Network (1976)

by | Mar 9, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Network (1976)

Starring: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall
Director: Sidney Lumet
Studio: Warner Home Video 66924 (2 discs)
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: DD mono (although marked stereo), English, French
Subtitles on Feature: English, French, Spanish
Extras: “The Making of Network” – 6-part 30th-Anniversary Documentary; Vintage Interview with Paddy Chayefsky, Commentary by Sidney Lumet; “Private Screenings with Sidney Lumet” – the director is interviewed by TCM’s Robert Osborne; Theatrical trailer
Length: 121 minutes
Rating: ****

Hard for us oldsters to believe that 30 years have now passed since people were repeating the line from this courageous satire: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  The newscaster in the film, played by Peter Finch, is encouraged in his mad rants (after which he often faints) by TV executive Faye Dunaway.  It’s all part of her effort to improve the ratings of the fictitious UBS – the underdog of the major networks.  The concept of TV news as entertainment and ratings-builder was just a wild concept of writer Paddy Chayefsky in l976, but as Turner Classics host Osborne points out in the extras, it was “frighteningly, hilariously prophetic!”  The film was a made-to-order vehicle for the movie industry to take out all of its frustrations on television which had stolen so much of its former audience. (Although by this time most of the movie studios were making plenty of profits filming TV series.)  Reissue of Network at this time in the U.S. seems to be propitious to say the least.

The film skewers not only turning solid news reporting into vapid entertainment but also the corporate takeover of companies and their focus on the bottom line to the exclusion of every human, artistic and logical consideration.  The hiring and firing of people entirely because of ratings, as well as cynical business bottom-lining is satirized most effectively in Ned Beatty’s brief but powerful on-screen bit as the CEO of the big corporation behind the network. He bellows at Howard Beale (Finch’s character) from the opposite end of a Citizen Kane-inspired lengthy conference table, and tries to blast into the cowering newscaster his view of profits being the one and only thing that makes the world work. The affair between the Dunaway character and the “craggy/older” Holden character provides the opportunity for Chayefsky to pit the young woman’s obsession with ratings success against the old-style hard news philosophy of the older executive, as well as his unreturned love for the woman. His speech upon leaving her gets in a long list of great zingers against the worst of television. Holden should have gotten an Oscar, but both Finch and Dunaway did.

Another example of the woman executive’s totally unprincipled grab for ratings is her creation of a weekly series featuring a parody of the Symbionese Liberation Army which kidnapped Patricia Hearst. Each week’s show opens with film footage which the terrorists shot themselves during a bank robbery or other such crime. If any viewer didn’t “get” Network’s point by the final ten minutes or so, the climax ramps things up to unexpected heights, leaving no doubt.

The extras are quite fascinating. Lumet talking about his working with Chayefsky and Walter Cronkite’s reflections on Network are highlights, and the interview with Lumet fills in much in-depth information about the film and actors which makes the viewing of the feature more worthwhile – whether you saw it first 30 years ago or are just discovering it now. The DVD transfer is excellent, with no visible artifacts. I wish the soundtrack had been remixed for 5.1; there were some good surround opportunities, such as when the befuddled Beale is out walking around in the rain, or the reactions of the TV studio audiences.

– John Sunier

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