A Comment About “The Network”
August 5, 2011 § 1 Comment
This week, Beverly and I watched “The Network”, a 1975 movie about television. I had not seen it since its opening in 1975. When it opened, it was seen as Hollywood’s satirical savaging of television, which it perceived as a serious rival for the attention of the entertainment-seeking public. It received four Academy Awards: one each for Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and William Holden for acting roles, and one for Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay.
I mention it in this blog because, when I watched it again, after thirty-five years, I was struck by the fact that it hardly seemed satirical. Its portrayal of television news as focused on ratings and ad revenue rather than on any effort to present serious commentary on news events seems almost documentary in today’s environment. Its depiction of an unhinged news anchor ranting on camera hardly seems satirical in this age of Glen Beck and his former colleagues at Fox News.
This, however, is not the reason I recommend it for your review. I do so because Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay includes four or five speeches that I think are classic commentaries on the kind of corporate domination of our culture and our country we have been witnessing during the so-called “debt ceiling” debate. His script includes beautifully written descriptions of how the overpowering influence of corporations leaches all vestiges of empathy, passion and decency from the creative efforts of human beings. There is one scene featuring Ned Beatty, in the role of a corporate mogul who is a dead ringer for Rupert Murdoch, which is alone worth watching the movie.
I am not referring to the ranting of the main character, played by Peter Finch. We all recall his cry of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” That is an interesting part of the plot. No, I recommend that if you haven’t seen this movie recently, you give it another look because of some of the other wonderful commentary that surprised me by its current pertinence.
I love old movies because their appeal was based on the language of their screenplays. When Scott Fitzgerald and Budd Schulberg and Paddy Chayefsky were writing screenplays, they depended on thought-provoking ideas, not car crashes, exploding buildings and automatic weaponry interrupted by soft-porn interludes. I am not a snob and I am on good terms with Rocky, Dirty Harry and Rambo. Still, I wish for more movies like “The Network”.