Network [1979]

Look, it’s hard not to love a film where the central pivotal sequence is a respected news personality, drenched, in his pyjamas, goes on air and explains that he doesn’t understand the problems of the world, before enjoining the viewers to open their windows and shout “I’M MAD AS HELL!!! AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANY MORE!!!” It sums up where I think we’ve been for all of my lifetime. Throughout the film, it grabs our contemporary Zeitgeist by the throat, shakes it about for a bit before tossing it aside, bent, broken, exposed for the shallow and hollow hyper-reality it is. It is terrifyingly prescient, biting, witty and insightful.

Put down your computer, open your window, stick your head out and shout, no SHOUT, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”.

Did it help? Did it solve your problems? Even if you actually did it, I bet it didn’t. The vein of incandescent and iridescent genius that is the Primal Scream through the centre of the film has no answers, poses no real questions, shines no light, it just lashes out at the degradation of Network Television News to smash the device making it angry. At its most extreme it seems tame compared to the bile-spitting hate-mongering that we get on “real” television these days, but far from losing power, the satire has an added poignancy as a result.

Sadly too, the film is not focused. A bit over half the screen time is devoted to a “romance” between another news magnate and a rising television executive. The romance drives home the central themes of the main plotline, but it is not camp enough to read as pure satire while being too emotionally sterile to work any other way. As far as I could tell, it just dragged the pacing into a quagmire. I’ve never seen a screen couple with such little sexual chemistry.

Network has many moments of greatness, but its inability to articulate a positive vision puts it out of the truly great cinematic explorations of the media. There is nothing with the pathos of Elliot Walsh’s final speech at the end of “Steele in the News”, a satire which shows as well as rants, the burgeoning problems with television media which have only gained traction over the succeeding decades.

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