Freeze Frame #145: Network

The most obvious reason to watch Network is that it is a satire on television that now looks almost like reality TV. However, it also plays as a wonderful drama about old men searching for relevance in a changing world.

While the focus is on Peter Finch’s fantastic performance as Howard Beale, William Holden’s Max Schumacher provides a counterpoint to Beale’s maniacal outbursts by projecting a quiet desperation of his own. It is this desperation, I suspect, that causes him to be fascinated with Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway). To Schumacher, I suspect that Christensen isn’t so much a desirable woman as a symbol of what he once had — he is her link to the world that is no longer his domain.

Beatrice Straight, who plays the William Holden character’s wife, is pretty much part of the furniture for most of the movie’s running length. But when he confesses to his affair, she lets him have it with both barrels:

Get out, go anywhere you want, go to a hotel, go live with her, and don’t come back. Because, after 25 years of building a home and raising a family and all the senseless pain that we have inflicted on each other, I’m damned if I’m going to stand here and have you tell me you’re in love with somebody else. Because this isn’t a convention weekend with your secretary, is it? Or – or some broad that you picked up after three belts of booze. This is your great winter romance, isn’t it? Your last roar of passion before you settle into your emeritus years. Is that what’s left for me? Is that my share? She gets the winter passion, and I get the dotage? What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to sit at home knitting and purling while you slink back like some penitent drunk? I’m your wife, damn it. And, if you can’t work up a winter passion for me, the least I require is respect and allegiance. I hurt. Don’t you understand that? I hurt badly.

If you hadn’t watched Network, and someone were to tell you that the woman won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress on the strength of one scene, you might wonder if it was a case of disproportionate rewards. Now go watch this scene and tell me if you still feel that way.

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6 thoughts on “Freeze Frame #145: Network

  1. Faithfully Demented says:

    I could’ve sworn you’d already written a freeze frame, a while ago, on Network. Can’t seem to find it though, so maybe not?

    Speaking of “a wonderful drama about old men searching for relevance in a changing world,” I’d just gotten done reading about “Noah’s Compass” (Anne Tyler’s latest book) in the NYT, when I wandered in here. What para 3 of that review says of Pennywell, seems remarkably relevant to Schumacher here: “It’s as if I’ve never been entirely present in my own life.”

    What’s interesting/disturbing about this declaration, or descent into “quiet desperation” (as you put it) is that it doesn’t seem to be the unique prerogative of the aged, anymore. It’s well within the grasp of the younger lot, especially those in relatively happy relationships — seen Closer? (the Mike Nichols movie with Julia Roberts, Jude Law, etc.)

    This scene you describe, instantly reminded me of that (gender-swapped) scene in Closer when Julia Roberts’ Anna Cameron confesses her affair to husband Larry (brilliantly portrayed by Clive Owen). It’s fascinating to watch him rip her apart, emotionally, by making her cough up the most intimate details of her physical dalliance (as opposed to Beatrice’s character in your scene, who is wounded by her husband’s *emotional* infidelity way more than she would’ve been had he slept with the secretary at a “convention weekend”) — the classic man-woman difference (generally speaking) in dealing with the most fascinating of human foibles, infidelity.

    Both scenes do make you wonder what on earth possesses seemingly good people in perfectly healthy marriages to screw it all up so successfully. And no, I haven’t watched Network yet, but I believe anyone who can deliver those last three lines with a conviction that claws at your heart, deserves an Oscar.

    • I don’t know if the physical vs emotional thing holds true. I don’t have any knowledge of how it works in real life. If we’re just talking about reactions in fiction, consider the exchange in Erich Segal’s Man, Woman and Child where he confesses to his affair and says it lasted two or three days, and she insists on knowing whether it was two days or three. I don’t think she’s talking about how long his emotional infidelity lasted, do you?

      Haven’t seen Closer yet, but I’ve heard good things about it. I guess I’ll get to it someday.

      • FD says:

        Of course “we are just talking about reactions in fiction”! (No different than the exchanges AR and BR had on the topic in the latter’s “His and Hers” and “The End of the Affair” posts from March/April last year.)

        Whatever made you think otherwise (and chime in with a seemingly knee-jerk “I don’t have any knowledge of how it works in real life” response, if I may add)? 🙂

        It’s my strong belief that serious writers and readers (in the sense that one doesn’t exist without the other) never really need “working knowledge” of anything to emphatically/empathetically imagine it into existence (think Joyce, Proust…isn’t the the latter said to have written the gargantuan “In Search of Lost Time” while tied to his sickbed for 14 years? And if you go read the innumerable “human condition” treatises literary critics have extrapolated from their works — with or without real-life knowledge of scenarios set forth in the works considered — you’ll see what I mean). It’s only lately that the fad for spinning fiction from facts has caught on (in the realm of both movies and books), and I hate the consequent viewer/reader attitude changes that has inevitably engendered (but that pet peeve of mine is an altogether different discussion).

        Coming back to the physical vs. emotional thing, and that Segal scenario in particular, what I think she’s talking about is truth. And trust. He’s unsure of what he’s telling her. That’s why “two or three” doesn’t cut it for her. What else he is not sure of? Was it two women or three? Was it one? Anyway, that’s the way *I* tend to look at it — as the erosion of a lifetime’s worth of trust (as opposed to something sexual).

        And my earlier observation — abt. gender-based responses to the physical/emotional aspects — is obviously a generalization (as I’d noted). I think both genders are affected by both aspects, just in varying degrees is all.

  2. S says:

    Saw an age-ravaged Dunaway on TV (88th Oscars after-party white carpet) and wistfully looked back on this. Nice to catch that unmistakably Rye undercurrent that I’d missed earlier (not that I’m a Salinger ‘Faithful’).

    • Here’s what has happened now. I get an alert on my WordPress app that there’s a comment on one of my posts. Since I hardly ever write anything these days, it’s obviously on an old one, and as it turns out, it’s from you. So I read your comment, and then I go back and read the original post, and then I try and remember what I was trying to say when I wrote it. Half the time, I can’t remember, and what I’ve written is too oblique or too generic to be of any help. I’ve actually been thinking of rewriting some of them. So you see, apart from keeping the daily readership of this blog in positive integers, you’ve turned out to be, inadvertently, my most effective critic. Thank you for that!

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