Thursday, March 11, 2010

Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)

Network is a good movie that goes down easy, more palatable than Lumet’s other prominent mid-seventies news media discourse, Dog Day Afternoon. Both are about sensationalism, how a troubled man with violent tendencies can become a crude populist attraction devoured by television and radio networks. But Sonny is a more convincing human being than Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch in his final performance as a raving lunatic news anchor, and Network’s over-the-top hyper-real satire, running amok with ratings-hungry executives and self-centered shareholders and all the now-typical clichés, pales in comparison to Dog Day Afternoon's restrained and focused character study. Network is problematically connected to the real world, beginning with the presence of actual television networks and continuing into the running commentary on ‘our times,’ bolstered both by the network's attempted negotiations with a leftist terrorist organization for a hit series and by Beale’s running commentary on politics and the economy. While Dog Day Afternoon humanizes what the media would objectify, Network achieves no such potency, and the result is a fun film weighted down by a self-important script. It seems to be at once bombastic satire and serious, real-world drama, and this inconsistency is to its detriment. Watching a scene of shrill, painful marital breakdown devolve into more of the same old satirical meta-awareness made me feel unforgivably toyed with, and character drama doubling as blunt, shallow exclamations about the coldness of networks and corporations continues throughout William Holden’s and Faye Dunaway’s side plot, though Holden’s Max Schumacher is sorely needed as a voice of sanity. There’s a reason Network was nominated for ten Oscars, and Billy Wilder’s similarly prophetic and far more ahead of its time film about the media’s marginalization of human beings for the sake of profits, Ace in the Hole, was nominated for but one. One might chalk this up to the wide gap between conservative fifties audiences and jaded seventies audiences, but the fact remains that this is a pop satire and very surface-level commentary that ultimately leaves the viewer without any powerful reaction, though perhaps with the illusion of one. But it’s fun, the cast is great, the New York feel impeccable, and it sure goes out with a bang.

No comments:

Post a Comment