Network (1976)

“Good evening. Today is Wednesday, September the 24th, and this is my last broadcast. Yesterday I announced on this program that I was going to commit public suicide, admittedly an act of madness. Well, I’ll tell you what happened: I just ran out of bullshit. Am I still on the air? I really don’t know any other way to say it other than I just ran out of bullshit. Bullshit is all the reasons we give for living. And if we can’t think up any reasons of our own, we always have the God bullshit. We don’t know why we’re going through all this pointless pain, humiliation, decays, so there better be someone somewhere who does know. That’s the God bullshit. And then, there’s the noble man bullshit; that man is a noble creature that can order his own world; who needs God? Well, if there’s anybody out there that can look around this demented slaughterhouse of a world we live in and tell me that man is a noble creature, believe me: That man is full of bullshit. I don’t have anything going for me. I haven’t got any kids. And I was married for thirty-three years of shrill, shrieking fraud. So I don’t have any bullshit left. I just ran out of it, you see.”

‘Network’, directed by Sidney Lumet in 1976, is an American satire set in the world of television network news. A veteran newsreader, Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, is sacked due to collapsing ratings. In his last week he first decides to threaten suicide on air and then decides to ‘tell it like it is’. His outrageous, slightly unhinged public reaction to his sacking ironically causes the ratings to soar which results in his bosses giving him more air time. Whilst his breakdown continues, his friend and producer has an affair with a younger executive who is obsessed with bringing a counter-cultural edge to the station. It’s a film that slowly builds the fantastical satire, so that by the time the brutal climax occurs you are still buying into it. It combines the social and political abstraction of Buñuel with the workplace realism of films such as ‘All the President’s Men’, and somehow creates an atmosphere in which the two modes aren’t competing against one another. The performances are on the edge but mesmerising, all the characters seem on the cusp of a coronary (indeed Peter Finch suffered a fatal one promoting the film). In this way, Lumet perfectly recreates the high tension, suited, sweaty world of television production in the 1970s. The legacy of ‘Network’ has been broad – there are clear influences on the scripts of Aaron Sorkin (in both ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’ and ‘The Newsroom’), and it is not hard to see where Adam McKay got his material when he directed ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’. In the end, ‘Network’ is an important film and, like ‘All the President’s Men’ before it, exposes many preoccupations and anxieties in 1970s America.

Would I recommend it? Yes – watch with ‘All the President’s Men’ for a 1970s overload, or maybe ‘Tesis’ for another depiction of what happens when television goes mad.

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