Paddy Chayefsky’s Network is considered by many to be the best screenplay ever written. Those who love plot go with Chinatown and those of us who love just solid great writing pick Network.
Network is the reason why I take any advice on what not to do if one wants to write the “Great American Screenplay” with a grain of salt. One of the first rules is to be very careful not to have any speeches in your screenplay that are longer than half a page.
Network is a script that’s full of 4-5 minute long speeches, and they all work wonderfully. It’s not mere dialogue but a dance of words that elevates the psyche of anyone who appreciates great writing.
Howard Beale’s “I’m mad as hell!!” speech is of course very famous, so is Beatrice Straight’s speech, which was delivered with such power, it won her an Oscar with only 3 minutes of screen time in the whole film.
One speech that really stands out to me, and to most of the film’s fans, makes the hair on the back of my head stand up with a glorious combination of fear and awe, is the “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature!” speech given with such manic enthusiasm by Arthur Jensen, the billionaire CEO of the network as well as a bunch of other corporations, played by Ned Beatty (Whose single day of work on Network got him an Oscar nomination).
After the obviously mentally unbalanced “Mad prophet of the airwaves” Howard Beale asks his audience to protest Jensen’s oil deal with the Arabs, Jensen calls Beale into his board room, an empty cavern of greed (“Valhalla”, Jensen dubs it) and delivers a speech about the way of the modern world with the gusto of a preacher who has seen that the deity of the future is Money, and it cannot be stopped. It’s not a fluke that the last lines of the scene is “I have seen the face of God” answered with “You might just be right”.
I am always reminded of this speech whenever I see politicians use code words like “Job Creators” or “Class Warfare” to cover up their worship of money and the wealthy when faced with questions about the growing disparity of wealth around the world.
The recent Republican primary, with an out-of-touch billionaire as the front-runner, someone who lives and breathes money and openly admits that he doesn’t care about the poor, made me think about it again.
It is frightening how dead-on Chayefsky predicted how we would all be connected to a global parasite of ever growing banks and corporations who will think of any way of putting us to sleep while screwing us.
Network was released 36 years ago.
You can watch the scene here:
Below is a transcript from americanrhetoric.com:
Jensen: You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it!! Is that clear?! You think you’ve merely stopped a business deal. That is not the case. The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back! It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity! It is ecological balance!
You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels.
It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU WILL ATONE!
Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?
You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.
What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state — Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do.
We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or brutality — one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.
And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.
Beale: But why me?
Jensen: Because you’re on television, dummy. Sixty million people watch you every night of the week, Monday through Friday.
Beale: I have seen the face of God.
Jensen: You just might be right, Mr. Beale.