Starring: Peter Finch (his final feature film), Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight
Director: Sidney Lumet
Summary: Television programmers turn a deranged news anchor into the mad prophet of the airwaves
Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Finch)*, Actor (Holden), Actress (Dunaway)*, Supporting Actor (Beatty), Supporting Actress (Straight)*, Original Screenplay*, Cinematography, Film Editing
-Paddy Chayefsky is probably on the Mount Rushmore of Hollywood Screenwriters, and for me this is the #1 reason why. This is one of the greatest satires in the history of film, as it’s brutally incisive on where society was heading and a lot of what the film was worrying about came true. Everything from car crash TV (it’s disgusting/horrible, but you can’t help but watch), trash TV, the merging of news and entertainment, that anger sells, the bottom line taking over any and all other societal and human interests and our culture’s desensitization to violence and how things have to get more and more shocking and extreme to get a reaction out of an audience are all addressed way before most people started talking about it (or at least with this kind of clarity and incisiveness), and it’s done in an extremely effective way. The dialogue is generally excellent with tons of memorable lines and speeches (even if the speeches get old after a while), the humor is spot-on and the movie is terrifically paced. While it has its flaws, I take a screenplay like this that shoots for the moon and gets 90% there over something perfectly executed but much less ambitious.
-This was the last film to get 3 Oscars for acting and also the last to get 5 acting nominations, and for good reason-when 70s Robert Duvall gives the 5th best performance in a movie, you’ve got something amazing on your hands. What’s so remarkable about Finch is his intensity and passion that just enthralls you during his long speeches that in the hands of a less committed actor may have lost the audience’s interest. His Oscar was posthumous as he died between the movie’s release and the ceremony, making him the first actor with that distinction (the second being Heath Ledger). I always love Dunaway, and this is her signature performance as this totally amoral, soulless woman who you almost have to admire her (for how good she is at her job and that she’s able to climb to the top of the ladder in a male-dominated media era) as much as you loathe what she represents. Holden gives one of his best performances of his distinguished career, playing sort of the straight man to the insanity and over the top qualities of all the other characters and he injects life into the role. Beatty and Straight each only have one scene with any dialogue, but both got nominations because they’re both powerhouse in those scenes; Straight still has the record for shortest screen time (5 minutes and 2 seconds) for any Oscar winner-I would have given the Oscar to Jodie Foster among the films I watched for this, but there’s no denying she’s great for the time she has. Beatty turns in just about the best days worth of work that’s possible and gives a human thunderbolt-type performance (the cinematography adds a lot to it too).
-The Holden/Dunaway subplot is the weak link in the film and honestly doesn’t add much except for a bunch of big, long, blunt speeches with cheesy dialogue that say what the audience could already read from the characters. The other comment I would make is that I think the movie overplays just how much TV changed everything, and I think of it more as an accelerating force for what had been going on for decades already. Sensationalism and trash has always sold, long before TV-it began in earnest with the newspaper rivalry between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer which resulted in exactly the same kind of garbage spewing that the movie attacks as something new. TV was different in that it expanded the reach of these kind of things to homes everywhere and picture and sound have a more dramatic effect than just words, I think it’s disingenuous to lay all the blame at the feet of the TV generation.
-Now, Network has no score (all the music/sounds are diagetic), so they decided to just put a stock song over the main menu of the DVD I rented-it was almost certainly a random song someone found and said “that will do”; while 99.9% of people wouldn’t have had any reaction to the song choice, I am enough of a wrestling nerd to have instantly recognized it as a song the WWE used to regularly play over video packages during the Attitude Era, including the opening of WrestleMania XV, apparently called “Harrowsway”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIJnUHBfKWM&list=LL4Gm6Rhpdkk0i6hv_i35fAQ&index=20. Very random aside, but I couldn’t help but mention it (also, it doesn’t fit with the movie at all, I don’t know why they didn’t just play random TV clips crosscut with one another like they do at the beginning and end of the film).
This is my second time watching it, and it’s still one of my very favorite films. It’s like a perfect storm of amazing writing, acting and directing that collaborated to create an incredible satire of where we were then and where we were going as a society. Watch it, watch it, watch it if you haven’t.