By Tom Kapr
I recently watched Network for the first time. I knew plenty about it: that it was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet; that it starred William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and Peter Finch; that it was about producing a news show for television. I knew the classic scene about standing up and going to the window and screaming, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” I also knew that it was nominated for Best Picture of 1976 but lost to Rocky.
My initial response after finishing Network was this, which I wrote along with my 5-star rating on RottenTomatoes.com:
“Network is one of the best written, best acted movies of all time. Writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Sidney Lumet crafted a timeless incrimination of the dark side of television, just as current now as it was in 1976. See William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway, and Ned Beatty deliver performances that rank among their best. They speak into existence some of the greatest dialogue in the history of the media, an obvious precursor to the work of Aaron Sorkin, who picked up Chayefsky’s satirical themes and conversational stylings and ran with them. (And we can all say a prayer of thanksgiving.)”
After thinking about it for a day or two, I decided to knock it down to a 4 1/2-star rating, for two reasons: First, there is an awful lot of yelling in Network, and an awful lot of monologues, and often the two go together, and there just came a point when I said to myself, gosh, there’s a lot of yelling in this movie. It’s almost to the point of parody. (However, most of it is pure brilliance.) And second, the ending, while impactful, is cynical and cold and, in my opinion, needed a dramatic emotional response. One could argue (and I have argued with myself) that the cynicism of the final scene is off-set by the hopeful tone of William Holden’s exiting speech a couple of scenes prior; however, my heart wanted something a little more, something more human, from the final scene.
My heart wanting something that my head didn’t need is the crucial factor in my internal debate over which film, Network or Rocky, was more deserving of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Whenever I see a film for the first time, I add it to my Flickchart, and if you don’t know what Flickchart is by now, you’re missing out on one of the greatest gifts to movie lovers on the internet. When I added Network, the site gave me about a dozen films already on my chart against which to compare it, and one after another film was easily knocked down. Network was quickly moving toward the top ranks of my all-time great movies chart. And then came Rocky, the only thing standing between Network and my Top 100.
It is almost poetic to have it come up against that particular film. I paused. I just sat staring at my computer screen. Network or Rocky? My feelings on the matter are complicated. There was a distinct moment while actually watching Network when I thought to myself, Why didn’t this win the Academy Award? Even after the credits rolled, I was still high on the thought that this is the best film of 1976. But when it came to looking at the two side by side, I didn’t know what to do. And then it hit me. It was a matter of my head versus my heart. Intellectually, yes, Network deserved the award over Rocky. But Rocky truly is an amazing film. It may not be as important in terms of impact on what came later, but it is no less valuable a work of art.
So when it comes to the year in cinema of 1976, it is no longer a matter to me of which is the better film. Network is my head; Rocky is my heart. Let the two stand side by side. Of course, on Flickchart, a decision must be made, and I admit that at first I chose Network. Perhaps I chose it just to let it into my Top 100. But if they come up again, I’m almost certain I’ll pick Rocky, because once it gets to comparing films that are that close in quality and importance, I tend to vote with my heart.
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