Monday, June 13, 2011

Unsocial Network

I recently watched Sidney Lumet's Network for the first time. While I liked Lumet's boldly satirical film - that final line is surely one of the finest closing moments in a film ever, right? - is excellent when dealing with the ins and outs of the television news business, I couldn't help but be disappointed by the romantic subplot involving Faye Dunaway and William Holden.

Faye is not amused.

I know, I know... but surely I am not the only one who found it all a bit silly and trite? I liked how it weaved around the idea of the romance being so cliche - in fact, there was so freaky similarity between Network's "I'm turning into one of your scripts" outbursts and Scream 4! - but it never really caught on until Holden's big final scene. "You're television incarnate, Diana."

It's a shame then because the rest of the film is so fantastic. Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay is a marvel of verbal gymnastics, with witty barbs thrown about as casually as breath. The performances are of equal worth, too, especially Dunaway who just lashes her tongue and rips your face off with her vocal delivery. Network won for Oscars and is one of only two films to win three acting trophies. As one of the winners, Beatrice Straight's five minute performance as William Holden's put upon wife can't help but be judged harshly. There's nothing there that's particularly revelatory about what is essentially a two scene cameo and, frustratingly, her character is a whole mountain of silly. But, you know, she yells a lot in her big scene and I guess that's all you need. Beatrice Straight is certainly no Viola Davis in the pantheon of great cameo actresses, that's for sure. Ned Beatty's equally small part, however, is one I can entirely get behind.

Having now seen it, I can see the reasons why people were comparing this year's Oscar race to that of 1977. The talky, modern day, socially relevant movie with a screenplay for the all time list wins several major categories, but is ultimately trumped by a feel good movie. That Rocky and The King's Speech were both incredibly well-received by critics and audiences alike means nothing to the tsk tsk-ing important people who begrudge their wins. No doubt that Network and The Social Network were amongst the best films of their year, but for all the talk of the "real classic" being unrewarded, I can think of several films from both 1976 and 2010 that deserved the Academy's statue even more. B+


Walter L. Hollmann said...

That romance *is* a little odd. It literally comes out of nowhere. The rest of the movie is a solid A from me, though. One of my all-time favorites.

Tom Clift said...

Interesting point, but I don’t entirely agree. Perhaps the romance is a bit unrealistic or melodramatic, but when you look at most modern satires that don’t even TRY to insert a little human emotion, I really appreciated the relationship between Dunaway and Holden. And that final scene between the two of them – the “you’re television incarnate” speech – might have some of the best dialogue in a film brimming with fantastic writing.

The comparison between this and THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a pretty astute. I think its amazing watching NETWORK today and seeing just how scarily relevant the film remains, and in some cases how prophetic it was. And I think we’ll be saying the same thing about Fincher’s film twenty years down the track. In the mean time, how’s this for a triple feature: NETWORK, THE SOCIAL NETWORK and CITIZEN KANE

Brandon said...

Okay, so I hated Network; especially it's manipulative and implausible script with developments and dialogue so stupid it's sad. The only two genuine saving graces are Holden and Straight who find human souls in a pile of robotic caricatures.

Carpool Cookie said...

The "love story" is thrown in as a commercial element. Dunaway asked the writer at one point why her character even WAS a female, as there seemed to be nothing womanly about her, and he said he needed a love interest.