Mar 8, 2014

Reframing NETWORK 1976) in a Contemporary Setting

by Roger Mancusi

            On the 18th of February 2014, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the New York Times Film Club screened the 1976 film Network at the Academy Theater at Lighthouse International (59th and Lexington Avenue). The event, which included two introductions, the screening itself, archived Awards Night footage, a panel discussion, and an audience Q&A, was timed to the publicity campaign of New York Times culture critic David Itzkoff’s book, Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies. The book, which chronicles the making of the 1976 Best Picture nominee, became the main talking point of the conversation and was also available for purchase in the lobby following the event. In the weeks after appearing at the Academy and New York Times Film Club joint event, Itzkoff’s press tour has taken or will take him to The New York Public Library, The Film Society of Lincoln Center, The Museum of the Moving Image, The Paley Center, and The Jacob Burns Film Center, among other venues, to discuss the film and his book—a project that has been receiving mostly mixed-positive to positive press coverage.1
David Itzkoff during the conversation (Photo credit: Peter Dressel)
Nominated for ten Academy Awards, Network’s four wins2 were more than enough to guarantee a 35mm print’s preservation at the Academy Film Archive in Hollywood, California.3 And with a New York Times journalist writing about the film, and the New York Times owned Times Books publishing the book, the event became a coming together of mutual interests to benefit from a common goal. As will be discussed in more detail later, the special screening was a successful gathering of likeminded cultural organizations, and their respective members and mailing lists, to maximize exposure to the Academy’s behind the scenes efforts as well as publicize Itzkoff’s book Mad as Hell.
            With an official title of “The Academy and the New York Times Film Club Present a Special Screening of Network,” the event was concurrently incorporated into both organizations’ programming schedules. To give the necessary background information, the Academy in New York’s programming schedule is a balance of members’ only advanced screenings and public screenings of nominated films or previous winners, usually free of charge or at extremely discounted rates. Similarly, the other co-host of the event, The New York Times Film Club, has a comparable program comprised of advanced screenings, filmmaker conversations, and revisited classics depending on what films and talent are available. For this event, each organization sent invitations to their regular mailing lists, with both the Academy and New York Times Film club making tickets available at no extra charge to their guests. Although the check-in process was separated by affiliation, once checked in, guests were free to sit wherever they pleased in the 220-person theater, which was at capacity by start time of 7:00pm.
As with many cinematic events in New York City, the audience demographic could be categorized in to two equally represented and approximated groups: the younger, eighteen to thirty-five year old crowd and the older, fifty to seventy year old contingency. The two sets of members, one from the Academy’s invite list and one from the New York Times Film Club membership, also had some slightly discernable characteristics. The Academy guest list is not comprised of Academy Members per se, but instead of individual filmgoers who have signed up to be on the public screening mailing list. That said, official Academy members are also invited to public screenings of films as well, but not vice versa. When a public Academy event is programmed, an email blast goes out to all of these individuals and, once they have requested a spot, they receive an email confirmation equal to one ticket at the door.
On the other hand, the New York Times Film Club ticketing system operates in a slightly different manner. Membership is purchased and good for one calendar year, and each membership guarantees you a ticket to a certain amount of events per year, depending on your membership level. There is a single membership, or, one popular membership option is designed for couples—that is—one RSVP guarantees two tickets to events. All a member has to do is reply to the New York Times Film Club’s email blast requesting attendance and guests are reserved their spot (or spots). Therefore, when comparing the tendencies of the Academy guests with the New York Times Film Club members at the Network event, it was noticeably more frequent that the Film Club members were attending the event in pairs, while the Academy guests were arriving on their own. Regardless of behavioral tendencies, both memberships fulfilled their ticketed allotments and the event was extremely well attended. As an added bonus and as a guest of the Academy and the New York Times Film Club, Sidney Lumet’s wife, Mary Lumet, was in attendance to support the work of her late husband.
            Once the guests were seated, the Program Director of the Academy in New York, Patrick Harrison, gave a brief introduction to the film and the panelists, before panelist David Itzkoff followed suit and, likewise, introduced the film. He alerted the audience to many of the film’s stand out qualities before the curtain parted and the 35mm print was projected on the twenty-five by ten foot screen.4 Following the end credits, the house lights came up to loud applause, and was immediately followed by the Academy’s archival footage of Paddy Chayefsky accepting his Best Original Screenplay Oscar. The audience seemed very receptive to the digitally projected clip, chuckling at the 1970’s fashion choices5 and especially at the mention of Network’s notable competition for Best Original Screenplay: Rocky
Once the clip had ended, David Itzkoff once again took the stage with his co-panelist for the post-screening conversation. They discussed many of the film’s production details covered in Mad as Hell, including but not limited to: Paddy Chayefsky’s domineering presence on set, Sidney Lumet’s directing style, and the impressive fact that the film’s iconic “Mad As Hell” scene was shot using only one master shot. A large portion of the conversation was also spent heralding the dedication that the actors and actresses put into their roles, and the demanding toll that the Howard Beale character had on Peter Finch—leading to his fatal heart attack on January 14, 1977. As noted by Itzkoff during the conversation, the exhaustive role and the rigorous awards campaign contributed to Finch’s death, and when he was awarded Best Actor at the Oscars, he became the first actor ever to be awarded a posthumous Oscar in an acting category.  
Itzkoff singing copies of Mad as Hell (Photo credit: Peter Dressel)
Itzkoff also noted how the film’s stance against big-money corporate takeovers is still applicable to the American society we live in today. The film takes a position against the influence of foreign capital on business decisions in the United States, which he argued could easily reflect on contemporary America’s wariness of oil money and its inherent bargaining power. With the help of the audience’s comments during the ensuing question and answer, Itzkoff was also able to draw connections between the film’s anti-corporation message and the contemporary merging of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Much in the spirit of the film, many audience members felt compelled to laugh and shake a fist in the air at this mention, but guests were polite enough to refrain from screaming the film’s iconic line at mention of their cable provider. Following the question and answer period, the evening was concluded, but Itzkoff remained in the lobby to meet guests and sign copies of Mad as Hell. With a total run time of approximately three hours, the three involved organizations: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the New York Times Film Club, and Times Books; could consider the multi-faceted event a success.
This special screening of Network exemplifies how cultural organizations can pool their respective resources to gain the maximum benefits for all parties involved. If we break the event down into its many components, it becomes clear what each organization stood to gain from the event’s planned success. This joint initiative was a success on many levels, thanks in part to the quality and availability of the print, a large portion of the guest list, and the facilities provided by the Academy, the talent and remaining portion of the guest list provided by the New York Times Film Club, and the books for purchase provided by Times Books. Each organization fulfilled its duties in the organizational set up of the event, and its success brought positive results on many levels.
For the Academy, the event was a good opportunity to publicize their ongoing efforts to preserve and display 35mm prints of past Academy Award nominated films, as well as expose the public to previous films that are attached to the “Academy Award Winning” brand. In line with the Academy’s initiative to increase the general public’s awareness of the organization’s year round endeavors, here they are able to utilize both an archival print as well as archived digitalized award show footage in a public setting. The hard work that goes in to preserving and converting these images can now be used as the backbone of a successful public event. Beyond those positives, by using the Academy Theater as the event space, it alerts the public to the types of screenings that occur in that space besides the exclusive members’ only screenings.
Similarly, The New York Times Film Club members stand to benefit from the exposure to the same rare and quality 35mm print provided by the Academy, and also to the variety of programming events like this provide. In the dearth of quality theatrical films provided to film lovers in January and February, here was an opportunity to see a bona fide classic film, on a big screen, with an expert panel conversation, and all at no additional cost to attendees. The New York Times Film Club also has a shared interest with their sister-company, Times Books, in that by having David Itzkoff, the New York Times reporter, speak on the panel, it elevates his status as a knowledgeable culture critic and thereby elevates the publication’s status too. By placing the award winning film and the panelists in conversation with each other, the event also elevates Itzkoff and his book Mad as Hell to the prestige level of the film being celebrated. Finally, as the writer and his book become the forefront of the conversation, it is inherently good publicity for his project—conveniently for sale in the lobby.
Based off of the vocal response to the film and the conversation, the Academy and New York Times Film Club guests seemed to be very pleased with the event—cheering loudly at the film’s close and engaging Itzkoff with attentive questions during the question and answer period. The event, although technically presented without an argument or thesis by either the Academy or the New York Times Film Club, did begin to align itself with the film’s underlying message against clandestine corporate maneuvers and hyperbolized media hysteria. Through the guided analysis of David Itzkoff and his conversation with crowd members, the event’s main takeaway became how relevant a film like Network could be even in contemporary times. As this happens to be a concluding analytical point made by Itzkoff in Mad as Hell—contemporary American obsession with the internet and instantly available, and sometimes asinine, news—it became an appropriate way to end the evening. The conversation rounded off the presentation of materials well, melding the film’s historical and artistic importance with its cultural relevancy, and leaving the guests with a concrete conclusion to take home with them.
Given the difficulty of the putting together of materials, gathering of an audience, coordinating panelists, and renting facilities, The Academy and the New York Times Film Club must be commemorated for their cooperative effort putting this event together. Through the hard work of the programmers and event presenters, “The Academy and the New York Times Film Club Present a Special Screening of Network” was representative of the high standards that one would associate with both the Academy and the New York Times brands. The two organizations, which have collaborated well in the past, were able to continue their culturally symbiotic relationship, much to the pleasure of the event guests present that night.  

1) Sample Press Coverage of Mad as Hell:
·      New York Times Review:

Calendar Listings for the Event:

·      NYTFC Listings:

2) Wins include Best Actor, Peter Finch; Best Actress, Faye Dunaway; Best Supporting Actress, Beatrice Straight; and Best Writing, Best Screenplay Best Original Screenplay, Paddy Chayefsky. Also nominated for Best Actor, William Holden; Best Supporting Actor, Ned Beatty; Best Cinematography, Owen Roizman; Best Film Editing, Alan Heim; Best Director, Sidney Lumet; and Best Picture.

3) The Academy Film Archive’s description on the official website (
Dedicated to motion picture preservation, restoration, exhibition and study, the archive includes 165,000 film and video assets relating to approximately 80,000 individual titles. This extensive and diverse collection includes Academy Award-nominated films, past Oscar® telecasts, documentaries, silent movies, experimental films, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, home movies, international cinema and much, much more.”

4) Per the Academy Theater’s website:

5) This was conveyed in a personal conversation with an audience member after the screening.

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