Before all you Rocky lovers get on my case, yes, it's a great movie. But does anyone remember the films Rocky beat out for the Oscar in 1977? Bound for Glory. All the President's Men. Taxi Driver. And most ridiculously, Network.
Rocky is one of the best feel-good underdog movies ever, but it's hard to believe that even without the time for hindsight that it doesn't stand up to All the President's Men or the brilliant Taxi Driver. But even the Scorsese freak that I am puts his film slightly lower on my list of all-time favorites than Sidney Lumet's brilliant Network from a script by Paddy Chayefsky that could not have been more prescient.
You've never seen Network? Now's your chance. My favorite channel will be showing Network late this Saturday night (2:30 AM Eastern/11:30 PM Pacific), and I encourage you to watch or record it. Even if you have seen it before, watch it again. I've probably watched Network at least 10-15 times, and every time I watch it, I continue to not only see new things in the film, but I'm repeatedly amazed at how Chayefsky predicted the modern state of television a good 15 years before it happened.
Writing about a television world still limited to major broadcast networks, before cable became widespread and a world in which network news still had a major voice because even CNN was not quite a gleam yet in Ted Turner's eye, Chayefsky still managed to create a story that foretold the blurring of news and entertainment. He created reality television at a time when most of the first Real World cast were barely out of diapers. He invented a nightly news program that included commentary and other non strictly-news elements, away from the single anchor behind a desk format utilized for so many years. CEO Arthur Jensen's (Ned Beatty) speech to tortured, terrified and possibly schizophrenic anchorman Howard Beale (posthumous Oscar winner Peter Finch) is more relevant now than it was nearly 30 years ago when it was written. In fact, it's so brilliant, I have to give you most of it here:
It is the international system of currency which determines the vitality of life on this planet. THAT is the natural order of things today. THAT is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today. And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature. And YOU WILL ATONE. Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little 21-inch screen and howl about America, and democracy. There is no America; there is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.
You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won't have it. Is that clear? You think you've merely stopped a business deal? That is not the case. The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity. It is ecological balance. You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations; there are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems; one vast, interwoven, interacting, multivaried, multinational dominion of dollars.
Take my word for it, Network is one of the best movies you'll ever see, and while it has a great reputation, I'd still claim that it's vastly underrated. But then again, don't take my word for it, because TCM is providing that vital service it fulfills so well this Saturday night, and giving you an easy way to see it for yourself.