Network (1976)

Network is a film about the television industry and it seems to have predicted the future so well. In a New York Times piece on the film’s 35th Anniversary and the notes and papers that were donated to the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts. Aaron Sorkin wrote in an e-mail that “no predictor of the future — not even Orwell — has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote ‘Network.’ ” Sorkin went further and said “If you put it in your DVD player today you’ll feel like it was written last week,” Mr. Sorkin added “The commoditization of the news and the devaluing of truth are just a part of our way of life now. You wish Chayefsky could come back to life long enough to write ‘The Internet.’ ” As usual spoilers to follow.

This film is about a Television network UBS and a longtime anchor, Howard Beale, who is about to be fired. After Howard learns out him being dumped by the network the next broadcast he says that next Tuesday he will commit suicide live. The network isn’t thrilled by this and they ask for Howard to be sacked but Howard’s long time friend Max Schumacher ask the executives to give Howard a nice dignified exit and a chance to apologize. So when Howard gets back in front of the camera, he starts ranting about how life is bullshit. The higher up agree to exploit this and let Howard continue to rant about whatever this leads to the iconic scene where Howard calls upon the nation to all get up and open their windows and shout out “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” When Howard’s ratings plateau the head of the programming department approaches Max about developing Howard’s show into an entertainment show, Max doesn’t like this and gets fired by the UBS executives. This leads the newly named Howard Beale show into becoming the biggest hit on television. Howard’s rants seem like they could have come from anyone today.

Is it a problem when a movie from almost 40 years ago still seems fresh, especially when it’s talking about television, which we tend to think as an evolving media. Was the news any better in the age of Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor? I haven’t a clue but the satirical nature of the film looks like the norm of television news today, where people tell you how you are supposed to feel and “real news” doesn’t really exist anymore.

Network has the special distinction as being the latest film win for Best Actor, Actress and Supporting Actress this is the farthest any film has come to winning all four acting awards and Network shares this feat with A Streetcar Named Desire. Peter Finch who won for Best Actor became the first individual to win posthumously. If you haven’t seen this film and are a fan of watching news this is a match made in heaven, it is also one of the film on the National Film Registry and was on the American Film Institute’s top 100 film when the lists came out in 98 and 2007.

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