Wednesday, February 10, 2010

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Casting Coup: Network

Nashville is my favorite movie, bar none. But sometimes there's a difference between your favorite movie and what you consider to be the best movie. Ask me what I consider to be the best movie ever made, and I'll tell you Gone with the Wind. Ask me to name the second best movie ever made, and I'll say Network.

Written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, Network is a dark satire on the television industry. It's one of the classics, famous for the lines "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore" and "It's a big, fat, big-titted hit!" With each year, it becomes more and more relevant. Take the absurd idea of a reality show based around the actions of political terrorists. The idea does not seem so silly now: even A&E is mostly reality programming now, and there is an increasing number of shows focusing on outcasts, addicts and prisoners. The news has become a farce; what can you say when the most reliable reporting comes from Comedy Central, when the "anchors" of today are loud-mouthed puppets of one political party or another, when Nancy Grace has her own show?

Network is about the end of an era and the beginning of another. "Mad prophet" Howard Beale is a sick man, an anchor of the old school whose ratings are failing, a man who goes off the deep end and rants on air about truths best left ignored. Naturally, instead of anyone taking heed, his madness becomes an entertainment, making his show Number One in the country. But Beale is just one member of an ensemble that includes an old-school news president, a cold-hearted entertainment producer, an urban terrorist organization, and businessmen threatening to take over the studio.

The film was a critical and commercial hit. Looking at it now, its success during awards season was inevitable. The film garnered ten nominations, including Editing (Alan Heim, losing to Rocky), Cinematography (Owen Roizman, losing to Bound for Glory), Supporting Actor (Ned Beatty, losing to Jason Robards in All the President's Men), Actor (William Holden, losing to Peter Finch), Director (Sidney Lumet, losing to John G. Avildsen for Rocky) and Picture (losing to Rocky).

What it did win, though, it fucking earned: Peter Finch beat out co-star Holden for Best Actor, the first actor to win posthumously; he had died two months earlier. Faye Dunaway won her first and only Oscar for Best Actress, beating out Talia Shire, Liv Ullmann, Marie-Christine Barrault, and the great Sissy Spacek in Carrie. Beatrice Straight won for Best Supporting Actress the shortest performance to do so, at five minutes and forty second. This three-category acting victory was the last time such an event occurred, and ties A Streetcar Named Desire for most acting wins for a motion picture. Finally, Paddy Chayefsky won his Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, making it Number Three for America's greatest dramatist.

The idea of a remake is certainly intimidating, but it is not a completely foreign concept. George Clooney planned a live, made-for-TV movie after the release of Good Night, and Good Luck. Well, he talked about wanting to do one, at least, but it never seemed to get past the "now there's an idea" stage. The point is, the idea has come up before, and I think if one respects the original source material, it could be some pretty prescient stuff. Then again, the original already is, so why broke what ain't fixed?

It doesn't matter. Sometimes, it's just fun to fantasize.

Who is He: The leader of the Ecumenical Liberation Army, an urban terrorist organization who film their acts of anarchism. They soon become the subject of a reality series called "The Mao Tse-Tung Hour".

Originally played by:

Arthur Burghardt ("Transformers", "G.I. Joe")

My Choice:

Alexander Siddig (Kingdom of Heaven, The Nativity Story)
The role of Khan is a silent one. He must clearly be the man in charge, and act with his eyes. Siddig's eyes have expressed love and deceit, sincerity and sardonic...ity. He's not so well-known that he would be distracting, either.

Who is She: A radical who acts as the vessel between Diana and Ahmed Khan. Despite proclaiming herself to be a "bad-ass commie nigger", she is not above making business deals with UBS.

Originally played by:

Marlene Warfield (The Great White Hope, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe/SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress and SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Doubt), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Supporting Female (Antwone Fisher)

Viola Davis (Disturbia, State of Play)
Oh, I just love her. I want an actress who I know could do it, has a commanding presence, but whose presence would not take anyone out of the movie. Viola Davis has done three films since her Oscar nomination, but unless you're "in the know", no one is distracted by her brief roles.

Who is She: Max's wife of twenty-five years. Her big scene comes when she learns of his affair with Diana.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Network)

Beatrice Straight (Poltergeist, Two of a Kind)

My Choice:

Joanna Gleason (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Boogie Nights)
This Tony-winning actress is one of "those". You swear you remember her from something, but you just can't quite place it. But she's wonderful in everything I have seen her in. She looks like your everyday kind of woman, and she could sell that monologue.

Who is He: The CEO of Communications Corporation of America, the company that happens to own UBS. When Beale denounces CCA's merger with a Saudi Arabian conglomerate on air, Jensen stops Beale with a wrath worthy of God.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Bets Supporting Actor (Network), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Hear My Song)

Ned Beatty (Nashville, Silver Streak)

My Choice:

Michael Cerveris (The Mexican, "Fringe")
This role is a one-scene spectacular with a monologue delivered as a sermon. I needed someone with a voice equal to that of a revivalist minister's. Is it any wonder that I chose Cerveris, he who won a Tony for playing John Wilkes Booth in Assassins and was nominated for the revival of Sweeney Todd?

Who is He: God, believe me, I don't remember his exact job. I know he tries to fight the exploitation of Howard Beale, works with Max on the news team, and is only briefly seen before he is booted out of UBS and the film. But his is an important role, one of the first who appear conscious-driven.

Originally played by:

Wesley Addy (Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Verdict)

My Choice: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Ghost World), Indie Spirit Award Winner for Best Supporting Male (Reservoir Dogs, Ghost World)

Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Monster House)
A bigger character, a bigger name. While mostly known for his more skeezy roles, Buscemi's a versatile guy. When considering him for Chaney, I thought about The Messenger and Monster House. They're the types of roles he does not usually get, but pack a whallop in their brevity. Hopefully, Buscemi can create a more memorable Chaney than Addy. Seriously, what does he do?

Who is He: The head of UBS, an opportunistic, excitable bastard whose worries are ratings. He appears soulless, firing members of the old guard while approving the exploitative ideas of the new.

Originally played by: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor [in a Drama] (Tender Mercies), BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Apocalypse Now), Indie Spirit Winner for Best Male Lead and Best Director (The Apostle), SAG Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (A Civil Action)

Robert Duvall (True Grit, Crazy Heart)

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe/SAG Award Winner for Best Actor [in a Musical/Comedy] (Ray), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Male Lead (Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story)

Jamie Foxx (Collateral, Dreamgirls)
I know his post-Oscar career has not been stellar, but I liked Jamie Foxx for a while. He kind of sleep-walked through his similar role in Dreamgirls, but Hackett is not a role you can just roll through. I have no doubt that he could bring the greedy passion required for the character.

Who is She: The cold head producer of UBS's entertainment programming. She is the one who sees the potential for a series based around Beale's ravings, and she is the one who comes up with "The Mao Tse-Tung Hour". Diana also begins an affair with news president Max Schumacher, while also coercing Hackett into putting news under the entertainment section, leaving her in charge of most network programming.

Originally played by: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress [in a Drama] (Network), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (Chinatown, Network)

Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, Man of Faith)

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/SAG Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (The Aviator), BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress [in a Drama] (Elizabeth), Golden Globe/Indie Spirit/Hollmann Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress/Female (I'm Not There), Indie Spirit Winner for Best Ensemble (I'm Not There), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)

Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Because of everyone else in her generation, only she can bring both the hot and cold, the passion, the sturm und drang, the ruthlessness of someone like Diana. And she's not afraid to make a character believably unsympathetic.

Who is He: The president of the news division at UBS. Schumacher is of the old guard, a friend of Howard Beale's. He begins an affair with Diana, falling in love with her. At the same time, however, he is morally opposed to UBS's exploitative use of Howard Beale's insanity as a ratings booster. Really the lead of the story.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actor (Stalag 17), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Network) and Best Foreign Actor (Picnic)

William Holden (Sabrina, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing)

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe/SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (Frost/Nixon), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Male Lead (Starting Out in the Evening), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Good Night, and Good Luck, Frost/Nixon)

Frank Langella (The Twelve Chairs, The Box)
He really doesn't seem like he's over 70. Langella has a great voice, so one would expect him for Howard, but no. He is at his best, I feel, when he is stoic and calmer, the way Max Schumacher is. And if Diana's going to have an affair with an older man, it's going to be someone sexy. Like Frank Langella.

Who is He: The mad prophet of the airwaves. Given his two weeks notice due to declining ratings, Beale starts going on mad rants about the manipulations of television, the corruption of corporations, the bastardizing of the American dream. His breakdown is the catalyst for the film's events, yet it is also not completely mad: all that he says is devastatingly true, but all the people hear is entertainment.

Originally played by: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor [in a Drama] (Network), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actor (Sunday Bloody Sunday) and Best British Actor (A Town Like Alice, The Trials of Oscar Wilde, No Love for Johnnie)

Peter Finch (Far from the Madding Crowd, The Nun's Story)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner and BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Adaptation.), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Male Lead (Lone Star), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (American Beauty)

Chris Cooper (Seabiscuit, Where the Wild Things Are)
While known for his quieter roles in films like Capote, October Sky and Married Life, Cooper proved in Adaptation that he brings a lot more to the table. His voice certainly helps with the air of divinity surrounding his speeches. He's younger than Langella, but not so much so that their friendship is unbelievable. The role would eb different for him, but he has the power to pull it off.

What is It: A dry, sardonic voice that takes note of the events with statistics and impassivity.

Originally played by:

Lee Richardson (Prizzi's Honor, The Exorcist III)

My Choice:

Bob Schieffer
Schieffer was a year-long replacement for Dan Rather on The CBS Evening News. His real claim-to-fame, however, is as the host of Face the Nation on CBS. The original team wanted Walter Cronkite to play Howard Beale; Cronkite turned it down. But the idea of using an authoritative voice, a news anchor, as one of the players in this drama is intriguing. And what better role for a news reporter than the narrator? I rarely watched Dan Rather, but I always tried to catch Schieffer, for I loved his voice, the Southern richness of it. Truth be told, though, if Walter Cronkite were still alive, this would be his role.

I tried my best. Was it good enough? Can you think of more suitable actors? Or is the whole idea just bullshit? Sound off in the comments!


Unknown said...

Oh I just love actresses named Cate. Or Kate. Whatever. It sounded better when I said it out loud.

I sincerely regret falling asleep during this movie. I feel like I appreciated the parts that I was awake during. But that was before the point in our relationship when I told you we couldn't start movies after midnight.

Andrew K. said...

Siding with Amanda on Cate, though the others are good (save for Jamie Fox whom I despise).

Sheri said...

Alexander Siddig. Amazing actor. Great choice. Brilliant blog.

TomS said...

Unless you remade Network today as a period piece, the subplot involving the Ecumenical Liberation Army would be totally lost on modern audiences. As unlikely as this movie's premise was 34 years ago, it is no longer as outrageous as it once you mentioned, a lot of the film's "satire" is now just taken for granted.
My pick for Arthu Jensen--Phillip Seymor Hoffman. Diana Christiensen: Nicole Kidman. Max Schumacher and howard Beale: Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman (re-team them, from a film they did the same year as Network: All the President's Men. How's that for resonance?)
By the way, I think Nashville is a better film than GWTW!

Walter L. Hollmann said...

TomS: Yeah, I didn't know whether to keep the Ecumenicals or not. I guess the way I saw it, Diana would start having UBS broadcast, like, Osama-type videos. I thought about Hoffman, but I felt that he would give the exact same performance. I love the idea of Kidman, I don't know why I didn't even think of her! Redford/Hoffman is a great idea, too.

Andrew: He has been pissing me off lately. But you don't even like him in Ray?

jonnycarnahan: Thanks! Keep reading! And yes, Siddig is amazing, and I wish Syriana made him a hugely bankable star in the States. So good in that movie!

Amanda: You need to see it again. I think you'd like it. I think EVERYONE likes this movie.

Andrew K. said...

My dislike of Fox goes way back to before he became the big acting star. My sister liked his sitcom, since then I could not stand and though he's good in Ray he just did what's he's good at: imitation. And I still can't forgive him for robbing DiCaprio and Cheadle of laurels.