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Your December 2008 Unrandom Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: Prepare yourself for a perfectly outrageous motion picture!

Preshow Entertainment: Nia Peeples on CLUB MTV



Okay, so yeah, we all know "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" And though a lot of you know the line, you don't know the movie it came from. That is criminal. So I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - "I'm going to watch NETWORK today!"

NETWORK (1976) is such a good movie that you would have to look long and hard to find a bad review. Watching NETWORK again made me realize just how amateurish most movies are. You want a movie run by and starring professionals? This is it.

The acting is incredible. Sidney Lumet's direction is unmatchable. But for me, the killer ingredient is writer Paddy Chayefsky. In fact, Chayefsky's satirical script for NETWORK is so perfect, Lumet "didn't change more than three words." And here's another testament: it's one of the few movies that lists the writer's name right there on the title card: "Network by Paddy Chayefsky"

It all begins with the voice of a narrator displaying a sly trace of comedy, almost as if we're watching TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN. We learn that this is the story of network news anchor Howard Beale. Oh, but it's more than that. So much more.

William Holden as network suit Max Schumacher
When Beale (Peter Finch) is fired from UBS, his longtime friend and network suit Max Schumacher (William Holden) takes him out to get, oh, how did they say it in the 70s? Shitfaced. They yap about the way TV is changing, joking that they'll soon have shows like "Execution of the Week." Now remember, this was decades before Reality TV. Hell, when NETWORK hit the theaters, Kate was in diapers and Jon wasn't even born. So when Max says "Suicides, assassinations, mad bombers, Mafia hitmen, automobile smash-ups: "The Death Hour." A great Sunday night show for the whole family. It'd wipe that fuckin' Disney right off the air," it was 100% pure satire. Now it's a pitch at Fox.

During Beale's broadcast (they gave him two weeks before letting him go), he announces he will kill himself next week on the air. But the newsroom has become so routine that the people in the booth didn't even hear Beale...

Faye Dunaway as steely entertainment programmer Diana Christensen
But the people did. And after Max gets screwed at a shareholder's meeting, he does nothing to stop Beale from ranting again. Enter entertainment programmer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway). She sees Beale's insane rants as a ratings bonanza, and...she's right.

Part of the reason NETWORK works so well is how slowly things transform from real life to absurd life. It happens right before our eyes, like a magic trick. Lumet even "corrupts the camera" more and more as the film goes on. And amid all of the movie's drama (which is our comedy), we have a parade of characters -

Robert Duvall plays Frank Hackett, the network's corporate guy who eventually hops on board with Diana (he knows what he is, and what UBS is) and against Max (representing human decency being ushered out the door). Dunaway's Diana is a one-track Terminator robot, who has her almond eyes on the prize at all times. She's incapable of doing anything else, like live...or love. She has nothing underneath. Not even a bra. When having sex, Diana can only climax when talking about the bizz. And her preferred position? On top.

Finch plays "mad prophet of the airwaves" Beale like a devilish remix of Kramer and Shatner. Does he know what's going on? Is he in on the joke? Well, I suppose he is insane, since he does converse with the voices in his head. (Finch died before the movie was released, winning Best Actor posthumously).

Then there are day-players (literally...I think they each had a day on the movie shoot):
Beatrice Straight (shortest role to ever win an Oscar...supporting actress) and Ned Beatty (who I've seen in Hollywood taking his garbage to the curb). Beatty was a last minute replacement who showed up for the day of shooting and squealed like a corporate pig in a thundering scene that's clever, over the top and actually a bit chilling.

And now a word about Sidney Lumet. Lumet inspires me more than 99% of the filmmakers out there. To make a movie like BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD at 83 is astonishing. And he's still going. He's 85 now and still making movies. When I'm 85 I'll be lucky if I could make it to the bathroom.

Lumet's a theater guy (he's rehearsal-heavy) who, along with Chayefsky, learned a lot in TV's Golden Age (hence the realism behind NETWORK). And his honesty in movies shows through. He doesn't pander. He simply makes movies that (I get the feeling) feel important to him. From big movies like DOG DAY AFTERNOON and SERPICO to lesser known fare like DANIEL and GARBO TALKS, Lumet always has something to say.

Back in the early 70s, Chayefsky read an article about a corporation that wanted to buy a network, then sat down for a few years and wrote NETWORK. This was a movie so revered that Chayefsky found himself panelling on TV talk shows. Not many screenwriters do that. Actually, have any?

Besides the title to this write-up and the world-famous "mad as hell" catch phrase uttered throughout the film, Chayefsky had many other gems. Here are but a few, the first two from Howard Beale:

"I want you to get mad. I don't want you to protest, I don't want you to riot, I don't want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression, the inflation, the Russians, or the crime in the streets. All I know is that first... You've got to get mad."
"Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube. This tube is the gospel, the ultimate revelation; this tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers; this tube is the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, and woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people..."
This one's from Max (I don't know if it was intentional or accidental, but when William Holden delivers this line, his glasses, with square lenses, reflect like two TV screens):
"When do we say 'hold it! Human life is a heck of a lot more important.'"

And this one from Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), chairman of UBS:

"There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM...Dow...and Exxon. Those are the nations of today."
Make no mistake about it. NETWORK is satire, and the more satire hits close to home, the funnier it can be. Lumet said that they couldn't make NETWORK today. I get that. Because if satire gets too close to home, it's parody, not satire. But I think we're safe for now. It'll still be a few more years until a terrorist with a TV show, like NETWORK's Laureen Hobbs, complains - "...(I'm) not going to see a nickel until this goes into syndication!"

I remember being awestruck by NETWORK back in 1976, when I saw it at the long gone Plainview Theater on Long Island. It became so ingrained in my head that it's the reason I mistakenly used to call a USB cable a UBS cable.

One last quote from Paddy Chayefsky (who by the way wrote THE HOSPITAL and ALTERED STATES). This time it's Diana talking to Max:

"I watched your 6 o'clock news today; it's straight tabloid. You had a minute and a half of that lady riding a bike naked in Central Park; on the other hand, you had less than a minute of hard national and international news. It was all sex, scandal, brutal crime, sports, children with incurable diseases, and lost puppies."
I turned on the TV earlier and saw a teaser for the upcoming 11 O'Clock News. It was a quick line about a car crash, with the newswoman's tag - "Carnage at 11!" Another promo touted "Simon Cowell's wardrobe malfunction, at 11!"

Was NETWORK prescient? Sure. News no longer reports the news. "TV is showbiz." We live on Planet TMZ and it's our fault because we didn't listen to Howard Beale and get mad. We just sat back and watched it happen before our eyes...on our TVs.


An episode of CLUB MTV from 1989. CLUB MTV was MTV's AMERICAN BANDSTAND with Downtown Julie Brown ("wubba wubba") hosting. It was shot at the then primo Palladium in NYC and featured lots of hair, tiny belly-baring crop tops and Molly Ringwald dance moves. And that's just from the guys.

This particular episode was dedicated to the then soon to be released movie SING!, which has the same theme (a reluctant Italian/Jewish couple) as this month's earlier RMC selection I DON'T BUY KISSES ANYMORE, starring Jason Alexander and Nia Peeples.

Brown interviewed the two stars, Peter Dobson and Jessica Steen, who were so nervous they could barely speak. But here's the coincidence. The musical guest for this show was Nia Peeples. She did an awful lip sync to an awful song called "You Don't Have To Ask Me Twice." Jason Alexander was nowhere in sight.

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