Network (DVD)

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Network (DVD)

With stunning prescience, Sidney Lumet's searing satire of television and the contemporary moment chronicles the media's imminent corruption and the p...

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Review of "Network (DVD)"

published 01/09/2004 | ruth_cole
Member since : 08/12/2001
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"The Boredom-Killing Business"

"He's saying life is bullsh*t... and it is... what's your problem?"

One may as well begin with a disclaimer. I'm a Lumet idiot (possibly a general idiot as well, but that's up for debate). Before having Network recommended to me as "typical Lumet" all I had to apply this to was, ironically, the two films he made directly before Network: Murder on the Orient Express and (half of) Dog Day Afternoon (I've always meant to watch the other half). All I can say now, is that whatever else "typical" Lumet is... it's a damn good thing.

Network is more than just a blistering satire on the television industry. It's an indictment of modern life and ideals, and not only is it still relevant, I would argue it's increasingly relevant... This is 1976 and yet, whilst pitching an idea for a show (there's a reason they're called pitches... some of these are as black as) it could just as easily have been reality tv 2004... or 5... or 6... or foreseeable future.

Veteran news anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) has been fired. With two weeks to go, he makes the announcement, live on air, that everyone should tune in next Tuesday to watch him commit suicide. The network is thrown into predictable disarray by this announcement and this is only heightened when Beale goes back on air, ostensibly to bow out gracefully, and starts ranting... Of course, ratings shoot up... and suddenly Beale is at the centre of a media frenzy orchestrated by steely Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway). The only question is, how long can it last?

Swirled into the vortex that is network politics are Max Shumacher and Frank Hackett. Max (William Holden) is Beale's producer, but more importantly, his best friend, accomplice to many a drunken story-telling ramble and fully understanding the draw and drama of a life in television. He's determined to protect Howard from his burgeoning insanity, but finds himself steamrollered not only by Diana's fierce business ambition (and that of her viscious boss, Hackett, played with visceral relentlessness by Robert Duvall) but also by her ice-queen seductiveness. Dunaway is a force to be reckoned with here... within the first ten minutes of her first entrance she has soundly commandeeered the camera, it loves her and she works it. The scenes between Holden and Dunaway could easily have been nightmarishly heavy handed and ugly... but instead there is something in the delicacy with which both the craggy, wry Holden and the lupine-featured, wiry Dunaway approach each other which makes the tension palpable. The lengthy seduction between them, from Dunaway's lips at Holden's fingertips (always a good place to put lips, by the way) to her climactic assault on him is the crux of just how driven this woman is by her demonic work; not for one single moment, even as Max pins his lips to hers, does she stop talking about ratings, programming and money.

And it's all about the talking, after all... Paddy Chayefsky's script is a work of acerbic wordsmith genius, riddled with painfully precise rants, sharp asides, and profoundly disturbing and human conversation. The introduction between Diana and Lorraine Hobbs, a young black woman drafted in as the contact to a terrorist organisation, is probably the best introduction I've ever seen in a film. Beale's speeches, culminating in a blistering, pulsating rant against the very industry that has driven him crazy with his love for it, are exquisite... not the ravings of a lunatic, but the articulated pain and rage of an angry man. His exhortations (eventually turning into a catchphrase) to get mad, and refuse to take it anymore, are almost heartbreakingly human, and Finch's wide-eyed, violent, incredulous performance is a wonder to behold. In fact there isn't a performance in this film that isn't staggeringly executed, with characters that could, with their endless speeches, be soundbite-heavy but instead seem like a whole Greek Chorus of Cassandras (even Sybil the questionable Soothsayer). Moments that could be heavy-handed (Holden's weary speech to Dunaway about their relationship) are handled with such expert grace as to render them classic, rather than clunky.

And then there's Lumet's direction. Bold, simple, beautiful. Beale has two profoundly life-changing moments in the course of his insanity; both of these are heralded by casting him half into shadow... this trademark move is skilfully blended with slick and intimate, but unobtrusive shots. There are often key shots framed from behind people - at pivotal moments Beale is shown thrown into the sharp relief that the stage lights offer, a Quixote-esque stumbling figure but this time seeing the bitter truth behind the fantasy rather than vice versa. And then there is a collection of startling imagery that encompasses the denouement. The final staggering moments, predicted and yet still harshly sending a sliver of razor-edged ice down the spine, have to be seen to be fully appreciated. To describe them (or attempt to) would be both to spoil and to fall short.

It seems redundant to say much more, other than the obvious: see it. See it now.

I obtained Network on DVD for £6 in an MGM special offer on play.com, so that might be a place to start. The R2 DVD bears merely the original theatrical trailer as an extra (it's essentially a vanilla release) and the usual soundtrack and subtitle options.

www.mgmuk.com is worth consulting for current and future releases.

Alex
xxx

*sigh*... I have to review something terrible soon... it's been ages since I got to do a real hatchet job...

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Comments on this review

  • eve6kicksass published 27/11/2004
    A brilliant review for a now-classic movie. That famous line, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore," is truly unforgettable. What I think is the best thing about this film is that since its release it has become less and less like fantasy and more reality. Chris xxx
  • melodysparks published 12/09/2004
    Great review
  • silver40 published 06/09/2004
    I think I have seen this film some time ago. I might have to see it again after reading your wonderful review. Dave x
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Product Information : Network (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

With stunning prescience, Sidney Lumet's searing satire of television and the contemporary moment chronicles the media's imminent corruption and the public's wholesale purchase into the myths that it creates. With a verbose and visceral script from Paddy Chayefsky, NETWORK follows the doomed path of aging newsman Howard Beale (Peter Finch), who upon learning that he is to be fired after decades as a news anchor announces to millions of viewers that he will publicly commit suicide during his last broadcast. When the ratings consequently shoot up, razor-sharp executive in training Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) seizes the moment to exploit Beale's messianic nervous breakdown, turning his delusional exclamatory rage into the vehicle for the network's first number one show and a nationwide craze. Middle-aged and fading news department head Max Schumacher (William Holden) is the only thing that stands in Diana's way--and even then not for long after she casually seduces him and easily has him fired with the help of the savage new head of the network, Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall). The moral and spiritual turpitude delivered by the debilitating forces of television are rendered in sharp relief against a backdrop of crumbling humanity in what is regarded as one of the great satires in Hollywood history.

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