Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Netflix Pix: Network News

It's a day late, give or take an hour, but it's time for the weekly installment of Netflix Pix! You know the drill by now--one regular mail Netflix feature and one instant streamable feature for your cinematic enjoyment!

We're going with two 1970's classics today, that share more in common than a time period--they're both about that great medium we call broadcast television.

"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Network, our Instant Stream pick this week, is quite possibly the most prophetic film ever made. In an era that didn't yet understand what horrors reality television would inflict upon future generations, writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Sidney Lumet created an account of a network obsessed with ratings and the bottom line over the health and credibility of those running the network.

Technically, it might be as close to a perfect film as I've ever seen. The performances are incredible, from the then-young Robert Duvall as the network chief to Sunset Boulevard's William Holden as an old guard news chief to the late Peter Finch's Oscar-winning performance as the "mad as hell" false prophet Howard Beale. The performance of the film, however, is the incredible Faye Dunaway as Diana Christensen, an up-and-coming network executive who wants to make a splash as hard as she can.

Diana is interested in the wave of citizens becoming frustrated with their lives, but only from a programming standpoint, going so far as to create The Mao Tsetung Hour. After winning performances in Bonnie and Clyde and Chinatown, Dunaway truly flourishes in this role. It's a role stripped of many tricks or flourishes that would be easy to hide behind, instead relying completely on her ability to be the bitch who wants to be the best. Sure, the role's been done since plenty of times, but her performance as a woman who truly wears the pants at work set the standard that actresses must hold up against to this day. It was a technically flawless performance and one for which her Oscar is well-deserved.

But there's that term again: "technically." Why do I keep qualifying? In truth, while I happily and wholeheartedly give Network the A it so richly deserves, it is not, to me, a very enjoyable movie. It is a work of art that is expected to provide brilliant social commentary, and it is peerless in that regard except for one film (to give you a hint, it's another kind of Network). However, it is, essentially, a series of angry monologues that prove a point, but don't do it very persuasively. Sure, everything turned out to be correct. But for an audience to truly respond to an argument, you need to avoid merely lecturing at them and instead engage with them on their level. That segues us incredibly well to one of the first scenes in our second film of the week...

Broadcast News looks an awful lot like a Network at first, what with the railings of its female protagonist about the state of news today and against the type of anchor that she meets afterward, but it quickly becomes evident that the James L. Brooks-helmed, Holly Hunter-starring film is a romantic comedy that makes bold claims and doesn't necessarily follow through on them--not that you care, because it was so much fun getting there! I honestly don't have a whole lot of poetic to wax, here: this is a film that a review just isn't going to do much to evaluate. Does it fulfill its cinematic process? No. Could it be better? Sure.

Is it one of the most enjoyable films made in the past few decades due to its everyman characters, the charm of the stars, and the wittiness of the script? Absolutely. Don't go into News expecting to see Network--in almost every way they are the opposite type of movie, and there's nothing wrong with that. But they are not to be mistaken. B+

Have you seen Network or Broadcast News? Which is your favorite? Don't get what all the fuss is about? Take it to the comments!

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