BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #71: Network, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list has a good number of films I hadn’t seen before so it is a good source for my challenge.
I saw Network for the first and only time in a film studies class in college. I liked it and we discussed it academically but I didn’t really appreciate it at the time. After college, I spent a significant portion of my career working at various television affiliate stations. I have spent most of my career studying and analyzing Nielsen ratings. As you might imagine, I had a very different experience watching Network this time. I brought a lot of industry knowledge to this movie that I simply didn’t have when I was first learning about media in my early college years and I enjoyed it even more as a result.
Network is interesting to watch today as we have seemingly infinite options to consume media, but back in 1976 when the film was made, television was king. It was the medium of the time and people lived and died over their ratings and viewership numbers. I loved the constant cadence of the voice-over throughout the film telling us what Howard Beale’s ratings and share numbers were. It gave a barometer by which to measure people’s reactions as he went more and more crazy.
The film completely embraces the absurdly competitive and manipulative nature of network television in the 1970s. The secondary storyline about the Ecumenical Liberation Army getting a TV show and the politics and negotiations of the process are laugh-out-loud funny at times. So too is the ridiculous conversation the network management has at the end of the film when they are debating the benefits of killing Harold on the air. It isn’t a moral argument as much as it is a strategy meeting, which is disturbing and funny at the same time.
The performances in the film are all around fantastic. Of course, Peter Finch as the mad-prophet Howard Beale is engaging. And Faye Dunaway as the soulless programming director Diana Christensen is a power-house. But the real standout the film for me was William Holden as Max Schumacher. He is certainly flawed but he is also trying to do his best for his friend Howard and he is the beating heart of the film. Most of the characters in the film are pretty terrible as people, but Max seems to be trying to the right thing even if he fails.
Network was impressively predictive in its ability to see the direction television, or at least a portion of television programming, would turn. I’m glad I got to revisit this film and I really enjoyed seeing it again with a new perspective.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Network ranking: Carrier
Sarah’s ranking of the Top 100 movies… so far (100-71):
100. Fight Club
96. Duck Soup
95. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
94. Werckmeister Harmonies
93. Raging Bull
92. Animal House
91. Blade Runner
90. Wild Strawberries
88. To Kill a Mockingbird
86. City of God
85. The Player
84. The Bridge on the River Kwai
83. Forrest Gump
82. Some Like it Hot
81. Last Year in Marienbad
80. Aguirre, The Wrath of God
77. The Best Years of Our Lives
74. Eyes Wide Shut
73. Finding Nemo
72. Groundhog Day