Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Network.”
The Movie: “Network”
Starring: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch
Director: Sidney Lumet
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A television network cynically exploits a deranged former anchor’s ravings and revelations about the news media for its own profit.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 92 percent
Froemming: Last week, you meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Brown, and I won’t have it! Is that clear?! You think you’ve merely stopped a movie blog. That is not the case. The JOES have taken the piss out of bad Hollywood cinema with our snark, and now they must put it back as praise into good ones! It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity! It is ecological balance!
You are an old man who thinks in terms of magic pants and sisterhoods. There are no magic pants. There are no sisterhoods. There are no Fuller Houses. There are no glittery vampires. There are no Frogtowns. There is no emotion on Kristen Stewart’s face. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of snark. Movie-snark, YouTube-cracks, Simpsons references, Nic Cage yarns, Travolta jokes, mechanical bull gags, superhero japes, and Simpson-Bruckheimer mockeries.
It is the international system of snark which determines the totality of life on this blog. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU WILL ATONE!
Am I getting through to you, Mr. Brown?
Brown: No, you’re not. Because there will always be movies about traveling pants and ‘80s producers that decided “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was a serviceable actor.
In Froemming’s diatribe, he forgot to mention that we watched “Network” this week, which is a stark reminder that Froemming and I will always turn our noses at TV journalists because we are broke and somehow holier than thou.
Now, I had never seen this movie. I just know the “Mad as Hell” speech like everyone else. And after seeing it, this may as well be an autobiographical movie on the origins of Fox News. We’ll get to all that.
Now, are we gonna talk about “Network” or are you going to get sucked in to your newly-found role of “the mad prophet of the airwaves?”
Froemming: I had seen this once before, when I lived in Worthington and was pretty new to print journalism out of college. So you know this movie inspired me to drop all ethics and write about psychics.
Just kidding, it depressed the hell out of me.
The movie kicks off with Howard Beale, an aging network news anchorman whose bright days and high share value of ratings are in the past, and he is in the autumn of his career. He is told that in two weeks, he will be fired and like a normal journalist on any given night, he gets hammered with his old journalism buddy and producer Max.
Brown: At the start of the movie when they talk about why Howard gets fired is because he got a 22 share in the ratings that marked the start of his downward spiral.
Twenty-two percent of the TV-watching audience is watching and THAT’S a bad thing? Holy (REDACTED). Imagine how many TV execs jumped out of high-rise buildings when cable came to be.
Froemming: They didn’t know how good they had it until cable and the internet came along.
During their drunken ramblings, Max tells a apparently funny story related to a suicide attempt (suicide was hilarious in the 1970s I guess). This put an idea in the foggy, boozed soaked brain of Beale’s.
During his next broadcast, Howard does the thing most people who are being let go only dream about: He says he will be gone in a few weeks and he will kill himself on live television, just to piss off the bosses. This scene is great because we see the producers and everyone behind the cameras take a hot minute to realize what he just said, because they are not paying any attention.
Kinda like how this blog existed on our corporate job’s website for so many years.
Brown: I really loved the next scene where they’re trying to physically pull Howard off set with him clawing to the desk and swearing up a storm. And they go to a “Simpsons” cutaway like this.
So naturally, Howard is going to get replaced. And one of the reporters they’re going to bring in is a guy named Snowden. That made me do a double take. UBS knows where Snowden is? Don’t they have to report that to the United States government?
Froemming: Psh, accountability in Trump’s America? Come on, Brown.
Brown: Hey, it doesn’t matter what he said to the Ukraine president/former comedian.
Froemming: Now, his buddy Max wants to give Beale a chance to apologize and go out on a good note, not as a raving madman. Poor, stupid Max…
The higher-ups reluctantly agree, and on Howard’s last broadcast, he says what everyone in America is thinking: Life is bullshit.
Beale is once again yanked off the air, but something happened: His rage caused a huge spike in ratings. Big enough for Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) to begin thinking that news can be entertainment! That she can make a show out of Howard’s rage and get huge ratings and profits!
And, thus, somewhere in America in a dark movie theater in the 1970s, Roger Ailes had the largest erection at an idea ever in the history of mankind.
Brown: This was absolutely the genesis of every Fox News commentator. In Howard’s blind rage, you can just as easily see a Sean Hannity, a Tucker Carlson or a Bill O’Reilly. I would say someone like Laura Ingraham or Judge Jeanine Pirro but this was the ‘70s and women reading the news back then?
Again, this part gave me the smug satisfaction of being in print where we’re ABOVE such reproach. At least act like we are while we still have jobs.
Froemming: I’ll be the equal opportunity offender here and say the left isn’t immune to this sort of crap either. The 24-hour news networks have proven my theory that these talking heads just say crap to sell ads. Beale, because he is a crazy person now, actually believes the stuff he is saying. Imagine if Alex Jones actually believed the crap he espouses?
Brown: You mean Alex Jones doesn’t believe that fluoride in the water supply is turning people dumb? And that the only way to save your brain cells is to buy Alex Jones’ supplements?
Froemming: According to his child custody hearings, he is playing a character. Which we all know is a false flag, sheeple.
Brown: He also claimed that he couldn’t remember important details of his childrens’ lives because the chili he ate before court was too hot like a bloated, hate-filled bear around Goldilocks.
Froemming: Look, are we going to review Alex Jones’ court hearings or this movie? I am good with either, but we need to pick a lane here.
Anywhoo, Diana has an idea to create a show around domestic terrorists in the Ecumenical Liberation Army (based off the group that kidnapped Patty Hearst back in the 1970s), so there is literally no point in this movie we have any sympathy for her. Well, just about everyone in this movie is unsympathetic, even poor crazy Howard, because he believes his BS and thinks of himself as a prophet. This side plot shows just how low these executives are willing to go to get a hit show.
She also wants to move the news division under her programming department, thus giving her editorial control.
She does give Max a chance to join the dark side. Because he is a 1970s newsman with morals toward journalism, he laughs this off. But because he is a 1970s newsman with no morals outside the Associated Press Style Book, he decides to go ahead and cheat on his wife with Diana.
Brown: I mean, are we surprised that UBS would go the ratings route instead of the hard news route? The man fighting for power at the channel is Frank Hackett, played by Robert Duvall. So we have Tom Hagen becoming a television bigwig because the Corleones need to legitimize their business/launder money. Legit, I thought we’d start getting to “Anchorman” levels of bad news with dog fashion shows being on the air.
So about Max… I’ll put him at a villain level on par with Bud from “Urban Cowboy” for being a piece of (REDACTED) to his wife to the point he’s banging Diana despite knowing he’s a husk of a human being who feels nothing about anything but work. She’s the equivalent of every ‘80s Michael Douglas character so at least this movie was progressive?
Froemming: The director told Dunaway that if she tried to sneak in any moment where the audience would feel sympathy for Diana, he would edit it out, so yeah, she is pretty much a monster.
Now, I won’t get much into the side plot of the terrorists getting a TV show outside the fact that I loved the idea of the woman from the Communist Party and the leader of the terrorist organization arguing over profit shares and whatnot.
So now Beale has his own show, and the ratings start to plumet pretty quickly. Causing the network to lose trust in the concept of an angry white man screaming nonsense could cost them money. A frightening idea that probably keeps Rupert Murdoch awake at night. But, the thing that was missing was a CATCHPHRASE!
Howard urges his audience to get up, open their windows and scream “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Mad at what? What are they not going to take anymore? Like the misguided anger of the 24-hour networks, we get scapegoats here and there, but never a real answer to why everyone is angry.
And. It. (REDACTED). Sells.
Brown: Rage sells, man. It’s why people pay thousands upon thousands to go watch boxing, mixed martial arts or football. It’s why racists and scared white people tune into Fox. Rage, sadly, is a unifier.
Joe Rogan: That’s cool man, you ever try DMT?
Brown: Go away Joe Rogan and take your Alpha Brain bull(REDACTED) with you. Also, you’re not funny.
Back to the movie, there does come a point where the “Mad as Hell” catchphrase is oversaturated and Howard is becoming like Bart Simpson.
Honestly, in today’s world, how quickly before that slogan would be put on a T-shirt? Ten minutes after it was uttered? Five minutes?
Froemming: I worked at a T-shirt shop for many years. As soon as people saw that “Vote For Pedro” shirt in “Napoleon Dynamite” the next day we had them on the rack. It doesn’t take long. Same with every stupid catchphrase of the late 90s, early ‘00s such as “Wazzup!” and “Who Let The Dogs Out.”
Brown: Let’s not forget classics like “Make 7-Up Yours” and “Make America Great Again.”
Froemming: 7-Up Yours?
Brown: Well played, Clerks.
I will say in the presentation and the content, the “Mad as Hell” speech was straight up like a Dusty Rhodes wrestling promo. And he also says that “this tube (television) can make or break presidents.” I hate that that’s true.
Meanwhile, Max cements his place as gigantic piece of (REDACTED) by hooking up with Diana while his wife is across the (REDACTED) country because their daughter IS ABOUT TO GIVE BIRTH TO THEIR FIRST GRANDCHILD? Are you (REDACTED) joking? A vapid woman who readily admits she’s a bad lay and doesn’t feel anything is worth all of this?
Max, I don’t care how much you try to redeem yourself at the end, you’re a garbage person. You made me break out a term I haven’t used/stolen from Jason Mantzoukas in a long, long time.
YOU. ARE. GARBAGE.
Froemming: At least he tries to redeem himself?
So yeah, Max’s wife is furious when he admits to the affair. Moreso when he admits that he thinks he’s in love with Dirty Diana. So he’s gonna go live with her and, I imagine, become a ponchy drunk like Joe Don Baker in “Mitchell.”
Back at the station, instead of having a straight-up news show, the network wheels out “The Howard Beale Show,” with segments such as Sybil: The Soothsayer, Skeletons in the Closet and Vox Populi, which gave me all sorts of “Bioshock Infinite” flashbacks. Perhaps this is where Howard takes down the oppressive ruling class and becomes a martyr in the process.
Oh, never mind, that’s what happens at the end of this film.
The whole thing is… a joke. A joke that frankly, I’m stunned hasn’t been done in real-life. Like, “60 Minutes” didn’t do this when Andy Rooney was no longer a draw?
Froemming: Well, in a way it has happened in real life. Roger Ailes must have seen this movie and, unlike the rest of us who were horrified by what we saw, he was inspired. Thus came Fox News. And when liberal-leaning idiots of the same cloth saw how successful it is to just reinforce one’s ideology to the masses, they too got on the bandwagon.
And us in newspapers have been caught in the crossfire of “the media is evil” nonsense ever since. And frankly, it is frustrating to no end. I am as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any…GODAMNIT!
So UBS has a certified hit on their hands, the No. 1 show in America is an old man yelling at clouds, and they are raking in the money, the bragging rights, the hubris, UBS is on top of the world!
Brown: Question: Like me, every time you heard UBS, did you think of the famed “Weird Al” movie “UHF?”
Froemming: Honestly, I am always thinking of “UHF,” so the movie had no impact on that in any way.
Brown: So with the top show on network TV, Diana gives a bonkers speech at the affiliates banquet about how much money they’re making and where the future of the network is going. Here’s a sample of Diana’s speech.
Meanwhile, Howard is about to (REDACTED) (REDACTED) up by REALLY going Fox News and going nuclear on Arabs.
It turns out that UBS is being merged with the Communications Corporation of America, which is, down the line, owned by Saudi Arabian investors. And being a mad prophet that believes his own hype, Howard convinces his viewing audience to send telegrams to the White House to stop the merger from happening. And it works because people love angry, rambling white men.
It would be uncomfortable if it wasn’t so commonplace in our life.
Froemming: Howard Beale did more to fight Osama bin Laden than John Rambo, just let that one sink in. But alas, you can rant and rave to the top of the ratings, but once you (REDACTED) with Ned Beatty, as “Deliverance” showed us, you are in for a world of hurt.
Brown: Well, after he suffered a world of hurt.
Froemming: Fun fact: Beatty only worked one day on this movie and got an Oscar nomination for it. It is a pretty great performance.
Brown: It’s a great speech that, sadly, would be done in a sterile cafeteria-looking conference room instead of a high-quality wooden table with lamps beautifully lit throughout.
Froemming: Also, this is movie No. 3 of Beatty’s we have watched this year. He is hitting Travolta numbers.
Beatty wants Beale to spread his new message of nihilism to the masses. Which is now depressing viewers and Beale’s rating begin to plummet. But since the top dog wants the show on the air, it remains, much to the chagrin of the other network people.
Also, Beatty looked like the owner of Kabletown from “30 Rock” in this.
Brown: Naturally, the ratings are plummeting so what are desparate TV execs to do? Plot an assassination, of course!
Look, it’s not a hard thing to accomplish. Tom Hagen knows people.
So we see a couple guys from the liberation group from earlier in the audience for Howard’s next show, including one guy who looks an awful lot like Tim Robbins in “Jacob’s Ladder.” Yes, I think of this as this guy’s hero’s journey as he’s dying in Vietnam.
And Howard Beale gets shot on live television. And instead of cutting away, the studio uses a crane shot to get a better angle of it to boost ratings.
Honestly, I bet this strategy would have worked for “The Chevy Chase Show.” Wait, nevermind. Chevy seems like the kind of guy who’d sue.
Please don’t sue me, Chevy Chase.
Froemming: There is one line before the movie ends that I love: “The first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings,” or something like that. It gave me a good chuckle at the end.
Brown: Please don’t kill me for low readership, Froemming.
Froemming: Brown, let’s go figure out how to up our click counts over in recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Oh yes, this is a great film that saw what was coming in the media world.
Brown: Yes, if only because this movie will make people hate TV news more.