Interviews → Cinedicate — Network
Entertainment, news, broadcast, and satire.
This is the full transcript of my second conversation as a guest on Cinedicate, a podcast sharing hidden movie gems by revisiting them through a conversation (for both old and first time viewers). After The Truman Show, I picked another one of my favorite movies... Network. Also Stephen Colbert's favorite movie, just saying.
Download: audio (mp3)
Publication date: 2020-11
ⓘ Transcript slightly edited for clarity.
Armand (host): Today, we are going to dive deep and discuss the moralities in the business broadcasting and news agency world, for today's episode recommendation is Network. Simone, what did you think of Network? What were your initial thoughts?
Sim (guest): It's one of those movies that I meant to watch for over a decade and it happened just a few months ago but I used to live in another country when I wanted to watch it. I thought it was really looking at the future in a way that maybe it wasn't understand at the time. I don't know. I wasn't around. But it did have a very clear vision of what merging entertainment and news and politics then would eventually become. I thought it was very insightful and incredibly, incredibly contemporary and tied to the present even though it's a movie from 1976, right.
Armand: Oh, yeah, yeah. Mid-70s and I would say a lot of the things that they talk about in the movie really hit the hallmarks of our today's world with media. How did you first hear about Network?
Sim: Through... a friend of mine. We used to watch movies together in high school and then when we were in college in Italy. The Italian title of that is actually, Quinto Potere, which means the fifth estate, the fifth power.
Armand: Oh, wow.
Sim: And it's a direct homage to Citizen Kane because the Italian title of that is fourth estate, fourth power.
Sim: Where does this come from? The separation of powers is pretty common as an idea, the base of the democracy. The fourth estate is press and media because it can influence politics almost as much as the legislative power, the executive power, the judicial power but in a more informal way. Citizen Kane referred to the press and how that influences through business, the process of social life and the Fifth Estate was the title that they choose, Quinto Potere, the Fifth Power for Network. I heard it the first time with that title and I had no clue that it was just called Network, which I think it's great.
Armand: Man, that's incredible. I mean, it's so true. The press and the media have so much power and so much influence over the common people that it can be seen as the fourth and fifth branch of governments in power even though it's separated from the governments. But before we really get into today's discussion, a thing we like to do at Cinedicate is called elevator pitch. Simone, you have 60 seconds to give the entire plot of the movie without major spoilers. Are you ready, Simone?
Sim: I am very ready.
Armand: Okay. We will start in three, two, one, go.
Sim: All right. There is this... deranged news broadcaster, Howard Beale: he's an anchorman and someday, he just implodes live, on air. He begins to show how really is angry at the world, as it is. That starts a whole process of uncovering how news and politics and entertainment are all tied together. We see this man imploding and we see the powers that pressure him to keep going and at the same time, not giving up but will he give up, I don't know. Maybe he will give up, maybe not.
He starts one thing that he does is he goes at the window and he tells everybody watching that they should go the window and start to yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” That is the most iconic catchphrase but there is even an even more iconic monologue. Watch the movie.
Armand: Damn, with even three seconds to spare.
Armand: No, that really envelops the entire premise of the movie, is you have this anchorman that's completely disenchanted with his job and becomes so deranged because of certain aspects of his life falling apart and he just implodes on air. That's pretty much the driving force of the film and where the film takes you.
Sim: Mm-hmm. I’m curious, which part did you like of the movie?
Armand: Pretty much, what I enjoyed from Network was stuff I heard about the film before because my first interaction with Network was mid-2000s when this documentary came out called Zeitgeist. They used Howard Beale's monologues which is, “I'm mad as hell. Everything that you perceive the world to be, it's false and we should be angry but we're not being angry.” Growing up, I didn't really associate it from Network until years later, I realized, “Oh, there's a movie.” But I never got around to see it until recently. It's definitely one of those movies where I’m like, “I wish I saw this sooner.”
Armand: It lingers with you in a good way. It makes you think.
Sim: Mm-hmm. Watching this movie and one can fall into the, “Oh, the invisible hand of the powers.” It's easy to do watching this movie. You're just thinking like, “Oh, that's how it works.” I don't think... No, I do because that is the temptation. I think it gives you a perspective and it gives you an idea of some concepts but it still stays like the universe of the movie.
Armand: Before we really get into the crux of the movie, it stars a character called Howard Beale, which is played by Peter Finch. He really is the heart of the movie but there are other plot lines going on which interweave with Howard Beale’s rise to power and rise to fame.
Armand: The movie kicks off just as your elevator pitch portrays it, Howard Beale's slow descent into madness. The first seed, so Howard Beale has a tough personal life. He loses his wife. His whole life is falling apart around him. His show, his news anchor show is ending. To announce that he's leaving the show, he, I don't even know if it's tongue-in-cheek but he's like, “So, you know, my last show is going to be next week and I’m going to blow my brains out on live TV.” He says it as straight as he could be.
The news anchor people are like, “Wait a minute, what did he just say? Did he just say he's going to kill himself on live TV?” Starting from there, the views skyrocket for anything to do with Howard Beale which then leads to not his retirement but him having his own dedicated show, The Howard Beale Show.
This businesswoman, Diana, really takes advantage of people's anger and people's interest in this guy who becomes kind of like a caricature, like the Colbert Report. But yeah, in the Network, as Howard Beale is making a speech about, his first speech about like how life is bullshit and, in the background, the production team's completely going crazy. There are phones ringing off the hook.
Sim: Hey, phones ringing off. Do you know what is one part that I love that made me laugh so hard that I remember?
Sim: It's when the phones are ringing off because the guy is like, the night after the anchorman, Howard Beale is back on the show and he goes like, “Hey, everybody. Here is an announcement. I really, really was insane a few nights ago but I apologize because I committed an act of madness but what really happened is, I ran out of bullshit. I am sorry. I just, you know, I was live on TV, I didn't have any more bullshit,” and phones start to ring again.
Then the CEOs are like, “What is he saying?” There is always one good producer that goes like, “Well, he's saying that life is bullshit and it's the truth so what are you screaming about?” and bangs the phone on the receiver. And a 70s secretary who is very minute and cute. She goes like, “Mr. Something-something is trying to get a hold of you.” And he's like, “I will not take this call. Truth is happening and history is happening.” Sorry, this is my...
Armand: No, that was the point I was going to make because that line is so perfect.
Sim: Yeah, if Howard Beale's character was in the 2010s or 2020s, he would have not been live on a TV show. He would have gone viral. It would have been a clip. That thing was like, “Hey, have you seen Howard Beale basically imploding live?” It gets easier if you stop, like doesn't it get easier when you drop the bullshit?
Armand: It gets so much easier.
Sim: I think it's so much easier.
Armand: It's like you see what life actually is through the lenses of all these like BS. It's like, okay. It's like, what are we doing?
Armand: What kind of world are we building? It's like let's just be authentic.
Sim: Do you like the bullshit? The end game question of this movie to me is just like, you know, there is a lot of bullshit going on. If you like it, that's fine as long as you know it. Keep scrolling Instagram all day. That is the truth of it but I do I need to constantly share how angered I am about... I don't need that news most of the times when I scroll through. I don't want to know about it.
I honestly do not want to know about many things. I feel like sometimes the pressure of like really... I get easily into the... I will read a million articles per day. But I’m trying to make it be mostly opinions that are on a blog of people that sometimes also have a different view from mine.
Armand: Yeah. It's important to see viewpoints from other ends of the aisle and then you could see, like, okay...
Sim: Do you do that?
Armand: It's hard but yeah, I try to do it. It's like, okay.
Sim: How do you force yourself? It's hard.
Armand: Because it's so time consuming. Because it's like, okay, you have your, for example, in America, we have the left and the right and independent but no one wants to talk about them. You have the left-leaning media companies then you have the right-leaning media company. So, you have to listen to both those companies, what they're saying and then you have to decipher, okay, what's the through line? What's the median? What are the overlapping features and that that's the truth?
Sim: Can you usually? I find it incredibly hard because there is like so many layers that I just go like, “I don't know.”
Armand: Yeah. You have to get through the biases and then what agenda they're trying to push. It's like, “Oh, okay.”
Sim: Just stop following. It's very rare that I read an article that I... Usually like I go like let's be honest, I try to limit the amount. I know you're like, “I will never open Fox and New York Times.” I will, I will. I try to go like, “Urgh, maybe I had enough for today.” It's just like I have so much pressure.
Armand: Yeah, it's tiring.
Sim: As it happens in Network, to create a case of selling anger because then you're angry and you're engaged and then eventually, depending on what you're reading, if you ask yourself why I might be presented with this material. Because at the end of the day, partners and sponsors are paying for the clicks and views.
Armand: Oh, yeah. And given the context of Network, this movie was released in 1976 so it was filmed in 1975. A lot of people were very, very angry over the US involvement in the Vietnam war. A war that the Americans at the time believed we had no business being there. That caused a lot of protests and probably kicked off one of the first anti-establishment movements because prior to that, it's like people had a very positive view of the government.
And then fast forward to today, like with social media with the Iraq war and Afghanistan, people use that platform to express their hatred. That's why I think Network resonated so well during that time is because it's kind of like the mirror of the original context of when it was created. It's like yeah, people were very angry and people didn't really know what to do or to channel that energy. People watching it today, it's like, “Oh, I understand that anger now.”
Sim: Yeah, anger has value in that movie.
Armand: Yeah, it's currency.
Sim: Yeah. Let's put it like this. A person that has much more authority than I might have, it's one of their favorite movies, I discovered, Stephen Colbert. This is the favorite movie of Stephen Colbert. When he was still doing the Colbert Report, he had an interview with The Atlantic where he explained how Howard Beale, the anchorman in the movie, is the very first man showing you that there is people that want you to know how you should think about things, like what you should think about something and that is Colbert's point of view.
I think that is very true about the movie. It shows you how you are usually invited to hate something, to be angry at something, to be happy about something, to be totally entertained by something. That is something that is very present in what you do. When I used to make political commentary and satire back in Italy, I often found myself between those first viral videos when YouTube was barely a thing and Facebook was just existed for like two or three years, you quickly start to give somebody not what they need but what they want because if you give people what they want, that will generate views engagements and clicks.
Ultimately, that's a big goal of any media because that's how it works and it's no exception. This is present in Network in 1976 so much that Howard Beale’s this angry man, is angry and gets mad on TV. People get scared and excited about it and Network executives at first are scared because what is going to happen to the investors, what is going to happen to our partners, what are they going to think? How are people going to react? Are they going to hate it, are they going to hate us and not watch it?
The opposite happens. The opposite happens because anger and fear and honesty to some extent, because there is a very good intention, I think, from the character of Howard Beale, that gets engagement, that gets views. The same mechanism is true in contemporary media. So, it was true, I think, for not just me but whoever is in the business of doing that including late night shows that as we said, this is the favorite movie of Stephen Colbert but originally, he portrayed in the Colbert Report, a parody of a news anchorman.
I can see how this was his favorite movie because Colbert used to never break out of character, always be in this character of a parody of an anchorman. But you slowly turn into something that is not a parody of it or trying to denounce, to let people know of what is happening. You turn into a tool because this mechanism incorporates anger, incorporates fear in the movie, in the metaphor of the movie. It just becomes another gear of the Network system.
Eventually, the executives embrace and some characters don't understand, they embrace this craziness of the man who yells and threatens on TV and they invest him with the power of being the mad prophet of TV because he tells the truth. But the truth is more in the manner of saying things than in the content of what is needed to say and it's an actual truth.
So, yes, I think that from any source that you have in front of you, this is the message of the movie, ask yourself what the reasons are of what you are consuming, reading or watching, just why. That is a way to generate a little shield for yourself. Just ask yourself why am I being presented with this especially on social media? Do you think that social media is part of this fourth and fifth estate like we said?
Armand: Absolutely. It's a byproduct of the evolution of how we receive and transmit news and stories. Because in the 70s, where Network takes place, the television was like pretty much at its peak so everyone was glued to the news broadcast at 8 o'clock or 10 o'clock. So, everyone was glued to the TV.
Now, everyone's glued to their cell phone and where do people get their news? Not from like ABC or NBC but more so, the articles or stuff they see on social media that's being tweeted out or being shared on platforms like Facebook. So, totally.
People are consumed by the desire to see what's going on in the world through social media and it's filtered through the lens of like, I would say biases or confirmation biases, like stuff they want to see pretty much. They're not getting the news objectively. They're getting it through the filters of whether it's entertainment or partisanship, I would say. So, they're getting what they want but not what they need.
Sim: Okay, yeah.
Armand: Okay, so, Howard Beale, people gravitate towards him. He articulated what the American people were feeling.
Sim: Yeah, that's a very good point.
Armand: He denounced the hypocrisy of their time.
Sim: Yeah, that is a very common technique for Howard Beale. Howard Beale becomes also part of that system. You got a really good point. The person who denounces what is happening then becomes a prophet, a mad prophet of the thing that is happening itself. Why? Because there is an error correction mechanism. Saying the thing how it is or how he perceives it because honestly, there is no truth, at least for me. I don't see that, what Howard Beale says as the truth.
But saying something that is non-conventional eventually gets absorbed and corrected to be uniform with the same mechanism that generated it. There is a monologue by the CEO of CEOs of the end of the world CEO. Basically, the anchorman pisses off these guys so much and they go like, “All right, but you know what, you have a good audience. So, here is the show. Just be mad every night at 8:00 p.m. and bring us sponsors and partners, which he does.
But then he commits a false step. He just takes a bad step and unveils a deal, a business deal that is happening between the network owners and external investors. That's when he tried to challenge the gods. That's another part that in that universe, when you reach the monol...it's a very powerful monologue by the CEO of the CEOs, which is called Jensen.
That is one of the parts that you look and go like, “Oh, wow. That's very true. I get it. Oh, yeah. I see it.” But he still stays in the metaphors of the universe and he becomes very, very powerful. The guy goes like, “There are no people, there are no nations, there are just corporations.” That is the point and the framing is fantastic.
Armand: Oh, yeah. I mean, visually, the framing is like the CEO is positioned to be above Howard Beale. It's kind of like... And the camera angle is from the bottom going up which implies that he is the dominating force in that relationship, that exchange.
Sim: Yeah, he's god.
Armand: Like Howard Beale sees himself as a god but once he meets the CEO, he's like, “Oh, I am a god but not the god.” He's like a lesser god and the greater god can smack him down whenever he wants because he's the CEO. He can take his show off the air whenever he wants.
Armand: Howard Beale definitely sees his place.
Sim: I think he feels insignificant not just like a god. I think he feels like... He goes like, “Oh, I, you know, it doesn't matter.” Even in the framing, like this guy is standing in between, at the end of a desk, in between a row of 1920s art decor green lamps, the ones that you always see in Hollywood. In every Hollywood movie, there is those green lamps on a table.
But there is a row of those and on the opposite side, there is Howard Beale sitting almost like head between his shoulders in the dark. It's just open mouth and just waiting. And Jensen goes, this monologue, “There is no nations, there is no peoples, there is no...” And he calms down suddenly and goes like, “Am I getting through to you Mr. Beale?” and then resumes this anger of the wrath of the god, this thing. It's easy to see this an explanation of how everything works.
I think it's just a version, a satire that shows you how there are dynamics, they're not always immediately clear but there is no secret. You go like, “Now I have a different view of it.” I think these mechanisms are always there to be seen. There is nothing secret. There is nothing unseen. It just takes a somewhat critical spirit to stare long enough to see them.
I think that is also what drives Beale towards real desperation because he then sees that whatever he thought he was the truth was nothing else but another part of the mechanism. In this way, you can also picture yourself, the very famous Charlie Chaplin image of the man ending up in the middle of the gears in the same way. This is also a theme that is taken by countless other shows, right.
There is the original series of Black Mirror, season 1, 2013 was still a Channel 4 show in in England. When it wasn't a Netflix thing that just goes like, “We're live in a simulation. Oh, no.” Black Mirror, last three seasons, “Wee, simulations. Oh, no.” Before that. There is an episode with a guy who lives in this future society where they bike every day to produce energy and then they go back to their room/pod where they sleep, which is just made of screens which are advertisement and they create credits.
The more they bike, the more credits they have to buy things even including removing advertisement from their own living pod. This guy at some point is just like, “Ah, I hate all of this. There is a way to get out of this and it's a reality TV show. If I win that, I am free.” Not just that. He gets there and he pulls a Howard Beale there. He goes like, “Hey, judges, here is the truth and you can't stop me because I have this thing.”
The brilliance from that moment when the guy on stage takes up the stage to tell the truth to the masses is that a judge of this reality show just starts to go like [Clapping] clapping and go like, “Fantastic performance. Fantastic performance. I’m offering you a show on my channel.” He goes like, “Well, I can become a celebrity and get out of the pod and get a show.”
So, he just every day, does the same monologue over and over. That's also, I think, very close to Network where he becomes the corrective part of what happens and so is the movie itself. The movie itself, we're talking about it right now but what it is if not another way for us to observe the reality of the thing. The move itself is a critique but it is, at the end of the day, just the same mechanism.
Armand: It really is. That also reminds me of a very small but hilarious subplot which is Diana, before she discovered Howard Beale. She was trying to push the envelope with TV.
Armand: She wanted to get a syndicated TV show similar to like FBI or MAS*H or whatever but it was centered around the communist or this specific liberation front. So, they'll rob a bank or commit some crime but they would videotape it. She was like, “At the start, a very free show. We're going to show the real footage and then do a dramatization, like a narrative version.”
The point of that subplot is she's trying to get this real revolutionary outfit to be like board members or this consulting group for this TV show. It's funny because like every time you see them, they're like, “Oh, we're going to take it to the man, defeat the capitalist machine but we also want network rights and we can't have people infringe upon our TV show. I need a bigger share of the profits.” Like, oh, boy.
Sim: Yeah, that was really funny.
Armand: Yeah. They become the thing that they're fighting against.
Armand: They have good intentions in the beginning and then they become the very evil that they're fighting against.
Sim: Because even when you try to drop the bullshit, there's still more bullshit. It's going to come out.
Armand: It's true. It's so true.
Sim: Overall, it's a really nice movie. It's one of those then help you have a little bit of critical thinking and it's really enjoyable and well done.
Armand: Yeah. Before we sign off, we like to do one reason why. So, what is one reason why you would recommend this movie for somebody to watch?
Sim: If you are interested in bullshit and dropping it and seeing how it is constant throughout four or five decades, just watch it if you're interested in that. If you're interested in seeing how four decades ago, there was as much as we have now, watch Network.
Armand: Right. Same BS, different time.
Sim: Yeah, different characters. Same bullshit.
Armand: Time does not change. We deal with the same crap all the time. The reason for me, I would say, is it makes you look at life differently and it opens your eyes to things that you wouldn't notice. It kind of makes you see the world differently in whatever way that is. But that's it for this time on Cinedicate. We hope you enjoyed yourself. We've been talking about Network by Sydney Lumet. Please check it out where it is available. I’d like to take a moment to thank my guest Simone for coming on the show.
Sim: My pleasure.
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🅂 Me in 15”
I've been a satirical author, marketing manager, radio host, Comedy Central correspondent, and improviser. Process optimizer, critical observer, easily obsessed—and emotional stoic—I love meaningful conversations and silences. Rome (Italy) native, I now live in Chicago → more about me and what I'm doing now.