A Film Guide – Reprinted from the April 1996 VP
Rated R. Running time: 2 hours 1 min.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and he who has no money, come, buy and eat …
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
John Avnet’s look at the state of TV, Up Close & Personal, is a pussycat compared to Paddy Chayefsky’s tiger of a film! Released in 1976, the black comedy has never been equaled in its savage attack upon the perversion of the integrity of television news by commercial values. The only other film that equals its insights into the power of the TV medium is 1957’s it A Face in the Crowd scripted by Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan. Network is as relevant today as it was twenty years ago, perhaps even more so in that Chayefsky’s outlandish predictions are coming true – look at all the so-called fact-based programs and talk shows exploring the dark, seamy side of the famous and the lowly. And even the CBS Morning Show has a studio audience, and NBC has a sidewalk one holding placards and praying that the Weatherman will give them a few seconds of airtime.
Peter Finch became the first actor to receive a posthumous Best Actor Academy Award as ‘The Mad Prophet of the Airwaves” Howard Beale; Beatrice Straight the actress with the least screen time for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar (she couldn’t have been on screen for more than twenty minutes, but what a powerful third of an hour), as William Holden’s cheated-upon wife; and Faye Dunaway as the most success-obsessed female character, Diana, to receive a Best Actress Award. In short, this film is studded with Bravo! performances – and it raises substantive questions concerning our most influential medium.
Couple it with Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves To Death, and you have the makings for a dynamic adult study. (The language and hilarious sex scene – no nudity – required an R-rating, and thus suitable only for a mature youth group – after parents are fully informed.)
For reflection and discussion:
- Describe the characters, especially what drives them.
Diana – what Greek goddess is she named for, appropriately?
Max – who are his role models; why is he ineffective?
Howard Beale – what do you make of his ”mystical” experiences?
Frank Hackett; Arthur Jensen; Lureen Hobbs
- What do you think of Howard Beale’s on-air announcement? Of the reactions of the various characters? Of the author’s use of dark comedy? Does his approach help us see better the serious issues he is concerned with than a straightforward dramatic approach?
- What does Diana’s visit to Max’s office reveal about their values?
- What do you make of Howard’s “call”? The voice admits that lit is not God; then what is “it’? What do you think of Howard’s remarks on his next newscast – that life, and even belief in God is b-s-?
- Howard Beale really hits his stride in the diatribe in which he describes the world as gone wrong, ending with what becomes his signature war cry, I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!” Does this sound familiar – is this kind of rage fueling any current political candidates, or any during the 1992 and 1994 elections? The novelization of the film depicts Max’s daughter opening their apartment window and listening to the cries of their neighbors, and comments, “It sounded like a Nuremberg rally; the air trembled with the noise of it.” What does the author indicate by this concerning the relationship of television and democracy? Hopeful?
- What do you think of Diana’s brainchildren, Sybil the Soothsayer, Jim Webbing and His It’s-the Emmes Truth Department, Miss Mata Hari, and Vox Populi? Are these so different from some of the programs that today pass for ”news and information”? Discuss how the line between news and entertainment is being blurred more and more.
A good exercise: tape a newscast, and then time the stories. Transcribe the narration. How much actual information does the story contain? Compare this with the report of the same incident in a newspaper, especially a major one like THE NEW YORK TIMES. Which gives a fuller report; does the shorter version seem to distort the story by leaving out so much? (Groups wanting to go into this might want to secure a copy of my book TELEVSION: A Guide for Christians, as the last chapter “And That’s The Way It Is” offers many Ideas and suggestions for analyzing newscasts – available from VP) for $12 ppd.)
- If your VCR has the feature, mark Beale’s television diatribe so that you can return to it and have the group see it again. Some special lines worth discussing:
-Television is not the truth. Television is a g.d. amusement park, etc. We’re in the boredom killing
business.” (How is TV used in nursing homes & hospitals?)
-We lie like hell …. We deal in illusion, man!…You’re be ginning to believe this illusion we’re spinning here!
(Discuss such findings as that people in rural areas are afraid to go out because of their fear of street crime.)
- Another speech with food for thought: Arthur Jensen’s proclamation to Howard Beale of the new religion of commerce and the multinational corporation. How much of what he proclaims about the MNC transcending all boundaries and shaping the world is true?
- The scriptwriter has fun with radical, counterculture groups; how does he show that television transcends ideology, corrupting the values of everyone caught up in it?
10. Has “Network” affected the way you view television now? Can you accept its claims of being a “window on
the world” and bringing us wholesome entertainment? Compare the view of this film with that of Up Close &
Personal in regard to television. How can we live with it, and not be dominated by it?