It’s been a while since Part 1, but I hope to make these more common going forward. I will be ably assisted in that, at least in the immediate future, by Turner Classic Movies, which is running through a huge list of non-stop Oscar winners and nominees between now and March 3. I’m taking advantage of my shiny new DVR to catch a lot of older movies I haven’t seen, and the first is:
I honestly don’t know how I managed to not see Network before. It’s actually one of the record-holders for acting Oscars–one of only two movies to win at least three, and it would have won have won all four if they’d put Peter Finch and William Holden on separate ballots, instead of pitting them against each other. The basic story is…well, there is no basic story, it’s a multi-threaded, behind-the-scenes look at cutthroat broadcasting, and the acting and the writing are superb. I’ve never seen a movie that made me want to memorize this many speeches.
The fascinating thing about the movie is that it was obviously intended as satire, and in 1976 it may well have played as satire, but seen today it’s almost frighteningly real. A longtime news anchor has a nervous breakdown on the air, threatening to kill himself, and instead of taking him off and getting him a therapist they throw him onto a new, sensational show where he just rants and rages about whatever his increasingly-broken mind wants to say, until finally his brain throws a rod and he collapses onstage to thunderous applause. By the second half of the movie he’s barely even treated as human; he’s just a pet wacko whose handlers shuffle him on and off stage and reprimand him when he does something wrong.
As fascinating as he is to watch, the real heart of the movie is Faye Dunaway, who one character calls “TV personified.” She doesn’t care about people or things or right or wrong, she only manipulates them to produce good ratings: on air and in real life, with the people around her. She melds the main story with its goofy subplot, about a group of communist radicals who sell footage of their crimes to a weekly TV show. One of my favorite parts was when the communist go-between who arranges the sales fights desperately to keep her cut of the profits, subtly showing (without making a point of it) that in the face of such incredible wealth, and such intense greed, even a freedom fighter will sell her principles for cash.
What it all comes back to, though, is the dialogue. Almost every sentence crackles with energy, and while a lot of that credit goes to the actors, a ton of it must go to the writer, Paddy Chayefsky, for writing some flat-out awesome words. It helps that so much of the movie is made up of speeches, but even the chaotic multi-person stuff, like the groups in the sound booth racing to deal with a problem, are pitch-perfect. Highly recommended.
The Way of the Wolf
Don’t worry, I also read books occasionally. My big find this week was The Way of the Wolf, by E.E. Knight, recommended to me by the fine folks at Elitist Book Reviews (it’s an older book, so they don’t have a review of it; they recommended it to me IN PERSON). It’s a fantasy/horror kind of thing, set on Earth about one generation after it gets taken over by creepy vampiric monsters. The main character is a freedom fighter living in the wilds of the former US, and follows his fairly episodic training and first few missions. The writing was brisk and effective, the monsters were suitably scary, and the hero is awesomely heroic. What really impressed me was the world–Knight goes to great lengths to describe how the world looks and feels under the post-apocalyptic sway of alien vampires, and every detail rang horribly, beautifully true. There’s eight-something books in the series, and counting, and I’m really looking forward to reading the rest. Again, highly recommended.