Sidney Lumet’s Classic “Network”

Network

1976
Essay by Greg Ng

Senses of Cinema

The 1970s in Hollywood were a fertile time. The emergence of the director, as a legitimate artist in his or her own right, shifted focus from the studios, which by the ’60s had grown formulaic and unadventurous in their output, to a new generation of writers and directors, whose concerns and experience were markedly different from the conservative voice of the movie industry at that point.

Due in part to falling profits and the rise of television, a vacuum arose in the industry that opened the door for fresh ideas. Hollywood was redirected and, as a result, American cinema entered a new age – an age when box-office success did not necessarily preclude sophisticated content in a movie, an age when political discourse was not relegated to non-existence or tokenism, or a niche-market. The period between 1969 and the beginning of the 1980s saw American cinema, inspired as it was by international filmmaking (such as the French New Wave), offering critical, ambiguous and highly artful movies.

At its most ambitious, the New Hollywood was a movement intended to cut film free of its evil twin, commerce, by enabling it to fly high through the thin air of art. The filmmakers of the ’70s hoped to overthrow the studio system, or at least render it irrelevant, by democratising filmmaking, putting it in the hands of anyone with talent and determination. (1)

However, as the decade passed, the promise of real change receded; the status quo prevailed. As Peter Biskind puts it, in his book Easy Riders and Raging Bulls: How the Sex ‘N’ Drugs ‘N’ Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood,

although the decade of the 70s contains shining monuments to its great directors, the cultural revolution of that decade, like the political revolution of the 60s, ultimately failed. (2)

Robin Wood, in Hollywood: from Vietnam to Reagan, argues that the Vietnam War, among other things, focussed Western society’s dissenting voices, simultaneously discrediting ‘the system’ and emboldening the dissenters. However, like Biskind, Wood acknowledges “this generalized crisis in ideological confidence never issued in revolution. No coherent social/economic program emerged.” (3)

Commercial imperatives once more came to play their part in shaping the output of the industry, as previously fêted directors suffered box office losses and investment money turned to more secure propositions. Thus, a central tenet of political economy – i.e., the inherent censorship of the mass market – prevailed. Ironically, one of the films that stands as a testament to ’70s Hollywood’s freedom and ambition, Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), depicts precisely this phenomenon.

Network is an example of a hugely successful and critically acclaimed feature film that offers a critique of television, ideology, radical chic and the consequences of American-led post-war capitalism, whilst being funny – no mean feat, and something only barely achieved in the current day by the likes of Michael Moore, et al.

Lumet’s direction and Paddy Chayefsky’s script lambaste the ills of the modern world (couched within the fast-paced soliloquies delivered by the stellar cast of Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and William Holden) and are oft times prescient, predicting the rise of ‘reality television’, and the subsequent decline of both production and social values.

One of the central themes of Network – the decay of society and of love, concurrent with a plunge in standards and morality of the audience, which represents the world (in keeping with the mindset of both the film and its characters) – proves salutary in explaining what happened to Hollywood after the ’70s. Just as the collapse of the old studio system in the ’60s was precipitated by a change in demography and values, so too has a drift toward social conservatism and the continuing project of marketising everything affected our age.

When Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the ageing news anchor for Union Broadcasting System, is fired due to poor ratings, he announces to his friend and network executive Max Schumacher (William Holden) that he intends to “blow my brains out, right on the air, right in the middle of the 7 o’clock news” (4).

Schumacher replies, “You’ll get a hell of a rating. I’ll guarantee you that. 50 share, easy.” He facetiously begins to run with the idea: “We could make a series out of it. ‘Suicide of the Week.’ Oh, hell, why limit ourselves: ‘Execution of the week.’” [Read more...]

The Best We Can Do ~ Digby on Health Care Reform

by digbyJim VanDehei was on Mitchell this morning talking about his new article which evidently reports that Obama is going to twist arms today to make sure health care reform passes before Christmas. Mitchell asked him if (as Chuck Todd absurdly posited) Lieberman actually pulled back from the brink and decided not to blow up the Democratic party or if he is sitting pretty because he actually got exactly what he wanted:

VanDeHei I don’t think there’s any question that he got what he wanted. He’s been able to kill, or help kill, the public option and now he’s single handedly killed this Medicare expansion for people over the age of 55.

And so now what the president is doing is calling in Democrats in the Senate and saying “listen this is the last chance we have to get health care reform and if I fail, like Clinton failed, we’re talking about generations before another Democratic president with this big of a majority can actually tackle health care reform”. His case is going to be that if we don’t do this in the next two weeks it’s never going to be done.

The big question is, will that message pacify liberals? Liberal Democrats on the hill are saying “listen we wanted a single payer system or at least we wanted the public option or at least we wanted the medicare buy-in. Now we’re getting squat on that end so what are we actually getting?”

Obama will say, you’re actually getting a lot. You’re getting coverage for everybody. You’re getting insurance reform. And he’s going to have to convince them that that is sufficient.

That doesn’t make sense and if Obama is able to persuade liberals with that incoherent line of reasoning then he really is good and they really are stupid.

If this is the only chance for reform in generations, wouldn’t it have made more sense to fight for a truly comprehensive bill that actually solved the problem? If you’ve only got one bite of the apple every couple of decades, it seems remarkably foolish not to really go for broke. To end up with a bill like this as your once in a generation liberal accomplishment is about as inspiring as a Bobby Jindal speech.

And Obama can say that you’re getting a lot, but also saying that it “covers everyone,” as if there’s a big new benefit is a big stretch. Nothing will have changed on that count except changing the law to force people to buy private insurance if they don’t get it from their employer. I guess you can call that progressive, but that doesn’t make it so. In fact, mandating that all people pay money to a private interest isn’t even conservative, free market or otherwise. It’s some kind of weird corporatism that’s very hard to square with the common good philosophy that Democrats supposedly espouse.

Nobody’s “getting covered” here. After all, people are already “free” to buy private insurance and one must assume they have reasons for not doing it already. Whether those reasons are good or bad won’t make a difference when they are suddenly forced to write big checks to Aetna or Blue Cross that they previously had decided they couldn’t or didn’t want to write. Indeed, it actually looks like the worst caricature of liberals: taking people’s money against their will, saying it’s for their own good. — and doing it without even the cover that FDR wisely insisted upon with social security, by having it withdrawn from paychecks. People don’t miss the money as much when they never see it.

And as for the idea that insurance reforms are a huge progressive victory that can only be accomplished once in a generation, well that’s a pretty sad comment on our country — and progressivism.

What this huge electoral mandate and congressional majority have gotten us, then, is basically a deal with the insurance industry to accept 30 million coerced customers in exchange for ending their practice of failing to cover their customers when they get sick — unless they go beyond a “reasonable cap,” of course. (And profits go up!) If that’s the best we can expect of progressivism for the next generation then I’m afraid we are in deep trouble.

*I realize that the subsidies and the medicaid expansion are meaningful. But they are also going to be subject to ongoing funding battles in an age of deficit hysteria. I don’t hold out much hope for any improvement on that count. Indeed, I fully expect they will be assailed as welfare and eliminated as soon as Republicans gain power. They have learned from their mistakes — don’t let any liberal “entitlement programs ” become entrenched. That’s why a big comprehensive program would have been better. It’s much harder to disassemble.

Update: I think it’s really cool being lectured to by Obama about not getting everything you want. I would imagine that Joe Liberman laughed and laughed and laughed at that one.

Jake Tapper : Chief White House Deficit Concern Troll

Jake Tapper : Chief WHite House Deficit Concern Troll

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What Exactly Do The Insurance Companies Get From Health Care Reform? ~ Olbermann and Potter

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Jon Stewart Busts Sean Hannity For Fake Video

Jon Stewart Busts Sean Hannity For Fake Video

NEW YORK TIMES:

“The Daily Show,” which has become one of the media’s prime monitors when it comes to calling out misuse or manipulation of video, caught the Fox News Channel and one of its hosts, Sean Hannity, Tuesday night, in what appeared to be a blatant example of doctoring a report with inappropriate video to enhance an argument.

Fox News would not comment on the use of the video Wednesday beyond having a spokeswoman say: “Sean will address this on his show tonight.”

 

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