Say It One Time for the Overrated


The Onion's AV Club celebrates Classic Movies It's OK to Hate. This is the kind of catalogue that should have at least 40 or 50 entries, instead of just 10, and even with this short list there are some I disagree with. (Anybody who doesn't think Carrie is a career-best for everybody involved, including even the King of Horror, should have his/her head examined.) But they're all interesting, if historically limited, picks. My favorite:

Network (1976)

Reputation: Network is widely considered a savage, visionary satire that uncannily predicts the sordid state of television's future and the rise of reality programming.

Why it's okay to hate it: Network is too choked with bitterness to be funny, and Paddy Chayefsky's revered dialogue sounds so mannered that the characters might as well be speaking in iambic pentameter. Furthermore, Chayefsky repeatedly violates the dictum "show, don't tell." He doles out his heavy-handed messages in shrill monologues. And does predicting that network television and its audience will grow increasingly degraded and desperate qualify as Nostradamus-like prescience, or mere common sense?

Dissent from Keith: Network is still better than all the cutting satires before it that suggested television might not just be dumb, but also dangerous. Wait? There weren't any? Hmmm…

Everything's right except the dissent. (For pre-Network satires specifically arguing that TV was stupid and dangerous, see A Face In the Crowd, Fahrenheit 451, Rollerball, and about a bazillion other movies. For the generally negative view big-screen productions have always taken of the small screen, see All That Heaven Allows, Putney Swope, The Thrill of It All, and just about every other movie that has ever featured television in the plot.) As with just about every good Sidney Lumet movie, 95 percent of what's good about Network—by my calculation, assembling a Mt. Rushmore cast of craggy-faced superstars; shooting dialogue scenes as action scenes; and not using a soundtrack—is Lumet's own contribution. (And all of these strengths can be seen to better advantage in Dog Day Afternoon.) The highly praised Paddy Chayefsky script contains some funny lines and Beatrice Straight's Oscar®-winning speech, but for my money the most interesting thing about it is its political ambidexterity: The anti-capitalism and contempt for the American populace ensure the good will of the left, while the dripping hatred of blacks and Arabs pleases conservatives and New Republic liberals. It's political uplift with a capital P.U.

Anyway, check out all the overrated classics.