Reviewed on 2010 June 27
Scarily prescient and at times darkly funny satire about a network that’ll do anything, anything, for an audience share, that also says a lot about the dumbing down of our culture.
Howard Beale (Peter Finch, earning a post-humous Oscar®) is about to be axed for that unforgivable sin in his industry: low ratings. He’s a gentleman news anchor, a dinosaur to a jaded ’70s audience according to the suits that run UBS, and since his career is at its twilight he decides to go out one night for war stories and too much alcohol with his fellow veteran Max Schumacher (William Holden). Still clouded from liquor and thinking he’s got nothing ahead of him, Beale announces on his next-to-last broadcast that he’s going to blow his brains out on the air, his drunken way of telling UBS he’s got their ratings right here. Apparently a lot of ghouls wanting their bread and circuses start tuning in, and the sharp increase in ratings is noticed by programming goblin Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), a woman with the warmth of a Frigidaire® and the business acumen and ethics of Carlo Gambino. Diana wants to launch the new mad prophet Howard Beale as part of a sparkly new infotainment program lineup on UBS, and has no way of knowing what she’s unleashing.
Director Sidney Lumet and writer Paddy Chayefsky knocked this one out of the park. From Beale’s viewpoint it initially seems like a slam dunk; on some level who wouldn’t want a fat paycheck for yelling “Bullsh*t!”? Long ago I think some anchors could actually do an elegant and lucid variation of this, maintaining their dignity and their income. There’s nothing elegant about UBS, and while I’m sure things were slipping culturally when Chayefsky penned this, it’s eerie how he predicted how far we’d slide. Listen to the opening of the new cheesy UBS lineup and it sounds like stuff we have today. I’d love to hear what he’d have to say about “The Jersey Shore” and “The Real(?) Housewives”.
Four chocolate morsels. This would make quite a double feature with Idiocracy.