The media consists of nothing but scum, but you should already know this!
Written By: Paddy Chayefsky
Directed By: Sidney Lumet
It’s funny for me to think of Network as a satire, because it came across as nothing like a satire to me. Yes, some moments reek of being overdone for the purpose of a joke, but the film is rooted in reality to the point where it isn’t so much a satire as a look into the world of media and entertainment. Maybe in 1976 Network was more of a satire, but even then I fail to see how it was viewed as a satire if the general public wasn’t naive, but more on that later. It is in this take on media that I found to be realistic that the film worked the most for me and why I have trouble looking at Network as a satire.
Network tackles media and the issue of their willingness to exploit anything to get more rating and make a buck. The movie does a good job of portraying the media’s desire to do this and I found that most scenes painting the media as corrupt did ring true with me. However, the one major flaw in Network is that it wants its audience to be naive. In the world of Network, and Paddy Chayefsky, the media used to be good, they used to be honest. No doubt there were honest people in the media since its inception, just as there are honest people in the media industry today. But, I scoff at the idea that Network tries to propagate of the old media holding the moral line against the new media. All it takes is one glance at journalism or media history and you will see how corrupt the business of media has always been and how no matter what year we are talking about the goal has always been to exploit the common people to make as much money as possible.
Where Network carries the most impact is in its indictment of the common populace. The media may be dastardly for exploiting people to create news, but the common person is just as bad for taking it in. If you don’t turn to channel 12 then their exploitative journalism will fall on deaf ears. But, people tune in all the time, and that is why at the end of the day we are to blame for the Keith Olberman’s and Bill O’ Reilly’s of the world. We empower them to continue with their brand of exploitation and it will never stop until we turn them off. Network does a splendid job of subtly tacking the issue of the common man’s role in media exploitation.
Across the board the acting in Network is very good, so much so that I didn’t think one role stood out more than the others. Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall are all terrific in their parts. At certain times the film belongs to Holden, then at others it belongs to Duvall, Finch, etc..
With the satire element failing to make any mark on me it came down to the realistic nature of the story as well as the free flowing dialogue to draw me in. The dialogue is crisp and moves the story along, it is very efficient, the type that you would expect lifelong business and media types to sprout off. In the relationship between Dunaway and Holden it is the dialogue that works the most and that saves the believability of the relationship. Without the clever dialogue I don’t think I ever would have bought there relationship even for the little amount that I did.
Network isn’t a perfect movie, and it is flawed in the naivete it expects from its audience in regards to the media of old. But, it is well made, with good direction, great acting and clever writing. I don’t know that it is worthy of the massive critical praise it has received over the years, but maybe that falls on the era in which the film was made and how cutting the satire must have seemed at the time. Still, Network is worth seeing, whether you are a communist or democrat or an insane ranting and raving man.