Paddy Chayefsky's story for Network, who plays tonight at 9:30 as part of the Enzian's Cult Classics programming, was one that took a long time to come together, The very basics of the idea stretch back to the late 60s, but took him years longer to research and crack. Americans "American people “don’t want jolly, happy family type shows like Eye Witness News” he wrote in notes for the story that were uncovered by the New York Times at the New York Public Library archives. “The American people are angry and want angry shows.”
Thirty five years later and we're still angry. Possibly angrier. One of the truly scary things about filmmaking is when satire becomes reality. But Chayefsky's vision, as staged by the equally brilliant Sidney Lumet, has, in the most important ways, become our daily television world. Satirists and comedians -- such as Stewart, Colbert and Maher -- have become more respected than mainstream news outlets. And more useful to boot.
You know all about Howard Beale and his post-traumatic on-air breakdown that created a catchphrase, but I always tend to focus on William Holden in this -- in his last great role. He's a character pushed overboard by the bullshit just as much as Beale, but he takes a different route. He's the old crony you listen to tell the same story over and over again, partially because it's a great story, but also because he's a living link to the past when newsgathering meant something more than ratings and ad space.
I couldn't possibly say enough nice words about this film, one of the best about the newsbeat, and surely in the same breath as James L. Brooks' Broadcast News, Pakula's All the President's Men, Mackendrick's The Sweet Smell of Success and Sam Fuller's short but genius Park Row.