I have been writing essays for the past month so I haven’t really had the time to write reviews or go to the cinema. While this may sound like I am making excuses for lack of regular uploads, which is something that I have never done (both excuses and regular content), this is important as it tells you that instead of watching new releases I have gone back to the classics that I could find either in my University Library or on Netflix. One such gem is the 1976 satirical comedy classic Network (Sidney Lumet).
Centred around the fictional Union Broadcasting Systems and some of those who work there; namely one Howard Beale (Peter Finch), a news anchor who being let go announces that he will commit suicide on his last show, and Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) the head of the network’s programming department who abuses Beale’s instability as a means to up the station’s lacklustre ratings.
While it bills itself as a comedy, due to the day and age in which I am writing this review it comes off more like a dark horror, something akin to Black Mirror or the Twilight Zone (though this is not surprising as Charlie Brooker has made reference to Network on countless occasions in his many, many shows). The film is frighteningly prophetic, predicting the sensationalist rolling news, the commodification of ideology, voyeuristic society, on air death and Glen Beck. This can be seen by the fact that when Night Crawler with Jake Gyllenhaal was released everyone made references to Network as its progenitor.
What carries the film are the performances. Peter Finch just knocks it out of the park as Howard Beale a man unhinged from reality. Faye Dunaway similarly offers a terrifying coldness that only just about covers a longing desperation for human connection that she can never act upon. The cast is rounded out perfectly by Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty who, though only on screen for a single scene, provides the single best speech of the entire film.
While the speeches can feel a bit out of place, these top notch actors just imbue each word with a gravitas so powerful you cannot look away. Similarly, the breaks in plot to condemn television, while some would argue that they a disconnected with the rest of the film, add to the increasing level of unreality surrounding a television show that exploits and markets the literal ravings of a madman; specifically the conclusion to Diana’s relationship with Max Schumacher (played to dry perfection by William Holden). Max describes the break up in terms of television scripts, something that bites and tickles the funny bone at the same time, especially for someone living and growing up in the digital age.
There are other great comedy moments; a stand out for me is the round table contract meeting at a known radical terrorist group’s house. Members debating budget assignments and the finer points of sub clauses with far left rhetoric and gun fire to attract attention, is remarkably hilarious. Despite this acidic humour, the chilling ending acts as a sort of cliff hanger, the narrator saying Howard Beale was the first man to be assassinated for poor ratings, suggesting that there will be more. Reality has provided, unfortunately.