Paddy Chayefsky’s time travel: Has there ever been a movie like Network?
If memory serves, and we’re not sure it does, we were pretty much left cold by the film in real time.
Simply put, TV news wasn’t anything like that when Network appeared in 1976. If memory serves, the film struck us as weirdly over-the-top, a satire with nothing to satirize.
By now, the film has become a monument to time travel, to an astonishing feat of clairvoyance. Somehow, Paddy Chayefsky peered into the future with stunning accuracy.
The last time we watched Network, we were struck by the “Sybil the Soothsayer” character, one of the various gong-show pundits invented for the crackpot Howard Beale Show.
Good God, but Chayefsky called that shot! Starting in 1999, Chris Matthews regularly used a body language expert to soothsay the innards of various politicians, especially those he wanted to slime.
A few years later, Bill O’Reilly introduced a similar segment with a different body language seer. It ran on his program for years.
The body language segments were plainly absurd on their face. They ran on these two programs for years, without a single word of comment from the nation’s “press critics.”
In yesterday’s Washington Post, Abby McGanney Nolan reviewed Dave Itzkoff’s new book about the making of Network. Meanwhile, at the New York Times, Maureen Dowd was embodying another of the Beale Show’s lunatic segments, “Miss Mata Hari and her skeletons in the closet.”
How in the world did Paddy Chayefsky know that Dowd, an unmistakable crackpot, would be coming along? Yesterday, the New York Times gave her skeleton hunt prime exposure.
Pitifully, her column appeared on the front page of the Sunday Review:
DOWD (3/2/14): [A]s the Clinton library tardily disgorged 3,546 pages of official papers Friday—dredging up memories of a presidency that was eight years of turbulence held steady by a roaring economy and an incompetent opposition, a reign roiled by Hillarycare, Vince Foster, Whitewater, Webb Hubbell, Travelgate, Monica, impeachment, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Marc Rich—the looming prospect of another Clinton-Bush race makes us feel fatigued.Crowley beat Dowd to The Crazy this time, so she was careful to quote him. As Dowd obsesses about the standard list of misreported, very old stories, Crowley complains about the prospect of obsessing for ten more years.
Our meritocratic society seems increasingly nepotistic and dynastic. There was a Bush or a Clinton in the White House and cabinet for 32 years straight. We’re Bill Murray stuck at 6 a.m. in Harold Ramis’s comic masterpiece, “Groundhog Day.” As Time’s Michael Crowley tweeted on Friday, “Who else is looking forward to potentially TEN more years of obsessing about Hillary Clinton’s past, present and future?”
The new cache of Clinton papers is benign—the press seems more enamored of speechwriters’ doodles than substance—but just reading through them is draining.
Dowd finds these tired old stories draining, but she can’t stop obsessing. Nor does she have a single word of interest about what any of this might mean.
(By the way, which version of “us” is feeling fatigued by the prospect Dowd imagines? For better or worse, surveys show that Democratic voters are eager to have Clinton run.)
Let’s turn to those skeletons, the ones which have Dowd feeling drained and fatigued:
People like Dowd will never tire of typing the words “Vince Foster” and “Travelgate.” They seem to think these words mean something all by themselves.
“Whitewater” began with a series of bungled reports on the front pages of Dowd’s New York Times. But her obsession makes her keep typing that too, draining though she finds it.
As far as we know, no one ever said a word about the lunatic body language segments which were invented by Matthews, then adopted by O’Reilly. Virtually no one has ever mentioned Dowd’s obvious emotional problems, for which she should gotten help a long time ago.
Somehow, Paddy Chayefsky saw it coming! But people who work within the guild knew the powerful rules of the game. They weren’t allowed to see these things even after they had appeared!
In the amazing, clairvoyant film Network, “Celebrity Mah-Jongg” was one of the programs the Faye Dunaway character had in development.
Nothing much like that was on the air then. Is anything else out there now?