Most Wednesday nights in season I make a date with Shaun Micaleff and the berserker crew that fling their often absurdist—and thus fitting for these mad days—take on the news at us with Mad As Hell on the ABC. Friday nights I’m usually so buggered that I flop onto the couch, grab a couple of bottles of Negra Modelo and the clicker and graze through Netflix looking for something to lull me to sleep.
Last night I hit the jackpot after clicking on Network, the 1976 Sidney Lumet film nominated for 10 Oscars, and winning four. Actors Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight won gongs as did screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. Lumet’s direction is taut and often bleakly comical, Finch’s performance is a stunning portrayal of a man going to hell-in-a-handbasket and taking as many people down with him as possible and the cast is littered with sterling performances (Faye Dunaway in her prime. What’s not to like?) but for mine the real star is Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay, not least because of (at least) three stunning—literally—monologues by Peter Finch.
I’ve only seen Network once many years ago and had only dim, but fond and curious, memories of it. I’m sure at the time I thought of it as a highly unlikely fantasy of a dystopian present. Revisiting the film forty-or-so years on it cuts through as a prescient and prophetic vision of malevolent corporate control, way-off-kilter craziness and many scenes that relentlessly pick at the scabs of a very unhealthy set of human conditions. And for all of that occasionally darkly and improbably funny.
I’d always wondered about the title and opening scenes of Shaun Micaleff’s Mad As Hell, figuring that it referenced some obscure cultural waypoint unknowable to me. But all that—the screaming man at the window, the sky-scraper ascending into space and just what was everyone Mad As Hell at?—fell into place last night.
In Network Peter Finch plays Howard Beale, an ageing news anchor of a show—and network—floundering by ratings, revenue and reputation. That is until—on the night that he announces his forced retirement and tells viewers that in one week he will commit suicide live on air—things start to both fall apart and coalesce all at once. It only gets better as Beale descends into madness—and ratings greatness—and chaos erupts all around him.
The next two hours or so of Network is as wild a ride as you’ll get on the small screen that I’ll not explore here—but do yourself a big favour and watch it—preferably straight after Mad As Hell next Wednesday.
And to put you in the mood, here is Howard Beale’s “Mad As Hell” monologue courtesy of Neil Hughes.
I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’
Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. 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 and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. (shouting) You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’
So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’
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 as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!…You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’
Now, if only I can find that other favourite film of the seventies, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, online. Any tips welcome!