I could list many things, but what about some great lines?
“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
“This is not a psychotic episode, this is a cleansing moment of clarity.”
“You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and you will atone!”
“It’s a big fat, big titted hit!”
Also, one must admire just how prescient the film was, as if Paddy Chayefsky had a crystal ball that could see the future of commercial television. Plus the acting is astounding from top to bottom. This is easily one of the greatest films.
William Holden’s wonderful performance.
He also seems 5 or so years too old for parts (see his masterwork Picnic) but damn he pulls it off.
Chayefsky is what I love about. I really like the performances, but the words made the film. The story was absurd and so so true, a satire that is now fact.
Without Paddy we wouldn’t be talking about it.
William Holden’s parting shot to Faye Dunaway is a masterful piece of writing and delivery. It ought to be required (in fact, the entire film) for anybody who still buys the illusion of television.
Paddy Chayefsky wrote his name onto the Oscar statuette when he wrote the screenplay for this film. It’s spectacularly verbose and devastatingly honest. Like Paddy said, people tried to say the movie isn’t true, but it is. I imagine the television industry is full of people who see this movie and are too ashamed to admit it does what television so rarely achieves: it really tells it like it is.
Mark and Ulicain nail the greatness of NETWORK: it’s mainly in Chayefsky’s intelligent script and in the performances of roles that might have been cartoonish in other hands. As Mark says, “writing and delivery.”
I also love the character’s vocabulary. Even the hard-nosed Robert Duvall character (who does not appear to be an intellectual) uses the word “adamantine” (meaning unyielding; inflexible), a word I haven’t seen or heard in print or conversation since 1976.
And certainly the film’s social commentary about the evils of global capitalism, media conglomerates, the sensationalism of TV news, gender and racial issues, the “generation gap,” and even religion were not standard movie fare in the U.S.’s Bicentennial year.
For anyone who’s interested, I wrote a long essay on the films of 1976 (including an analytical segment on NETWORK) in a book collection. Here’s the citation:
“1976: Movies and Cultural Contradictions,” American Cinema in the 1970s: Themes and Variations, edited by Lester Friedman (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2007), pp. 157-204.
It’s a perfect demonstration of how a talented writer makes his bi-polar disorder work for him.
I think a film like Network highlights something we sometimes forget about on this site – which is so heavily director focussed – the screenwriter(s) can often be the most critical factor in making a great film. In a film such as Network, where dialogue is so crucial – as the comments here have clearly pointed out – if you have a team of actors that can bring the words to life on-screen, a good director to not get in the way by being too flashy, magic can happen.
There are any number of films where the script is key to our enjoyment of the film – and beyond what the director him or herself is actually doing – unless they are one and the same. There are any number of films I hold in high regard because of the script. A short list would include: A Streetcar Named Desire, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?, All About Eve, Some Like it Hot, A Thousand Clowns, A Trip to Bountiful, Being There, Five Easy Pieces, Casablanca.
In each film, the dialogue is literate and essential, there are many memorable moments and lines, and the actors have something to really sink their teeth into and shine. In some of these cases we have a play made into a film, in some from an original source, in others a screenplay that went directly onto the screen. In two cases, the screenwriter (or co-writer) directed the film. If we have a major talent as a writer, then the music of the language being spoken and delivered is just as important as anything happening on screen.
Let’s give the screenwriter credit here – for a change.
What’s most remarkable to me is how prophetic this film is. And, of course, it’s so truthful and relevant for our times. The media didn’t have a chokehold on the American public back then like it does now. Over-the-top shock journalism didn’t really exist when this movie was made, although it’s just everywhere now—especially on cable, like Fox News. And as far as reality TV, only the Loud family had self-destructed before our eyes at this point, and that seemed like an anomaly. It’s clearly a cautionary tale, and I think Paddy Chayefsky was warning us where we were headed. Sadly, he was right. And that’s what I love about this movie, how profoundly smart and insightful it is. And of course it’s beautifully written, directed, and acted, too.
David K – Absolutely! It was like Chayefsky was watching all the junk on right now. Too bad he isn’t around for Network II. Still, we have it on the authority of a former chair of the FCC, Newton Minow, in a speech he delivered about television of his day made in 1961 (15 years before Network):
“When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.”
The vast wasteland part of this got alot of airplay. Guess Chayefsky saw even deeper into this. Proves that no matter how bad things seem at the time, they can always get worse.
Well, they’re worse than bad, they’re crazy
Ulicain – I think it’s time for another appropirate quote from the film:
Howard Beale: I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad.
This was written in 1976, folks! To Chayefsky’s: “Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything.” Let’s maybe update it a bit: “Let me have my game player, my laptop, my Criterion collection, and my wide-screen HD TV with the surround-sound system and I won’t say anything.” Ha!
-Let’s give the screenwriter credit here – for a change-
In fairness to Paddy Chayefsky’s ego, let’s also acknowledge his efforts to assure that he would be recognized as the auteur of the film. According to Kubrick’s biographer Vincent Lobrutto, PC and Howard Godfried submitted a list to acceptable directors for the project, including Penn, Scorsese, Polanski, and Kubrick. The studio vetoed Penn, Scorsese, and Polanski, but OK’d Kubrick and a few others. Kubrick was sent a copy of the screenplay and apparently expressed interest, but Chayefsky decided he didn’t want Kubrick to do it, and eventually Lumet got the job.
William Holden. Yes the writing was magnificent, but Bill Holden gave a great performance in a movie with a lot of great performances. His was my favorite. Personally I thought he was the only real person in that movie.
Definently one of the best written screenplay of American cinema from the 1970’s, way ahead of it’s time. What I like most about it is it’s energy and the pacing of the film, everything fits in so perfectly all together just perfectly.
Thank you for your kind words.
It’s interesting you wrote a paper about “Network” and the films of 1976. I was looking at your biography on this site earlier this week and saw references to all the work you’ve done and immediately wondered if you had anything to say about “Network”.
Also, very well-observed about Frank Hackett (his use of the word "adamantine” and other alphabet soup terms) and the way the film is “overwritten” in general. This is a great film for expanding one’s vocabulary. I call “Network” a “dictionary” film or a “thesaurus” piece. Describing the film in such terms generally turns people away from the movie: their loss.
As an aside, isn’t Robert Duvall just wonderful as Frank when delivering that monologue to William Holden as Max, when Frank gives Max his Royal Order of the D.C.M. (Don’t Come Monday)? Frank Hackett just comes across as the most overblown, disgustingly arrogant villain at this point of the film, brimming with overconfidence…nailed home by THIS line…
“I got a hit, Schumacher, and Ruddy doesn’t count any more! He hoped I’d fail with this Beale show, but I DIDN’T! It’s a big fat, big-titted hit!”
I was born in 1978: I’d be hard pressed to think of some other place (other than the Internet or dictionary when I’ve looked up some of these words) where I have seen such terms used. This exposes another talent of Paddy Chayefsky: he had such a command of the English language, he could use a bunch of words you’ve never before heard, but due to the context and poetic manner in which he used them, they would make perfect sense. The film also taught me a new word straight from Paddy Chayefsky’s Hebrew vocabulary:
“Jim Webbing and It’s-the-EMMES-Truth Department.”
(“Emmes” meaning “gospel”, e.g. “It’s the gospel truth!”).
Diana Christensen doesn’t seem like much of an intellectual either; maybe during the first part of the film she seems rather sharp, even admirable—she seems to be full of energy and ideas and has an iron will that must have been requisite for a woman to succeed in the corporate world of the 1970s. Alas, it quickly becomes apparent Diana’s energy is no more than flickering superficiality like that of a television screen itself, her nous confined to the world of Nielsen ratings and T.V. programming—as Max Schumacher says, she learned life from Bugs Bunny, she understands nothing outside the fantasyland of the tube. Diana reminds me of those business suited women who come across as empowered and successful—until you talk to them about something, ANYTHING other than their work or money, then they are completely at sea.
Interesting sidenote about Diana: could she be the ONLY woman in the history of cinema who has been portrayed as being a “lousy lay”? I think Paddy was again ahead of his time here (and still ahead of ours). It seems forbidden to even suggest women can be lousy in the sack, not just in films, I mean anywhere. Or maybe Paddy saw this as the ultimate victory of the Women’s Movement: the right for a woman to be as every bit self-centred and inconsiderate as her male partner between the sheets.
Laureen Hobbs is an often overlooked character in this film. How ironic is it she sells out her Marxist values to dip her toes into the polluted waters of capitalist television? Given a choice between handing out Mimeographed flyers on ghetto street corners and having her own “reality” television show, Laureen opts for the latter, and you can see the turmoil it causes with her comrades as they bicker over revenue and contracts.
I’m glad others have given Paddy Chayefsky more credit than a screenwriter would normally get for “Network”. Director Sidney Lumet weaves his magic where necessary (e.g. the sight of people yelling from their apartment buildings “I’m as mad as hell!”), yet for the most part realises Paddy’s script is strong enough to carry much of the film. And surely Mr. Lumet realised the calibre of performers he had (Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, et al) would require minimal “coaching” on the set.
“William Holden. Yes the writing was magnificent, but Bill Holden gave a great performance in a movie with a lot of great performances. His was my favorite. Personally I thought he was the only real person in that movie.”
What about Max’s wife Louise? Beatrice Straight really said a mouthful during those six minutes of screen time. And she’s the only main character who is not “in” on the world of television.
Also, I thought Howard Beale (Peter Finch) was as real as real can be. It’s just so sad that in his effort to shake the world from its ignorant slumber, Beale more becomes a pawn of the greedy network. And certainly if Beale had no work, he would’ve ended it all, as he states on camera at the beginning of the film. Beale preaches to the masses that television is not life, it is only an illusion. But without television, Howard would’ve ended his own life, ergo, television is Howard’s life support system. Howard himself becomes part of the illusion that is television. “WE are the illusion”…Howard says it himself. There is so much irony woven into this film.
“Network” reminds me of “Goodnight, and Good Luck”. The speech Ed Murrow (David Strathairn) delivers about the potential for television to educate, or insulate. I think it would be great to compile a list of “great television movies” (as in movies about television, not movies made for the small screen). Apart from “Goodnight” I would include “Quiz Show” into the mix, as well as “Switching Channels”: not quite on par with the other three, but a very amusing comedy that, interestingly enough, has Ned Beatty (Arthur Jensen from “Network”) in its cast, and says a lot about the illusory nature of television.