Well it’s Oscar time again.
I’ve been watching the Oscar ceremonies since I was a little girl and saw Sidney Poitier and Julie Christie win their Academy Awards waaay back in the 60’s. I’ve been recording the ceremony every year since my 1983 VCR days. My Oscar-tradition is: lights out, Haagen-Dazs at the ready and just gaze at the movie stars. Sometimes I agree and cheer, other times I’m annoyed and yell. But I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Thanxxx to Once Upon A Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club I get to talk about “NETWORK.”
For my contribution to the 31 DAYS OF OSCAR Blogathon 2015, I gotta tell ya – “Network” has got to be the most perfect motion picture ever made…that didn’t win a Best Picture Oscar. The big picture winner in 1976 was “ROCKY” ( also nominated along with “All the President’s Men”, “Bound for Glory” and “Taxi Driver” ). I enjoyed “Rocky” – it’s an emotional favorite; lower budget, indie-ish…has the flavor of “On The Waterfront.” But I guess I can’t in good conscience think of “Network” as Oscar-snubbed just because it didn’t win the Best Picture award. The glass is not exactly half-empty. The movie gar-nered FOUR Oscars for acting and writing. And that makes the glass pretty darned full.
“Network” is the perfect storm of systems: The Plot – Keeping a mentally unstable newsman on air and exploiting his illness for ratings. The big Set-Pieces: “Mad As Hell”, Ned Beatty’s Corporate Speech, The Wife’s Speech and the Contract Negotiation Scene which is the highpoint in the movie for me. And Director – Sidney Lumet who keeps it all moving and flowing. But the main ingredient of this perfect storm is the Acting and Writing.
The problem I’ve had with shows like “Thirty-Something” “West Wing” and currently, “The Newsroom” is that even with the very good actors on these shows, the shows SOUND written. The words sound WRITTEN; they don’t sound SPOKEN. Not Paddy Chayefsky. He’s a Bronx boy born January 29th 1923 and knows how people talk. ( “Marty” “Bachelor Party” “Middle of the Night” ). He imbues his characters with great dialogue and the actors put it over brilliantly.
The man is twenty, thirty, now almost forty years ahead of his time with what he says about television in the movie “Network”. And the Actors’ performances in this movie is nothing short of brilliant. From starring role to cameo appearances, they all lend such credibility to these characters making them three-dimensional by being either their best selves or being just plain rotten to the core. Mostly, they play them as human beings. They say forewarned is forearmed, so be forewarned you might see me over-use words like brilliant or great. And you will hear some very salty language by clicking on any number of hot-linked photos below. I spotlight ACTORS in my contribution to this popular annual Oscar blogathon.
“I was married for four years and pre-tended to be happy, and I had six years of analysis and pretended to be sane. My husband ran off with his boyfriend and I had an affair with my analyst who told me I was the worse lay he had ever had. I can’t tell you how many men have told me what a lousy lay I am. I apparently have a masculine temperament. I arouse quickly, consummate prematurely and can’t wait to get my clothes back on and get out of that bedroom. I seem to be inept at everything…except my work. I’m good at my work.”
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FAYE DUNAWAY ( as Diana Christiansen ) – DUNAWAY is a runaway train in this movie. She’s the film’s catalyst and its tsunami. I think she gives the performance of the decade. If this movie had been done in the 30’s ( don’t worry, it wouldn’t have ) Dunaway would have been burned at the stake as a witch. Men, women and small dogs would not know what to make of her. She’d be an alien. She is riveting and kinetic. She is jittery with nervous energy. She is direct and insane. No boundaries. Well, maybe I should say she thinks outside of the box. ( Ya think? ) She thinks only of the bottom line, goes after what she wants ( Holden ), drops what she doesn’t need and keeps it moving. She doesn’t use the grace note. She’s always pitching. Power IS sexy. She’s lost her humanity, and she only gets a very slim glimpse of its loss at the end. But do I detect a faint whiff of the boys throwing her under the bus when things go awry. There’s a reason why Dunaway was the It Girl back then. No one else could have done this role. Think about it. No one.
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WILLIAM HOLDEN ( as Max Schu-macher ) – The soul of integrity. The spine. He’s Old School. He wants to do the news. He wants to do the Truth. He also wants to do Faye Dunaway. He’s the Straight Man in all this. His gravitas is on every line on his glorious face. He does a great job, even when he faces the folly of being enamored of Dunaway. He’s the Golden Boy. He’s a Movie Star. Wanna know why? Watch “Network.”
“This is not a psychotic episode. It’s a cleansing moment of clarity. I’m imbued, Max. I’m imbued with some special secret. It’s not a religious feeling at all. It’s a shocking eruption of great electrical energy. I feel vivid and flashing as though I’d been plugged into some great electro-magnetic field. I feel connected to all things…”
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PETER FINCH ( as Howard Beale ) – He’s having a mental breakdown; he realizes practically his whole life has been b.s. and he’s a man with nothing left to lose. He’s a Messianic hippie. He’s a carnival barker. He’s a bit of a Happy Fool. He might be telling The Truth for the first time in his life. His “Mad-As-Hell” speech is pure brilliance. He seems absolutely level-headed. He plays it straight with a very slight twinkle in his eye. He’s the conduit for all the greed and power of television, but he doesn’t know it. Poor bubby…thinks he’s passing on The Word to people. And he was, for a bit. He was making them think for a little bit when they tuned in. He was a Messenger but he’s really just become a Tool for, what Ned Beatty will call, “…the primal forces of Nature.” If he’s The Messenger, he will deliver the Corporate Message. How sad and in awe he looks as he looks into the face of God. Corporate God. Finch is us, struggling to believe in Something, speaking for US…and he’s a heartbreaker. I should have liked to have seen him in more “sophisticated comedy.” I see he could handle it. The sad sad irony of all this is that Peter Finch does not live to see his performance awarded with an Academy Award for Best Actor. I would have loved to have heard his speech. But we have Finch’s wife accepting his award posthumously. She does a touching job speaking on his behalf, for his great performance.
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ROBERT DUVALL ( as Frank Hackett ) – Duvall always sounds to me like he has marshmallows swirling in his mouth; and I love listening to him speak. He’s a company man. He likes Diana’s idea of giving Howard Beale a show and runs with it. He suckles at the corporate teet and guzzles as much as he can. He’s pumped up with it. He’s smug; a blowhard, waiting for that corporate pat on his bankroll. Money is his God. Duvall can handle pages of dialogue without the editor cutting away and back to him. He is infinitely watchable. Yep, the same man who played Boo Radley.
“I’m your wife dammit. And if you can’t work up a Winter passion for me, the least I re-quire is respect and allegiance. I’m hurt, don’t you un-derstand. I hurt badly.”
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BEATRICE STRAIGHT ( as Louise Schumacher ) – It really is just one scene. Just one, less than five minute scene that shows her range and talent. ( Shades of Luise Rainer? )
Pain, humor and sadness seamlessly woven in less than five minutes. Betrayal and disbelief wash over her face. The humor I talk about is that kind where it hurts so much, you have to laugh; she does that in this scene. Watch her for a master class in Acting. I miss her onscreen. And Louise Fletcher.
“The world is a college of cor-porations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a busi-ness, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime.”
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NED BEATTY ( as Mr. Jensen, CCA Corporation ) – Have you ever seen a fire-breathing dragon? Okay. In human form? Ahhhh. Ned Beatty is a thing to behold in that darkened cave of a conference room. He is the most sinister and malevolent voice in “Network.” Yet I do crack up when he calms down turns friendly and says: “…Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?” Part of it is the way Lumet films him. But it’s also the ebb and flow of how he strokes and gives life to Chayefsky’s words. Beatty is a human roller coaster in this scene with twists and turns of emotion and fervor and anger and ordinary guy. But please…make no mistake. He’s Beelzebub.
MARLENE WARFIELD ( as Laureen Hobbes ) – She gives a searing performance. We won’t see the likes of her fire until we see Angela Bassett or Viola Davis. Warfield’s Angela Davis take-off with her beauty and Afro and Dashiki is a woman with a laser-beam stare that could wilt steel; but that doesn’t phase Diana ( Dunaway ). Hobbes spits her words out like bullets. She believes in the Revolution until there’s tv exposure for her ideas. She has my favorite scene in the movie because in it everyone plays it sooo straight. But if you recognize that “Network” is a black comedy, you’ll see the hilarity in this very salty scene. Warfield is a beacon as she rat-a-tat-tats her dialogue. She’s ice. She’s fire. She’s fierce. She’s freakin’ funny.
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They both understand each other in this scene, looking at each other eye-to-eye. No Black girl / white girl, b.s. They both want different things and both can get what they want:
( Diana ) – “I don’t give a damn about the political content. Each week we open with an authentic act of political terrorism taken on the spot and in the moment.”
( Laureen ) – “The American masses are not yet ready for open revolt. We would not want to produce a television show celebrating historically deviational terrorism.”
( Diana ) – “Miss Hobbes, I’m offering you an hour of television every week into which you can stick whatever propaganda you want.”
I had to include Wesley Addy, William Prince and Conchata Ferrell for their small wonder- ful moments in the movie.
And lets not leave out the narrator of the movie, his deadpan delivery is utter perfection before every major moment and a nice touch. The voice is objective, a thing, no feeling. Just reports events: “There were the usual contractual difficulties.“ He’s referring to the scene below. You must check out this scene. Lawyers lawyering with their lawyer talk. Everyone trying to fight for their piece of the pie. Here’s Marlene Warfield with scene partner Kathy Cronkite – yes, Walter’s daughter.
Please click on this photo below and watch the free-for-all play out. ( WARNING: Salty language ).
The Great Ahmed Khan ( played by Arthur Burghardt )
“You’re television incarnate, Diana.”
Watching the Oscars all these years, I’ve had many disappointments ( Hey Sis, remember how we screamed and hollered over Nicholson losing for “Five Easy Pieces”? ) But when they get it right, it’s great! “Network” was one of those movies that made me feel kind of grown-up watching it back in ’76. And now, all these years later, I still feel kind of grown up. Check out the bits and pieces of acting hot-linked to some of the photos above. Or do yourself a big favor…just watch the movie and see some great performances.
And thanks again to Once Upon A Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club for including my post in their 31 DAYS OF OSCAR blogathon. Folks, make some time to read others’ contributions as well.
See you ‘…on the Couch’ next Sunday.
( H O M E )