I wonder if audiences knew just how prescient Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film Network would become 43 years later.
Although well-ingrained into our culture’s history, upon my recent re-watch of Network, Albert Finney’s, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore,” diatribe filled me with an ominous sense of dread. This is perhaps, one of the most famous film quotes of all time. In the AFI, 100 Years/100 Movies list, that quote is number 19.
But in 2021, after the dumpster fire that was the Trump administration, the slanted frame of the shot and the cacophony of cries only served to amplify the anxiety I have concerning the January 6th, 2021 Capitol Insurrection.
Network came out during the liminal space of the late 70s, in the midst of the gas crises, rises in highway shootings and urban warfare, and major political distrust, in addition to a horrible recession. Network was very of its moment. And also, bizarrely prescient. Howard Beale’s fictional on-air assassination happened two years after Sarasota TV news reporter, Christine Chubbock’s, on-air suicide.
What makes the film such a fascinating, if not grotesque, study is its eye on how Max Schumacher watches his station—once beholden to the Fifth Estate—become sold to a larger corporate conglomerate that cares nothing about facts, but all about profits and rating.
The film is a disturbing study about how media conglomerates like Fox News can arise. Fox News, although marketing itself as a news channel, is not constituted as a news channel, but rather a media/entertainment conglomerate, similar to E News and MTV. However, due to corporate lobbying, Fox News has somehow been able to revere themselves as a true news organization.
Network opened to critical acclaim, although there were still detractors. Pauline Kael of The New Yorker claimed the film was full of hot air and preachy diatribes. Meanwhile, the controversial Aaron Sorkin hails it for its prescient tenor on the pulse of U.S.A media. Both are true. What I love and hate about Network was how it was able to take a snapshot of an era before it began and project it glaringly back to the here and now, this uncomfortable space we must work towards to unveiling an honest Fifth Estate, as well as a government, that isn’t swayed by money and power, but an unflinching and humanitarian truth.
Network is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Abby Sheaffer is a columnist for Cinema in Paradise. Her past endeavors include working as the editor-in-chief of Chicago Literati and The Vignette Review.