Monday, August 10, 2009

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!"

I spent a hot Saturday night, after the disaster of kayaking (q.v.) watching "Network." I hadn't seen it since its original release in 1976. You remember "Network". Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duval and above all Peter Finch as Howard Beale, the mad newscaster. He harangues us all, via TV- the great leveler, the 1970s Valium , to get up, GET UP! go to the window, open the window and yell, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!" And people do. In Keokuk, Kalamazoo, Kenosha and Kentucky, you name it, windows go flying open and neighbors, probably many of whom had never met the guy next door, scream "I'm as mad as hell!" out into the night..

I loved every line of this film. I don't remember if it was a shocker back in 1976. It did win a spate of Academy Awards. Good. Thirty- three years later isn't this relevant? Peter Finch/Howard Beale/Paddy Chayefsky were predicting the Howard Sterns and Rush Limbaughs who would make huge livings tapping into the public rage. And you can go ahead and rage against Stern and Limbaugh et al all you like. You can also turn them off and ignore them. Too many people don't do that. Don't blame the messenger and don't even blame the broadcast hucksters who fan the flames. Blame us. Blame me and blame you. We listen to them. Not enough of us direct our mad as hell moments to elected officials and big business-those who control the destinies of the rest of us. You don't like it? Don't buy it and don't vote for it and tell your friends why. It's your right.

Back to the picture. It's the work of director Sidney Lumet and the great Paddy Chayefsky (1923-1981). I need to read more of Chayefsky's work and learn more about him. I know his plays were called "kitchen sink realism". This comes from television in the 1950s. Loretta Young might have been glamorous and Pat Boone was selling big cars, but Chayefsky was writing about lonely people living ordinary lives. That's his gift: the ability to resonate completely with his audience. In "Network" we watch in horrified fascination at Faye Dunaway's man- eating robotics, and in horror at Peter Finch's meltdown. I suspect most of us would like to be Peter Finch long enough to tell the world via TV to fuck off; or be William Holden so we can be a decent man who stumbles long enough to have sex with Faye Dunaway and regrets it.

Chayefsky wrote "The Hospital" "A Catered Affair" (superb!) and above all "Marty" which swept the Oscars twenty years before "Network". Rob Steiger starred in the 1953 TV production. Ernest Borgnine won an Oscar for the movie three years later.
"Network" was an accurate mirror in 1976. It seems more accurate now. It did pave the way for the shit of yak radio. The missing ingredient is art.

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