A TV network cynically exploits a deranged ex-TV anchor’s ravings and revelations about the media for their own profit.
“I’m mad as hell nd I’m not gonna take it”
While it’s quite possible that your more familiar with the words than the plot of the actual film, this 1976 film has long been regarded as a cult classic. A roster of fine actors contribute their talents to this somewhat slow moving but engulfing runaway ditty. Faye Dunaway, was in her prime looking hot and sassy in the role of Diana Christensen, though it is actor Peter Finch who takes the primary focus role here as the soon to be returning Howard Beale.
Howard has a drinking problem and is reaching a point in his life where he has had enough. His years at the Union Broadcasting System’s UBS Evening News has culminated into a “final 2 weeks on air” due to his declined ratings.
I’ll confess to not actually knowing the inner workings of a TV network, but it’s my guess that this film hit the nail right on the head. In fact, I’m sure that with the level of media hungry audiences in today’s world tuning in, that it’s gotten worse in that regard. News is news, but in the case of “Network“, news gets the back seat to a hit show that started or “became” the news. Beale plays an unlikely modern-day prophet who instead of religious speak says things how he sees them. This vision is no miracle, it’s just the voice of one outspoken society member speaking his heart and soul to those who would listen. As we find….many share this need and tune into to hear much of what they have been quietly feeling in their own consciousness. Howard Beale decides that he won’t go out quietly and does just that ….calling life “bullshit” and ranting on about the depression, the oil crisis and the rate of inflation. It’s a voice that hits a common cord within viewers. One that instantly makes Beale a smash talent to watch.
It was a sensitive time where libertarian groups were making the news and Hearst was still in the spotlight. It was a time when change was inevitable and much needed for the country. Things were about to get racier and voices were about to speak up. Beale beat them to the punch by shooting from the hip and not letting the reigns of the corporation drill him down.
The film “Network” is a movie that is brilliantly scripted using the nature of each character to constantly flip flop its direction.
Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) who is now head of the network programming, recognizes this potential, the polarity and the increased ratings that could come from a show that features there new hidden talent. Christensen is also product of her own making, who rolls thru life with a cold plastic programmed sate of being falling to ever fully connect with human beings on a truly emotional level. She does enter into a relationship that “should” work but fails as a result.
As “Network” evolves we experience transformation not only with the talent but with the heads that call the shots. An idea that at first seemed ludicrous, becomes the network’s saving grace with a instant climb in ratings and a smattering of new shows. The “Howard Beale Show” is born with Howard set free to preach about how the individual is being diminished and how corporation are taking over. It’s a modern sermon of sorts that rings cord with its TV audience using a root of propaganda to entertain viewers. Howard is accompanied by a range of new shows and a few TV characters who support him. One new show features the talents of the Ecumenical Liberation Army in a TV docudrama named the “Mao-Tse Tung Hour”. While Howard takes the focal point, there is a sublevel of dark comedy that even shows transformation in the leaders of the Ecumenical Liberation Army (now are subjected to talks of “distribution charges” and subsidiary rights).
As mentioned before, you can expect alot of flip-flopping and power struggles that take place. One day, a “savior”, the next….. public enemy number 1.
“Network” features the talents of William Holden, Peter Finch ,Sidney Lumet, Robert Duvall, Wesley Addy,and Ned Beatty as the corporate leader Mr. Jensen. The script embellishes each of these individuals into discussions that speak of banality, corporateb change, positioning, cash flow, scheduling and programing. Often, power is shifted into the next, exchanging hands as we watch their ratings shift and opinions change. While Beale is clearly their poster boy, it is after a requested meeting with Mr. Jensen that Beale’s rants begin to change for the worse. After potentially costing the network billions in a rant about canceling the CCA deal and telegraphing congress, Beale is seeded with a new line of thinking per Mr. Jensen that causes his rating to rapidly decline. As it appears, Mr. Jensen has a permanent new interest in seeing Beale stay on air (despite hsi ratings).
It is the ultimate irony that this film ends on, as the corporate heads plot out Beale’s assassination in order to get him off before declined ratings take their toll. The film follows in the same path that we would see films like “Easy Rider” and “Vanishing Point” end on (hat inevitable note of self destruction or the extinguishing of a purpose that must be snuffed out). The 70′s produced an impressive round of message-driven films. “Network” is a cult classic that spoke to viewers in a most profound way.