Thursday, November 1, 2018
One of my favorite films is considered a masterpiece of 1976. I first watched it as a teenager and even back then I knew this was one to be studied.
This is how all writers should write, at least if they have an ear for comedy and drama.
"Network" was more than just a dramedy, however. It was a satire and a bit of a psychological horror because of the inhumane way it treated its characters, as well as its schizoid-like deconstruction of the human experience.
Howard Beale was the mad prophet, a fun scenery-chewing role to play, by the late Peter Finch, but the real terror of the movie comes from William Holden and Faye Dunaway who inhabited their characters (Max Schumacher and Diana Christensen) with such horrid detachment from all humanity.
Perhaps the deepest thought in Network (a film with so many direct parallels to the culture Modern American has created that it's less a satire and more of a prophecy) is the idea that the news, as well as the dehumanizing approach news producers take to such dark material, makes people insane.
This was certainly the thought emphasized by journalists who directly attributed inspiration of the movie to Christine Chubbuck, who committed suicide on live television a few years prior.
However, in a later interview with Paddy Chayefsky, he stated that Christine did not inspire the idea...in fact, the idea came from the experience of going behind the scenes of a news network and seeing the amorality of what they do to sell stories and get bigger ratings.
That's what inspired Network - the idea that so much dehumanizing language and emotional detachment from life drives one mad.
The movie is all the more appealing nowadays because of the "fake news" war going on between the Right and the Left.
What immediately drew me to it as a young man, was that screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky received just as much attention - if not more - as director Sydney Lumet for writing the satirical script. That was huge for the 1970s and even quite the milestone today, where it seems only writer-directors get any credit as visionaries.
And just to end this on a demoralizing note, you know what movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1976?
That's right, you can write something so brilliant only to someday be outvoted by Sylvester Stallone's biceps.
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