Network lost Oscars. It doesn’t really matter what it lost them to, because the absurdity of the Academy Awards is summed up in that one statement. Network lost Oscars.
I’m not sure what shot is Sidney Lumet’s best in the film, because I’m remembering two of them from the last half. These aren’t necessarily the best shots in the film, but they’re memorable because I can’t quite remember ever seeing anything like them before. The first is for Ned Beatty’s big scene. It’s an amazing scene from Beatty, but Lumet’s composition, the lighting scheme, the cuts to Peter Finch, it’s a singular filmic moment. The second, unfortunately in some ways, summarizes the popular half of Network. It’s the network executives sitting around Robert Duvall’s office, deciding what must be done. It’s been about ten years since I’ve seen Network and I don’t know if I passively remembered the resolution or if, in those ten years, I’ve consumed enough media the resolution just became the most logical thing in the world. Lumet makes enough room for six people in his shot and lets the camera sit. Duvall might even walk into the shot. There’s only one close-up I can remember, otherwise Lumet just lets it sit.
The popular half of Network is the one where people remember the lines, the one acclaimed in modernity as a classic of 1970s cinema. Network is–and I’m only going to talk about this aspect for a second–more obviously true today than it was in 1976. The Saudis buying up America, for example, much more pertinent these days than then. The dehumanizing effects of television, much worse today than then… at least then, television wasn’t apathetic to suffering. It had yet to become the idiot box. It’s funny in that sad, tragic way how much acclaim the sound bits from Network get–the lip service. Makes one wonder if those giving the awards (the American Film Institute) watches the film.
The other half of Network is, much like the non-pioneering half of Citizen Kane, forgotten. And it’s, like Kane, the more important one. In Network, it’s the William Holden side. Holden’s performance–which, incredulously, he reportedly got due to The Towering Inferno–is astounding. Network wouldn’t work if any of the cast couldn’t hold with Holden or Finch or Faye Dunaway. Duvall’s part, in the first half, is the sketchiest, just because of the plot, but Duvall holds it and makes it work and it pays off big in the end. Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting for less than six minutes. Easily deserved it. The combination of Lumet’s direction and Chayefsky’s script for scenes like Straight’s… it’s truly special filmmaking. Everything else aside, all of Finch’s hysterics aside (as well as the wonderfully absurd scenes, like the terrorists worrying about syndication rights), Network is a quiet film.
I could go on ad nauseam–I have not, for instance, discussed Dunaway’s performance or Chayefsky’ script the editing or the sound design–but it’ll turn into a list. Overanalyzing Network isn’t useful, it’s far too consequential.
Directed by Sidney Lumet; written by Paddy Chayefsky; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Alan Heim; music by Elliott Lawrence; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Howard Gottfried; released by United Artists.
Starring Faye Dunaway (Diane Christenson), William Holden (Max Schumacher), Peter Finch (Howard Beals), Robert Duvall (Frank Hackett), Wesley Addy (Nelson Chaney), Ned Beatty (Arthur Jenson), Darryl Hickman (Bill Herron), Beatrice Straight (Louise Schumacher) and Marlene Warfield (Laureen Hobbs).