Wow. I just want to say this again : Wow. This is a great film.
For a nearly 30 year old movie, Network is brilliant. I've been trying to get a hold of it a while. It is scary how difficult it is to find anything from before the age of DVDs these days, so I was shocked when, just by a fluke, someone pointed out to me that it was on television tonight and starting in 1 minute. God bless the CBC and public television, because as Network points out, corporate profit is ruining television and has a vested interest in not showing this film.
Scarily, 30 years later, Network is unbelievably prescient. The plot is tight, amazingly written and the reflection between the characters and the representation of the global issues involved is near perfect. Really, this is a fantastic film. I'm really impressed.
The story starts with Howard Beale, a 15 year veteran news anchor whose ratings are dropping is fired by his network which has recently been taken over by media conglomerate CCA. Beale loses it and starts screaming like a madman on TV, claiming he will kill himself on TV in a week's time to allow the network's PR hacks get the best ratings out of the spectacle. He has, of course, started slipping into insanity as the job is the last thing he has left in a broken life, but at the same time managing to get an enormous ratings boost as people tune in to hear his final unbelievable rant after he goes back online one last time to redress his threat to kill himself the day before.
CCA wants news to become a profit centre, so puts network Programming (ie. Entertainment in charge of the news division). The light bulb idea of the programming director is to let Beale stay on TV and refit his news program to be more entertainment oriented with him as the ringleader and "mad prophet of the airwaves." Entertainment as news (I'm assuming I do not need to make the inevitable connection between this and Fox News). The ratings are all that matter.
Beale's speeches are inspired. Completely applicable to where we find ourselves today even though I assume they were meant to be satirical at the time. The inside joke is that they are actually the angry countercurrent that could get people to rise up against the faceless corporate forces which are using them in the film. The medium does contain the seeds of its own destruction.
I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the streets, and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be! We all know things are bad -- worse than bad -- they're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we're living is getting smaller, and all we say is "Please, at least leave us alone in our own living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone." Well I'm not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest; I don't want you to riot; I don't want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first, you've got to get mad. You've gotta say, "I'm a human being! My life has value!" So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!!"
The programming head on a high wants to capture the political anger she sees going on and package it into entertainment. She even manages to turn the Communist party of America into spinning a network television show on the promise of it providing a 30 million viewer platform for its political content. Even high minded politics becomes subverted.
Beale eventually gets too close in one of his screeds and nixes a deal that would have bought out the network and injected much needed money back into it. He is called before the President of the corporation who gives him the word from the mountain and tells him to preach the word of money and the multinational. He's ruined after that.
His ratings fall, but the President does not want him off. Eventually, the network execs, unable to have him removed and facing falling ratings and the prospect of terrible losses conspire to kill him with the season opener of the terrorist weekly that the programming head created with the Communist party.
The relationship between Max Schumacher the fired news head who tries to protect Beale seeing that he has gone insane and the entertainment head is also an incredible parable for the relationship between humanism and the alternative world offered to us by TV.
A must see not just for the amazing writing and storyline, but for its resonance even 30 years later.
playing : All Mixed Up by 311