I had a movielicious weekend: I was sick on Friday and Saturday, so between DVDs, my DiVo, cable and then finally hitting a theater on Sunday, I think I watched 10-11 films. More on that in another post; but one of the movies I didn't even see in full. On Friday, I suggested everyone watch Network. In fairness, it was on really late at night (2:30 AM here on the east coast) and since I've seen it at least 20 times, I wasn't planning on actually watching myself. Besides, I own it on DVD and watch it usually twice a year anyway.
However, I went to bed very late Saturday night and turned it on while I was going to sleep. Bad idea because, of course, I became transfixed. MRKinLA's comment in my previous post (referring to a show called "Celebrity Mah-Jong" on the UBS schedule) is just another example of the foresight Paddy Chayefsky had in this script, perhaps one of the best-written screenplays of all time. Network is a case of all the elements of a film coming together to make the other elements better. Lumet's direction is perfect: the pacing and tone are smooth and consistent, and he never gets in the way of either the script or the actors. And those actors: William Holden is often overlooked in this film because he has to share the screen with the more outrageous (and utterly brilliant) Peter Finch, but that relationship is actually very similar to that of any classic comedy team -- Holden is the straight man, often unnoticed but if he's not pitch-perfect, the more showy role doesn't work as well. And then Faye Dunaway, always remembered primarily for Chinatown and Bonnie and Clyde (rightfully so), and although she received Oscar nominations for both, it was Network which brought her sole statuette and her most complex role. Throw in a dynamic Robert Duvall, and a powerful, albeit brief, appearance by Ned Beatty, not to mention dozens of smaller supporting roles, and Chayefsky's brilliant script is heightened that much more by them.
A perfect example is one of Howard Beale's (Finch) "mad prophet" rants. It was especially fascinating to watch/listen to it just after one of this year's political conventions, when the broadcast networks aired a total of three hours of the four nights; when the cable networks allowed their talking heads to interview each other more than let the home audience watch the speeches; when commentary and opinion has replaced news, and "your most trusted news source" is really only a motto because unlike 30-50 years ago when there were Howard Beales around (Murrow, Cronkite, Chancellor, Brinkley, etc.), there is no singular type of anchor people look to and trust anymore. As someone who lives by the tube, this speech is incredibly striking. Remember it was written in the mid-70s, not 2000. The text is dramatic; hearing Finch yell it is awe-inspiring:
Edward George Ruddy died today! Edward George Ruddy was the Chairman of the Board of the Union Broadcasting Systems -- and woe is us if it ever falls in the hands of the wrong people. And that's why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy died. Because this network is now in the hands of CC and A the Communications Corporation of America. We've got a new Chairman of the Board, a man named Frank Hackett now sitting in Mr. Ruddy's office on the twentieth floor. And when the twelfth largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamned propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this tube? So, listen to me! Television is not the truth! Tele- vision is a goddamned amusement park, that's what television is! Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats and story-tellers, singers and dancers, jugglers, side-show freaks, lion- tamers and football players. We're in the boredom-killing business! If you want truth, go to God, go to your guru, go to yourself because that's the only place you'll ever find any real truth! But, man, you're never going to get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell! We'll tell you Kojak 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 going to win. We'll tell you any shit you want to hear! We deal in illusion, man! None of it's true! But you people sit there -- all of you -- day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds -- we're all you know. You're beginning to believe this illusion we're spinning here. You're be- ginning to think the tube is reality and 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 think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God's name, you people are the real thing! We're the illusions! So turn off this goddamn set! Turn it off right now! Turn it off and leave it off. Turn it off right now, right in the middle of this very sentence I'm speaking now --
At that point, Beale's eyes roll up in his head, he faints to the floor, and the TV crew starts encouraging the audience to stand and applaud, as the show goes to commercial -- and Beale lies on the floor.
The Daily Show on Friday night -- their wrap-up of the DNC -- was one of the best episodes of the program I've ever seen. At the end, Jon Stewart gave a message to the large number of devoted and young viewers who watch and listen to him religiously. He encouraged us to watch the conventions -- both of them. He also encouraged us to turn off the set after and think about what we've seen. He encouraged us to come to our own conclusions and most importantly to not be swayed by the commentators and pundits who proliferate the airwaves. As always, he did so in comic manner, by having little pictures of Paul Begala, James Carville, Bob Novak, Tucker Carlson, Pat Buchanan, Chris Matthews, etc. pop up on the screen, until the entire picture was littered with political pundits and the home audience could just barely see Stewart's eye. He even ridiculed (as he often does) The Daily Show itself, with one of the pictures being himself and his cast of reporters, his accompanying comment to that shot being, "They don't even matter." It was a perfect example of why The Daily Show is such a great satirical look at news and the world; because even with such a hysterical message, Stewart was being deadly serious. I hope people were paying attention. I also hope, if you haven't seen it before, you'll take some time to experience Network. It really is filmmaking at its best and most important.