Let's do a facebook thing - let's kick this off with a question.
TV Producers - Favorite film / movie?
I know the answer…
I'm now thinking you can probably guess the answer from the title of this piece.
Q. What is the big deal with Network 1993?
A. One word - First Mover !
First Mover status is the wholly grail of consumer fulfilment. First Mover is not necessarily the first one to come up with an idea, but is the first to be noticed - the first to be successful.
This is how Apple got so good. Microsoft. Pavel Von Velcro's sticky tape. Herr Tetrapak. There are hundreds of examples.
But remember they weren't necessarily first. These people were the ones that got noticed. The ones that had friends in useful places. Who knew their industry.
Who could 'glad-hand' their route through difficult negotiations. To use a dreadful management term, people who had networks.
And it was this idea that bounced into my head when I saw Network 1977.
'Oh no' I thought, 'a seventies film.
I had expectations of washed out colours, jerky camera pans, American Hustle 2013 hair, and screechy low bit-rate sound.'
I was right about the sound, the hair and the colours.
What I wasn't ready for were the characters.
Or for the cinematography.
I wasn't ready for the scathing vilification of our media-oriented (media-orientated) society either.
Let's do the characters:
TV anchorman - Howard Beale. Nice hair, old enough to have gravitas, but empty enough to be a mere conduit. And his TV ratings are dropping which means his sense of self worth is dropping too. The status-quo is under pressure…
Max Something - Howard Beale's Head of News, and friend. He is old, craggy, likably intelligent, empathic, and definingly, late-career.
Fay Dunaway is young, dangerous, hungry, and never looks back. She doesn't check her shoes for blood. She wants Max's job.
There is a host of other characters - from grey-haired members of the Board to commercially misguided social insurgents.
But these aside, the story is Howard Beale, Max and Faye Dunaway.
And the former never meets the latter:- Max is the go-between and pays the price:- he is brutally and emotionally exsanguinated - through his 'hormonal' obsession with the woman and because of his fear for his friend's integrity.
And the look. The camera??
American cinematography began to change in the seventies. I'm not sure if it was because of the news reels from Vietnam, but this hand-held, fly-on-the-wall, peek-a-boo style was certainly borrowed from them.
This is cinéma verité: Wandering Point of View camera. So beloved of Ricky Gervais in The Office 2001-.
But unlike The Office, we (the viewer) are not cameramen. Instead we are peripheral visitors on the set. We have no guide - our Visitor badge has slipped. People ignore us. We can wander through the story at will:-
We may overhear whispered snippets of chat, and stumble upon emotional meetings. We can pace 3 strides behind Beale as he works his day; we hide on an elevated studio-seat to watch him work his magic. From a stool at the end of a smokey bar, we watch Max and Beale getting drunk.
We are the office cleaner, emptying baskets as Faye Dunaway runs metaphorical fingers up Max's thigh.
We steal glimpses through office doorways to reveal emotional scenes of conflict and angst.
We have to strain to hear the words which, throughout, seem improvised and unscripted. And all the more real for that.
The director places us not in front of the action - but one step to the side. And it is this device that creates the tension. Because it disempowers us - we can't reach out and stop what we see as the inevitable demise of sanity.
We can't interact with the characters. We can only watch and judge.
Like reality TV of the Naughties, we are expected to critique.
Like reality TV of the Naughteens, we are expected to comment.
And the scathing vilification of our media-oriented society? The writers explain that very quickly.
And watching Network 1988 left me open-mouthed: Up to watching this film, I had assumed that anti-consumer dialogue was a recent phenomenon. But over the last few years,I had assumed that I was being very clever when I challenged society's need to buy stuff. I assumed I was being incisively observant when I wrote about the emptiness of modern people's lives as they drove in their new BMWs from the fashion store to the coffee-shop, and then back to home. To sit alone, watching (and so consuming) other people pretending to have real lives and loves.
But I wasn't being clever at all. Someone else had already got there before me. FORTY YEARS AGO!
Network 2002 tells a grim and only slightly dystopian story of the decline of morality. It marks the point in time when ethical journalism slips into pop journalism. A change not driven by public demand, but by advertisers…And I learnt-
- Big business measures its success through its ability to make more money.
- Big executives measure their ability in the same way.
- Big egos measure their success by how many smaller egos they trample on - and how much more money they make.
- Big audiences watch the suffering of real people and cheer. And use their money to buy tickets to the next show - where they watch false people pretending to have real relationships with life.
- And Big hearted people sell out to money when the going gets bad. Which is saddest of all.
But Network 1989 is really the story of Max - a mostly grey and unsurprising character. He is Joe Normal. He possesses a good job because he has spent the previous 25 years working hard for it. He possesses integrity, morals, ethics and all the attributes that make him seem old-fashioned.
So not that appealing then-
But he is the lamp into which the other dysfunctional characters crash like nocturnal moths. Then bounce off, and crash into again. Which is a defining event. Because it shows us he is steady.
And the moths are ephemeral. And they'll all be dead by dawn.
And does Network 1995 get First Mover status?
It does in my book - it is the most far-seeing glance into where we are now nearly half a decade later. And understanding how we got here may help us get out:-
Howard Beale screams to the camera lens:
"You are the real, not us.
We are the illusion.
But you believe the opposite…"
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