Angry prophets denouncing the hypocracy of our time

February 23, 2007

I just watched NETWORK, a terrific film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet. In it, a washed up anchor man, Howard Beale(Peter Finch) finds new sky-rocketing ratings after he threatens to commit suicide on the air. He becomes increasingly honest, or mad, no one is quite sure. The writing is superb, one terrific scene after another. My favorite has to be Ned Beatty’s demonic scolding of Beale:

JENSEN:

You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations! There are no peoples! There are no Russians. There are no Arabs! There are no third worlds! There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars! petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars! Reichmarks, rubles, rin, pounds and shekels! It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet!
[…]
You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen, and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and A T & T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state — Karl Marx?
[…]
We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably deter-mined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale! It has been since man crawled out of the slime, and our children, Mr. Beale, will live to see that perfect world in which there is no war and famine, oppression and brutality -one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you to preach this evangel, Mr. Beale.

HOWARD
(humble whisper)
Why me?

JENSEN
Because you’re on television, dummy. Sixty million people watch you every night of the week, Monday through Friday.

If none of this is sounding familiar, this is the film where Beale encourages the world to go to the window and yell at the top of their lungs “I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANY MORE!” and they do.
The film is interesting musically because there really isn’t any. We only hear 1970s style TV news intro type music scattered throughout the film, and there are closing credits, but otherwise there is no underscore at all. The dialog is so powerful that it really didn’t need any emotional amplification.

Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall deliver searing roles. Watch NETWORK. Even though it is a thirty year old film, everything it touches on is current and will likely always be.

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