As I have mentioned before, I think context is inseparable from your enjoyment of a film as an isolated piece of art. You a film through any number of filters – including your preconceptions and prejudices, right down to where you watched the film, and who you watched it with.
And one huge filter you view any film through, and one that changes from generation to generation, is the world you live in. You can’t escape the fact that the audiences watching Network when it was released view the world, especially the news media, in a totally different way to the way we do today.
This, in my opinion, is Network’s biggest problem. I am meant to be shocked that a news network would put a deranged ‘prophet’ on the air, but that shock is lost when you realise that Howard Beale would probably only be the third of fourth most unhinged member of the ‘news’ team on Fox. In particular, Glen Beck seems to have based his entire shtick on the character of Howard Beale, and someone must have told him to dial it up.
I didn’t find Beale’s breakdown believable at all – it seemed to happen overnight, and is possibly one of the least-deserving Oscar-winning performances I have ever seen. After the first 15 minutes Peter finch is Hollywood at its most self-indulgent.
The film was at least 20 minutes too long (it’s never a great sign when you are checking how long of the film is left), and the whole ‘terrorism on television’ plotline again seemed dated. There were a few funny moments in the plotline (the scene where the leader of the Ecumenical Liberation Army was negotiating contract terms), but it felt crowbarred in for the sake of the ending – which in itself felt rushed and filmed because they couldn’t think how else to get out of the narrative cul-de-sac they had positioned themselves in.
There were some good points though. Some of the dialogue was razor sharp, and zipped along at a pace that made it obvious that Network was a big influence on Aaron Sorkin. It’s just that Aaron Sorkin does it even better. The acting of the supporting cast was also excellent – Robert Duvall was even better than in The Godfather, and William Holden and Faye Dunaway were mesmerising in a romantic subplot that I found far more satisfying than the main plot. And I’m the type of person who hates romantic subplots.
Some may think I’m a heretic here, but I really didn’t see the fuss about Network. In fact, I’d be willing to argue with anyone that if the IMDB Top 250 really needs a psychologically-damaged, renegade newsreader film, then I would prefer Anchorman