Monday, May 30, 2011

NETWORK (1976) - Sidney Lumet


In an age where Glenn Beck, Fox News, Celebrity Rehab, Bridalplasty and the Iraq War are the daily norm, it's inevitable that the satirical bite of Network might seem to have dulled over the years. Honestly, would most modern viewers blink at this point if a show called Gitmo's Greatest Interrogations or Terrorist Pawn Stars popped up in their DVR queue? What was once prescient is now, unfortunately, just plain old current.

The last time I watched this Lumet classic was about ten years ago, before the reality TV virus had really become the epidemic it is today. So, all the craven corporate opportunism stuff spilling out of the mouths of network execs Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway and Ned Beatty probably seemed fresher, if not a little more shocking. This time, it was the quieter, offbeat relationship stuff I gravitated towards more than the bombastic Chayefsky "jeremiads." I dug the war comrade friendship between old news horses Howard Beale and Max Schumacher, the doomed May-December, Type-A/B coupling of Holden and Dunaway, the no-bullshit 25-year marriage between Holden and his wife. Of course, most of these moments are packaged in lengthy, urbane monologues that still feel like Chayefsky preaching an angry sermon on the mount. But, hey, no one does angry and articulate better than Paddy C.

My favorite tirade this time wasn't Beale's famous "I'm mad as hell" speech but Beatrice Straight's non-nonsense "winter passion" monologue to husband Holden who's just told her he's having an affair with Dunaway. She got an Academy Award on the back of that speech alone and deserved every ten-cent word of it. "Emeritus years," "I get the dotage," "penitent drunk"...this is wonderful stuff.

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