Sidney Lumet's Network is a film that flits in and out of my Top Ten Movies for very good reason. Written by the great Paddy Chayefsky, it is a prophetic story of the evolution of both the entertainment industry and power. It was created and set in 1976, but what's chilling is how many of the details in the satiric storyline have become true today. There's so much truth, in fact, that once you see this movie, you'll never watch television in quite the same way again.
Network shows us the start of reality television decades before it came to fruition. Howard Beale, a soon-to-retire anchorman on the fictional UBS network, expresses his real rage on live TV and ends up being rewarded with his own show as a result. His "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" stance strikes a chord with his world weary audience and turns his series into a massive hit. It also opens the floodgates for other unscripted shows on UBS, which have all eerily become entire genres on television today--a legal advice program (think of "Judge Judy" et al.), a psychic program (think of James Van Praugh et al.), and a gossip program (think of "Extra" et al.). Chayefsky could not have foreseen that we'd stretch these programs beyond television into an 24/7 online medium as well.
UBS also launches a reality show called "The Mao Tse-Tung Hour," where a group of terrorists are filmed robbing banks and planning their other illegal activities. One of these activities is to ultimately assassinate the "angry prophet" anchorman Beale on the air...at the network's request. Guilty of bad ratings that begin to infect the other shows around it, television executives see no other recourse but to hire some of their terrorists to end the suffering that is "The Howard Beale Show." What's crazy is how their ridiculous rationalizations somehow start to make sense.
Though we haven't gone quite to that extent yet in today's television--this is supposed to be satire, after all--I could argue that we're darn close, especially when you factor in the coverage of our news channels. With every manmade or natural disaster on the planet, television turns them into their own tragic miniseries which are immediately dropped when the audience's interest wanes. And with reporters embedded with the military fighting terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya...well, let's just say we're getting closer and closer to something that was supposedly a joke and inconceivable in 1976.
Network works so well because of Chayefsky's superior writing and the cast's collective talent. They play these wild and often immoral characters as straight as can be, but they still allow for many humorous moments. Faye Dunaway is the star of the show, playing obsessive producer Diana Christensen as she creates reality TV to make her mark and save the UBS network. Diana is young and has been raised and defined by television, experiencing the world only through its lens and wanting drama drama drama. Yet making every moment melodramatic on television has made Diana distant and numb to real feelings and relationships in life. Interesting how similar this sounds to the challenges of today's online generation.
Faye is absolutely incredible in the role and deservedly won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance. She's also sublime in the 70s career costumes that designer Theoni V. Aldredge created for her, a distinctly brown palette made with flowing fabrics. Most notably, you'll see the origins of the neck-tie blouse that is currently on trend for Fall 2011. Faye inspired 20s style in Bonnie and Clyde, 30s style in Chinatown, and 60s style in The Thomas Crown Affair, and she just as fashionably inspires some serious 70s style here in Network.
The four network anchors doing the Evening News, including Howard Beale (Peter Finch, lower right)
for the fictional United Broadcasting Network in New York
Diana (Faye Dunaway) takes charge of the UBS team in
a brown cashmere crewneck, scarf, skirt just past the knee, t-strap pumps, and delicate gold accessories
Arriving for work in a smart brown coat over the iconic neck-tie silk blouse
Pitching her show to the head of the network, Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall)
On trend today with her chocolate neck-tie blouse
Diana meets the head of the news division, Max Schumacher (William Holden),
after hours in a white silk blouse and belted knee-length skirt
Dinner plans with another cancelled...and Diana makes new ones with Max
Diana takes over Max's Evening News program
to turn it into "The Howard Beale Show"
A striped silk blouse and belted burgundy skirt
"I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"
Howard is a madman on the air, but it achieves enormous ratings
Flying high with success, Diana is off to Hollywood to take a meeting for her new reality show
Diana's wardrobe is definitely lighter in LA and she picks belted pants over a skirt here
Back in chilly New York, she chooses carmel colored boots and a
multi-colored wool coat with a fur collar to warm her up
Then she chooses Max to warm her up some more
Diana's shows have pulled the network up and made her a star
For her big moment in the spotlight, Diana wears a bias cut white silk gown with deep V's in front and back...
interestingly the 1970s were a time when they often looked to the style of the 1930s for inspiration
Success with "The Howard Beale Show" is short-lived and plotting begins to end its run
Even the brutal end--covered again and again on all four networks--is sponsored by the advertisers