Network (1976 film)

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Network
Networkmovie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Produced by Howard Gottfried
Fred C. Caruso
Written by Paddy Chayefsky
Starring Faye Dunaway
William Holden
Peter Finch
Robert Duvall
Narrated by Lee Richardson
Music by Elliot Lawrence
Cinematography Owen Roizman
Edited by Alan Heim
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
(USA & Canada)
United Artists
(International)
Release date
  • November 27, 1976 (1976-11-27)
Running time
121 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.8 million
Box office $23.7 million[2]

Network is a 1976 American satirical film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, about a fictional television network, UBS, and its struggle with poor ratings. The film stars Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, and Robert Duvall and features Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty, and Beatrice Straight.

The film won four Academy Awards, in the categories of Best Actor (Finch), Best Actress (Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress (Straight), and Best Original Screenplay (Chayefsky).

In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2002, it was inducted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame as a film that has "set an enduring standard for American entertainment".[3] In 2005, the two Writers Guilds of America voted Chayefsky's script one of the 10 greatest screenplays in the history of cinema.[4] In 2007, the film was 64th among the 100 greatest American films as chosen by the American Film Institute, a ranking slightly higher than the one AFI had given it ten years earlier.

Plot[edit]

Howard Beale, the longtime anchor of the Union Broadcasting System's UBS Evening News, learns from friend and news division president Max Schumacher that he has just two more weeks on the air because of declining ratings. The two get drunk and lament the state of their industry. The following night, Beale announces on live television that he will commit suicide on next Tuesday's broadcast. UBS fires him after this incident, but Schumacher intervenes so that Beale can have a dignified farewell. Beale promises he will apologize for his outburst, but once on the air, he launches back into a rant claiming that life is "bullshit." Beale's outburst causes the newscast's ratings to spike, and much to Schumacher's dismay, the upper echelons of UBS decide to exploit Beale's antics rather than pull him off the air. When Beale's ratings seem to have topped out, Diana Christensen, who heads the network's programming department, approaches Schumacher and offers to help him "develop" the news show. He says no to the professional offer, but she also makes a personal offer and the two begin an affair.

Christensen, seeking just one hit show, cuts a deal with a band of radical terrorists for a new docudrama series called The Mao Tse-Tung Hour for the upcoming fall season. When Schumacher decides to end Beale's "angry man" format, Christensen convinces her boss, Frank Hackett, to slot the evening news show under the entertainment programming division so she can develop it. Hackett agrees, bullying the UBS executives to consent and fire Schumacher. In one impassioned diatribe, Beale galvanizes the nation, persuading his viewers to shout out of their windows "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Soon afterward, Beale is hosting a new program called The Howard Beale Show, top-billed as "the mad prophet of the airwaves". Ultimately, the show becomes the most highly rated program on television, and Beale finds new celebrity preaching his angry message in front of a live studio audience that, on cue, chants Beale's signature catchphrase en masse: "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to take this anymore." At first, Max and Diana's romance withers as the show flourishes, but in the flush of high ratings, the two ultimately find their way back together, and Schumacher leaves his wife of over 25 years for Christensen.

When Beale discovers that Communications Corporation of America (CCA), the conglomerate that owns UBS, will be bought out by an even larger Saudi Arabian conglomerate, he launches an on-screen tirade against the deal, encouraging viewers to send telegrams to the White House telling them, "I want the CCA deal stopped now!" This throws the top network brass into a state of panic because the company's debt load has made the merger essential for its survival. Hackett takes Beale to meet with CCA chairman Arthur Jensen, who explicates his own "corporate cosmology" to Beale, describing the interrelatedness of the participants in the international economy and the illusory nature of nationality distinctions. Christensen's fanatical devotion to her job and emotional emptiness ultimately drive Max back to try returning to his wife, even though he doesn't think she'll agree, and he warns his former lover that she will self-destruct at the pace she is running with her career. "You are television incarnate, Diana," he tells her, "indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality." Jensen persuades Beale to abandon the populist messages and preach his new "evangel". However, television audiences find his new sermons on the dehumanization of society depressing, and ratings begin to slide, yet Jensen will not allow UBS executives to fire Beale. Seeing its two-for-the-price-of-one value—solving the Beale problem plus sparking a boost in season-opener ratings—Christensen, Hackett, and the other executives decide to hire the Ecumenical Liberation Army to assassinate Beale on the air. The assassination succeeds, putting an end to The Howard Beale Show and kicking off a second season of The Mao Tse-Tung Hour.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Part of the inspiration for Chayefsky's script allegedly came from the on-air suicide of television news reporter Christine Chubbuck in Sarasota, Florida two years earlier.[5] The anchorwoman was suffering from depression and battles with her editors, and unable to keep going, she shot herself on camera as stunned viewers watched on July 15, 1974. Chayefsky used the incident to set up his film's focal point. As he would say later in an interview, "Television will do anything for a rating... anything!" However, Dave Itzkoff's book Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies disputes this, asserting that Chayefsky actually began writing Network months before Chubbuck's death and already planned for Howard Beale to vow to kill himself on air; Chubbuck's suicide was an eerie parallel.[6] Sidney Lumet also confirmed that the character of Howard Beale was never based on any real life person.[7]

According to Dave Itzkoff, what Cheyefsky saw while writing the screenplay during the midst of Watergate and the Vietnam war was all the anger of America being broadcast in everything from sitcoms to news reports. He concluded that American's “don’t want jolly, happy family type shows like Eye Witness News”... “the American people are angry and want angry shows.”[8] When he began writing his script he had intended on a comedy, but instead poured his frustration at the broadcasts being shown on television, which he described as “an indestructible and terrifying giant that is stronger than the government” — into the screenplay. It became a "dark satire about an unstable news anchor and a broadcasting company and a viewing public all too happy to follow him over the brink of sanity."[8]

The character of network executive Diana Christiansen was based on NBC daytime television programming executive Lin Bolen,[9] which Bolen disputed.[10]

Chayefsky and producer Howard Gottfried had just come off a lawsuit against United Artists, challenging the studio's right to lease their previous film, The Hospital, to ABC in a package with a less successful film. Despite this recent lawsuit, Chayefsky and Gottfried signed a deal with UA to finance Network, until UA found the subject matter too controversial and backed out.

Undeterred, Chayefsky and Gottfried shopped the script around to other studios, and eventually found an interested party in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Soon afterward, United Artists reversed itself and looked to co-finance the film with MGM, since the latter had an ongoing distribution arrangement with UA in North America. Since MGM agreed to let UA back on board, the former (through United Artists as per the arrangement) controlled North American/Caribbean rights, with UA themselves opting for overseas distribution.

Casting[edit]

In his notes, Chayefsky jotted down his ideas about casting. For Howard Beale, who would be eventually played by Peter Finch, he envisioned Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, James Stewart and Paul Newman. He went so far as to write Newman, telling him that "You and a very small handful of other actors are the only ones I can think of with the range for this part." Lumet wanted Fonda, with whom he had worked several times, but Fonda declined the role, finding it too "hysterical" for his taste. Stewart also found the script unsuitable, objecting to the strong language. Early consideration was given to real-life newscasters Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor, but neither was open to the idea. Although not mentioned in Chayefsky's notes, George C. Scott, Glenn Ford and William Holden (who eventually played Max Schumacher) reportedly also turned down the opportunity to play Beale. For that role, Chayefsky had listed Walter Matthau and Gene Hackman. Ford was under consideration for this part as well, and was said to be one of two final contenders. Holden finally got the edge because of his recent box-office success with The Towering Inferno.[11]

The movie's producers were wary that Finch, born in England and raised partly in Australia, would be able to sound like an authentic American; they demanded an audition before his casting could be considered. Finch, an actor of considerable prominence, reportedly responded, "Bugger pride. Put the script in the mail." Immediately realizing that the role was a plum, he even agreed to pay his own fare to New York for a screen test. He prepared for the audition by listening to hours of broadcasts by American newscasters, and by weeks of reading the international editions of The New York Times and the Herald Tribune into a tape recording, then listening to playbacks with a critical ear. Gottfried recalled that Finch "was nervous as hell at that first meeting over lunch and just like a kid auditioning. Once we'd heard him, Sidney Lumet, Paddy and I were ecstatic because we knew it was a hell of a part to cast." Finch cinched the deal with Lumet by playing him the tapes of his newspaper readings.[12]

Faye Dunaway wanted Robert Mitchum to play Max Schumacher, but Lumet refused, believing that Mitchum wasn't sufficiently urban.[13]

For the role of Diane Christensen, Chayefsky thought of Candice Bergen, Ellen Burstyn, and Natalie Wood, while the studio suggested Jane Fonda, with Kay Lenz, Diane Keaton, Marsha Mason and Jill Clayburgh. Lumet wanted to cast Vanessa Redgrave in the film, but Chayefsky didn't want her. Lumet argued that he thought she was the greatest English-speaking actress in the world, while Chayefsky, a proud Jew and supporter of Israel, objected on the basis of her support of the PLO. Lumet, himself a Jew, said "Paddy, that's blacklisting!", to which Chayefsky replied, "Not when a Jew does it to a Gentile."[14]

Dunaway was cast as Diana in September 1975. Lumet told her that he would edit out any attempts on her part to make her character sympathetic and insisted on playing her without any vulnerability.

Lumet cast Robert Duvall as Frank Hackett. Duvall saw Hackett as a "vicious president Ford". [15] On Duvall, Lumet said: "What's fascinating about Duvall is how funny he is."

Ned Beatty was cast as Arthur Jensen on the recommendation of director Robert Altman after the original actor failed to live up to Lumet's standards. Beatty had one night to prepare a four-page speech, and was finished after one day's shooting.

Beatrice Straight played Louise Schumacher, Max's wife, who cheats on her with Diana. Straight had won a Tony Award in 1953 for playing an anguished wife who is similarly cheated upon in Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

Filming[edit]

After two weeks of rehearsals, filming started in Toronto in January 1976.

Lumet recalled that Chayefsky was usually on the set during filming, and sometimes offered advice about how certain scenes should be played. Lumet allowed that his old friend had the better comic instincts of the two, but when it came to the domestic confrontation between Holden and Straight, the four-times-married director had the upper hand: "Paddy, please, I know more about divorce than you!"

Finch, who had suffered from heart problems for many years, became physically and psychologically exhausted by the demands of playing Howard Beale.

There was some concern that the combination of Holden and Dunaway might create conflict on the set, since the two had sparred during an earlier co-starring stint in The Towering Inferno. According to Holden biographer Bob Thomas, Holden had been incensed with Dunaway's behavior during the filming of the disaster epic, especially her habit of leaving him fuming on the set while she attended to her hair, makeup and telephone calls. One day, after a two-hour wait, Holden reportedly grabbed his costar by the shoulders, pushed her against a soundstage wall and snapped, "You do that to me once more, and I'll push you through that wall!"

Lumet and cinematographer Owen Roizman worked out a complicated lighting scheme that in Lumet's words would "corrupt the camera". Lumet recalled: "we started with an almost naturalistic look. For the first scene between Peter Finch and Bill Holden, on Sixth Avenue at night, we added only enough light to get an exposure. As the movie progresed, camera setups became more rigid, more formal. The lighting became more and more artificial. The next-to-final scene—where Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and the three network gray suits decide to kill Peter Finch—is lit like a commercial. The camera setups are static and framed like still pictures. The camera had also become a victim of television."[16]

Release[edit]

The film premiered in New York City on November 27, 1976, and went into wide release shortly afterward.

Critical reception[edit]

Network opened to acclaim from critics, and became one of the big hits of 1976–77. Vincent Canby, in his November 1976 review of the film for The New York Times, called the film "outrageous ... brilliantly, cruelly funny, a topical American comedy that confirms Paddy Chayefsky's position as a major new American satirist" and a film whose "wickedly distorted views of the way television looks, sounds, and, indeed, is, are the satirist's cardiogram of the hidden heart, not just of television but also of the society that supports it and is, in turn, supported."[17]

In a review of the film written after it received its Academy Awards, Roger Ebert called it a "supremely well-acted, intelligent film that tries for too much, that attacks not only television but also most of the other ills of the 1970s," though "what it does accomplish is done so well, is seen so sharply, is presented so unforgivingly, that Network will outlive a lot of tidier movies."[18] Seen a quarter-century later, Ebert added the film to his Great Movies list and said the film was "like prophecy. When Chayefsky created Howard Beale, could he have imagined Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, and the World Wrestling Federation?"; he credits Lumet and Chayefsky for knowing "just when to pull out all the stops."[19]

Not all reviews were positive: Pauline Kael in The New Yorker, in a review subtitled "Hot Air", criticized the film's abundance of long, preachy speeches; Chayefsky's self-righteous contempt for not only television itself but also television viewers; and the fact that almost everyone in the movie, particularly Robert Duvall, has a screaming rant: "The cast of this messianic farce takes turns yelling at us soulless masses."[20] Michael Billington wrote, "Too much of this film has the hectoring stridency of tabloid headlines",[21] while Chris Petit in Time Out described it as "slick, 'adult', self-congratulatory, and almost entirely hollow", adding that "most of the interest comes in watching such a lavishly mounted vehicle leaving the rails so spectacularly."[22]

Legacy[edit]

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote that "no predictor of the future — not even Orwell — has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote Network."[23] The film ranks at number 100 in Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Films of All Time.[24] On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Network currently holds a 91% "fresh" rating based on 56 reviews.[25]

Stage adaptation[edit]

A stage adaptation by Lee Hall premiered in the Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre in London in November 2017. The play is directed by Ivo Van Hove featuring Bryan Cranston making his UK stage debut as Howard Beale, and Michelle Dockery as Diana.[26][27]

Awards and honors[edit]

Academy Awards[edit]

Network won three of the four acting awards. Only one other film, A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, has won in three acting categories.

Won

Finch died before the 1977 ceremony and was the only performer to win a posthumous Academy Award until Heath Ledger won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2009. The statuette itself was collected by Finch's widow, Eletha Finch.

Straight's performance as Louise Schumacher occupied only five minutes and two seconds of screen time, making it the shortest performance to win an Oscar (as of 2016), breaking Gloria Grahame's nine minutes and 32 seconds screen time record for The Bad and the Beautiful in 1953.[28]

Nominated

Golden Globes[edit]

Won
Nominated

BAFTA Awards[edit]

Won
Nominated

American Film Institute[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

The film's noted line "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore" and its derivatives are referenced in numerous films and other media, including Mad As Hell, a satirical Australian news show starring Shaun Micallef.[29] In Better Call Saul's first episode Uno, Saul Goodman quotes part of Jensen's eviscerating diatribe when he is lambasting the board of his former law firm, then tells his confused audience that his quote came from Network. The same camera angle is employed in both instances.[30]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "NETWORK (AA)". United Artists. British Board of Film Classification. November 1, 1976. Retrieved July 11, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Network, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 23, 2012. 
  3. ^ Archive of Producers Guild Hall of Fame – Past Inductees, Producers Guild of America official site. Accessed October 31, 2010. Original site.
  4. ^ "101 Greatest Screenplays". Writers Guild of America, West. Retrieved November 29, 2015. 
  5. ^ Empire: "Television will eat itself in Sidney Lumet's searing satire", October 1, 2008; via allbusiness.com
  6. ^ Itzkoff, Dave. Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies. Henry Holt and Company, 2014, p. 47.
  7. ^ "Sidney Lumet on directing the film "Network" - EMMYTVLEGENDS.ORG". 
  8. ^ a b Itzkoff, Dave (2011-05-19). "Paddy Chayefsky's Notes for 'Network' - Film". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-03-13. 
  9. ^ Dunaway, Faye; Sharkey, Betsy (1995). Looking for Gatsby: My Life. Simon & Schuster Inc. p. 304. ISBN 0-671-67526-5. 
  10. ^ UPI, via Milwaukee Sentinel and Google News, "Producer Lin Bolen Denies She's 'Network' Character", July 31, 1978.
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ Faulkner, Trader (1979). "Peter Finch: A Biography". Angus & Robertson. ISBN 9780207958311. 
  13. ^ Dunaway, Faye (1995). "Looking for Gatsby". Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-67526-5. 
  14. ^ Lumet, Sidney (1995). "Making Movies". Vintage. ISBN 9780679756606. 
  15. ^ Eastman, John (1989). "Retakes: Behind the Scenes of Classic Movies". Ballantine Books. ISBN 9780345353993. 
  16. ^ Lumet, Sidney (1995). "Making Movies". Vintage. ISBN 9780679756606. 
  17. ^ Review of Network from the November 15, 1976 edition of The New York Times
  18. ^ Review of Network by Roger Ebert from the 1970s
  19. ^ Review of Network by Roger Ebert from October 2000
  20. ^ Kael, Pauline (December 6, 1976). "Hot Air". The New Yorker: 177. 
  21. ^ Halliwell, Leslie (1987). Halliwell's Film Guide, 6th edition. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 729. ISBN 0-684-19051-6. 
  22. ^ Milne, Tom (editor) (1993). Time Out Film Guide, The (3rd Edition). Hammondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin. p. 486. ISBN 0-14-017513-X. 
  23. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (May 19, 2011). "Notes of a Screenwriter, Mad as Hell". The New York Times. Retrieved January 13, 2017. 
  24. ^ "The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Empire. Bauer Media Group. Archived from the original on August 17, 2011. Retrieved August 17, 2011. 
  25. ^ "Network". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved July 11, 2014. 
  26. ^ "New for 2017 and 2018 | National Theatre". www.nationaltheatre.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-03-20. 
  27. ^ Billington, Michael (2017-11-13). "Network review – Bryan Cranston is mad as hell in blazing staging of Oscar winner". The Guardian. 
  28. ^ "Beatrice Straight performance length". Serving Cinema. Retrieved 2016-10-09. 
  29. ^ "Airdate: Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell". TV Tonight. 
  30. ^ Salud, April (February 24, 2015). "'It's From a Movie': A Guide to Better Call Saul". Geek and Sundry. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]