Favorite Movie From Your Favorite Director – 30 Day Movie Challenge
While my first instinct when going for my favorite director is to answer with Hitchcock, I don’t want to tread familiar territory. I already discussed my love for North By Northwest which is my favorite Hitchcock Film, although Rear Window could easily slide in there, but alas, I already discussed it too. So instead of pouring more deserving adoration on a director that everybody knows, I will extol the works of a lesser known director that I adore.
Sidney Lumet directed such an impressive string of movies that I am surprised that his name isn’t as familiar as Scorsese or Hitchcock or Spielberg. I think the reason behind this is the variety and style of his movies, There is no such thing as a Lumet type movie. He was diverse in his style, genre, and topics and yet he brought such a passion for the art and coaxed from his actors some of the best performances I’ve ever seen. This list speaks for itself: 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Fail-Safe, The Hill, and who can forget The Wiz. But his greatest film (that’s right, even better than 12 Angry Men which I love) is Network.
When I watch Network, I shake my head in wonder and think, “Lumet was not only an artistic genius but a fortune-teller!” He saw the future of television and its influence on popular culture and society. I wonder if Lumet and the rest of the players involved fully grasped how truly prophetic this movie would be. Network was intended, for all purposes, as a satire but in hindsight it was actually an oracle; a crystal ball super imposed on the big screen.
Peter Finch (who won a posthumous Oscar for Best Actor) plays Howard Beale, the nightly news anchor at UBS. A one time big shot journalist, his ratings have been in decline for some time now. Beale announces on air that he’s being forced to retire in two weeks due to low ratings and that he will commit suicide live on the air before then. Naturally, a media frenzy ensues with network heads demanding Beale be fired immediately but up and coming network executive Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) only notices the sharp increase in ratings. The beautiful, ambitious and amoral Diana is the future of television. Everything and Everyone is reduced to ratings. Howard Beale’s breakdown as well as a bank robbery by a quasi marxist terrorist group simply serves as inspiration for her unending quest for ratings. The ideas cooking in Diana’s head are what we now know as “reality tv”.
Frank Hackett’s (Robert Duvall) character is also the future of television. He could not care less about the news division or even the quality of the network for that matter. He is a CCA (The Communication Corporation of America) man. This is the company that has purchased UBS and as far as Hackett is concerned UBS exists to serve the interests of CCA and it’s shareholders. And to that end he approves of Diana’s programming schemes once he sees the ratings skyrocket. Mind you, this film was made in 1976, years before all the cable “news” networks even existed and way before we had people willing to give up their privacy and what little dignity they have left on national television just to be recognized and become reality show “celebrities”.
The performances are all powerful and magnificent even the brief on screen time by Max Schumacher’s wife is gut wrenching. Beatrice Straight won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in what is arguably the shortest time on screen for any winner previously or since. Faye Dunaway also won for Best Lead Actress as did Paddy Chayefsky for Best Screenplay. I think it’s a testament to a real actor’s talent when they can make the audience forget the movie star who’s interpreting a role and focus on the character. As I watch Network, I don’t see the movie star Faye Dunaway. I only see Diana Christensen. The same is true for Holden, Duvall and Finch. This is what masterful acting and movie making is. The film’s best known scene is known for a line that is repeated over and over again, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
So, What do you think of Lumet’s body of work? Do you have a favorite Director? Perhaps Steven Soderbergh, Spike Jonze, or Darren Aronofsky? I’d love to hear your comments on Network or hear your pick for this challenge. Leave me a comment below or on Twitter or Facebook