Network, USA, 1976
Dir: Sidney Lumet
Cast: William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway
"All necessities provided. All anxieties tranquilized. All boredom amused."
Have people forgotten about this movie? Network, directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet, is a classic that remains as timely and relevant today as it was four decades ago. The film was released theatrically during a time when America was recovering from a war overseas, the resignation of President Richard Nixon due to the Watergate scandal, and a nation undergoing a recession that mimics the one the U.S. is currently in.
Written by Paddy Chafeysky, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated and successful screenwriters, he is the only person to win three Academy Awards for his scripts, the last of which was this brilliant satire of television and consumerism. The cast is magnificent, and rare, three different actors won Oscars for their roles, one of only two films in history to do so (the other is A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951). Headlined by William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Duvall, it is a spectacular arrangement of veteran actors at the peaks of their careers.
The film’s plot shrewdly deals with a news program and television station that are rocked after a news anchor (Finch) has a nervous breakdown on live television and begins to preach his rants to audiences watching. Meanwhile, the new head of the network (Duvall) tries to cash in on it, collaborating with a female programming executive (Dunaway) on a show built around his prophecies.
Lumet is at the top of his game in this film. His masterful direction behind the camera can only be described as being sinister silkiness. Released in 1976, the film was beloved by audiences and critics alike. That same year, several other masterpieces were released like All The President's Men, Taxi Driver, Marathon Man, The Omen, and the eventual Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards, Rocky.
Lumet passed away in April of 2011. He left behind a glorious legacy of work both in television and film. His close collaborations with his actors resulted in some of the best performances in cinema history. Who can forget Al Pacino as the controversial cop Frank Serpico in Serpico? Or Sonny from Dog Day Afternoon screaming “Attica, Attica!” Or Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, Paul Newman in The Verdict, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Lumet’s final movie Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. The master was 86 years old when he passed away.
One scene that stands out in particular is one where the chairman of C.C.A., the company that owns the television station known as UBS, Arthur Jensen, explains to the mad prophet Howard Beale (Finch) how the system of the world really works. The scene is exemplary and his words are frighteningly still true nearly 40 years after they were spoken. It is the only scene that Ned Beatty, who portrayed Jensen, appears in the film and it was enough to win him an Oscar nomination for it.
Network excels at being prescient and prophetic, all the while reflecting the scary reality of politically and socially changing times. Network retains that honesty and brutality through words in modern times. It still packs a punch, as they say, and remains a timeless political and social satire. And it will continue to be one of cinema's most significant accomplishments in its history.