Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Turning a Prophet

It should surprise no one to learn that Sydney Lumet's pitch-black masterpiece Network is one of my all-time favorite movies.

It's a film that's almost impossible to wrap your head around as you watch it now, in 2008, because everything you see and hear seems unacceptably incongruous with the notion that the film was released in 1976.

To call Network "prescient" would be the ultimate understatement

The truth is that almost every grotesque, rotten and unethical thing that screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky predicted about the future of television news has come to fruition in the thirty-two years since Network debuted in theaters.

There's never been a better movie made about the TV news business, and I'm not sure there ever will be.

Network will of course be forever remembered for Peter Finch's brilliant, Oscar-winning portrayal of doomed anchorman Howard Beale, whose furious on-air tirade produced one of the most legendary lines in film history, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

But for some reason, in a movie filled with astonishingly good dialogue (Ned Beatty's verbal scolding of Finch alone is priceless; as is the painfully heartfelt monologue which won Beatrice Straight an Oscar, despite only five minutes of screen time) there are two sets of lines which stand out for me -- for no other reason than the fact that they are so sadly prophetic.

The first is the exchange between Robert Duvall, as network hatchet-man Frank Hackett, and Wesley Addy -- who plays senior executive Nelson Chaney. It takes place when Hackett suggests that Howard Beale be allowed back on the air after ranting uncontrollably during the previous evening's newscast. The reason: It'll almost certainly get ratings.

Chaney says, "All I know is that this violates every canon of respectable broadcasting."

To which Hackett responds, "We're not a respectable network; we're a whorehouse network and we have to take what we can get."

Chaney shoots back, "Well, I don't want any part of it. I don't fancy myself the president of a whorehouse."

"That's very commendable of you Nelson, now sit down. Your indignation is duly noted; you can always resign tomorrow."

And the conversation is over. End of story. Sit down and shut up.

My second favorite line comes as William Holden's character, Max Schumacher, is preparing to finally walk out on the ice-cold network entertainment president Diana Christensen, played by a never-sexier Faye Dunaway.

What he says to her sums up perfectly -- pitifully -- everything about TV.

"There's nothing left in you that I can live with. If I stay with you I'll be destroyed. Like Howard Beale was destroyed. Like everything you and the institution of television touch is destroyed. You're television incarnate: indifferent to suffering; insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death are all the same to you as bottles of beer; and the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split-seconds and instant-replays. You're madness Diana -- virulent madness -- and everything you touch dies with you."

Why do I bring this up?

Because my name has now been officially attached, in print ironically, to the legacy of Network and what the film had to say about television news. Today's New York Observer features a profile of yours truly, insinuating that I'm the new Howard Beale. And while I'm not sure I want to draw too many parallels between myself and a guy who goes insane and is ultimately assassinated by a TV network in the name of ratings, I can't help but appreciate the association.

It's an honor -- in an admittedly weird sort of way.

(The New York Observer: "The Howard Beale Show, 2008" by Felix Gillette/2.27.08)

(Incidentally, looks like we have a winner for the "pick my media title" competition, despite doing my best not to refer to myself, first and foremost, as an addict.)


Anonymous said...

You should consider yourself lucky Chez. Others who have been treated just as bad or worse by Klein, with no way to fight back, aren't getting good press and free meals. Enjoy! But remember there are some who have been and still continue to be harassed by Klein and his "Gestapo".

Stephen said...

Great pieces by both you and the Observer. If it's not too late I'd like to offer "Karma Policeman" as a suggestion...hell you might be the chief.

Paul said...

So..who won the office pool?

There, I said it said...

Sorry Chez but, "Recovering heroin addict and TV news producer Chez Pazienza" doesn't do for me, although Mad Prophet seems quite appropriate.

Hopefully this thing you started will grow and create something better for TV News in America and if it doesn't, at least you got to say: 'Fuck This'

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog today, but I am still not sure if Jon Klein is playing the part of Frank Hackett or Diane Christensen! If it is Christensen whom do you suggest is playing the part of William Holden? I think I have a pretty good idea.

Manny said...

*Packs up his desk and peels rubber for the airport*

Alright, so where are the Deus Ex Malcontent headquarters going to be?

sparksinner said...

Sweet. Is it fair to see this whole thing is snowballing? Do we still call it that?

kanye said...

The "New Howard Beale"'re the media insider's version of "The Next Dylan".

BTW, Congratulations on being both compact and brown-haired.

Manny said...

"...compact and brown-haired"

Thanks for pointing that out, Kanye. I would describe Chez as more "sinewy", perhaps "lithe" and his hair as "dusky hewed".

It's his eyes, however, that will capture your soul. Staring into those pools of swirling, chocolate love will melt your heart...

Jayne said...

oh Manny, stop it.

kanye said...

Manny...chocolate love, heh. I think you may have just stumbled upon a potential baby name. How 'bout it, Jayne?

Off to Youtube...I suddenly have a yearning to hear "Black Coffee in Bed".

Nate said...

Be glad your epigram isn't "bikini-photo-e-mailing cop-puncher Alycia Lane." Best line in that article by far!

Anonymous said...

oh fuck dude that's funny, that's way too funny... I didn't even read the observer story, I just saw the media title they gave you and came right back, it's too perfect... I'm so happy. I'm sorry if my enjoyment comes at your expense, it's just so much fun. They must have lifted it from your piece about it, there's no other way...

keep up the good work man

Joshua said...

Thanks for reminding me how great this movie is. I need to watch it again. Netflix queue, here I come!

FortunaLee said...

Do you ever wonder why Network is never shown on tv? I do...

Anonymous said...

Congratulations. I couldn't be more proud of you. :)

Maggie said...

Jesus, who wrote this story, Fox News? Using "ex-heroin addict" in the teaser is pretty a low blow.
Fortunately, I am a huge fan of news stories that are told in a positive way but laced with condescension aimed at the subjet of the piece. They're hilarious.

"CNN ececutives caught wind of the piece, and, -surprise!- fired Mr. Pazienza" and a TWICE repeated image of you hitting rock bottom, followed by talk of booze and tattoos and FINALLY about three paragraphs about your actual opinions and plans? Give me a fucking break.