Daniel D'Addario of Salon reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
Usually, wanting to put down your book and watch a movie is a sign of boredom, but in the case of Dave Itzkoff's "Mad as Hell," it's a high compliment. I found myself wanting, several times a chapter, to stop my reading in order to tune into the movie classic "Network," to see just how well it holds up.
Itzkoff, a reporter for the New York Times, makes the case that "Network," the 1976 film directed by Sidney Lumet, is the masterpiece of Paddy Chayefsky, the prickly screenwriter who'd previously won Oscars for "Marty" and "The Hospital."
Chayefsky's anxieties over the state of the mass media, expressed through the complicated story of a suicidal news anchor and the executive who exploits him for ratings, has been wildly misinterpreted through the years, but Itzkoff argues that it's the story of how news became entertainment, bringing in a variety of modern-day news stars like Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck to help make the case.
But where "Network" shines isn't in its media criticism, but in its inside story of '70s Hollywood. Tempestuous stars Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch, both of whom won Oscars for their performances, emerge as truly compelling characters, and Finch's death shortly after the movie's release feels like a tragedy.
But it's Chayefsky who is the book's true star, a man probably best remembered for criticizing Vanessa Redgrave's anti-Zionist Oscar speech who ought to be remembered for his exacting, sometimes difficult standards and his prescient analysis of how news was set to change. Readers won't be blamed for wanting to evaluate "Network" as they're reading, and with the knowledge Itzkoff provides of its production and its mixed reception, the film will look more intriguing than ever.
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