Friday, September 01, 2006

Must-See TV

Peter Finch as Howard Beale, the first known
man who was killed because of lousy ratings.

Two nights ago, Darling Husband, the Boy Wonder and I watched "Network." I hadn't seen it in at least 20 years, ditto DH; BW never. And you know what? It still holds up. In fact, it may be even more timely now than when it was first released 30 years ago. The main theme is eerily prescient: an upstart network's entertainment division takes over the money-losing news division, and an ambitious, amoral exec (Faye Dunaway) starts producing cheap, sensationalistic reality shows.

BW declared it one of the best films he's ever seen. I'm with him: "Network" really says something, thanks to the incomparable Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay. Yeah, it veers into preachiness towards the end, but so what.

Dunaway looks as though she stepped put of the pages of a current fashion magazine: stick-thin with shoulder-length hair, dressed in gorgeously draped silk blouses and pencil-slim skirts (though Today's Woman would wear a bra--or at least a camisole). The two male leads, Peter Finch and William Holden, look timeless too. The film only shows its age with the cars, shlumpy hairstyles and clothes of the secondary characters, and of course the quaint sounds of real telephone bells and clickety-clacking typewriters and teletypes.

The film is most famous for crackpot newscaster Howard Beale (Finch) raving, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore." (BW liked the line so much that he's using it in a project for his American Lit class.) But the most killingly funny scenes, which I'd entirely forgotten, were the ones in which a radical black communist--obviously modeled on Angela Davis--gets into a spit-flying rage over subsidiary rights and profit points with Dunaway and the dorky network suits. Money, as always, is the great corrupter.

In another prescient scene, Ned Beatty as the CEO of a shadowy conglomerate gives a tour-de-force speech on how in the future there will be no more USA or Germany or Japan, just companies like IBM and Exxon, which are going to fulfill all our needs and make everyone happy. We just have to give in and go along with them. BRRR!


MR said...

Oddly enough, I just watched "Welcome Back Kotter" for the first time in 25-30 years. And you know what? It doesn't hold up. In fact, it probably sucked then. I was just too young to know better. So much for all those fond memories . . .

Anonymous said...

The Dick Van Dyke show, the original with Mary Tyer Moore is still as funny as it always was.

salty said...

i watched it recently myself and had a similar experience.

and i appreciate your comment on my comment on the snarky blog (1st pg means 1st pg). I looked through the books of favorite authors of mine including Vonnegut, Hemingway and St.-Exupery and many start slowly and build. Perhaps Snarks is simply reflecting that the MTV age has come to book publishing as well, and that to break in these days you need to hook 'em faster than before.

actually many people's comments are right out of "breaking into screenwriting 101" such as: dialogue on page one, action on page one, show - don't tell, where's the plot, etc