American Masters on PBS just unveiled a great entry that studied director Sidney Lumet-using his own words. Appropriately it was entitled- “By Sidney Lumet.”
10 Things You Didn’t Know About Network
“I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
Thirty-seven years after the release of the movie Network, the line remains one of those unifying cultural references. People share it on Facebook just to complain about the weather.
The quote itself directs anger at a source much more man-made, though: the corporate influence on the media believed to be distorting the truth about war, scandal, and other heated issues. The 1976 satire presents TV executives so ratings-starved they give a news anchor a pulpit on which to rant profanely about hypocrisy in society.
Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies, a new book written by the New York Times‘ Dave Itzkoff, charts and celebrates the making of the film and its thunderous cultural impact. Here’s a handful of interesting insights Itzkoff unearthed, including Robert Duvall’s mooning and how Faye Dunaway was almost shit-canned.
1. TV execs weren’t huge fans.
While reviews were largely glowing, the broadcasting industry — especially NBC, where writer Paddy Chayefsky had researched the screenplay — led the initial backlash. Some saw the film as an explicit indictment of the TV news business, but Chayefsky argued that it actually showed them respect. He said his rage was addressing “the dehumanization of people” and intended the film as a satirical take on journalism’s future, not its present.
2. Network was a writer’s movie.
Network is an example of a screenwriter wielding almost unprecedented authority over the final product. Chayefsky, a two-time Oscar winner at that point, did not serve as a producer on Network, but his authorship is all over it. United Artists, which distributed the film and co-financed it with MGM, agreed to give a whopping 42.5 percent of the film’s net profits to Chayefsky’s production company. NETWORK / BY PADDY CHAYEFSKY lights up the opening credits before the director, producers, or any other contributor besides the four lead actors are disclosed. “Paddy Chayefsky’s primary concern, more than seeing to it that Networkwas filmed imaginatively, or competently, or quickly, or on budget, was ensuring that all its dialogue was performed exactly as he had written it in the script,” Itzkoff writes. “When it was not, he could be counted on to point out to his actors exactly where and how they had gone astray, often using Chapin, the script supervisor, as his emissary to dispense the corrections.” Despite this, Chayefsky could not prevent Finch from saying “as mad as hell” instead of “mad as hell,” as it was written in the script. Finch delivered the speech in one take.
3. It has a record in acting awards.
At this year’s Oscars, a David O. Russell film will vie to break a Network awards record for the second straight year. Tied with A Streetcar Named Desire, Network has bagged the most acting awards to date, with three of the four. The odds are not in Russell’s favor this time around. Nevertheless, American Hustle — and Silver Linings Playbook the year before it — scored Oscar nominations in all four acting categories. Fifteen films have done this and Network is one of them.
4. It almost starred Gene Hackman.
Can you imagine Gene Hackman as the crabby yet charismatic Howard Beale? Among many hand-written lists, Chayefsky detailed his top casting picks for the three main roles in the film. He wanted Hackman to play Beale, Faye Dunaway as programming head Diana Christensen, and Lee Marvin as news division president Max Schumacher. Well, Chayefsky went one for three. William Holden, who plays Schumacher, was the writer’s third choice. Faye Dunaway pushed for Robert Mitchum in the role.
5. Faye Dunaway was almost fired.
Director Sidney Lumet considered firing Dunaway, who struggled with the meaty monologues more than anyone else, editor Alan Heim said in the book. A producer said Lumet had the studio’s permission to fire her, if circumstances required. She eventually took home an Oscar for best actress.
6. It was shot largely in Canada.
The TV studio sequences were filmed at a CTV facility in Toronto. The networks in the U.S. refused to cooperate because of “the volatile nature of the screenplay,” Owen Roizman, the film’s cinematographer said.
7. Robert Duvall may have gone a little overboard.
The UBS network office scenes, however, were shot at the MGM building in Manhattan, where Robert Duvall reportedly indulged in a bit of method actor’s madness. During the shoot, Duvall cracked a window, let out a primal scream, and thrust his bare ass through the window frame, according to a source who worked on the film. “We’re on the twenty-second floor or whatever, and he’s like, ‘I mooned this guy down on Sixth Avenue.’ … I think that’s the way he got into character,” the source told Itzkoff.
8. Peter Finch died in Sidney Lumet’s arms.
Peter Finch was the first actor to win an Oscar posthumously. Over the next 36 years, only one other — Heath Ledger — has done the same. On the morning of a long day of scheduled talk show appearances in 1977, director Sidney Lumet bore witness in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel to the heart attack that led to Finch’s death. Lumet performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but to no avail. Before Finch was offered the part in Network, the hard-drinking Brit considered retiring in Jamaica.
9. One actor couldn’t get her line right.
Beatrice Straight too broke a record for the shortest performance to win an acting Oscar. Her five minutes onscreen as Schumacher’s cheated-on wife comprised roughly four percent of the film’s running time. In every take of her monologue scene, she mispronounced “emeritus” as “e-meh-REE-tus.” The line was one of only a few pieces of dialogue in the film that had to be overdubbed, Heim told Itzkoff. Straight said at the recording session she had never heard the word said aloud before.
10. Network is a movie all about (real-life) anger.
Perhaps the greatest tool in Chayefsky’s arsenal when writing Network, Itzkoff argues, was his capacity for human wrath. He wrote alone, and won more best screenplay Oscars for solo efforts than anyone else — his third and last win being for this film. “What Chayefsky understood best of all, better than television and better than the business behind it all, was anger: omnipresent in his own life, in his frustrations and his failures as well as his successes, and how it became an indivisible part of the American character,” Itzkoff writes.