Hey, a Monday Movie Post that's not just another Reagan movie! How about that.
Today's movie is Network, from 1976, directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Paddy Chayefsky. I hadn't seen it for years, but I've been meaning to rewatch ever since the Glenn Beck fad a couple of years ago, and I finally got around to it.
Eh. As a movie, my sense is that it doesn't really hold up well. It's a weird mixture of two genres -- the paranoid thriller of the early and mid 1970s, and the TV news in decline drama that we've been living with, probably, since the 1940s. Or maybe this is when the TV news in decline drama began; I guess I'm not really aware of one preceding it off the top of my head, but I suspect they were around earlier. Anyway, I guess in 1976 people found the satire of "TV news is really just another form of entertainment" to be a big deal, but from our perspective it seems to me that they were missing the point.
The famous parts of the movie, especially the "Mad as Hell" rant, are justly famous, and work more or less as well now as they probably did then. But as a whole I found it a bit of a mess...some of it is clearly over-the-top satire, some of it is clearly not, and the two don't mesh well. At least as far as I could tell all the personal stuff with William Holden's character -- his marriage, his affair with Faye Dunaway -- didn't appear to me to be over-the-top satire.
As far as the politics of it: the core of the politics is the same sinister, amoral, corporate omnipotence and the hopelessness of ordinary people to defy it that shows up in quite a few movies of the era. Politics is hopelessly outdated in the face of it, with nation-states themselves outmoded; the only question for individuals in these movies is whether they'll go along or not, and it rarely goes well for those who don't. See, for example, The Parallax View -- or, for more fun, Rollerball. Among others.
So what I want to know: why was that particular vision so popular in the early and mid 1970s -- and what killed it off? It may have to do with changes in the movies rather than changes in politics, I suppose, and perhaps I 'm just not aware of later examples, but I can't think of any.
The other bit of interest here is TV, and especially Howard Beale, the mad prophet. He's not nearly as slick as Glenn Beck; Beale is a boring old news anchor who suddenly goes nuts (or whatever), unlike Beck's background in entertainment radio and obvious show biz training. And yet certainly they share quite a bit.
I guess what it comes down to is that I only have a very mild recommendation for it. It's fine; if you like movies from that era it's surely not in the top tier, but it's okay. It's not among my favorite Faye Dunaway performances, although I can always watch her; Robert Duvall is just about wasted, and I thought Holden didn't really do what he needed to. But Peter Finch is truly wonderful.