Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Mad as Hell"...Paddy Chayefsky...Network

"We have entered the madhouse without noticing" ...Those words were written by film critic Roger Ebert in 2000 in his review of the 1976 movie Network (DVD version). He was referring to the progression of the movie's plot-line, but ten years on, in 2010 Mr. Ebert's words ring true for real life as does so much of Network's fictional storyline, 36years on. It'd be too depressing to enumerate examples of current madness, I feel sure a passing reader would not need any prompting from me to come up with a string of 'em!

I saw Network for the first time this week. Had I seen it in the 1970s, back in the UK, I doubt very much that I'd have appreciated its satire, its messages, its dark humour - or even understood them. Now, in 2010, in the USA - I do!

If the movie's theme was appropriate in 1976, it's a hundred times moreso now. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefski was, all unknowlingly, a prophet - more reliable than Nostradamus! Chayefski (29 January 1923) had Sun and Mercury in the first decan of Aquarius, with that sign's ruler, Uranus the rebel planet, in semi-sextile to them from adjacent sign Pisces, and agressive Mars in sextile from it's rulership Aries. Click on chart to enlarge. It's set for 12 noon as no time of birth is available. Ascendant will not be accurate and Moon would be in either early Cancer or late Gemini. Gemini is a very good bet for a writer.
With that line-up it's not surprising that Chayefski excelled when writing hard-hitting, no-holds-barred dialogue.

At Wikipedia there's a quote from drama critic Matt Gottfried on Chayefski's personality - clip from it:
".......He was an intellectual competitor, always spoiling for a political argument or a philosophical argument, or any exchange over any issue, changing sides for the fun of the fray. A liberal, he was annoyed by liberals; a proud Jew, he wouldn't let anyone call him a "Jewish writer." In short, the life of the mind was a participant sport for Paddy Chayefsky."
Sounds as though he was a good match for his astrology! Chayefsky's novel Altered States was also adapted as a movie, directed by Ken Russell, with whom Chayefsky is said to have had disputes. He diassociated himself from the film but remains credited under his real first and middle name, Sidney Aaron. At Wiki's Altered States page Film critic Janet Maslin wrote:
It's easy to guess why he and Mr. Russell didn't see eye to eye. The direction, without being mocking or campy, treats outlandish material so matter-of-factly that it often has a facetious ring. The screenplay, on the other hand, cries out to be taken seriously, as it addresses, with no particular sagacity, the death of God and the origins of man.
Hmmmm - I shall seek out a DVD of that one!

Some quotes from his screenwriting for Network: Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, during his live studio broadcast of the Network News Hour

"We deal in illusions, man. None of it is true. But you people sit there day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds. We're all you know. You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here. You're beginning to think that the tube is reality and that 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 are the illusion.
"So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off. Turn them off right in the middle of the sentence I am speaking to you now. Turn them off!"

This from a scene where Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) the President of CCA talks to Howard Beale, a washed-up newsman. CCA is a multi-national conglomerate that has taken over UBS the TV company the movie portrays:
"We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. 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."

And the speech containing that most famous quote of all~ Howard Beale:
"I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad."
[shouting] "You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell,


Anonym said...

I absolutely do agree: “If the movie’s theme was appropriate in 1976, it’s a hundred times moreso now.”
I do remeber that passage when the “Tv Mad prophet” is called by the “Big Boss” and this last explains him the “mystery of The Capital”, that no Russians or Americans - at that age - were anything else but a small element of a greater System, the greatest force on Earth, that of Capitals, the flux of money, the Market which determines anything on this planet...

And this became even more true in our age...

I also remember that age as a moment of rage, collective rage...

To which the System survived...

But now the “sense” is that it won’t survive... Something more basic is changed...

Twilight said...

anonym ~~ Hi!

Ah - you remember those days in the USA - I'm interested to hear (read) that.

Yes, the pattern seems to have recurred but on another, deeper level of some kind of spiral.

If astrology is a guide, back in 1975 Pluto the great transformer was in Libra - known as the sign of balance and diplomacy. Now Pluto's in Capricorn another cardinal sign but diplomacy and balance are not high on the agenda any more. Capricorn represents business and status quo, Pluto = transformative power.

We'll see! I doubt that getting mad as hell (as in Tea Party) will change anything. It'll take something drastic and cataclysmic.

The Next President of the United States said...

Lots of folks "got it" in '76, but were already hip deep in the illusion, unable or unwilling to break out. So it goes with information dissemination and commercialism.

The System always survives. That's why you just find a place you can cutout for yourself and try to control as many things in your life as possible. I suspect it's always been that way.

Oh, is that too pessimistic? I've never been real big on the notion a universally idyllic existence exists.

Contrary to the general impression, however, I don't think these are the worst of times. It's just another turn on the wheel.

Twilight said...


I agree in part. Once up and running as it has been for centuries, it'd take a lot to displace The System - and I'm meaning worldwide, not just USA.
It'd take a cataclysm of some sort.
Then it'd take a century or so to crank up again and gradually reach the state we're in today.

I don't think it's the worst of times either. The worst of times for me was World War 2 in the UK, when we didn't know if there'd even be a tomorrow to gripe about. ;-)

What's worrying now though is that there's nobody on our side any more. Everyone's gone to the...(not the Moon like the song says) but to the corporations.

Who's on our side now?

I don't know about the UK, but here I can think of nobody.
Obama isn't, Kucinich isn't, Sanders isn't. They care more about the party and the System than about us. The socialist party is asleep and seem only interested in union members.
The Greens are half-hearted and ineffective.


As we spiral around things change in subtle ways. Now we have more problems about the environment, but more communication via the internet, more chances to exchange views - and become paranoid! ;-0

What bothers me most is that nobody is on our side any more, and to me that is a very bad sign.

Wisewebwoman said...

Interesting post and interesting comments T. Much to munch on.
I saw that movie way back, I think Peter got his post-humous Oscar for it, a brilliant performance from a seriously under-rated actor.
I've seen the movie since and it has never lost its power. Though when I did see it in the seventies I remember thinking:they allowed this criticism of the media to fly publicly? (it was the age of Marshall McLuhan too, remember?)
As to your comment on 'our side' I don't think there ever was an our side. I was re-reading about corporations yesterday about how they convinced government to treat them as persons and not let the shareholders be accountable. Ever.
And this was back in the railroad creation era.
And then prior to then you had the serfs and the lords and not much else apart from Big Church.
Utopia is personal and not collective. IMHO.

Twilight said...

WWW ~~ Agreed about Peter Finch.
I don't know anything about Marshall McLuhan - had a quick Google and will investigate him.
Maybe an interesting blog subject.

Hmm I see you and TNPOTUS have similar ideas about making one's small corner of the world & personal life okay in spite of what's going on ....I appreciate your feelings, and realise that really that's the only option we have. Yet I'm not happy with that frame of mind. If everybody had always felt like that where would ordinary people be now?

I'd like to see another Eugene Debs or Paul Wellstone in the USA, somebody with the balls to stick to their guns on behalf of the people. Nowadays it's all too synthetic, too staged, too manipulative.

TV gets worse with each year, newspapers are biassed as hell. Pundits are in the pay of corporations and are providing distraction from what really matters.

Where's the huge outcry against the Citizens' United decision by the Supreme Court? Getting rid of corporate personhood would solve a lot, but would they ever dare launch a strong campaign - why would they bite the hand that feeds 'em ?

Nothing has changed since Network, only for the worse. :-(

Ron Southern said...

I saw Network when it was released and have seen it now and then since then. I would never have believed (the first time) that it would be so accurate, but the film is small potatoes as far as predicting the insensitivity and insensibility of TV productions that are currently new and popular. I always thought that one of the great things about "Star Trek"'s view of the future was the unmentioned, but obvious lack of all television that was being predicted!!!

Twilight said...

Ron Southern ~ Hi Ron!
I didn't watch Star Trek (yes, I'm the one!) From the few clips I've seen as trailers etc. it always seemed like fantasy - and as far as the demise of TV, it has proved that way.

The thing about TV I recall most clearly in sci-fi is in "Farenheit 451". Montag's house has whole walls as TV screens switched on all the time. The wife thinks it'd be good to have the one wall that is still blank "done", and is completely hypnotised by it all.
The USA's getting there. :-(

Ron Southern said...

I never read that Gene Roddenberry said so, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was well aware of that 451 TV-threat when he "killed" off the monster in his future-fictions!

Twilight said...

Ron Southern ~ I had to look up Gene Roddenberry (I live and learn!) Yes, your assumption seems a very reasonable one. :-)

Julie D said...

Hi Twi! I just recently saw 'Network' again, after having seen it in the 70s, and was totally bowled over by how what had seemed so over-the-top back them has become commonplace (normal!!)today. Makes you wonder what we think is satire today might turn out to be the reality of tomorrow :)

Thanks for a great read! jd

Twilight said...

Julie D ~~ Hi there!
Glad it was of interest. :-)

Yes, if things carry at the same pace I dread to think what it'll be like - erm- 35 years from now (same length of time as from Network's release 'til 2010).
I'll not be here to see it though.