Paddy Chayevsky’s searing satire on television news (directed by Sidney Lumet) gets a new region B Blu-ray release courtesy of Arrow Films.
When newscaster Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is told he’s to be laid off as a result of poor ratings, he takes to the airwaves and announces on the next edition of his news programme that he’s going to kill himself live on air in a week’s time. Reaction is predictable - the network is outraged and the ratings go up. Realising that Harold might be the company’s ticket out of impending bankruptcy, newly installed company hatchet man Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) allows rising star of TV programming Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) to put together an ‘entertainment news programme’ with Harold as the main attraction, surrounded by a psychic, a vox pops section and others. Old-fashioned head of news Max Schumacher (William Holden) isn’t happy and so he’s sacked, then reinstated when they realise the company can’t work without him. Soon he has other problems to deal with as he leaves his wife of twenty five years to start an affair with Diana.
Beale, meanwhile, has become the voice of the nation, his catchphrase ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore’ being shouted from rooftops and brownstone windows by an ever-increasing audience. But Beale is far from a media puppet, and his actions threaten to lead to the network’s downfall.
Probably the best thing Nigel Kneale never wrote, Chayevsky’s NETWORK is a blisteringly angry invective about what television could become. The fact that we now know it’s ended up even worse just makes the movie all the more relevant for our media-driven times. There’s virtually nothing wrong with NETWORK. The voice over that pops up at intervals when there’s a time shift or a scene needs setting feels a little awkward, but compared to all the genius that’s on display here it’s the tiniest of complaints. Lumet’s direction is nicely understated on the whole, allowing the actors to carry the film. One memorable exception is a scene which cuts between a close-up on Finch and evil corporation boss Ned Beatty, seemingly unreachable and godlike at the far end of a row of desk lamps in the company boardroom.
And where to start with the acting? How often do we ever get to see such exemplary ensemble pieces on the big screen? William Holden, older, wiser, sympathetic and about to be beaten down by a system he no longer understands? Robert Duvall, all manic screaming, equally terrifying and funny but also horribly believable, Faye Dunaway as the TV executive who admits she’s good at nothing except working in television, the quintessential Chayevsky Nothing Person. And then there’s Finch, memorably insane in a performance fuelled with such energy he almost jumps off the screen.
Arrow presents NETWORK in an excellent transfer with an uncompressed mono PCM audio track. Extras include Sidney Lumet’s entry in the series The Directors, a trailer, and Tune in Next Tuesday, a visual essay by Dave Itzkoff, who wrote the book ‘Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies. It runs for 47 minutes and is excellent, more than making up for the lack of a commentary track. You also get the usual Arrow reversible sleeve and a booklet with new writing on the movie.
Paddy Chayevsky's NETWORK is released on region B Blu-ray from Arrow Films today, Monday 23rd March 2015