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Mad as Hell:
How Broadway Ruined Network

5,521 words

When asked to name my favorite film, I have a tough time choosing between Fight Club and Network. I was delighted, therefore, when I learned that Network had been turned into a Broadway play starring Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, everything, as it turned out.

In order to communicate why this Broadway play is so bad – so importantly bad – I must give at least some brief account of why the film is so importantly good. Network was released in 1976 and swept the Oscars, winning in three of the four acting categories (Best Actor: Peter Finch; Best Actress: Faye Dunaway; Best Supporting Actress: Beatrice Straight). Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay also won, and the film should have won Best Picture, but lost out to Rocky (a fine film, but nowhere in the same league). Network was Chayefsky’s follow-up to 1971’s The Hospital, for which he also received an Oscar. (The Hospital deals with many of the same themes as Network, and is arguably just as good – suffice it to say that it is well worth seeing.)

Network tells the story of Howard Beale (Peter Finch), host of the Evening News at UBS, a fictitious fourth network. Beale’s ratings are disastrously bad, as are the ratings of everything at UBS, which hasn’t had a single show in the top twenty. For those of you across the pond: “ratings” refers to how many people are watching a program on American TV, not to how well a program is reviewed by critics. “Ratings” are important because networks can sell commercial time on highly-rated programs for huge amounts of money. Low-rated programs cost a network advertising revenue, and thus are usually cancelled in short order. The inescapable conclusion is that American television exists to show commercials about products to potential consumers, while the programs are just lures to get people to watch the commercials.

This system encourages network executives to think solely in terms of the popularity of programs, rather than their aesthetic or intellectual merits. It encourages networks to pander to bad taste. More importantly, it encourages network programmers and showrunners to worsen the public’s taste, and even their morals, by appealing to the baser elements in human nature in order to titillate and attract viewers. Anything to get ratings, in other words. This is a major theme of Chayefsky’s screenplay: the power of television to corrupt. Indeed, it is usually the only theme mentioned when the film is discussed, though Network deals with much more.

In any case, with poor Howard Beale’s ratings in the crapper, UBS decides to fire him. The news is broken to him by his old friend Max Schumacher (William Holden), who is head of the news division. The next day Beale announces on the air that he is being fired and then informs the viewers that, because he has nothing else going on in his life, he intends to kill himself. Needless to say, this creates something of a controversy. The network brass are appalled, but Beale persuades Schumacher to allow him to appear one last time to make a dignified exit. “I don’t want to go out like a clown,” he says. But Howard is being disingenuous. As soon as he is on the air, he explains that he threatened suicide because “I just ran out of bullshit.” “Bullshit is all the reasons we give for living,” he explains. “And if we can’t think of any reasons of our own, we always have the God bullshit.”

The result of this tirade is that Schumacher loses his job, and the network dismisses the entire thing as a “disgraceful episode.” That is, at least, until the ratings come in. Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), the beautiful and ambitious head of programming, sees this as a golden opportunity. She envisions Beale as a “magnificent, messianic prophet inveighing against the hypocrisies of our times” and convinces the network to put him back on. Everybody thinks Beale is a curmudgeon going through a major mid-life crisis. In fact, he is going mad. He begins hearing voices, which command him to preach the truth to a nationwide audience. “Don’t worry, we’ll put the words in your mouth,” the voices say.

This revelation culminates in the most famous scene in the film: Peter Finch’s stirring on-air speech, punctuated repeatedly by the words, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” It’s one of the greatest scenes ever shot for a motion picture, and became a catch-phrase in American popular culture for years afterwards. When I saw Network on the big screen when it was revived at the Film Forum in Manhattan a few years ago, people in the audience were weeping during this scene (and I must admit my own eyes were moist). The reason is that Chayefsky’s words and Finch’s passion speak in a profound way to our dissatisfaction with the emptiness of modern life – which, of course, has only intensified since 1976. “I don’t have to tell you things are bad,” Beale begins, continuing:

We all know that things are bad. Worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything’s going crazy. So we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house and slowly the world around us gets smaller, and all we ask is please at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my hairdryer and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone. Well, I’m not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad!

 

This is a film about much more than television. It’s about the creation of “mass man,” or Nietzsche’s “last man,” who really is happy if left alone with his TV and his steel-belted radials.

The response to Beale’s speech is sensational. All over the country, viewers go outside or go to their windows and scream, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” (Chayefsky uses the brilliant device of setting the New York scenes against an electrical storm – simultaneously conveying chaos, madness, and the wrath of God – a device he also uses in The Hospital.) But it’s not clear that the response isn’t yet another manifestation of what Beale later decries as the public’s tendency to just mindlessly follow whatever TV tells them to do. It’s not clear that you really can make the Last Man as mad as hell. In another brilliant monologue, Beale tells his audience:

If you want truth, go to God, go to your guru, go to yourselves! Because that’s the only place you’ll ever find any real truth! But, man, you’re never going to get any truth from us. . . . We’ll tell you any shit you want to hear. None of it’s true! But you people sit there – all of you – day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds – we’re all you know. . . . You’re beginning to think the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! We’re the illusion!

Beale ends by imploring his audience to turn off their television sets immediately – “right in the middle of this very sentence I’m speaking! Turn them off and leave them off!”

We can imagine the viewers at home once again wildly enthusiastic at Beale’s words. Wildly enthusiastic, and not turning off their television sets! Of course they don’t turn them off. If they turned them off, they would miss out on Beale’s next sensational broadcast. They would miss out on their new hero, Howard Beale, telling them how to dress, how to eat, how to raise their children, and how to think – so as not to be like those people who just do what the TV tells them to do. And they would miss seeing the sensational new program that follows Beale’s, The Mao Tse Tung Hour (more on that later).

Ultimately, Beale goes too far: He attacks a merger between UBS’s “parent company” and a shadowy entity backed by Saudi money. Beale is summoned into the office of the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Jensen (Ned Beatty). What follows is another stunning monologue, this time from Beatty (while Finch merely listens). Jensen informs Beale that he has “meddled with the primal forces of nature!” Which turns out to mean that he has meddled with the forces of globalism. “You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples,” Jensen says, continuing:

There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars. . . . It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. . . . Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.

In short, Jensen proceeds to lay out the substance of the Kojève-Fukuyama “end of history” thesis: global capitalism (a.k.a. “liberal democracy”) will overcome national boundaries and animosities and turn the entire world into one, big shopping mall. But at history’s end, we find always the Last Man, blinking. Thus, Jensen’s speech ends as follows:

And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or brutality – one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock – all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.

I don’t know of any speech in an American film that is intellectually richer, more challenging, or more provocative than this. And here we may note that the real “mad prophet” of this story is Paddy Chayefsky. Like a great work of philosophy or literature, Network only seems more prescient and “relevant” with each passing year. It is truly remarkable.

In any case, Beale leaves Jensen’s office literally convinced that he has seen the face of God. He accepts Jensen’s teaching and dutifully begins to spread the gospel. When next Beale appears on his program, he informs his audience that the individual is “finished”:

It’s the single, solitary human being that’s finished. It’s every single one of you out there that’s finished. Because this is no longer a nation of independent individuals. It’s a nation of some two hundred-odd-million transistorized, deodorized, whiter-than-white, steel-belted bodies, totally unnecessary as human beings and as replaceable as piston rods. Well, the time has come to say is “dehumanization” such a bad word? Whether it’s good or bad, that’s what is so. The whole world is becoming humanoid, creatures that look human but aren’t. . . . The whole world’s people are becoming mass-produced, programmed, numbered, insensate things.

On one level, Beale has finally recognized the magnitude of what has been done to modern man – done by mass media, propaganda, the culture of narcissism, and the soul-rotting influence of capitalist comfort and abundance. Beale has realized that he hasn’t really been talking to anyone. One thinks of another great speech, this one delivered by Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner:

Look at you. Brainwashed imbeciles. Can you laugh? Can you cry? Can you think?. . . In your heads are the remnants of a brain. In your hearts must still be the desire to be human beings again.

But what if there really isn’t? Suppose that desire has been killed in them – thoroughly killed. This is frightening, but it is entirely possible.

Yet in not only acknowledging this, but making peace with it, Beale goes off the rails. He goes from trying to make his viewers “as mad as hell” about their dehumanization, to persuading them to accept it as not so bad after all. His speech is cut off in this scene, but we know where it’s headed: He will suggest to his audience that although they may be humanoid, at least in this brave new world all anxieties will be tranquilized, all boredom amused. This I cannot accept. I know that many souls are lost for good (indeed, many have no souls at all). But there are others who do have, in their hearts, a desire to be human beings again. We have to fight for those souls, and fight to destroy the world of Mr. Jensen.

In the end, Howard Beale is destroyed, his soul corrupted. (A fact that is acknowledged later in the film by the Schumacher character, in case you think this is just my interpretation.) As the narrator of the film states, “It was a perfectly admissible argument that Howard Beale advanced in the days that followed. It was, however, also a very depressing one. Nobody particularly cared to hear his life was utterly valueless.” Beale’s ratings plummet, and soon Diana, whose career had been made by the success of Beale’s show, is casting around for a replacement (“What about that terrific new messiah ABC was supposed to have signed up as our competition?”). However, it transpires that Mr. Jensen was perfectly serious when he said he wanted Beale to preach his worldview. He wants Beale to stay on the air, no matter how low his ratings go.

In desperation, Diana meets with her network associates and plans the assassination of Howard Beale: “The whole thing would be done right on camera in the studio. We ought to get a fantastic look-in audience with the assassination of Howard Beale as our opening show.” And this does indeed come to pass, in one of the most famous conclusions in cinema history: Beale is gunned down by members of a terrorist group, just as his show opens. The film closes with the narrator’s voiceover: “This was the story of Howard Beale. The first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.”

I hope the foregoing has made clear why I have such a high opinion of this film – and why I was so excited to see it adapted for the stage. I did not consider such an adaptation to be much of a stretch. Network is not spectacle. There are no car chases or exploding death stars. It is mostly all talk – exquisite talk, but talk nonetheless. It seemed a natural for the stage. And, of course, in recent years multiple films have been turned into plays or musicals (The Producers, The Lion King, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mary Poppins, Young Frankenstein, Spamalot, etc.).

Network’s adaptation for the stage is the brainchild of British playwright Lee Hall, who has had a string of stage successes in the last twenty years, and written several screenplays. One of his plays is Billy Elliot, the story of a boy from the tough, working-class North of England who, despite facing opposition and prejudice, dreams of being a ballet dancer. The Pitmen Players tells the story of a group of miners who learn about art and set out to become painters. (For some reason, both these plays make me think of that Monty Python, reverse D.H. Lawrence skit about the boy who aspires to be a coal miner.) Another success was Spoonface Steinberg, the tale of an autistic Jewish girl dying of cancer. Hall’s opera Beached created controversy, however. It tells the story of what happens when a gay retired painter encounters some children at the seaside. After six months of rehearsals, the school that provided the child actors threatened to pull them unless lines like “I’m queer” and “I’d prefer a lad to a lass” were removed from the libretto. (Some verbal compromises were agreed to, and the production continued.) Contrary to all appearances, Hall is not a big, flaming poof. But he might as well be.

His adaptation of Network opened in the UK at London’s National Theatre on November 13, 2017 and ran until March 24, 2018. Bryan Cranston starred as Howard Beale. The performance I saw (a preview at the Belasco Theater in Manhattan) also starred Cranston, and closely followed the staging of the London production. The setting is a live, on-stage television studio, with an onstage restaurant called “Foodwork,” where audience members who were willing to pay a lot more were served a three-course meal. (I’m not kidding.) A huge television monitor dominated the stage, and throughout the play cameramen followed the actors, projecting close-up images onto the screen. This gives one the experience of watching both a play and a television show. It is one of the better ideas in the production. The play also includes attempts at involving the audience, such as getting everyone to yell “I’m as mad as hell” (which I did with enthusiasm, while my neighbors remained mostly silent).

Hall’s play follows the plot of the film very closely, and faithfully preserves a large amount of Chayefsky’s brilliant dialogue. The central story of Howard Beale is presented more or less just as it is in the film, and a major subplot is preserved (an affair between Schumacher and Christensen, not mentioned in my earlier account). Nevertheless, Hall does make a number of changes, and some of these are important and revealing. I’ll start with the minor issues first. Hall sometimes alters Chayefsky’s dialogue, shortening, expanding, or just tweaking some exchanges. In every case, the change is not an improvement. Indeed, if one knows the film well (and I know it practically by heart), one misses every line that is omitted – and the changes to perfectly-good lines are jarring and seemingly pointless. In order to adapt the film for the stage, Hall also has to invent lines and a few short scenes. This is not, in itself, unreasonable: adapting any work of art from one medium to another always requires changes. But in every case, Hall’s own dialogue is flat, uninspired, and pedestrian. It’s like reading a student’s plagiarized term paper, where all the good bits aren’t original and all the original bits aren’t good.

Hall’s major change is to cut entirely one of the film’s most famous subplots, which contains some of Chayefsky’s best satire and funniest dialogue. The subplot concerns Diana’s efforts to create a television show centered around the activities of a terrorist group. Through Laureen Hobbs, an activist affiliated with the American Communist Party (a character clearly based on Angela Davis, and played brilliantly by Marlene Warfield), Diana makes contact with the Ecumenical Liberation Army. The Ecumenicals are obviously based on the Symbionese Liberation Army, the group that kidnapped Patty Heart in 1974. (Chayefsky even equips the Ecumenicals with their own kidnapped heiress!) After some persuasion, they agree to star in their own network TV show, The Mao Tse Tung Hour. (It is these individuals who, in the film, carry out the assassination of Howard Beale.) Diana promises, “I’m offering you an hour of primetime television every week into which you can stick whatever propaganda you want. That’s a lot better than handing out mimeographed pamphlets on ghetto street corners.”

The scenes involving Laureen Hobbs and the Ecumenicals deliver some of the biggest laughs in the film – all of it at the expense of the Left. Though Chayefsky was himself a man of the Left (or, at least, considered himself to be), he was wise to the fanaticism, dogmatism, and absurd ideological wrangling that Leftists engage in. (The Hospital also contains scenes that parody Leftist ideologues – specifically, protesters.) The leader of the Ecumenicals is a giant black man called The Great Ahmed Kahn. When Laureen Hobbs meets with him to pitch the network’s proposal, he is devouring a bucket of fried chicken (one of several crypto-racist moments in Chayefsky’s work). Laureen says, “I’m going to make a TV star out of you. Just like Archie Bunker.” “What the fuck are you talkin ‘bout?” he replies, his mouth full of KFC.

Perhaps the funniest scene is the one where network attorneys meet with the terrorists to negotiate their contract. It is at this point that we realize that Laureen Hobbs has been corrupted by her deal with Diana, and has morphed into an arch-capitalist showbiz tyro. In the midst of negotiations, she explodes in anger, pointing at the Great Ahmed Kahn:

Don’t fuck with my distribution costs! I’m making a lousy two-fifteen per segment and I’m already deficiting twenty-five grand a week with Metro! I’m paying William Morris ten percent off the top, and I’m giving this turkey ten thou per segment, and another five to this fruitcake! And Helen, don’t start no shit about a piece again! I’m paying Metro twenty-thousand for all foreign and Canadian distribution, and that’s after recoupment! The Communist Party’s not gonna see a nickel of this goddamn show until we go into syndication! I’m not giving this pseudo-insurrectionary sectarian a piece of my show! I’m not giving him script approval! And I sure as hell ain’t cutting him in on my distribution costs!

Ahmed Kahn ends the quarrel by firing his pistol in the air and offering a compromise: “Man, give her the fuckin’ overhead clause.” This dialogue is pure gold – and all of it is excised by Lee Hall. The reason he gave was that the story of Howard Beale is the heart of Network, and he wanted to focus on that. And yet he includes the subplot about Diana’s affair with Max Schumacher, even though it is presented in an almost perfunctory fashion, with much of the best dialogue omitted. One wonders if the barbs Chayefsky directs at the Left didn’t hit a bit too close to home. One wonders if Hall saw himself in Chayefsky’s portrait of a phony activist, spouting Leftist drivel from out the back of a limousine, rushing to the barricades to fight for her overhead clause and her subsidiary rights.

As to the story of the affair between Diana and Max, it includes some of the best, most memorable lines in the film – especially the scene where Max decides to leave her:

Max: You need me. You need me badly. Because I’m your last contact with human reality. I love you. And that painful, decaying love is the only thing between you and the shrieking nothingness you live the rest of the day.

Diana: [hesitatingly] Then, don’t leave me.

Max: It’s too late, Diana. There’s nothing left in you that I can live with. You’re one of Howard’s humanoids. If I stay with you, I’ll be destroyed. Like Howard Beale was destroyed. Like Laureen Hobbs was destroyed. Like everything you and the institution of television touch is destroyed. You’re television incarnate, Diana: 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. But not me. Not as long as I can feel pleasure, and pain . . . and love.

[Kisses her]

Max: And it’s a happy ending: wayward husband comes to his senses, returns to his wife, with whom he has established a long and sustaining love. Heartless young woman left alone in her arctic desolation. Music up with a swell; final commercial. And here are a few scenes from next week’s show.

[Picks up his suitcases and leaves]

 

Almost the entirety of this priceless dialogue is eliminated by Hall. One is left wondering what the point was in retaining the Max-Diana affair at all.

But what’s worse than any of these changes – far worse – is Lee Hall’s attempt to inject his own politics into the play. You knew we were coming to this, didn’t you? In the course of Howard Beale’s speech about the Saudi takeover of UBS, he warns his audience about efforts by “the Arabs” to buy up American companies and property. “Hell, they already own half of England,” he says. As is made clear in the film, the issue Beale has is with foreign interests controlling the American economy – especially when it affects the news business and the entertainment industry.

In the play, Hall has Cranston growl the words “the Arabs” every time he utters them. And, unforgivably, he embellishes Chayefsky’s dialogue. Cranston warns us that “we’re going to be ruled by a bunch of emirs and mullahs and shahs!” The intent is crude and obvious: Hall is turning Howard Beale into a race-baiter. We are supposed to be reminded of all those “reactionary” voices raising alarm about the ongoing Muslim invasion of Europe. (Keep in mind that this was created for the London stage.)

I’m at a loss to know where to begin to deal with this, as we have here such a tangle of foolishness and confusion. Does Hall actually think the point of the speech in the film was that Howard revealed himself to be a “racist”? Or is Hall well aware that this is his interpolation, and if so, how does it in any way complement or enrich the major themes of Network? And does Hall even understand what those themes are? The point of Network is not “beware of the power of television to create demagogues.” Is Hall really such a dullard that he could work for years with this material and think that it all reduces to that?

To see Chayefsky’s poetry mucked up with this crude PC propagandizing positively sickened me. Watching this scene, I began to halfway suspect that perhaps the whole reason for reviving Network as a play was to warn us about Donald Trump. One can see the logic of that: former reality TV star becomes demagogue, spouts hateful rhetoric, divides country, grabs pussies! But, no. No, I thought. It can’t be that loathsomely simpleminded and conventional. Boy, was I wrong, as we shall see.

As an aside, let me mention the irony of the Jewish Chayefsky warning us about Arab control of the media. I know that if I don’t mention that, someone will in the comments. Yes, Chayefsky’s own prejudices are rather obviously displayed in the film. There is Max Schumacher, the only character who seems to emerge uncorrupted. The film never explicitly identifies him as Jewish, but the name seems to be giving us a strong hint. And one of Chayefsky’s most negative characters is, of course, the icy, Nordic Diana, significantly surnamed “Christensen.” One suspects Max’s affair with Diana is a kind of wish-fulfillment for Chayefsky: his great winter romance with the sexually-aggressive schiksa.

The exact same situation occurs in The Hospital, in the affair between the middle-aged Jewish Dr. Bock (George C. Scott) and the emancipated, affluent, WASPy Miss Drummond (Diana Rigg). Incidentally, when Network’s director, Sidney Lumet, proposed casting the pro-PLO Vanessa Redgrave as Diana, Chayefsky angrily dismissed the idea because of her politics. When Lumet (also Jewish) told Chayefsky that this amounted to “blacklisting,” the latter responded, “Not when a Jew does it to a Gentile.” (This incident was reported by Lumet in his memoirs.) Honestly, I do not care. These issues aside, The Hospital and Network are genuinely great films.

Speaking of casting, Bryan Cranston was without question the best part of this production, and he won the Laurence Olivier Award for it. Yes, it was a pleasure to see Cranston, who I loved in Breaking Bad. Yet his performance as Howard Beale suffers by the inevitable comparison to Peter Finch. It’s clear that Cranston is concerned about such comparisons, as he deliberately tries to play scenes very differently from Finch. Finch shouts and gestures, working himself up into a state of quasi-religious ecstasy. Cranston, by contrast, is low-key. Indeed, he almost whispers parts of the “mad as hell” speech. It’s watchable, but it doesn’t work. One longs for Finch. A low-key Howard Beale simply won’t do. Sometimes there really is only one right way to play a role. Cranston should have damned comparisons, and given us the passion that the role requires.

Nevertheless, as problematic as his performance is, Cranston towers over the other actors. Indeed, some of the other performers were downright amateurish. Tatiana Maslany as Diana was particularly objectionable. Maslany looks to be in her twenties, and is typical of many females of her generation: awkward, unfeminine, and nasal-voiced. Faye Dunaway managed to be feminine, poised, and as tough as nails. Maslany’s delivery was so damned flat I longed for Faye every time she opened her mouth. Several times, I was so embarrassed for her I cradled my head in my hands. I acted in high school drama with girls who could act better than this. There are also predictable nods to political correctness in the cast. One of the key roles (not mentioned earlier in this essay, but played in the film by Robert Duvall) was given to a young black man who did not so much act as recite his lines (lines which were, I fear, a bit too complex and literate for him to handle). The London production also featured a black actor in the role.

So flat, dispassionate, and uninspired were these performances that midway through the play I felt like I was watching my favorite film being acted out by kids. (Sort of like that video that went viral a few years ago, of that children’s production of Scarface.) No one in the cast (save, perhaps, Cranston) had the gravitas of a Finch, a Holden, a Dunaway, or a Duvall. And no wonder. To paraphrase what Max says of Diana in the film, they’re TV generation. They learned life from Bugs Bunny. This is what happens when you hire an all-NPC cast to star in a play warning us about NPCs.

But I have not yet come to the worst of it: Lee Hall actually changes Chayefsky’s ending.

After Howard Beale is shot, Cranston rises from the stage, sits down at the edge, close to the audience, and begins speaking. Why? Well, to tell us what we should think the point of the story is, of course. Cranston proceeds to inform the audience that the whole problem with the foregoing was people believing in “absolutes.” We know we’re in trouble, he told us, when people are too convinced that they are right about things. Really? That’s it? That’s the message of Network? A sophomoric relativism? Of course, the audience – full of Left-wing New York morons convinced they’re absolutely right about everything they believe – erupted in thunderous applause at this attack on believing that anyone is absolutely right. If Cranston had squatted down and taken a dump all over Chayefsky’s script, the effect would have been the same.

Oh, but worse things were to come, gentle reader! Hard to imagine, but true. After the cast took their bows and left the stage, the crew projected a series of images on the giant monitor. They were scenes of American presidents taking the oath of office. The footage began with Gerald Ford, who was President when Network was filmed. Most of the audience remained in their seats, watching the footage. But I knew where this was headed, and began elbowing my way out. By the time I climbed the stairs to the top of the mezzanine, the footage had gotten to Barack Obama. Like a theater full of trained seals, the audience began cheering and clapping. And, you guessed it, when Trump came on the screen, boos and hisses filled the theater.

Yes, folks, no humanoids here. Nobody who dresses like the tube, eats like the tube, raises their children like the tube, and thinks like the tube. Nobody mass-produced, programmed, numbered, and insensate. Nobody, it goes without saying, with a sense of irony (standard liberal affliction). And nobody who learned a damned thing from this brilliant story, which still shined through in spite of the witlessness of Mr. Hall, and the amateurishness of his performers.

Fuming, I made for the exit – when suddenly a single voice rose above the boos, directed at Trump. A single male voice was cheering. And then that same voice screamed “Make America Great Again!” I’ve no idea where the guy was sitting, but his voice boomed out across the entire theater. I watched the responses of the audience. Some gasped. Some laughed as if they thought the guy was kidding (after all, who in that theater could possibly disagree with them?). Some laughed as if they thought he might be part of the show. Feeling cheered, and immensely gratified, I left the theater.

Well, I thought, at least one guy was as mad as hell – and, I suspect, isn’t going to take this anymore.

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11 Comments

  1. steve
    Posted November 24, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    The film Network was partially redeemed by Faye Dunaway’s beauty; tried to watch Fight Club, but gave up half way through it. Good for proles, maybe.

  2. Gnome Chompsky
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    That is a great review, and I will enjoy avoiding the play.

    I also have much love for the old movie, it is great.

    However, what could you expect from the west-end of London but people pissing on it?

    I very much enjoyed reading the review, but west end London via NY theatre would have been a useful addition.

  3. River Kwai
    Posted November 20, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this and the publishers for putting it out. One of the best things on this blog/Web site in the 5 years I’ve been reading it. Your criticism of the Broadway show reads true, I have no doubt it was as bad as you described.

    But was the movie that great? I’ve seen it twice, and the second time, when I was in my 30s, I think, I found it way too clever. The scene with the radicals was too much, it seemed like an SNL skit on even more cocaine and steroids, where everyone involved in the making is looking over their shoulder to someone, thinking “Have we gone too far? We’re really good people, we would never say blacks are really like that, that they have agency and might be bad, this is just a satire on the way white men in power view them; again, we’re really not like that, we …” The entire movie also seemed too ponderous and slow, as if the makers had been influenced too much by the Woodward/Bernstein climate of Post/Times jowly seriousness, as if the Watergate breakin was the most important thing that had ever happened in the universe. In the makers’ universe it was; in normal peoples’, it wasn’t, they just wanted to be entertained. As opposed to the behind-the-scenes boring studio office discussions and romances–you know, grist for “serious’ audiences–Finch’s famous scene entertains mightily, as you have affirmed. That was an Archie Bunker scene, as you mentioned, and Norman Lear was probably really pissed.

    • Gnome Chompsky
      Posted November 22, 2018 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      If the scenes with the radicals are what annoy you abt. the film, they are based on realities of the time.

      The famous (and generally worth reading) writer Thomas Wolfe, in particular, wrote about the phenomenon of ‘radical chic’, I think he may have coined the term.

      His exemplar was a party for the Black Panthers held in around 1970 by the hack Leonard Bernstein and, except for the Black Panthers who turned up, and a few white sycophants and observers, the others (and, of course, the host) were all from the (((tribe))) that had been trying to monopolise influence, power, and educational opportunities in NY since the mid-to-late nineteenth century, and had succeeded in their goals by then. There were many other examples, in the U.S.A. and in Europe, but the latter was less or less clearly dominated by (((them))). The adventures of some of the more adventurous European radical groups had more to do with the DDR and USSR than with specifically with (((them))), and where they had wealthy supporters, mainly from among the rich of their own people.

      Italy is particularly interesting, elements in the government and state apparatus were supporting both neo-commie and neo-fascist extrements, and that was also the period just before the Vatican-associated Italian Masonic lodge, P-2, or propaganda two was dug out from under a rock. Associations were demonstrated.

      The above is not insane conspiracy talk, but all well-attested by reading mainstream sources (e.g. Thomas Wolfe) and reliable quotes from the print media of the time.

      So, some things to look into for you if you have an interest)!

      The only points that really annoy me about the film are the arch tones near the end, largely dissonant with the rest of it, and weak.

      I suspect a studio-enforced tack-on.

  4. Petronius
    Posted November 20, 2018 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    Hall has seemingly removed all the satirical parts that could really hurt this moronic, self-satisfied audience. Any attempt at satirising the Left the way Chayefsky did would have triggered them into coma. The “Liberation Army” terrorists could easily have been replaced by Antifa or BLM activists. And Jensen’s famous speech hits too close at home as far as Trump’s and Bannon’ anti-globalist/economic nationalism stance is concerned. This is so cowardly, loathsome and dishonest…

    • Collin Cleary
      Posted November 20, 2018 at 5:37 am | Permalink

      The Jensen speech remains in the play. Word for word. But the audience was so immune to self-reflection, I’m sure they reacted to it with, “Yep, that Jensen’s a Republican all right!”

  5. Petronius
    Posted November 19, 2018 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    “Of course, the audience – full of Left-wing New York morons convinced they’re absolutely right about everything they believe – erupted in thunderous applause at this attack on believing that anyone is absolutely right.”

    This is why I loathe the Left with a passionate intensity.

    What Hall has done to “Network” is beyond pathetic.

  6. Peter Quint
    Posted November 19, 2018 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Faye Dunaway was quite the hotty back in the day!

    • Gnome Chompsky
      Posted November 22, 2018 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      Very much like your light comment, and agreeing.

  7. Posted November 19, 2018 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Brilliant essay. I always saw the plot point where the executives have to have Beale assassinated in order to do an end-run around Mr. Jensen’s orders was symbolic of the fact that the globalists have initiated a historical process which even they don’t control. They may try to impose some sort of ideology on it, but in the end they will be victimized just as much as their intended victims are (i.e., a globalist like Soros might think that the fulfillment of his dreams will be “universal social justice,” but in the end it can only be achieved by destroying everything that we value about being human, whether Rightist or neoliberal). So Mr. Jensen thinks that he can use Beale to spread his ideology, but as this goes against the very absolute principle of profit as the ultimate good that he himself claims to adhere to, even he is powerless to prevent Beale from being destroyed as the system he helped to create continues to grind onward.

    It’s also noteworthy that when Mr. Jensen ushers Beale into his conference room to deliver his monologue, he refers to it as “Valhalla.”

  8. Peter Quint
    Posted November 19, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Watch “The Package” (1989) in which a sniper (Tommy Lee Jones) lectures a sergeant (Gene Hackman) on the fact that there no countries anymore. The movie has some of the overtones of “T he Network.”

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