Two decades later, this iconic American New Wave renegade text is even more startling than it once was—was Hollywood ever this cerebral, this caustic, this ethically apocalyptic? That 90 percent of Network‘s satire has become fulfilled prophecy by now doesn’t take the shine off of its broadsword. Reality-show whoredom, death TV, New Globalistic anti-humanism, audience as robotic consumer—it’s all here and all still hamburger in the teeth of this movie, written with hissing rage and in huge, thoughtful paragraphs by Paddy Chayefsky and directed with a vivid sense of ’70s genuineness by Sidney Lumet. It feels in the watching like a hilarious organic nightmare, but Network is very much a carefully crafted object, its structure brilliantly hidden, its sardonic flourishes made with a wide variety of weapons, its absurdities riding coach with hardcore realism.
There’s so much high-blooded speechifying going on, it’s no wonder the cast rose to the occasion like a battery of thoroughbreds, and selecting standouts from William Holden’s leathery old lion, Faye Dunaway’s babbling clockwork orange, Peter Finch’s exploded psychotic, and Robert Duvall’s ferocious bullethead is a losers’ game. But the film, in retrospect, is something of a rueful dinosaur, as the filmmakers must’ve known: It exemplifies exactly the dense, grown-up, meaning-seeking culture that Chayefsky saw being replaced by amoral bastardization. Look around, then look at the film: He was right. The DVD supplements, taking up a second disc, are all making-of and looking-back docs, from a contemporary TCM history of the film to an interview with Chayefsky on Dinah! Also released: Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975), an even more quintessential New Wave masterpiece and another kind of film altogether that no one tries to make anymore.