Network (1976) Review

Context: I wrote this for an IB internal assessment task during my English A: Language and Literature course (I think the part about Media and Censorship, something to do with Mass media?) a while back, but I think a lot of it still holds true in actuality, so now that I’ve graduated, I’ve decided to publish it on my blog. While reading through it, you might notice some things have been expertly revised for a non-IB environment. If you’re an IB student, I hope this proves useful as a sample essay, and makes you rethink whatever your teacher may teach you. For the rest of you who clumsily stumbled onto my blog, ignore this bit – school assignment to review a 36 year old film or not everything I wrote is still relevant.

A commercial success that failed to deter the decay of television it so happily predicts

Rated 6/10 Stars

Thirty years ago, a group of people in the film industry decided that they would make money by producing a film that showed people the follies of television. So they got together Paddy Chayefsky, Sidney Lumet and various actors, and carefully constructed a film based on intense metaphoric satire and a dark look at the future of television entertainment. They knew this would sell, something this frighteningly (and selectively) truthful certainly had enough spice in it for it to have become somewhat popular throughout the ages, and marketing it as the “perfectly outrageous motion picture” certainly did not do anything to stop the film from receiving praise universally for being “a blistering social commentary that uses exaggeration to make its point”, as film critic James Berardinelli had put once.

Of course, seeing that people seem to enjoy being told what their world is becoming of by the Humble Society of the Morally Panicked, the Academy award for screenplay had been awarded to the film, alongside the 4 Oscars it received in 1976.

You see, Network is a film about an alternate reality in which television journalism has met with a dystopian future as the ratings-obsessed directives of a lesser news channel attempt to combat the factual news reporting of the “big” channels and gain viewership through the use of over-the-top entertainment: an insanity preaching news anchor, and reality programming involving radical left wing terrorists.

William Holden plays News Division President of the fictional TV station Universal Broadcast Station UBS who fires longtime anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) due to his low ratings, causing Beale to announce his intent to commit suicide during live broadcast. What ensues is the sensationalisation of the News Division led by Entertainment Division head Dian Christensen (Faye Dunaway), corporate intervention to the programming from the money centered UBS Executive Controller Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall), and a cruel reflection on television’s audience (Society).

And what would complete the film to make it a proper 70’s “comedy” film, if not a gratuitous inclusion of sex, profanity and violence for the basis of the extremely shallow to completely misjudge the film? But don’t expect yourself to be laughing out loud, for the film goes so overboard with its self-important satire and being “smart” that it loses any comedic credibility amongst the common human being. You might spit out a chuckle after fifty viewings when you eventually understand what the fuck they were getting at, but don’t expect anything more than a chuckle.

General rule of thumb is that any film that seems to acknowledge it is a film, is automatically eligible for the cabbage bin, as the shattering of the forth wall fares rather annoying when a fictional character speaks of his fictional life as a “script” written by another character, oooh the irony, and irony is french for FUCK YOU!

A prime example of films with characters who speak directly the way they think, the character dialogue is so blatant in some parts it makes one wonder if the script-write actually understands the meaning of in-character speech; when the film tries to tell you what the writer thinks, it does it so explicitly that you might as well be lectured by the writer to the face – clearly somebody doesn’t know the benefits and meaning of subtlety (hint: It’s not directly saying what you think).

Symbolism is rampant in the film, a real treat for the overly attentive viewership it clearly is intended for- the Entertainment Division head symbolizes the entertainment industry that screws over the old fashioned News Division head who symbolizes objective news reporting; an anchorman who gets himself fired (both literally and literally) due to low ratings who symbolizes the rating-driven ideology behind democratic television; radical terrorists turned ratings whores who lose their values and ideology over their show’s popularity; profit hungry executives who symbolize the massive influence they have on the “free media” and impose their will upon what could otherwise be potentially less biased programming.

Television news is depicted as thinly veiled entertainment driven just as much by ratings as any other programming, “deeply prophetic” of the terribly immoral entertainment people have begun to admit they enjoy over the past twenty years, shows like Jerry Springer and Jersey Shore made possible only due to the viewership’s bad taste. This, really, is one of the few admirable points Network makes about bad television, is that in reality it is the viewership’s fault media is the way it is. Sadly Network, despite having had huge popularity in its release, did practically nothing to stop television from continuing in its downfall.

However things have changed since ’76. While television still is the home of sensual news reporting, we as a society do not live in a time of dystopian news reporting, because while elements of the film made itself seem highly prophetic, back then none of the writers foresaw the internet and its influence on how we receive our news and media. The only cause to television’s downfall is the uprising of liberal internet that lets you access a million different news channels each offering its own little specialty, catering to its own little niche. No longer does anyone visit the news for entertainment, the 6 o’clock does not pretend it is Jon Stewart (hopefully?).

Finally, in the hypocrisy of producing a universally acclaimed film that urges people not to watch film content, Network has ultimately failed to do what it apparently set out to do- after all watching a good film on TV is hardly a good reason to stop watching TV, we can see the irony irony irony in that actually, Network (1976) is representative of Howard Beale, Metro Goldwin Meyer is UBS, and we’re the same bunch of dumb audience sitting here thinking we’re so smart for up-rating such a film when in fact we’re being played right in the hands of film corporations who are probably laughing their asses off at the kinda money they’re still able to earn from a 35 year old film. Still, the film is successful for a good reason- the acting is alright, and it perhaps is reasonably entertaining for people who like film characters straight out telling them that their world sucks. After all, not everyone can be an optimist.

So go on, feed those corporates so delightfully portrayed as antagonists by renting that film on DVD or iTunes with your hard earned cash, but eventually you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that Network is still just a commercial movie, however “prophetic”. It is an ok movie, but no better than any other ok movie, and liking it doesn’t make you better than anyone else.

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