There are any number of reasons why Network hasn't lost its power to disturb, outrage and provoke in the 35 years since it was shot. Yet the essential reason isn't necessarily the most obvious: the prescience of the wayward, wicked, manipulative paths of television as seen through the fable of a veteran newscaster (Peter Finch) at an also-ran television network whose on-air breakdown is turned into ratings gold by a ruthlessly ambitious head of programming (Faye Dunaway).

     The biggest reason is in fact how much this satirical yet deadly serious screed was already a film out of time at the time of its production - a sad, rueful look at the state of modern television by men who had made their careers when television was something else entirely. Both director Sidney Lumet and writer Paddy Chayefsky started out in the live television of 1950s New York, and the film's structure and essentially studio-bound settings clearly peg it as a television play opened-out into the big screen, with Mr. Lumet's fluid handling often resorting to lengthy takes holding the actors' faces for as long as they can hold it, like you would in a television play, yet fully aware that this isn't television. No sir, this is cinema, and first-rate cinema.

     The film's outlandish premise, taking the argument that a TV network will stoop as low as it can go to ensure a ratings hits, hinged on what Mr. Chayefsky projected from the state of 1970s American television, with anonymous, bottom-line-focussed conglomerates gobbling up cultural industries, and the future that has since come to pass has both fulfilled and betrayed the screenwriter's vision - and this is really a case of a director and a cast working to fulfill the writer's vision (not for nothing do the main titles read as if it were a play, "Network by Paddy Chayefsky"). The anything-for-a-hit mentality has certainly taken hold, the news-as-entertainment concept hasn't yet been taken to its logical extreme though it seems a matter of time.

     Not everything works as intended; the subplot of ultra-radical terrorist organisation the Ecumenical Liberation Army comes off as the most openly satirical and dated element in the film, and Mr. Lumet was never big on comedy, so the sly tone required is never present. But somehow, that doesn't detract at all from the calculatedly calibrated careering juggernaut of Mr. Chayefsky's script, with the director carefully managing its snowballing thrust as the argument is taken to its absurdly logical consequence. Upon release back in 1976, Roger Ebert said the film might well survive where better, tidier, more perfect movies wouldn't. He was right. In 2012, Network remains alert, urgent, timely.

Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall.
     Director, Sidney Lumet; screenplay, Paddy Chayefsky; cinematography, Owen Roizman (prints by Metrocolor); music, Elliot Lawrence; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; costume designer, Theoni V. Aldredge; editor, Alan Heim; producer, Howard Gottfried (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), USA, 1976, 121 minutes.
     Screened: DVD, Lisbon, March 14th 2012. 


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