Network Memories

Guess what Peter Finch is saying . . .

The ’70s was for me the finest era of movie making. It was as though the half century of films that had come before somehow collectively inspired a generation to work their best at their craft. M*A*S*H, the first two Godfathers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Star Wars, Jaws and Close Encounters, Taxi Driver, Carrie, All That Jazz — I could go on and on, and you’d recognize every single title.

One of my favorites was 1976’s Network. It had a huge impact at the box office and on the audience. Even today, people still scream, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”

It wasn’t the catch phrase alone — it was Network‘s sheer power up on the screen. It was satirizing the worst of 1970s television in a way that we laughed at — it was unreal, shows like that could never happen — yet the machinations that went on behind the scenes and in the characters lives were all too real. That’s why “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” became so popular — it resonated through the American audience because we could all relate.

And all the shows that could never happen . . . have all happened.

Mark Evanier blogs out of Los Angeles, and in a recent post, To the Victors Go the Spoilers, he writes about how he thinks we should see new movies without listening to critics, without spoilers and comments on the Internet: “. . . the relentless promotion of some movies these days has damaged the whole film-watching experience for me.”

I can’t disagree with him, especially when all the funniest parts of a new comedy are given away in the trailer.

He mentions an advance screening of Network which he attended in 1976, and I think this quote from his blog shows just how much power and impact Network had. We need more writers like Paddy Chayefsky, and we need more courageous executives and studios to make movies like this again.

I saw Network at the Writers Guild Theater a good six weeks before it hit regular cinemas. The place was packed and no one knew one thing about it other than it was Paddy Chayefsky taking a shot at television. By the day it opened, half of America was screaming “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” having seen it in the promos and clips. It was a lot more effective to not know what was coming. (I was sitting next to Ray Bradbury when I saw it. When the film ended, he looked around the hall and said, “There isn’t a person in this theater who isn’t wishing he’d written that.”)

I haven’t seen Network on cable in years. But it’s available on DVD, and I urge you to run out and get one of the most intelligent and insightful films ever made.

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