Classic DVD: Network (1976)

Give Peter Finch a blackboard and he could have his own Fox News show.

It’s puzzling that the 1976 Sidney Lumet-Paddy Chayefsky media satire, Network, isn’t revived and revisited more often since it’s among the most prophetic films ever made. Movies, even futuristic ones, aren’t usually much more than a reflection of their times, but Network saw the future–and it was a reality show starring you and me.

Aging network news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is being forced out of his job, but he causes a stir when he uses one of his final telecasts to announce that he’s going to blow his brains out. The shocking pronouncement gets huge attention and pretty soon Beale is a maniac of the people, urging his viewers to get mad as hell and not take it anymore. While the news vets are outraged, enterprising young exec Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) is only too happy to blend entertainment and journalism, filling the airwaves with terrorists, reality shows and telepsychics. As ethics decline, ratings rise.

Satires can either exaggerate or diminish their targets and Network decided to go large, imagining a media landscape littered with agressive theatrics and brazen manipulation. The sad truth is that the film may be revered merely as a museum piece because in the most essential ways the world it satirized went larger still.•

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