South of Boudoir

I enjoy quite a bit of the work of Charley Chase.  He was as big as Chaplin, Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy during the silent era.  Although he doesn’t have quite as big a following today as some of the other great stars of that era, Chase made some really great slapstick comedies.  He was also quite the director as well, especially in the early 30’s where he directed several shorts for The Three Stooges.  

In January, I’m hoping to check out a screening of one of his shorts South of the Boudoir.  One of the reasons I’m looking forward to it is that it feature’s Arthur Q. Bryan, who attempts to seduce Chase’s wife, and apparently he does so by talking in a familiar cartoon character’s voice.  Who’s Arthur Q. Bryan some of you might ask?  And what cartoon character is he most well known for?   

This might ring a bell!
 

 January can’t come soon enough!  🙂

Self Worth and Golden Idols

One of my occasional favorite hobbies is complaining about the animation industry on the most popular animation site out there, Cartoon Brew .  One of the chief editors on there, Amid Amidi constantly likes to play devils advocate with some of the things he posts.  Ironically in his recent post about the Celebrification of Animators, Amid, makes reference to his own tabloid post about another animator.  He posted a story a few weeks ago about a Dreamworks animator who beat a dog in the head with a hammer and was sentenced to jail time, and then in his current post he made reference to a majority of people who gave him flack for posting it, especially since in that same post he put a cute picture of a chiuahuaha with a bandage over it’s head under the post title.  The “majority” of people who complained in that post….well, I think I probably did the most complaining.  I was pretty angry that on the animation industry’s most read website, he was exploiting the personal life of an animator, even if he was trying to prove some point.  Opening the comment boards up to hecklers to say obcene things about this person left me a little flabbergasted.  We may not know the whole story about what this animator did and why he beat this dog (defense, mental health issues, etc), but to see outside hecklers doing this, and no work friends coming to this man’s defense, it’s quite sad to see the broken state our animation community is in.  Amid of course wanted to prove a point that to a younger generation, thanks to the internet, animators are achieving high celebrity status, even going as far as being subjects for news headlines where animators beat dogs with hammers.  But it’s not my concern that animators are reaching levels of celebrity recognition.  What concerns me is the psychological impact this kind of celebrity worship is going to have on a younger generation of animators entering the field. 

The image above, for those reading who don’t know, is Glen Keane, who is presently the most well known Disney animator, hence the Jesus symbolisim.  This image of course comes from a parody site, http://fyeahanimationbosses.tumblr.com/ , but several images from this site were posted on Cartoon Brew to show how more and more people are identifying the artists behind everyone‘s favorite animated films, bringing these artists not only to recognition with the public, but also into emerging celebrity status. 

But seeing so many of these parody memes posted at once, it started to bother me again, and I started to feel a little repulsed by what I was seeing.  I suppose it was one thing for these images to remain in obscurity on somebody’s private Tumblr site.  But it’s something else when several of these images are posted all at once on a major site like Cartoon Brew, in a post which glorifies the celebrity status of these major animators.  When Amid posted the article, he considered these meme posters as progress for the recognition of animators.  The thought of encouraging celebrity profiles for animators annoyed the hell out of me, and my first comment I posted, I was a little pissed off at AmidHere’s what I wrote:       
 
 What progress are you referring to? Animators being worshipped like pop stars? Kids worship pop stars based on hearing the same kind of song played over and over again, just as the dudes who made these memes blindly worship Pixar and Disney, who…lets see…have been telling the same story over and over again in every animated feature for the last 20 years. They don’t recognize this as art. It’s a blind programmed response to what they’ve been fed since childhood about what a cartoon is supposed to be. They’re Otaku for American animation. I respect a lot of these animators posted. But what’s this expectation that they should be worshipped like Jesus or Tom Cruise? It’s a blessing in disguise that some of these master animators/artists live in general obscurity from the general public. Most of the big celebrity guys like Seth MacFarlane, or John Lasseter, or even Brad Bird became major celebrites once they GOT AWAY FROM ANIMATION. People no longer associate Brad Bird with what animated feature he’s going to direct next. The public now wants him to direct fucking Star Wars. How’s that progress for animation? Promoting these animators as gods is bad…it’s a pipe dream…it’s an illusion that will attract fewer artists who actually have something in this medium as opposed to those young artists who desperately want to be Milt Kahl, or Brad Bird, or John Lassater, when they should concentrate more on what they want out of their work and what they want to say about life. Most of these animators worshiped made their mark, but only because they spent their careers working for someone else. God, I love Harryhausens work too, but he’s also worked on a lot of shitty B movies. We can admire and respect these people for their work. But even joke humor like this gets young animators worshipping a golden calf as if working in the animation industry is plagued with fame and riches. Its not. And it shouldn’t be. Just because most animated features are box office smashes doesn’t mean they’re good. The public is only responding to their expectations for what they think an animated film should be, and it’s exactly what the major studios play into to get into people’s wallets. No matter how differently the film is dressed, its almost always the exact same story. Posters like this glorify all the things that are wrong with our field to begin with. So if your a young artist or someone who wants to dedicate their life to animation, John S. is right. These posters are not funny, their a bullshit waste of time. Don’t get sucked in.

I got no response from Amid of course, and just a few jibe remarks from a few complainers, saying that I had no sense of humor about these posts and that I was taking it way too seriously.  That seems to be the knee jerk defensive response I get when I’m trying to point out something.  It’s not that I don’t have a sense of humor.  But many people out there seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to the context of these messages they’re being spoonfed from sites like Cartoon Brew.  Even at one point, an old timer animator from Walt’s days at the studio (he posts fairly often), chimed in about the rest of us having no sense of humor about the parody images.  So, not directly responding to him, I chimed in again, abeit briefly:  

We do want animators to get recognition for their work. But not like this. To the naysayers who want us to stop taking these images so seriously…the one thing you may be right about is that these images are taken out of context. And really, if this is supposed to be parody, in what context is it supposed to be taken in and by whom? 

You might want to take a moment and listen to some of the people who are repulsed by this. There are young naive artists out there who will take these images seriously as fan worship. It’s panders to their own insecurities about themselves, putting their idols up on unreachable platforms instead of allowing themselves to bring their idols down to their level and ask…where did those people start? What made them who they are today? How did they find their inspiration, and what can these great artists teach me to find it on my own?

There are a lot more young animators in the industry coming in through places like trade schools that teach them the tools, but with a very limited understanding of their own artistic voice. They are like a lot of us who grew up as kids on Disney or Pixar with dreams of becoming an animator, but without understanding their calling as artists, they go for the straight path, and are trained at these trade schools to create formula animation (which is part of our current problem with every animated film having characters that move and act exactly the same way). And a lot of these young guys come from backgrounds where the only things they’ve watched are Disney/Pixar films, or whatever Cartoon Network/ Nickelodeon shows they grew up with. They’ve never watched a Frank Capra film or a John Ford/ Billy Wilder movie. They’ve never studied Laurel and Hardy. Most of them couldn’t tell you who Paddy Chayefsky is. These idols/gods they’ve spent their lives worshiping in the images above are all they know about their artform, and they blindly worship them without understanding what really made those people who they are. These young animators are here NOW working in the industry. I’ve met them! They’re all over the place. 

I get why you and others on here would want to defend this simply as stupid humor. But we have no idea what this is supposed to be satarizing or what the humor is supposed to be. Did the guy making this think these artists have bloated egos? Is he making fun of the current students who worship these artists? Did he expect a lot of us to be repulsed by this? 

Regardless of what the intention, these images will have an effect on someone, a young kid who will look at them and never believe they have any self worth or a unique vision of their own compared to those who came before them.

Over the years, even after Cal Arts, I’ve come to know and meet a lot of animators who work in the industry.  If there’s one thing I’ve come to learn about animation artists...it’s they’re a very sensitive people.  I include myself in this.  You see a lot of animators who come from strong religious backgrounds.  They were raised on Disney movies and Cartoon Network shows.  Animators, like sheep, travel in herds with their own kind, like minded individuals, who all have the same programmed worship button in response to just about any American animated feature that comes out.  They are a proud people as much as they are stubborn.  

Within a lot of these artists however, no matter how good they are or even the ones who have obtained some form of success…they are also a frightened people, skiddish, and emotionally vulnerable inside.  It’s not a big surprise why these artists create main characters in most animated features are outcasts who want to be accepted in the world.  Most animators are afraid to stray from the path of their friends.  They will stay together in groups, even when working at the major studios and working alongside their idols at the studios, their idols are still worshiped like Gods instead of just being seen as ordinary human beings.  But worship has its limits.  For one thing, those young animators blindly walking the already trodded path have never discover their own sense of self worth.  They don’t believe their capable of finding anything greater in themselves, which makes it almost a futile effort for them to strike out on their own and find what their own destiny is calling to them.  It’s the problem of religion (in this case, religion of the animation idol), in which a persons field of vision is so limited their stuck in once place, afraid to take a leap of faith into the outside and expand their world view.  Doing so means stepping away from all your friends and striking out on your own…and into a world of danger…and the adventure of your life.  

I didn’t voluntarily leave my animator friends, but the more I saw the path in front of me and started realizing it may not be the right way, it was inevitable that my friends and I began to grow apart.  And I fell apart after that.  Things reached its peak when life was suddenly forced on me, to the point where now it’s pretty much impossible for me to go back to my old self.  It’s painful.  It’s harsh.  It makes a man or a woman want to scream at the cruelty of the universe.  But in looking back at all the suffering I’ve had to endure so far, I can see a new side of myself emerging.  One thing I do know, it’s how all of my idols in the animation industry became who they are.  I know some people I went to school with, and people I met early on who have made their careers in the animation world.  Some of them even have their own TV shows.  But even some of those people, despite their success, they have still never stepped off the beaten path.  I can see the ones who found their dream job, but once they got it and without any further direction to guide them, they’ve started spending their time taking up expensive hobbies on their Facebooks…their job isn’t enough anymore.  Some of those people try acting or sewing.  I saw one person who makes a better gymnast than they are an animator!  The job isn’t enough anymore, and they’re searching for something more.  It’s why you see a lot of working animators doing Children’s books on their spare time.  They are looking for their voice in search of something to say.  

It’s a miraculous thing to get your dream job that you spent so long working towards.  But once you have it, the inevitable question is going to be, what now?  What do I have to say?  This is where many people who have followed their idols end up.  But for someone to be a true artist, is the job really enough?  And to tell you the truth, it’s at this point where our idols fail us.  Then pretty soon the inevitable happensWe are alone.  

So I guess the big question we have to ask ourselves is if all this celebrity worship is really worth it.  Admittedly, having our heroes is important, if anything to give us a push into the life we want to dedicate ourselves.  But our heroes can only take us so far.  If we continue to hold onto them, they only serve to become a golden idol…a false hope and a status we will never obtain.  Because their path is not your path.  We are each destined to find our own way.  There is always a price.  There is always a personal sacrifice that has to be made to find out who you are destined to be.  It’s okay to have your heroes.  

But Celebrity Animator?  Those are just bullshit words.  If that’s really what you are striving for, then you are definitely in the wrong business.    

REVIEW: Rise of the Guardians (2012) Dir. Peter Ramsey

  
I’ve always enjoyed a good hard cider Christmas story about the power of belief, especially with films that tell you that you’d better believe in Santa Claus or you’ll be a miserable wreck for the rest of your life.  Of course, I still believe in Santa Claus, but if you’re an adult and you still believe in Santa, you understand the truth of what that means…that as an adult its not about Santa being a real person, but it’s keep alive in yourself that sense of wonder about the world, as well as sharing that spirit of that wonder with your children.  Children of course believe in Santa the real person, but what they find out later on is that really the spirit of Santa is the extension of the parents love for their childI’m a sucker for those great holiday films that try to reaffirm the power of belief, especially in adults when it comes to Christmas.  Films like Miracle on 34th St., It’s a Wonderful Life, etc.  One of my personal favorites is One Magic Christmas, a Disney film from the 80’s that REALLY goes to the dark side when you don’t believe in Santa Claus (in that film, when she doesn’t believe, her husband is shot and killed, and her kids are kidnapped and then drown in a river when the car goes over the side of an icy road!  It’s a great movie though, and it does have the greatest Santa Claus ever put on film, I can’t wait to talk about that one later.)  And now, there is a new addition to the “you’d better believe or else” story from Dreamworks:  Rise of the Guardian’s.  

Now, I’ll be up front about this.  Rise of the Guardians is not a great film.  But there’s nothing out right bad about it either.  It’s heart is certainly in the right place when it comes to its message about the power of belief, and holding on to that sense of wonder about the world.  It’s a film with a lot of really good ideas, that if only expanded on further it could have truly been something special.  It holds back a little to much in places where it could have been really funny…for instance when the Boogeyman (named Pitch Black in the film)  puts nightmares in all the children of the world, and uses his minions to snuff out every holiday (keeping easter eggs from reaching their hiding place, stealing all the money left by the tooth fairy, etc.) and in essence he makes it where almost every child in the world has stopped believing in Santa, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, The Sandman, and Jack Frost, so the only figure left in their nightmares is their fears with the Boogeyman.  In a way, if you think about it that somebody made it so every child in the world stopped believing in Santa Claus, that’s actually a pretty funny idea, which I thought could have been milked so much more for hilarious gags.  The kids in the film essentially walk around like zombies during the day, because all of them have been having nightmares!  

 The movie follows Jack Frost, who in typical hero’s journey fashion, starts out as someone who doesn’t know who he is.  The opening sequence was actually pretty engaging, and left me curious that this might actually be a pretty solid film.  Unfortunately, once Jack meets the other Guardians, it becomes your typical animated film plot.  And ONCE AGAIN, there’s the big scene where everybody hates Jack and nobody wants to be his friend anymore.  Except of course the Boogeyman, who is dealing with the same problem as Jack in that children just don’t believe in them anymore.  Even there, that could have been another interesting story point.  There are some stories and film versions where Jack Frost as a trickster figure is sometimes portrayed as a villain.  It would have been interesting, at least briefly if Jack did join Pitch out of bitter resentment for being cast out.  

But while the film has its share of the usual animated film cliche’s I actually had a good time with it, and I was able to forgive most of the silly well trodded story points. I have to say if there were any characters in the film that I really loved in the movie, it was Santa’s Yeti helpers, who I wish could have been expanded upon more.  They did have some of the best laughs in the movie. 

  There was only one major problem that annoyed me, which came at the end of the movie, and it‘s at the very end where the Guardians have Pitch Black cast out.  I don’t think they should have done that.  I actually felt they should have asked Pitch to join them as a Guardian.  The Guardians aren’t about protecting children from “evil”.  The Guardians are about protecting the children’s beliefs and their sense of wonder about the world.  Pitch himself may be the most important out of all of them, because while his purpose is to scare children, he’s actually helping them to conquer their fears, and giving them something to believe in with the other Guardians.  Without Pitch to challenge them, the children would have no reason to believe in their icons.  So why would Jack of all people turn his back on Pitch who has the same problem as he does?  And really, why couldn’t Pitch be accepted in their group?  It’s not like he killed anybody.  The worst he did was give kids nightmares (which is his job).  What about acceptance and forgiveness?  Which I think especially with the spirit of Santa Claus are important virtues to pass along.  Instead, the ending turns the film into a “good vs. evil” parable between the Man in the Moon (God), and Pitch (The Devil).

  As a comparison, I always thought of one of the great “boogeyman” villains was Jareth from the Jim Henson film, Labyrinth.  I always thought secretly he really wasn’t a villain at all, but that he was actually there to help Sarah conquer her fears about herself…and help her to grow up.  This feeling was indicated to me at the end of the movie, when Jareth in the form of the white owl watches the characters celebrating at her house, and then flies off, possibly moving on to the next person who needs help.  You could call him a kind of trickster guardian angel.  Which is the kind of villain I thought Pitch should have been in finding his place in the world.  What else is the devil but a kind of trickster angel, who is there to tempt us and help us find the compassionate human side to ourselves?  

So like I said, Rise of the Guardians is not a great movie, but it’s got good ideas, and it‘s probably one of the better animated films I’ve seen all year.  If anything, I think Dreamworks is the one American animation studio out there that tries at least to break the mold and find a definite voice for themselves.  They’ve done it a few times now with Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.  I’m finding myself more and more impressed with them as leaders in the industry, and I hope they continue to try and break the mold, and give us newer and more interesting stories for the future.         

KyToons Presents: Watch What You Eat!

Yesterday at Thanksgiving, my 6 year old cousin Kyla and I had our first filmmaking collaboration using Toon Boom Storyboard Pro.  Kyla came up with the story, did all the drawings and coloring on my Cintiq, and I “assisted”, animating the character for her based on what she wanted the dinosaur to do.  Just to let you know, she’s quite the director!  I gave her very few suggestions just to give her a little nudge…a few of which she threw out!

The title of her cartoon is: Watch What You Eat!
Here’s Kyla’s first animated cartoon!  



After this first cartoon, we made a sequel called Watch What You Eat 2!  And of course, being a sequel, she wanted to make it a little more epic.  And while technically this version is a variation on the same story, the one thing that changed about this story (and surprised me) is that she gave it a proper ending.  I suggested at the end if the T rex ate the meat and became Godzilla sized, and she said “No, I just want him to go back to normal and be happy.”  She learned right away and knew exactly what she wanted.

We may have a budding filmmaker on our hands.  🙂

REVIEW: Lincoln (2012) Dir. Steven Spielberg


I think by the end of the opening sequence of Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Lincoln, when two civil war soldiers approach the 16th president and start quoting the Gettysberg address to him like a couple of fan boys…I think it pretty much summed up the movie I was in for:  An annoying sap fest idolization of what many would consider America’s most respected president.  That’s not to say that this film version of Lincoln doesn’t have good performances (Tommy Lee Jones especially was terrific), or that it’s not a well crafted movie (obviously that’s not the case, it’s a Spielberg film).  But for the most part, it was a tedious borefest that left me cold. 

I felt almost no emotional investment in Lincoln or what he was trying to accomplish in his quest to pass the 13 Amendment to abolish slavery.  This is not the fault of Daniel Day Lewis, who puts on a great performance, but Lincoln himself acts completely distant from everyone else.  We all know Lincoln was an intelligent man, but he always speaks in this kind of hi-brow poetic way whereas everyone around him is actually talking like a normal person.  His stories and jokes that are supposed to add another dimension to his character wind up being tedious and extranious.  They’re extranious because whenever he stops to tell some silly story, the movie grinds to a halt as well.  There’s even a point where an official in the confrence room gets up infuriated about to “scream if I hear one more god-damn story from him!”.  As an audience member, I have to say, yeah, I agree with him!  For Lincoln, a guy who essentially had a poor upbringing and had very little education growing up, for him to put on this kind of heir of authority with everyone he talks to, even behind closed doors with his family and closest friends when he doesn’t need to put on a facade, it just comes off as false.  Even if it is historically accurate to the kind of man Lincoln was, I still kept wondering half the time why everyone around him wanted to kiss his feet as opposed to some one close to his cabinet asking why this guy from the lower class didn’t just talk like everybody else! 

There are gossipy side stories to dramatize his life more, such as his sometimes difficult relationship with his wife Mary Todd, and his completely distant relationship with his son (father/son issues in a Spielberg movie? What a shock!).  But when it comes to the main plot regarding the passing of the 13 amendment bill, it’s not that different from waiting for the Titanic to hit the iceberg in the James Cameron film.  The side drama is almost filler to the main event.  And when the day comes for the Amendment to be passed, Speilberg’s building of tension is almost silly.  I saw this movie with my buddy, who is African American, and during the passing of the bill sequence, he just leaned over to me and said, “gee, I wonder how this is going to turn out!” By the time the passing of the bill is all over, all that was left was for the audience to see how Spielberg would pull off Lincoln’s big death scene, which in itself was also laughable.  Lincon says his last lines, which are the equivilent to “My work here is done.” CUT TO: INT. Ford Theater.  My friend and I just cracked up. 

Why was it even nessecary to play out his assasination?  So Spielberg can dramatize the horror of Lincoln’s screaming child?  His youngest son does a lot of cute shit we all expect from kids in a Spielberg movie, but we have zero investment in him.  Even though we don’t actually see Lincoln being shot, the scenes showing him lying dead on the bed are just extranious, silly, and completely unnessecary, as if to point out the obvious to any kid who wasn’t paying attention in 2nd grade history.  I just had an emotional disconnect from his death.  If I actually gave a shit about Lincoln as a character, I’m sure Spielberg could have pulled off the most emotional portrayal of his assasination on film.  But the whole thing is just empty.  

In thinking about the film after, I talked with my friend about the film and why we both thought it didn’t work.  I was just bored out of my mind, until things started to pick up a little with the Amendment passing.  But I think we both came to the conclusion that one of the reasons we didn’t feel invested in the movie was that we never saw any of the persecution happening to the black slaves at that time.  This movie could be compared easily to Spielberg’s masterpiece Schindler’s List, where Spielberg as a Jewish man was open and hard hitting to show the devestating persecution of his people during the Holocaust, making it one of the most powerful historical dramas ever made.  Lincoln never comes close to that.  Lincoln doesn’t feel like a celebration of the abolishment of slavery.  In my opinion, it feels like a celebration of the white man, as if to point out to everyone that white Americans did something good to free oppressed black slaves from… ..um….themselves.  I’m sure that sounds like a major slam against my own ethnicity, but seriously, if this was meant to be a compelling drama, why would Spielberg avoid showing the awful persecution African Americans by white men?  He was fine showing Jews being slaugtered left and right in Schindler’s List.  Why is it not okay to show the persecution of blacks, but were supposed to shed tears when Lincoln is riding on his horse through a battlefield full of dead white soldiers?  You gotta ask yourself, who is this film really pandering to? 

What’s funny was after the movie, we were walking out of the theater, and we both heard a 60+ year old caucasian woman behind us saying “That’s how it’s done!  That’s powerful filmmaking!”  To which I just kind of rolled my eyes.  What’s really being said in this movie is in fact not said at all.  If anything, this is a Lincoln movie for an older generation.  I watched the Colbert Report last week.  The whole week he interviewed all the old white fogies brought in who wrote the script as well as the researchers for the new Lincoln film.  I kind of wonder if in some way Stephen Colbert was making an ironic statement about this film in doing this (Colbert:  “SPOILER ALERT: It’s got a sad ending!”) 

I think it’s about time Spielberg retired to make way for a new generation of filmmakers.  Because the movies we all fell in love with from him, the films we grew up on…that energy he was once in tune with the masses is no longer there.  I feel like now with his films he’s speaking in a voice that’s no longer applicable to today’s generation.  I suppose some will argue at his age he’s not making films for younger generations, but with a movie like this it feels like he’s pandering to middle-aged/senior citizens still holding onto 1950’s American values.  And if this movie were made by anyone other that Steven Spielberg, would audiences really have the same reaction to this movie?  It seems like people are responding less to this film in regards its emotional depth, and that’s it’s more of a response to the reaffirmation of the white community…that we did good for the African Americans freeing them from slavery…and now we can pat ourselves on the back for our achievement.  But the irony is that we know the oppression of African American’s doesn’t end there…it still lasted another 100 years until the civil rights movement.  So what is the importance of the film Lincoln that we should invest ourselves in?  What is the true statement Spielberg wanted to say about what Lincoln wanted to accomplish in freeing African Americans?  It’s not just me who was asking this question, but my friend who was with me as well.       

Spielberg used to be a master at grabbing hold of audiences emotions, but everything about this film is just telegraphed to us about how were supposed to feel, including John William’s score, which hit’s all the playful beats as well as the serious beats, right down to the rising emotional tempo when news hits of Lincoln’s death.  You can just feel Spielberg desperatly trying to pull our strings and stir our emotions.  I hate saying this, but all his tricks he used in this film are old hat now.  His style has been tired for a good long while. 

Like I said, if I had one good thing to say about this film, it’s Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, who gets the one emotional payoff that almost works if the movie had anything deeper to say about slavery to African Americans.  The rest of the film was just a major disappointment.  Spielberg’s vision just feels tired, and I don’t think we should expect any more of him from what he’s already given. 

REVIEW: NETWORK (1976) Dir. Sidney Lumet

In all of cinema, if I had only one choice of genre in which completely surrounded my career, I think I would choose Satire.  I’m not talking about simple parody (although, I love using other media as a way to make fun of something else), but genuine satire which gets at the heart of the truth in world we live in.  The best satires are cutthroat and brutal.  As a teenager, Berkeley Breathed was my favorite cartoon satirist, with both his strips Bloom County and Outland.  While in my early years I didn’t always understand the cultural references Breathed was making fun of, I understood it enough to know that there was a lot of anger behind the humor.  But he was able to convey his anger in such a brilliant way, and in the way Howard Beale in Network grabbed the nation with over 40 million viewers in the nation, Breathed had the attention of 40 million newspaper readers in America.  Of course, the difference between Beale and Breathed being that Breathed probably had a healthier way of venting his anger, and probably no plot to assasinate him by his editors (Although I’m sure he got plenty of threats).  But some of the greatest films ever made, including the number one film of all time, Citizen Kane, have been satires.  Network may hands down be one of the greatest satires I’ve ever seen.  And one of the most brilliant films ever made.  

It’s not only hilarious, it’s a brutally angry film.  This is not a movie that is simply a comment during the time it was made, but a fortelling prophecy of the downfall of the news media.  For that era, it was television.  For this generation, it’s social media, and the zombification of our culture.  The loss of the individual.  And the rise corporations controlling the media and the masses.  It’s all there in Ned Beatty’s incredible (and hilarious) speech to newscaster Howard Beale, who has gone too far, and the moment the chairman/CEO of UBS has to intervene and cut Howard’s balls off (metaphorically speaking of course).  In saying this however, I don’t want to imply that the film is saying television is bad or social media is bad.  But it’s a great power used to irresponsible means, and with great maddness, its been used over time to corrupt society.  What better way to portray any of this than a newscaster who has gone over the deep end and into mental illness.  Howard Beale ironically and unintentionally plays a part in the manipulation of the masses.  As much as what he spews forth in his evangelical rantings may be truthful, the mass audience of Americans take it in like zombies, following his every command.  The manipulation goes farther with Faye Dunaway’s Diane Christainsen, a young ambitious TV executive, who doesn’t care about any of what Beale is saying as long as he can pull in the ratings.  Then there’s William Holden’s Max Schumacher, Howard’s best friend, and the only man completely outraged that the network is taking advantage of Howard who is in the midst of a mental breakdown.  

Peter Finch as Howard Beale.  This may well be one of the greatest, most memorable roles I’ve seen from an actor.  I would like to say about Howard‘s breakdown…watching the decline of his mental health is not only outrageously funny, it’s a completely honest portrayal of a psychotic meltdown.  There is the most classic scene in the film, where Howard has disappeared the whole day in nothing but his pajamas and a trenchcoat, walking around in the pouring rain, only to arrive dressed as he is, muttering and talking to himself as we walks in, and he’s put right on the air for his next broadcast, delivering his famous, I’M MAD AS HELL, AND I‘M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!” speech.  Most sign early on for Howard’s mental decline is his hilarious and frightning speech to Max about feeling having his moment of clarity:   

HOWARD: “This is not a psychotic episode. This is a cleansing moment of clarity. I’m imbued, Max. I’m imbued with some special spirit. It’s not a religious feeling at all. It’s a shocking eruption of great electrical energy. I feel vivid and flashing, as if suddenly I’d been plugged into some great electromagnetic field. I feel connected to all living things. To flowers, birds, all the animals of the world. And even to some great, unseen, living force.  

There is a great amount of symbolism across the board as television becomes the center of a kind of religious uprising, complete with stained glass windows, and the telling title, “The Howard Beale Show”.  His arguments are stream of consciousness as he just starts spewing forth the end of civilization, and underneath the hilarity of it all is a tragic man at the end of his rope…a man who could no longer keep up with the rest of the world.

 There are separate subplots throughout the film, which deal not just with Howard’s rise to evangelical stardom, but also the behind the scenes romance between Max and Diane.  The attraction is truthful and completely believable given the situation, as two completely different generations come together, a man exiting his field as a producer of a once respectable news cast, and a young woman who is completely plugged in to the racy, tabloid infested world the media has become, where even during sex she can’t stop talking about her job.  The tragedy for her in the end is her inability to unplug, as life for her plays out for her in a set role, never giving herself any thought to her own individualism.  It’s a doomed relationship on both ends.  Also in an extraordinary performance is Beatrice Straight as Mrs. Schumacher, Max’s wife.  Miss Straight won the Supporting Actress Oscar for the shortest performance in the Academy’s history, under 6 minutes of screen time.  She sells a complete three dimensional character in that quick running time, and her arguement with Max is one of the major highlights of the film.   

By the end of the film, the psychotic breakdown and the end of middle aged Howard, destroyed by the younger generation, just signifies the end of an era and the beginning of social mass media corruption.  It’s passing the torch in the most brutal and ugly way imaginable.  

Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay says it all, and Sidney Lumet’s direction has created a hardcore telling of the fall of American mass media, and the prophetic messages in this film from 1976 are startling.  I can’t begin to stress what an amazing, brillaint film this is.  If you have Netflix, it’s available on Instant viewing.  By all means check it out.  I hope to say more about this film later on.  In fact, I guarantee with more viewings, I will have more to say about this.  Do yourself a favor and see this film.  It’s a hilarious film.  It’s a powerful film.  And it couldn’t be more relevant to the world we live in today.

              

 

COMING UP: NETWORK REVIEW (1976)

I would like at this moment to announce that I will be retiring from this program in two weeks’ time because of poor ratings. Since this show is the only thing I had going for me in my life, I’ve decided to kill myself. I’m going to blow my brains out right on this program a week from today. So tune in next Tuesday. That should give the public relations people a week to promote the show. You ought to get a hell of a rating out of that. 50 share, easy.”HOWARD BEALE (portrayed by Peter Finch, “Network”, 1976)