NETWORK: The Mad As Hell Movie Masterpiece

“I’m as mad as hell…and I’m not going to take it anymore!” – Howard Beale

That is one of the most famous quotes in the history of cinema. It expresses the anger and frustration of all humans feel towards oppressive things in their life and it’s been heavily referenced over the years since the release of Network in 1976. I mean, look at this website’s motto! I’m actually a little bit surprised that this mad as hell website still doesn’t have a review of this mad as hell movie. I was planning on writing a review of it for a while but then recently something pissed me off and made me want to write a review of Network right away. A few days ago in my country (Thailand), a suspected killer tried to shoot himself and the cops used every tactic to stop him. This wouldn’t have been a big deal if 60%-70% of TV stations here hadn’t aired it live for more than one hour. Remember the infamous OJ car chase that you could see happening on every channel? Well, this one is similar…except the fact that in the end the suspect shot himself (luckily, NOBODY got that footage). This event raises many questions about journalism and using exploitation for ratings, which immediately reminded me of Network.

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How does the whole mad as hell story begin? Well, it starts with poor old Howard Beale (Peter Finch), a UBS network news anchor whose popularity is getting worse and worse and he is about to get fired, so he gets drunk with his friend, the president of news department of UBS, Max Schumacher (William Holden). Max half-jokingly suggests that Howard should kill himself on TV because that’s what audiences love: violence and cruelty. Meanwhile, every TV channel is reporting about Howard’s increasingingly erratic behavior, which means that his show is getting more attention. A few days later, he gives a farewell speech on his show by saying that he’s run out of “bullshit” to say.  Max decides to let him talk on the air because he cares about his friend and was pressured about the news department being the reason why UBS is in debt, so Max is basically giving the station the middle finger with Howard’s rant. Unfortunately, his rage fueled show attracts more and more viewers. Diana (Faye Dunaway) the insane head of programming has tried everything to get UBS higher ratings…including getting terrorists a TV show because “the American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them.” Naturally, she thinks this could be the greatest thing for the station and wants Howard to do a weekly show, which has weird segments like a fortune teller who predicts tomorrow’s news. Her idea was rejected by many people, including her boss Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall). Howard starts to have serious mental issues and thinks he can hear a mysterious voice that tells him things like “I want you to tell the people the truth which is not an easy thing to do; because the people don’t want to know the truth.”. One night he goes to the station and does his famous “mad as hell” rant which results in not only skyrocketing ratings for UBS but audiences yelling his “mad as hell” line along with him.

From that point on, it becomes a Johnny Carson style TV show instead of a normal news format. At the end of his ranting monologue, he always faints due to his illness but the audience and Diana think that this is just an act. Only a few people at UBS thinks he should get cured before it’s too late. But instead, everyone tries to exploit him as much as possible for ratings. Things are about to change when Howard’s loudmouth antics interfere with UBS internal business.

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According to screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, he thought the script was like a sci-fi story since it was so outrageous and there was no way it could happen, but when he was about to die almost everything except the ending already happened for real in one way or another. That’s sad and scary. I mean, the real news shows nowadays are getting closer and closer to becoming The Howard Beale Show.

So what the hell went wrong with journalism? Here’s some facts according to this film…

– Making news for profit, not integrity.

The reason why Howard dosn’t get fired is NOT because of his journalistic integrity or the way he presents facts, it’s all about his angry attitude that attracts more viewers to the TV, which means higher ratings, more commercials, more profit in general. As time goes by, nobody bothers to see the fact that Howard needs to be cured as quickly as possible since he’s still making big bucks for the station. It seems like Howard becomes an android at this point. He works without any care from his co-workers. His “mad as hell” methods also leads us to another issue…

– Using emotional methods to make audiences feel rage for something in their life, and driving ratings for the station.

Just like what Diana says about The Mao Tse Tung Hour, her show about the terrorist group, “Well, in a nutshell, it’s been said the American people are turning sullen. They’ve been clobbered on all sides by Vietnam, Watergate, the inflation, depression. They’ve turned off, shot up, and they’ve fucked themselves limp. And nothing helps. Evil still triumphs over all, Christ is a dope-dealing pimp, even sin turned out to be impotent. The whole world seems to be going nuts and flipping off into space like an abandoned balloon. So — this concept analysis report concludes — the American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them. I’ve been telling you people since I took this job six months ago that I want angry shows.”

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This is the reason why some radio and TV shows are so popular. They don’t give you any information about what’s going on in the world. They just use an angry ranting to make people believe that they should be angry and get ready for a holocaust. Ironically, people in any political spectrum, from Alex Jones to Bernie Sanders supporters, use the whole “mad as hell” speech as a symbol for revolution. What they don’t realize is that Howard is telling us that “I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the defense budget and the Russians and crime in the street. All I know is first you got to get mad.”. I mean, at least our mad as hell crew at Furious Cinema tells you why we are mad as hell about certain watered down modern films while explaining what kind of films we do like. In other cases this speech is used as “Yeah! The world is screwed and we want some change now! blahblahblah”. It’s ironic since Howard tells us to just get mad instead of finding a reasonable solution to our problems or discussing the real issues with people from the other side of politics. Instead, we turn ourselves into  angry mobs who, in one way or another, get involved with internet drama because we are as mad as hell and we are not going to take this anymore…or are we?

– Sensationalism

Speaking of emotional manipulation, The Mao Tse Tung Hour is another good study of the case. That whole show isn’t an actual news report at all. It’s scripted! They hire writers to make the terrorist group look scary. And, yes, audiences won’t realize that, just like The Wizard of Oz, it’s fake manipulation through and through. How many times do we have to see news that’s heavily scripted and that tries to make us get emotional in one way or another?

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– A blend of entertainment and news

Although I really enjoy watching reruns of the old Morton Downey Jr. Show, I can’t deny the fact that it could be one of the first shows that blended news with entertainment, something that this film predicts. So what’s so bad about that? Well, it’s fun when you watch it for the first time…but later on you can’t be sure whether the things that are happening in front of you are the truth or a staged event for ratings. The ending of Network sums this up this pretty well.

In conclusion, this black comedy masterpiece finally became a truly scary film in the 21st Century. This and Idiocracy are two of the non-horror films that give me weird chills every time I watch them since they are getting closer and closer to becoming “documentaries”. In Network’s case, it’s sad to learn that lots of things in this film already happened in reality. In one way, it shows how brilliant and ahead of its time it film is. But let’s be honest here, it should make us wonder what the media really cares more about? Profits or moral responsibility?

Nuttawut Permphithak

Nuttawut is a Thai student who's spending his final year in university studying marketing. In his free time he watches exploitation films... or any films from the past, writing articles, taking photos, and reviewing films for the GCDB. These activities sometimes make him "mad as hell", but he really likes that feeling!

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