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Network (1976 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Network
Networkmovie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySidney Lumet
Produced byHoward Gottfried
Fred C. Caruso
Written byPaddy Chayefsky
Starring
Narrated byLee Richardson
Music byElliot Lawrence
CinematographyOwen Roizman
Edited byAlan Heim
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
(USA & Canada)
United Artists
(International)
Release date
  • November 27, 1976 (1976-11-27)
Running time
121 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$3.8 million
Box office$23.7 million[2]

Network is a 1976 American satirical film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, about a fictional television network, UBS, and its struggle with poor ratings. The film stars Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, and Robert Duvall and features Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty, and Beatrice Straight.

The film won four Academy Awards, in the categories of Best Actor (Finch), Best Actress (Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress (Straight), and Best Original Screenplay (Chayefsky).

In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2002, it was inducted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame as a film that has "set an enduring standard for American entertainment".[3] In 2005, the two Writers Guilds of America voted Chayefsky's script one of the 10 greatest screenplays in the history of cinema.[4] In 2007, the film was 64th among the 100 greatest American films as chosen by the American Film Institute, a ranking slightly higher than the one AFI had given it ten years earlier.

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Transcription

Hello Cinephiles! Tyler here. The next film you voted for is Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet’s 1976 diatribe of the television industry, Network. I often wonder how much of Network’s biting satire is lost on someone my age simply because it had all mostly come true before I had seen it. I must say, it took a couple of viewings for me to realize just how funny the movie was. “You can blow the seminal prison-class infrastructure out your ass! I’m not knocking down my goddamned distribution charges!” [Gunshot] What I want to look at today is how the film got such great performances out of its cast. The cast won a multitude of awards including the Oscar for Best Actress won by Faye Dunaway and the Oscar for Best Actor won by Peter Finch— who won over another nominee for the same film: William Holden. Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting Actress for only five minutes and two seconds of screen time— the shortest performance to win an Oscar. And Ned Beatty was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for pretty much one scene. The previous year, Sidney Lumet had directed Dog Day Afternoon, which itself, contained some of the greatest performances captured on film. So what was Lumet doing to elicit such brilliant motion picture acting? This is Making Film... Ensemble casts were nothing new for Lumet, who had previously directed Murder on the Orient Express, The Group, and the iconic Twelve Angry Men (Under the Influence). And Lumet’s reputation for strong character pieces was helpful when casting the film. Sidney Lumet: “We never got a turn-down. Whoever we sent the script to said, ‘yes.’ Usually somewhere down the line, you’ve got second, third, fourth choices and then finally some compromised choices. Not on Network. Everybody there was the first choice and they knew it.” Another reason for this was the reputation of the screenwriter, Paddy Chayefsky. Chayefsky was one of the most successful television writers in the 1950s— the [quote] “golden age of television.” He was disillusioned with the direction television was going and wrote the satire as a commentary on the medium he had once been such an important part of (Cinephilia). Chayefsky had previously won screenwriting Oscars for Marty and The Hospital, and after his win for Network, he became the only person in history to win three screenwriting Oscars without the help of a co-writer (Wiki). Highly unorthodox, Chayefsky's contract stated that he, the writer, was given final cut of the film— a power usually reserved for the director. This was Chayefsky’s film (Washington Post). The first thing Lumet did was to bring the cast and crew together for two weeks of rehearsals at the Hotel Diplomat in Times Square (Itzkoff 99). Script supervisor, Martha Pinson who worked with Lumet on many of his later films, detailed Lumet’s rehearsal process in an essay titled “The Lumet Method” (hodah). Once gathered together, Lumet would first make an address about the piece, then they would move onto a table reading and discussion (hodah). The rehearsal process began on a cold January 5th, 1976. They had wanted to use the large ballroom at the Hotel Diplomat for the table-read, but it was unheated and they had to use an adjacent room (Itzkoff 99). Everyone was excited to witness the meeting of acting giants William Holden and Peter Finch who many had grown up with— Holden and Finch had never worked together (Itzkoff 99). After the table read, Lumet would show location photographs, they’d analyze each scene to [quote] “[put] the film on its feet” (hodah). As I mentioned in a video on Dog Day Afternoon, Lumet sometimes used the rehearsals to have the cast improvise dialogue that they would write into the script. This was not the case with Network. Here, the screenplay was sacred. Every line had to be spoken exactly as it was written. Chayefsky attended the rehearsals to make sure everything was working toward his vision. After all, he had final cut. Lumet announced to the cast that he wanted them to “keep their performance simple” and that they should display [quote] “pure behavior,” but of course not quite as naturalistic as Dog Day Afternoon (Itzkoff 100). Sidney Lumet: “I don’t know what to say about actors reacting perfectly because it’s so much a part of the norm of what they’re doing if they’re working well. So many times on pictures, because they haven’t rehearsed it, because they haven’t worked it out cleanly and in advance, these things are mechanical and forced, but not here.” The actual rehearsals would begin after the assistant directors taped the floor plan of each set onto the floor the rehearsal space (hodah). Luckily the heat to the ballroom was fixed and so they spent the next few days in there blocking the action in each scene (Itzkoff 100). Chayefsky explained the hierarchies of UBS and CCA to the cast and they were ready to begin (Itzkoff 100). Then they were off, rehearsing each scene of the film as if it were a play. The scenes were blocked within the confines of the taped-off floor plans, all the props needed were at their disposal. Lumet said that they would even rehearse transition scenes of walking and, if there were a car chase, they’d rehearse that too (Under the Influence). During rehearsal, Dunaway was often found thumbing through her [quote] “heavily annotated copy of the script” (Itzkoff 100). Other actors were afraid of the amount of Lumet’s preparation. Lumet said, "When I have worked with actors who've only worked in movies, they come in terrified of rehearsal. They say, 'Sidney's going to kill the spontaneity.' The truth is the exact opposite. Because they know what they're doing, because they know where they are in the character, because they feel safe with me and in the selections they've made, they are twice as free. On a location, if a plane goes by, fine, they'll incorporate it or ignore it. If a dog bites them, they'll incorporate it or ignore it. They're open to whatever the momentary situation is because they are much more secure. So, if anything, it helps spontaneity” (Under the Influence). This makes sense. The actual location will be a different environment and there will always be a number of variables that the production will have to figure out how to roll with. If the cast is thoroughly prepared, I’d imagine that they might feel comfortable enough with the character to make spontaneous decisions if needed while still having a sense-memory of what is important for them to include. Faye Dunaway: “But it’s just so much better to have layered already, some sense of the performance.” Sidney Lumet: “You need the continual exposure to the same thing happening again and again to give you an inkling of ‘ah ha,’ there’s something interesting here.” Pinson said that these run-throughs would [quote] “[clear] up uncertainty about the arc and pitch of an actor’s role, the tone of a performance, [and] the intensity needed for any given scene in relation to what comes before and after” (hodah). Everybody, even the bit players would be on the same page and understand how they fit into the whole of the film (hodah). Lumet brought in his notebook of [quote] “hand-drawn diagrams of where he expected to place his cameras and how he expected each sequence to unfold" (itzkoff 100). That said, even though everything was worked out beforehand, they were still able to remain flexible. If, on the day of shooting, he couldn’t remember how he wanted to block a scene he would say that it “must have been bad” (itzkoff 100). Lumet said, "I can't remember going past four takes on anything we did in Network. If I go more than four takes, it's usually because I staged it wrong, or maybe there are some words that are wrong. [Rehearsal] is also a time in which the actors can develop faith in me, in my taste and in my knowledge. Once they have that, they are released, they are free" (Under the Influence). Lumet would have a final run-though on the last day of rehearsal in which the Director of Photography would attend— in this case, Owen Roizman— and they would work out the lighting around what the actors were doing. This way, they could even be prepared enough to send the crew out to rig lights on sets well before they were ready to shoot there (hodah). They would also diagram all the camera positions and lenses they would use for each shot (hodah). The point of all of this extensive preparation was that Lumet liked to go fast during production. If you can believe it, the iconic “mad as hell” speech was done on the first day of shooting (itzkoff 108). These were actually the shots done with the television camera that would appear on the screens. They did four takes and in each take, Peter Finch performed the entire two-and-a-half-minute scene except for take three, which [quote] “halted at the one-minute mark for an unspecified reason” (itzkoff 108). “Stick your head out of the window, open it and stick your head out and keep yelling and yell: I’m as mad as hell, I’m not going to take this anymore!” Remember when Lumet said that everyone they sent the script to said yes? While technically true, this doesn’t mean that Peter Finch was their first choice from the start. In the months leading up to the production, Chayefsky and Producer Howard Gottfried were intensely searching for an actor that had what it took to play Howard Beale. They even had to halt the production at one point because they were having such trouble finding the right person (Cast and Characters). A talent manager named Barry Krost came across the script and, while not too impressed with the character of Howard Beale, he decided to pester Gottfried into auditioning his client, Peter Finch (Itzkoff 87, 91). When Finch realized he would have to audition for the role, he angrily hung up on Krost only to call back a few minutes later to apologize saying, “Sorry, darling, I forgot I was an actor” (Itzkoff 87). Finch was an Australian living in England and Lumet and Chayefsky were worried about whether or not he could be convincing as an American newscaster. Finch had Lumet send him a copy of the New York Times and he read it in front of a camera to show that he could portray a newscaster’s cadence in an American accent (Commentary). Sidney Lumet: “And one day, Peter Finch called and he said if we would be good enough to send him a tape of Walter Cronkite or John Chancellor—any one of the evening anchors, he would send us back a tape in two weeks with a perfect accent. That’s exactly what we did, the tape arrived, and we hired him.” The second day of shooting— January 20th, 1976— had Finch performing the ‘bullshit speech.’ “Well I’ll tell you what happened—I just ran out of bullshit.” “Alright, cut him off.” “Leave him on.” The next day— January 21st— Finch was performing the “mad as hell” scene again, but this time it was for the actual camera (Itzkoff). This is perhaps the most important scene in the movie. Howard Beale needed to be so impassioned that he would make an incredible impact on the country and carry us through the rest of the film. “Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s hear it! How do you feel?” “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore!” Much like Sonny’s phone call in Dog Day Afternoon, Lumet loaded up two cameras with film so that they wouldn’t need to take time reloading. They could start the next take immediately after finishing the first and maintain the momentum and exhaustion of the performance. The first take ended— Lumet remarked that it was marvelous and they immediately started take two. Finch got up to the congressmen line — “I don’t want you to write to your Congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write.” and then collapsed in his chair and said that he couldn’t go any further (Itzkoff 110). What we’re actually seeing in the film is the first half of take two and then the second half of take one (Itzkoff 110). “I want you to get mad!” I believe the two takes are stitched together by this shot of Faye Dunaway. Finch being unable to finish the second take of the speech was an ominous foreshadowing of his failing health. About 8 to 10 months later, well after the film had wrapped and the Academy Awards were approaching, Finch was sitting on a bench at the Beverly Hills Hotel and Lumet was coming down to meet him when he suffered a fatal heart attack and keeled over (Commentary). He went on to win the Oscar for his performance becoming the first and only person to posthumously win Best Actor. In 2009, Heath Ledger became the second actor to win an Oscar after death— Ledger’s was for Best Supporting Actor (Under the Influence). What’s interesting is that every line spoken in the film was exactly as Chayefsky had written it, except for the most important line of the film. Finch managed to accidentally sneak an extra ‘as’ into the line which originally read, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” But you can hear Finch say: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” You can even hear the correct line shouted by the people on the fire escapes and out of the windows. “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” They had to leave Finch’s version in the film because they had only shot it one and a half times (Itzkoff 109, 110). Lumet said that the beauty in Chayefsky’s scripts was that it made the actors “toe the line” of what is realistic and unrealistic. It’s the subtle progression of madness that makes you accept the insanity of exploiting Howard Beale for ratings (Commentary). It is because of this that Lumet said perhaps the most important thing to consider when casting is the progression of change over a character’s arc. He says that you should cast for the third act. Cast for who the character ends up becoming (Cast and Characters). When casting a character like Howard Beale, cast the madman. Chayefsky would sit as close as possible to the actors so he could evaluate their performances and so he could make sure every line was delivered verbatim. He liked to sit under the key light because it was the angle in which the actors were “best lit” (Itzkoff 106). There was even a running joke that if anyone was looking for Chayefsky on set, the first place they should look is under the key light (Itzkoff 106). Chayefsky said, “My biggest contribution is in explaining my humor to the actors” (Moss). “He’s saying that life is bullshit and it is, so what are you screaming about?” One of Chayefsky's contributions was in the scene of Howard Beale arriving at the studio directly before his “mad as hell” speech. Lumet originally had the security guard look Beale up and down and make a face at the strangeness of a news anchor arriving at the station soaking wet in his pajamas. Chayefsky told Lumet, “This is TV… He shouldn’t even notice him” (Itzkoff 107). “How do you do Mr. Beale?” “I must make my witness.” “Sure thing, Mr. Beale.” I had never quite realized how similar the humor in Network is to the humor in American Psycho. “I like to dissect girls. Did you know I’m utterly insane?” “Uh, great tan Marcus.” The world seems indifferent to what we perceive as madness and I think that’s what gives the satire its weight. I think the trick is that we should believe that what is humorous to us is absolutely serious to the characters. “The light is impending! I bare witness to the light!” For the role of Diana Christensen, they needed to find someone willing to do the part as Chayefsky had envisioned the character— he would not allow any actor or actress to demand anything about their character be changed (Lumet 41). Diana was a tricky part to cast because, as Lumet put it, Diana had to be played by someone who didn’t need to be loved on screen (Cast and Characters). Lumet had heard that Faye Dunaway had a reputation for being difficult, so he visited her at her home to make sure that everything was out in the open. In his book, Making Movies, Lumet writes, "Crossing the floor of her apartment, before I’d even reached her, I said, “I know the first thing you’re going to ask me: Where’s her vulnerability? Don’t ask it. She has none.” Faye looked shocked. “Furthermore, if you try to sneak it in, I’ll get rid of it in the cutting room, so it’ll be a wasted effort.” She paused just a second, then burst out laughing… She said yes. She never tried to get sentimental in the part, and she took home an Academy Award. My point is that it’s so important to thrash these things out in advance. If push comes to shove, you can then say the obvious truth… This is a script we both said yes to. So let’s do it" (Lumet 41). Faye Dunaway: “It was something that I couldn’t NOT do because I thought, if I can infuse the performance with some sense of what she’s paying for this life of what kind of poignancy- and I think I did, I think there was something there that you felt you couldn’t put your finger on it maybe, but you felt for this character. It’s probably in the writing.” On being considered difficult, Dunaway said, “The fact is that a man can be difficult and people applaud him for trying to do a superior job… It’s in my nature to do really good jobs, and I would never have been successful if I hadn’t” (Itzkoff 78). Diana is such an interesting character because she is both the hero and the villain of the story. We follow her work and the conflict that arises when she meets obstacles, but because she tramples over these obstacles so fiercely and easily, we begin to notice how she is ruining real human beings on her way there. Lumet noted that each character becomes corrupted by the end of the film except for Diana who he says was the way she was since the day she was born. “For God’s sake, Diana, we’re talking about putting a manifestly irresponsible man on national television.” That said, one of the most brilliant things about the character is that they don’t explain why she is the way she is. It makes things more complex to leave it unknown because the audience lacks the comfort of being able to explain her personality as a result of something specific. For the role of Max Schumacher, William Holden’s name came up during a brainstorming session and everyone approved and that was that (Cast and Characters). Holden had done around seventy movies before Network, yet Lumet noted that he was actually pretty shy about acting (Commentary). He had no theater background, so the theater-style rehearsal process was much different than what he was used to. Holden remarked after the rehearsal period that he finally felt like a real actor (Commentary). Sidney Lumet: “The difference in training or difference in acting styles never matters if both actors are working honestly, which they both were.” In his book, Lumet points out the importance of what the actor is seeing. He explains the standard practice of clearing the actors’ eye-line to make sure that the actor sees only what the character sees. You can’t have Holden bare his soul to Dunaway with [quote] “some teamster sipping coffee behind her” (Lumet 119). I think we’re all aware of what happened when the director of photography didn’t clear Christian Bale’s eye-line during a scene in Terminator: Salvation. “Alright! I’m trying to f--- do a scene here and I’m going, ‘why the f--- is Shane walking in there? What is he doing there?’ Do you understand? My mind is not in the scene if you’re doing that.” Removing these distractions also helps an actor pretend that they are not being filmed at all— that the scene is actually unfolding. This way Holden can play the scene as if Dunaway is the only thing he sees. But while rehearsing one of the most powerful scenes in the film— the ‘primal doubts’ scene— Lumet noticed that Holden was looking everywhere but Dunaway’s eyes. Lumet said, “He looked at her eyebrows, her hair, her lips, but not her eyes” (Itzkoff 101). Lumet made a note of it, but didn’t say anything. There is a good reason why he didn’t try to correct this even though the rehearsals were supposed to be place to fix any issues that arise in the performances. Lumet said, "On the day of shooting we did a take. After the take, I said, “Let’s go again, and Bill, on this take, would you try something for me? Lock into her eyes and never break away from them.” He did. Emotion came pouring out of him. It’s one of his best scenes in the movie. Whatever he’d been avoiding could no longer be denied. The rehearsal period had helped me recognize the emotional reticence in him" (Lumet 66). Lumet gave Dunaway the same direction, but for her, Lumet wanted Dunaway to [quote] “just try to understand what he’s talking about” (Itzkoff 126). And when Holden says: “I just want you to love me, primal doubts and all. You understand that don’t you?” We get her only vulnerable moment in the film. “I don’t know how to do that.” [Ringing Telephone] Lumet said, “That’s as close a moment as she gets” (Itzkoff 126). Dunaway described how she played the line as the character’s [quote] “quintessential expression” (Itzkoff 127). Dunaway said, “[Diana] isn’t connected as a woman, doesn’t feel like a woman. With just those few seconds on the screen, you knew that she was completely unable to love” (Itzkoff 127). By the way, this scene was built entirely out of one take (Commentary). Thanks for watching! Stay tuned for part 2 where I will discuss Robert Duvall, Beatrice Straight, Ned Beatty, and Arthur Burghardt who played the Great Ahmed Kahn. Network was voted for by my patrons over on Patreon. If you would like to be a part of the vote coming up next month, head on over to Patreon now, pledge a dollar or more and you’ll be able to suggest 3 movies for the next vote! And if you’re new here, please hit that subscribe button now because there are plenty more videos on the way for cinephiles like you! Thanks again for watching!

Contents

Plot

Howard Beale, the longtime anchor of the Union Broadcasting System's UBS Evening News, learns from friend and news division president Max Schumacher that he has just two more weeks on the air because of declining ratings. The two get drunk and lament the state of their industry. The following night, Beale announces on live television that he will commit suicide on next Tuesday's broadcast. UBS fires him after this incident, but Schumacher intervenes so that Beale can have a dignified farewell. Beale promises he will apologize for his outburst, but once on the air, he launches back into a rant claiming that life is "bullshit." Beale's outburst causes the newscast's ratings to spike, and much to Schumacher's dismay, the upper echelons of UBS decide to exploit Beale's antics rather than pull him off the air. When Beale's ratings seem to have topped out, Diana Christensen, who heads the network's programming department, approaches Schumacher and offers to help him "develop" the news show. He says no to the professional offer, but she also makes a personal offer and the two begin an affair.

Christensen, seeking just one hit show, cuts a deal with a band of terrorists called the Ecumenical Liberation Army for a new docudrama series called The Mao Tse-Tung Hour for the upcoming fall season. When Schumacher decides to end Beale's "angry man" format, Christensen convinces her boss, Frank Hackett, to slot the evening news show under the entertainment programming division so she can develop it. Hackett agrees, bullying the UBS executives to consent and fire Schumacher. In one impassioned diatribe, Beale galvanizes the nation, persuading his viewers to shout out of their windows "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Soon afterward, Beale is hosting a new program called The Howard Beale Show, top-billed as "the mad prophet of the airwaves". Ultimately, the show becomes the most highly rated program on television, and Beale finds new celebrity preaching his angry message in front of a live studio audience that, on cue, chants Beale's signature catchphrase en masse: "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to take this anymore." At first, Max and Diana's romance withers as the show flourishes, but in the flush of high ratings, the two ultimately find their way back together, and Schumacher leaves his wife of over 25 years for Christensen.

When Beale discovers that Communications Corporation of America (CCA), the conglomerate that owns UBS, will be bought out by an even larger Saudi Arabian conglomerate, he launches an on-screen tirade against the deal, encouraging viewers to send telegrams to the White House telling them, "I want the CCA deal stopped now!" This throws the top network brass into a state of panic because the company's debt load has made the merger essential for its survival. Hackett takes Beale to meet with CCA chairman Arthur Jensen, who explicates his own "corporate cosmology" to Beale, describing the interrelatedness of the participants in the international economy and the illusory nature of nationality distinctions. Christensen's fanatical devotion to her job and emotional emptiness ultimately drive Max back to try returning to his wife, even though he doesn't think she'll agree, and he warns his former lover that she will self-destruct at the pace she is running with her career. "You are television incarnate, Diana," he tells her, "indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality." Jensen persuades Beale to abandon the populist messages and preach his new "evangel". However, television audiences find his new sermons on the dehumanization of society depressing, and ratings begin to slide, yet Jensen will not allow UBS executives to fire Beale. Seeing its two-for-the-price-of-one value—solving the Beale problem plus sparking a boost in season-opener ratings—Christensen, Hackett, and the other executives decide to hire the ELA to assassinate Beale on the air. The assassination succeeds, putting an end to The Howard Beale Show and kicking off a second season of The Mao Tse-Tung Hour. As various news reports cover Beale's death, a voiceover proclaims the film "the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings."

Cast

Production

Part of the inspiration for Chayefsky's script allegedly[citation needed] came from the on-air suicide of television news reporter Christine Chubbuck in Sarasota, Florida two years earlier.[5][dead link] The anchorwoman was suffering from depression and battles with her editors, and unable to keep going, she shot herself on camera as stunned viewers watched on July 15, 1974. Chayefsky used the incident to set up his film's focal point[citation needed]. As he would say later in an interview, "Television will do anything for a rating... anything!" However, Dave Itzkoff's book Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies disputes this, asserting that Chayefsky actually began writing Network months before Chubbuck's death and already planned for Howard Beale to vow to kill himself on air; Chubbuck's suicide was an eerie parallel.[6] Sidney Lumet also confirmed that the character of Howard Beale was never based on any real life person.[7]

But before beginning his screenplay, Chayefsky visited network TV offices. Sitting in on meetings at CBS and NBC, he noted "the politics, the power struggles, the obsession with ratings."[8] And he was surprised to learn that TV execs did not watch much TV. "The programs they put on 'had to' be bad," he said, "had to be something they wouldn't watch. Imagine having to work like that all your life."[9]

According to Dave Itzkoff, what Cheyefsky saw while writing the screenplay during the midst of Watergate and the Vietnam war was all the anger of America being broadcast in everything from sitcoms to news reports. He concluded that Americans “don’t want jolly, happy family type shows like Eye Witness News”... “the American people are angry and want angry shows.”[10] When he began writing his script he had intended on a comedy, but instead poured his frustration at the broadcasts being shown on television, which he described as “an indestructible and terrifying giant that is stronger than the government” — into the screenplay. It became a "dark satire about an unstable news anchor and a broadcasting company and a viewing public all too happy to follow him over the brink of sanity."[10]

The character of network executive Diana Christiansen was based on NBC daytime television programming executive Lin Bolen,[11] which Bolen disputed.[12]

Chayefsky and producer Howard Gottfried had just come off a lawsuit against United Artists, challenging the studio's right to lease their previous film, The Hospital, to ABC in a package with a less successful film. Despite this recent lawsuit, Chayefsky and Gottfried signed a deal with UA to finance Network, until UA found the subject matter too controversial and backed out.

Undeterred, Chayefsky and Gottfried shopped the script around to other studios, and eventually found an interested party in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Soon afterward, United Artists reversed itself and looked to co-finance the film with MGM, since the latter had an ongoing distribution arrangement with UA in North America. Since MGM agreed to let UA back on board, the former (through United Artists as per the arrangement) controlled North American/Caribbean rights, with UA themselves opting for overseas distribution.

Casting

In his notes, Chayefsky jotted down his ideas about casting. For Howard Beale, who would be eventually played by Peter Finch, he envisioned Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, James Stewart and Paul Newman. He went so far as to write Newman, telling him that "You and a very small handful of other actors are the only ones I can think of with the range for this part." Lumet wanted Fonda, with whom he had worked several times, but Fonda declined the role, finding it too "hysterical" for his taste. Stewart also found the script unsuitable, objecting to the strong language. Early consideration was given to real-life newscasters Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor, but neither was open to the idea. Although not mentioned in Chayefsky's notes, George C. Scott, Glenn Ford and William Holden reportedly also turned down the opportunity to play Beale, with Holden instead playing Max Schumacher: for that role, Chayefsky had initially listed Walter Matthau and Gene Hackman. Ford was under consideration for this part as well, and was said to be one of two final contenders. Holden finally got the edge because of his recent box-office success with The Towering Inferno.[13]

The movie's producers were wary that Finch, born in England and raised partly in Australia, would be able to sound like an authentic American; they demanded an audition before his casting could be considered. Finch, an actor of considerable prominence, reportedly responded, "Bugger pride. Put the script in the mail." Immediately realizing that the role was a plum, he even agreed to pay his own fare to New York for a screen test. He prepared for the audition by listening to hours of broadcasts by American newscasters, and by weeks of reading the international editions of The New York Times and the Herald Tribune into a tape recording, then listening to playbacks with a critical ear. Gottfried recalled that Finch "was nervous as hell at that first meeting over lunch and just like a kid auditioning. Once we'd heard him, Sidney Lumet, Paddy, and I were ecstatic because we knew it was a hell of a part to cast." Finch cinched the deal with Lumet by playing him the tapes of his newspaper readings.[14]

Faye Dunaway wanted Robert Mitchum to play Max Schumacher, but Lumet refused, believing that Mitchum wasn't sufficiently urbane.[15][16]

For the role of Diana Christensen, Chayefsky thought of Candice Bergen, Ellen Burstyn, and Natalie Wood, while the studio suggested Jane Fonda, with Kay Lenz, Diane Keaton, Marsha Mason and Jill Clayburgh. Lumet wanted to cast Vanessa Redgrave in the film, but Chayefsky didn't want her. Lumet argued that he thought she was the greatest English-speaking actress in the world, while Chayefsky, a proud Jew and supporter of Israel, objected on the basis of her support of the PLO. Lumet, himself a Jew, said "Paddy, that's blacklisting!", to which Chayefsky replied, "Not when a Jew does it to a Gentile."[17]

Dunaway was cast as Diana in September 1975. Lumet told her that he would edit out any attempts on her part to make her character sympathetic and insisted on playing her without any vulnerability.

Lumet cast Robert Duvall as Frank Hackett. Duvall saw Hackett as a "vicious president Ford".[18] On Duvall, Lumet said: "What's fascinating about Duvall is how funny he is."

Ned Beatty was cast as Arthur Jensen on the recommendation of director Robert Altman after the original actor failed to live up to Lumet's standards. Beatty had one night to prepare a four-page speech, and was finished after one day's shooting.

Beatrice Straight played Louise Schumacher, Max's wife, on whom he cheats with Diana.[19]

Straight had won a Tony Award in 1953 for playing an anguished wife who is similarly cheated upon in Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

Filming

After two weeks of rehearsals, filming started in Toronto in January 1976.

Lumet recalled that Chayefsky was usually on the set during filming, and sometimes offered advice about how certain scenes should be played. Lumet allowed that his old friend had the better comic instincts of the two, but when it came to the domestic confrontation between Holden and Straight, the four-times-married director had the upper hand: "Paddy, please, I know more about divorce than you!"

Finch, who had suffered from heart problems for many years, became physically and psychologically exhausted by the demands of playing Beale.[20]

There was some concern that the combination of Holden and Dunaway might create conflict on the set, since the two had sparred during an earlier co-starring stint in The Towering Inferno. According to Holden biographer Bob Thomas, Holden had been incensed with Dunaway's behavior during the filming of the disaster epic, especially her habit of leaving him fuming on the set while she attended to her hair, makeup and telephone calls. One day, after a two-hour wait, Holden reportedly grabbed his costar by the shoulders, pushed her against a soundstage wall and snapped, "You do that to me once more, and I'll push you through that wall!"

Lumet and cinematographer Owen Roizman worked out a complicated lighting scheme that in Lumet's words would "corrupt the camera". Lumet recalled: "we started with an almost naturalistic look. For the first scene between Peter Finch and Bill Holden, on Sixth Avenue at night, we added only enough light to get an exposure. As the movie progressed, camera setups became more rigid, more formal. The lighting became more and more artificial. The next-to-final scene—where Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and the three network gray suits decide to kill Peter Finch—is lit like a commercial. The camera setups are static and framed like still pictures. The camera had also become a victim of television."[17]

Release

The film premiered in New York City on November 27, 1976, and went into wide release shortly afterward.

Critical reception

Network opened to acclaim from critics, and became one of the big hits of 1976–77. Vincent Canby, in his November 1976 review of the film for The New York Times, called the film "outrageous ... brilliantly, cruelly funny, a topical American comedy that confirms Paddy Chayefsky's position as a major new American satirist" and a film whose "wickedly distorted views of the way television looks, sounds, and, indeed, is, are the satirist's cardiogram of the hidden heart, not just of television but also of the society that supports it and is, in turn, supported."[21]

In a review of the film written after it received its Academy Awards, Roger Ebert called it a "supremely well-acted, intelligent film that tries for too much, that attacks not only television but also most of the other ills of the 1970s," though "what it does accomplish is done so well, is seen so sharply, is presented so unforgivingly, that Network will outlive a lot of tidier movies."[22] Seen a quarter-century later, Ebert added the film to his Great Movies list and said the film was "like prophecy. When Chayefsky created Howard Beale, could he have imagined Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, and the World Wrestling Federation?"; he credits Lumet and Chayefsky for knowing "just when to pull out all the stops."[23]

Not all reviews were positive: Pauline Kael in The New Yorker, in a review subtitled "Hot Air", criticized the film's abundance of long, preachy speeches; Chayefsky's self-righteous contempt for not only television itself but also television viewers; and the fact that almost everyone in the movie, particularly Robert Duvall, has a screaming rant: "The cast of this messianic farce takes turns yelling at us soulless masses."[24] Michael Billington wrote, "Too much of this film has the hectoring stridency of tabloid headlines",[25] while Chris Petit in Time Out described it as "slick, 'adult', self-congratulatory, and almost entirely hollow", adding that "most of the interest comes in watching such a lavishly mounted vehicle leaving the rails so spectacularly."[26]

Network currently holds a 91% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 58 reviews, with the consensus; "Driven by populist fury and elevated by strong direction, powerful acting, and an intelligent script, Network's searing satire of ratings-driven news remains sadly relevant more than four decades later."

Legacy

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote that "no predictor of the future — not even Orwell — has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote Network."[27] The film ranks at number 100 in Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Films of All Time.[28]

Stage adaptation

A stage adaptation by Lee Hall premiered in the Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre in London in November 2017. The play was directed by Ivo Van Hove featuring Bryan Cranston making his UK stage debut as Howard Beale, and Michelle Dockery as Diana.[29][30] It is scheduled to open on Broadway on December 6, 2018, with Cranston reprising his role as Beale, and with Tatiana Maslany as Diana and Tony Goldwyn as Max Schumacher.[31]

Awards and honors

Academy Awards

Network won three of the four acting awards. Only one other film, A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, has won in three acting categories.

Won

Finch died before the 1977 ceremony and was the only performer to win a posthumous Academy Award until Heath Ledger won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2009. The statuette itself was collected by Finch's widow, Eletha Finch.

Straight's performance as Louise Schumacher occupied only five minutes and two seconds of screen time, making it the shortest performance to win an Oscar (as of 2018), breaking Gloria Grahame's nine minutes and 32 seconds screen time record for The Bad and the Beautiful in 1953.[32]

Nominated

Golden Globes

Won
Nominated

BAFTA Awards

Won
Nominated

American Film Institute

In popular culture

The film's noted line "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore" and its derivatives are referenced in numerous films and other media, including Mad As Hell, a satirical Australian news show starring Shaun Micallef.[33] In Better Call Saul's first episode Uno, Saul Goodman quotes part of Jensen's eviscerating diatribe when he is lambasting the board of his former law firm, then tells his confused audience that his quote came from Network. The same camera angle is employed in both instances.[34]

References

  1. ^ "NETWORK (AA)". United Artists. British Board of Film Classification. November 1, 1976. Retrieved July 11, 2014.
  2. ^ "Network, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 23, 2012.
  3. ^ Archive of Producers Guild Hall of Fame – Past Inductees, Producers Guild of America official site. Accessed October 31, 2010. Original site.
  4. ^ "101 Greatest Screenplays". Writers Guild of America, West. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
  5. ^ "Television will eat itself in Sidney Lumet's searing satire"". dead link. October 1, 2008.
  6. ^ Itzkoff, Dave. Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies. Henry Holt and Company, 2014, p. 47.
  7. ^ "Sidney Lumet on directing the film "Network" - EMMYTVLEGENDS.ORG".
  8. ^ "Network At 40". The Attic. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  9. ^ Ibid.
  10. ^ a b Itzkoff, Dave (2011-05-19). "Paddy Chayefsky's Notes for 'Network' - Film". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-03-13.
  11. ^ Dunaway, Faye; Sharkey, Betsy (1995). Looking for Gatsby: My Life. Simon & Schuster Inc. p. 304. ISBN 0-671-67526-5.
  12. ^ UPI, via Milwaukee Sentinel and Google News, "Producer Lin Bolen Denies She's 'Network' Character", July 31, 1978.
  13. ^ Network TCM. Retrieved 8 November 2018.
  14. ^ Faulkner, Trader (1979). Peter Finch: A Biography. Angus & Robertson. ISBN 9780207958311.
  15. ^ Robert Mitchum: Not Starring …
  16. ^ Dunaway, Faye (1995). Looking for Gatsby. Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-67526-5.
  17. ^ a b Lumet, Sidney (1995). Making Movies. Vintage. ISBN 9780679756606.
  18. ^ Eastman, John (1989). Retakes: Behind the Scenes of Classic Movies. Ballantine Books. ISBN 9780345353993.
  19. ^ Part 2: Network (1976): Why The Acting Is So Good-Acting-CinemaTyler on YouTube
  20. ^ Network (1976): Why The Acting Is So Good-Acting-CinemaTyler on YouTube
  21. ^ Review of Network from the November 15, 1976 edition of The New York Times
  22. ^ Review of Network by Roger Ebert from the 1970s
  23. ^ Review of Network by Roger Ebert from October 2000
  24. ^ Kael, Pauline (December 6, 1976). "Hot Air". The New Yorker: 177.
  25. ^ Halliwell, Leslie (1987). Halliwell's Film Guide, 6th edition. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 729. ISBN 0-684-19051-6.
  26. ^ Milne, Tom (editor) (1993). Time Out Film Guide, The (3rd Edition). Hammondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin. p. 486. ISBN 0-14-017513-X.
  27. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (May 19, 2011). "Notes of a Screenwriter, Mad as Hell". The New York Times. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  28. ^ "The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Empire. Bauer Media Group. Archived from the original on August 17, 2011. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
  29. ^ "New for 2017 and 2018 | National Theatre". www.nationaltheatre.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-03-20.
  30. ^ Billington, Michael (2017-11-13). "Network review – Bryan Cranston is mad as hell in blazing staging of Oscar winner". The Guardian.
  31. ^ "Breaking: Tony Goldwyn Joins Bryan Cranston and Tatiana Maslany in NETWORK on Broadway". broadwayworld.com. Wisdom Digital Media. September 27, 2018. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  32. ^ "Beatrice Straight performance length". Serving Cinema. Retrieved 2016-10-09.
  33. ^ "Airdate: Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell". TV Tonight.
  34. ^ Salud, April (February 24, 2015). "'It's From a Movie': A Guide to Better Call Saul". Geek and Sundry.

Further reading

External links

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