CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sundae Monday - Great Cinematic Speeches: Network

Network is the second-greatest screenplay I've heard (slightly behind All About Eve). A major part of that is the monologues that Paddy Chayefsky has created with such craft. There are two speeches that stand out in everyone's recollection of this film. The first is the infamous "Mad as Hell" speech. What's so invigorating about it is its truth. You don't need to watch the news to know that the world is in an ever worsening state. Often the news is there to keep us in a constant state of fear, or so it would seem. It is never there to help us in any way. It merely tells us of the horrors that exist outside of our living rooms. Howard Beale is different. He wants something to happen. He wants change. He is the messiah of television, eventually rising to the rank of king of television before being betrayed by the very people who put him in that position.

When Howard Beale says he wants people to go to their windows, he is looking for a possibility. That people actually follow him confirms his hopes. Change is possible, because people are willing to face the world. All too often, change is very simple. A letter to your congressman isn't that hard. You think it's insignificant, but it isn't when you're not alone. And Howard Beale tells the audience that they're not alone. Somebody else is yelling out their window. You alone can't change much. You all together can change the world. And that's what the world needs. But there are people who don't want that.

Arthur Jensen doesn't like Howard Beale. For him, Howard Beale doesn't understand the world, and he can only hurt the system. Jensen's speech is frightening, for the same reason that Beale's is so liberating: it speaks the truth. In a capitalist society, corporations own everything. They own Congress. They own your thoughts. I don't want Dell to own my free time, and yet here I am. Democracy falls before the almighty dollar, and often democracy is decided by which candidate wants to give you more money. I don't want to think about things like that. Nobody does. But Arthur Jensen sees the truth that everyone wishes would go away. When Howard hears this speech, he is as frightened as we are. Sure, Jensen is intimidating. His booming voice and violent temperament give him a presence that can't be denied. But more than that, the look in Beale's face reflects a man coming to a realization. Jensen is right, and this fact is enough to break Beale's spirit. The truth is always a hard pill to swallow, but Jensen makes no attempts to make it palatable. We are left as stunned as Beale, and that is the power of Paddy Chayefsky's words. The power to tell the truth.

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