Monday, April 11, 2011

A Frank Review of "Network" Two-Disc Special Edition (1976)

The Short Version? "I'm MAD as HELL, and I'm NOT going to take THIS anymore!"
What Is It? Television News Satire
Who Is In It? Evelyn Mulwray, Joseph C. Gillis, Lt. Colonel Kilgore, Bishop and Otis.
Should I See It? Ohh, yes.

I first saw Network in my late teens or early twenties, and I found it to be the kind of movie I would love to have the talent to produce. It has a plot, but it's difficult to tell while you're watching it for the first time, because it takes you on such a long and winding journey. It is at once organic and calculated to the finest detail, subverting your expectations and forcing you to follow along passively in a bid to take everything in. It's a funny movie you probably won't laugh at, and an inspiring movie that directs you to feel depressed and powerless.

Part of the joy of Network is in not knowing where it's headed, so I'm disinclined to give away much of the story. Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is a veteran reporter and news anchor whose personal and professional life is on the skids. With the help of his longtime friend and producer Max Schumacher (William Holden,) Beale gets a new lease on life that sends shockwaves throughout the media. Network suits Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) and Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) then try to use the event to further their own agendas, to mixed results. Their performances are all sensational, along with unforgettable cameos by Ned Beatty and Beatrice Straight, and several took home Oscars for them. The screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky is brilliant, with the movie feeling like a piece of well adapted literature, perfectly realized by director Sidney Lumet. This might account for the script being voted one of the top ten ever by the Writers Guild of America, East. The film goes beyond being influential to outright prophetic, and if anything has dulled the edge of the razor sharp satire, it is how tragically the world has fallen lockstep in its thirty-five year old predictions.


  • Commentary by Director Sidney Lumet A solid track, lacking juicy details due to common love and respect throughout the production. I like to listen to these things while multitasking, and you'll find much of the bonus documentary a retread, so you may just opt for this.
  • The Making of Network: A 6-Part 30th-Anniversary Documentary I would recommend taking this in meal sized portions, because run together at feature length, these docs wear out their welcome. Again, you may wish to choose the commentary track or the docs, but both are really unnecessary. Faye Dunaway makes a worthwhile contribution, but now bears a creepy resemblance to Jocelyn Wildenstein. In fact, all of the actor interviews are well edited to maximize relevancy. The good thing about the segmented format is that more casual viewers can jettison the more technically oriented docs, and the Walter Cronkite closer will be a snoozer for most.
  • Vintage Paddy Chayefsky Interview Excerpt from Dinah! Thirteen minutes, as described. Better, funnier and more insightful that a lot of the slicker doc segments.
  • Private Screenings with Sidney Lumet An hour long interview from Turner Classic Movies. I was pretty sick of hearing about Network after all of those other features, so a career retrospective that only briefly touches on that particular movie (complete with word-for-word repeating of well rehearsed lines) was sweet relief.

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