Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is an ageing newsreader for UBS. Set to be sacked in a fortnight, after his ratings have gradually declined, he reacts by announcing on air that he’s going to kill himself in one week. In doing this, he becomes a national icon and an asset to the network that was once going to fire him, and the Communications Corporation of America (CCA), the company that is taking control of UBS. In conclusion, Howard Beale is given his own show as the teller of the American truth, appearing each evening to tell the population the truth about their country. However, he uses his platform to expose the CCA, leaving the big cheeses with a serious problem.
Network is not fiction; Network is prophecy. It’s pure genius. It’s the best of films because it tells the truth. However, it’s the worst of films because it’s too deep for mass consumption. It will make you laugh but it will also make you see. Television entertains, desensitises, questions, divides and corrupts. And it happens in both children and adults. Children’s television is like being in a trance and lots of adult television is not much better (a lot of reality shows). And The News has made sheep of whole generations (believing everything they hear). Moreover, Network takes everything wrong with 70s TV and puts into a two hours. And it’s timely, as it’s still the same in the 2010s.
Fortunately for me and others (though they are few), we don’t believe everything we hear or read. And I know now, in this era of Trumpism, the alt-right and alternative facts, that more people are waking up. Despite Network being set in America, this can be applied to the world since we’re now in a more global society (thanks to the internet). And lying to global population on a regular basis is fundamentally wrong and “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”. Human beings have been programmed like robots to not show emotions (especially men) and when emotions are revealed, it’s made a big deal out of. Which is why we have the Howard Beale show in this film.
Sidney Lumet’s Network would make for a fantastic first part of what would be a great triple feature with Michael Radford’s 1984 and John Carpenter’s They Live. All three films show that the human in humanity is basically gone. If we haven’t been programmed by the mass media, we’ve been programmed by the internet. If not by the internet, it’s by the chains of capitalism, corporations or celebrity culture. We’re the humanoids of today driving sad cars to sadder houses, programmed like clones and enslaved from birth to death. Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men) shows this through his wonderful direction, as well as a thought-provoking script, written by Paddy Chayefsky (Marty).
From Fox News and The Daily Mail to The O.J Trial (when reality TV became mainstream) to The Real Housewives of whatever, today we are living Network. Let’s not forget the insane amount of talent shows. Then there’s Love Island, Big Brother (wasn’t always terrible) and dinner date television. Whilst Mugabe was seemingly nominated for a goodwill ambassador role by the WHO, we’re living in a wasteland of mutilated Marxism and Network highlights every goddamn bit of it. Losing to Rocky (annoyingly) in the Best Picture race, Network, even forty years after its debut, it’s timeless. It satirises TV’s hollowness and the numb minds made from excessive consumption of it.
This film is a lot like Netflix’s House of Cards. Most of the time, I can’t tell if I’m watching fiction or reality. The film is society under the microscope, and all its flaws too. It shows humanity’s lust for money and how we will stop at nothing to get it, even if that means putting an ill man on camera just to acquire ratings. Exploiting the weak and those lowest in economic peril, much alike how we blamed immigrants and poor people for the Housing Crisis in 2008. Everything Beale (Peter Finch) says is accurate. Whilst bashing his employers, he sells out but they let him talk because they want ratings and Emmys and they want all the pretty green stuff to come floating from the heavens.
Not one actor or actress is wasted. From Dunaway (Bonnie & Clyde) to DuVall (The Godfather) to Finch himself and the rest of the cast, every performance was fantastic. From the brutal honesty of the themes talked about to the script to the documentary-style cinematography, I loved every minute of it. And Network truly shows that as long as we continue with our ways, history is the last place we will look for our lessons.