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Hullabaloo


Saturday, December 02, 2006

 
Saturday Night At The Movies


Articulating The Popular Rage-The Mad Prophecies of Paddy C.


By Dennis Hartley


I couldn’t take it anymore…after viewing the first few episodes of NBC’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”, I got up off my couch, switched off the DVR, went to my DVD shelf and made my annual pilgrimage back to The Source-Sidney Lumet’s Network . Back in 1976, this “satire” made us chuckle with its incredulous conceit-the story of a “fictional” TV network who hits the ratings g-spot with a nightly newscast turned variety hour, anchored by a self-proclaimed “angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisy of our time”. Now, 30 years later, it plays like a documentary (denouncing the hypocrisy of our time). The oft-noted prescience of the infinitely quotable Paddy Chayefsky screenplay goes much deeper than merely prophesizing the onslaught of news-as-entertainment (and its evil spawn, “reality” television)-it’s a blueprint for our age. In the opening scene, drunken buddies Peter Finch (as Howard Beale, respected news anchor soon to suffer a complete mental breakdown and morph into “the mad prophet of the airwaves”) and William Holden (as Max Shumacher, head of news division for the fictional “UBS” network) riff cynically on an imaginary pitch for a surefire news rating booster-“Real live suicides, murders, executions-we’ll call it The Death Hour.” Funny punch line back in 1976. Sadly, in 2006, we call it “The Nancy Grace Show”.

Later in the film, when the corporate “hatchet man” for “CCA” the network’s parent company (brilliantly played by Robert Duvall) barks “We’re not a respectable network, we’re a whorehouse”, one can not help but flash on the Fox network. Faye Dunaway steals all of her scenes as Diana Christenson, the completely soulless, ratings obsessed head of development who comes up with the idea to turn Beale’s mental illness into revenue. The most famous scene, of course is Beale’s cheerleading “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” tirade, a call to arms (borne from a “cleansing moment of clarity”) for viewers to turn off the tube, break the spell of their collective stupor, (literally) stick their heads out the window and make their voices heard. Uh, the “Blogosphere”, anyone? (It’s very astute of Digby to choose Beale’s image and an excerpt from that monologue for the “Hullabaloo” masthead). For me, the most defining scene in the film is between Howard Beale and Arthur Jensen (CEO of “CCA”-wonderfully played by Ned Beatty). Jensen is calling Beale on the carpet for publicly exposing a potential buyout of CCA by shadowy Arab investors. Cognizant that Beale is crazy as a loon, yet still a cash cow for the network, Jensen uses reverse psychology and hands him a new set of stone tablets from which to preach-the “corporate cosmology of Arthur Jensen”. The ensuing monologue is surely screenwriter Chayefsky’s finest moment, savagely funny and frighteningly true (accurately presaging the whole WTO/New World Order scenario). Required viewing!

Got Chayefsky? A few more I recommend: The Americanization of Emily, The Hospital and Altered States (although he had his name taken off in protest to director Ken Russell’s brutal script revisions, a few unmistakable “Paddy meltdowns” remain intact).




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