsky's (screenwriter) 1976 film Network is a brilliantly prescient tale of the power and corrupting influence of the media (in this case, specifically television). It struck me, on watching the film again recently, that, not only are the messages about media plurality and 'reality TV' as relevant (if not more so) today as they were in 1976, but that Network is also remarkable for the fact that a mainstream Hollywood studio (in this case, MGM) should give its backing to such a scathing attack on a key media outlet, and that the film should then garner so many Academy Awards. I suspect one of the reasons for this is that cross-cinema studio/TV ownership was not as prevalent back in 1976 as it has been since. It is also notable that some major Hollywood acting names (William Holden, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway, etc) wished to be associated with such a venture - again, a level of career risk taking rarely seen these days in Hollywood (one notable exception to this being Tom Cruise's bravura performance in Magnolia).
Network certainly represents something of an acting masterclass with all the major roles (and many of the minor ones) featuring great performances. As the loser news presenter, turned overnight media evangelist, Howard Beale, the great Peter Finch deservedly won (albeit posthumously) the Best Actor Oscar, with Faye Dunaway taking the corresponding female honour for her role as the uptight, careerist TV programmer Diana Christensen (for me, Dunaway's second best career performance behind that in Chinatown). Similarly, both William Holden (also nominated for Best Actor) playing the usurped TV news head Max Schumacher, and Robert Duvall as the brash corporate man Frank Hackett are also superb - the latter was surprisingly not nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, although Ned Beatty was so nominated for his much lesser role in the film. There are also a whole host of other brilliant character performances in the film, notably from William Prince (brilliant as Edward G Ruddy - in a performance which reminds me of George Macready's turn in Paths Of Glory) and from Wesley Addy as Nelson Chaney.
Network features a whole plethora of brilliant scenes and lines of dialogue (the latter from Chayefsky's Oscar-winning screenplay). From the opening scene between Beale and Schumacher, as they commiserate Beale's imminent sacking and Holden's character comes up (jokingly) with the suggestion that they should introduce a TV slot called 'suicide of the week', through to that where Beale embarks on his first on-screen diatribe, which Schumacher refuses to interrupt, with the quip, 'He's saying that life is bull!!!! and it is - so what are you screaming about?', the film hardly lets up. Also, Dunaway is brilliant as the workaholic Christensen ('inept at everything apart from my work') - just look at her brisk, business-like strut - it's as if she has a nickel clenched between the cheeks of her buttocks! Chayefsky also includes a brilliantly satirical skit on 'revolutionary reality TV', as the Ecumenical Liberation Army are hired to air live bank robberies, culminating in an hilarious scene as their members argue about their commercial TV rights.
For me, the earlier sections of the film are the most effective, particularly as the Howard Beale character is finding his feet, and it could be argued that the film is maybe 20 minutes too long. However, the ending, which takes this initial concept of reality TV to its ultimate (logical) conclusion, provides a fitting finale for one of the outstanding US films of the post-Vietnam era.