Here in the Alamo programming office me and Zack Carlson both love movies, but almost never the same movie. Which is why it is noteworthy that, when we programmed NETWORK, Zack and I were equally ecstatic. Since we both had such strong feelings about the greatness of this film it was decided that each of us would give you a little insight into our unadultered admiration for this flawless masterpiece.
There are great films then there are GREAT films. These are movies that change your worldview, vindicate your love of movies and become even better over time. This clichéd, albeit accurate, description is only be true for a handful of films. NETWORK is one of them.
Sidney Lumets scathing satire of American media and corporations remains one of the most original and direct cinematic social statements ever made. When lists are made of the greatest films of all time, NETWORK finds its way in the discussion.
I didn’t come around to finally watching the film until three years ago. I feared that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. Paddy Chayefsky’s script was called the greatest screenplay ever written and the film’s actors won three Oscars. Peter Finch’s speech was an iconic centerpiece I saw on its own over and over again.
After finally watching the film I was amazed that it was better than all the hyperbolic acclaim I’d heard and read. It was an astonishing experience.
NETWORK would never be greenlit by a studio today mainly because of the reasons that make it a shining example of everything that was great about American cinema in the '70s. At its core Lumet and Chayefsky craft a film of brilliant simplicity and grand ideas that has something important to say. Starting with that iconic speech by Finch the film shows its soul right off the bat to the audience, subtlety be damned. From then on the film never looks back. After this it moves along from examining one political arena to another, but its tone shifts so originally from melodrama to black humor to bordering on parody. It’s direct, it’s smart and it doesn’t give a shit what you think.
All of this makes NETWORK a timeless classic that is more relevant in today’s overrun media world than in 1976. But through all the political and social statements the greatest achievement of the film is its ability to make its characters flawed and human. This is where the tremendous acting of Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, William Holden and Beatrice Straight takes center stage.
If these characters were just pawns in Chayefsky and Lumet’s critique then the film would be empty. NETWORK, though, is full of bold ideas and strong emotions only made stronger by the great performances all around.
NETWORK came out over 35 years ago and I don’t know if anybody has made a better movie since it. Really. Do yourself a favor and catch our showings of this American masterpiece at the Ritz on November 25 and 27. You won’t be disappointed. I know from experience.
If you've never seen NETWORK, you may assume it's a musty Oscar drama that your parents watched on their third date. That just ain't the case.
I can honestly agree with RJ that there's no studio release of the '70s (or since) that's as relentlessly honest, powerful, intellectually two-fisted and just-plain-goddamn GOOD as NETWORK.
It's a movie that rabidly rages out of the gate and never stops to question its own rampage. Nothing is played safe. Nothing is dumbed down. It certainly has a message but it doesn't carry an agenda. It beats the world over the head, but never the viewer.
Everyone on screen is torn apart and shown to be as weak, flawed, conflicted and fascinating as any actual human you'd ever meet. There are many characters -- from heartless corporate millionaires to armed black revolutionaries -- but never any stereotypes.
The screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky is always scathing, often hilarious and sometimes feels like he typed it wearing boxing gloves while his house was on fire. It's powered by REAL anger and REAL sympathy for the plight of our idiot species, though he never lets us play the victims. He just lays out the facts: We dig our own graves a little deeper every day, and eventually we fall in them. Chayefsky nabbed the Oscar for his script, but if that hadn't happened, you'd only imagine that his fearless attack on culture, media and society would have had him run out of Hollywood.
As RJ said, the real miracle of NETWORK is that it's somehow more relevant now than when it was made almost 40 years ago. We've only become more complacent, more trusting that there are "people in charge" who know what they're doing. NETWORK is a very necessary slap in the face/kick in the groin/bullet to the skull that reminds us not only of the sheer power and possibilities of movies, but of what we as humans can (and should) be capable of. Every scene is a glorious assault, making the entire film a battle cry to us to get off our prodigious asses and live as fiercely and honestly as possible.
If you're up for that, we'll see you at the Ritz. If not, keep diggin' that grave.