The Oscar Project
I have to apologize for being a little late with this week’s recap post. For anyone playing along at home, the Oscars were this past Sunday night so that was taking most of my attention. Fortunately, I had been able to get my viewing of this week’s film (Network) a little early so I’m only behind on doing this write-up.
As a reminder, the category this week was a Best Original Screenplay Winner. The assumption I made was that this was a winner at the Oscars, as there are other screenplay awards. If you’re still looking for a film to pick for this week, check this link of the Best Original Screenplay Winners from the Oscars.
Now, on to my thoughts about Network. This film is not for everyone. There is a certain sense of humor required to “get” a film like Network, and thankfully I have that sense of humor. As you’ll know if you’ve been following along with my challenge this year, all the films I’m watching are first time watches for me and Network was no exception. I have heard about and read about this film for years, and never made the time to sit down and watch it.
Things continue with Beale doing the news, eventually leading to his “mad as hell” tirade, before he is given a new show of his own where the mad as hell catchphrase becomes the mantra of Beale and his audience. Christensen begins a romance with Beale’s former boss Max Schumacher (William Holden) whose marriage suffers as a result. Schumacher is released from his duties at the station in favor of Christensen who continues pressing Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) for support. Ultimately, the ratings of Beale’s new show never see sustained success and the leadership decides once again to remove him from the air, permanently.
This is obviously a simplified overview of the plot of a film that has many moving pieces. There are elements of racial and class politics as undertones and a subplot of Schumacher’s affair with Christensen and how that destroys his family. After the initial action to set the plot in motion, Beale himself becomes almost like a background prop, something to be moved around from one place to another to advance the action. Indeed, Beale almost acts as an animal at times, and is thus treated as if he were nothing more than an animal. And **SPOILER ALERT** just like a dairy cow who has stopped giving milk, when Beale runs dry, he is shot down and killed live on air, giving one last bump in the ratings.
The film was obviously well received at the time. It did win four Academy Awards (from nine nominations) at the 49th Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Finch), Best Actress (Dunaway), and Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight as Schumacher’s wife). I can completely understand why it won for screenplay, as the script gives each member of an all-star cast at least one chance to shine. They all get monologues throughout the film, not least of which is Finch’s performance in the famous “mad as hell” scene. The only acting nominees from the film that did not win were for Ned Beatty as the UBS owner Arthur Jensen and for Holden who was nominated alongside Finch in the Best Actor category. I can understand Beatty not winning because while his monologue is just as impressive as the rest, it’s really his only major scene, while the rest of the winners appear throughout the film.
This is one of those films that I’ve always wanted to make time for and while it’s clearly not intended for all audiences, I think it’s absolutely fantastic. I can see why it appears on a number of top 100 lists of films including AFI’s 100 Greatest American Movies of all Time. If you haven’t seen this one before, do yourself a favor, watch it, and then get up, go to the window and yell “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this any more.”
After a few picks this so far that were a bit of a miss, I was so glad to watch The Dirty Dozen this week for the challenge. This was a movie that I have seen bits and pieces of over the years when it’s on TV, but I had never actually sat down and watched the whole thing beginning to end.
The story is that of a group of army prisoners in WWII that are hand picked for a mission behind enemy lines. They are to parachute into France just before D-Day and locate a chateau where many high-ranking German offices will be, and kill as many as possible. The film is littered with stars of the era including Lee Marvin as Major Reisman, the officer in charge of the operation, Ernest Borgnine as General Worden, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, and a very young-looking Donald Sutherland.
As with many films about a group of misfits that need to come together, the best part of the movie is the middle. Two other movies came to mind when thinking about this, Remember the Titans, and The Breakfast Club. Now, both of these might sound like silly comparisons to a WWII special ops movie made in the 1960s but hear me out. I’ll focus mostly on Titans but bring a few thoughts on The Breakfast Club as well.
The similarities between Titans and The Dirty Dozen are quite interesting when you break them down. The first act of both films really covers the set-up. In The Dirty Dozen, Major Reisman gets his orders from the general about the mission and goes to the military prison in London to pick up the “dozen.” They are salty and unsure about the assignment, but don’t really have a choice and go along. In Titans, the film starts with Yoast as the head coach, and covers a bit of the politics going on around the decision to have Boone take over the team.
The second act of both films is really the “training” section. Boone and his coaching staff put the team on busses to get them away from town and to the seclusion of a nearby college campus where they will conduct their summer training. Not surprisingly, the busses fill along racial lines before Boone orders everyone off the bus and reassigns them as an offence and defense, intentionally mixing things racially to start breaking down the barriers. Similarly, Dozen takes the prisoners to a remote clearing in the countryside, where they build their own encampment. Reisman tells them that they are all in it together and if any one of them fouls up or deserts, the entire squad will be sent back to prison to carry out their sentences.
In both films, the disparate groups initially scoff at the idea of getting to know their opposites, but slowly learn to trust one another. In Titans, there are scuffles between offense and defense at the camp, but soon enough the prejudices start to fade and black and white stand side by side, as long as they’re on the same side of the ball. Similarly, one of the first scuffles in Dozen occurs when Savalas’s asks if they have to eat alongside Brown’s character, using language any black man would find offensive. As the entire group fight over this, Reisman quietly leaves the room and tells the guards outside “Oh, the gentleman from the South had a question about the dining arrangements. He and his comrades are discussing place settings now.” Reisman knows that if they can come to some understanding amongst them, even through physical fighting, they will ultimately become stronger.
This is also something you see in The Breakfast Club, though without the racial undertones. Throughout the middle of the movie, the five detentionees fight about the stereotypes and preconceptions they each have about the others. It’s not until they start talking to each other, and more importantly, listening when others are talking, that they start to realize how much they have in common. While these five don’t have anything pushing them from the outside other than being in the same detention together, the result is the same and by the end of the film, they all seem to come out stronger, or at least more open to different viewpoints, than before.
For any of these three films, the middle section truly feels like the best part, but why is that? I think it’s because this is where we see the most character growth and that makes us as viewers feel like there is hope. If five high school kids can overcome their differences and learn about each other, the T. C. Williams football team can come together and successfully integrate to win a Championship, and a group of 12 condemned men can take out a Nazi stronghold in occupied France, then it should be easy for us to tackle whatever the day throws at us.
Granted, it’s never that easy, and these stories aren’t happy endings. The Breakfast Club kids make it out easiest, finishing their essay and heading home to think about what they learned during detention. In Remember the Titans, the film ends with a return to the funeral that opened it with the entire team mourning the loss of their friend and teammate Gerry Bertier. Yes, they won the championship, and gained lifelong friendships, but they lost their teammate and one of their best leaders.
The Dirty Dozen has the least happy ending of these three films, but then it is a war film after all so the stakes are much higher. The squad makes it to the chateau full of Germans, only losing one member during the parachute jump. Everything seems to be going well until Savalas’s character turns on Brown’s and alerts the Germans to their presence through the resulting gunfire. Ultimately, only Major Reisman and Joseph Wladislaw (Bronson) survive, accompanied by one of the guards, Sgt. Bowren (Richard Jaeckel). The rest of the squad is either killed by German gunfire or sacrifices themselves to complete the mission. They did go in knowing it was likely a suicide mission, but I was hopeful that a few more would survive.
James Cameron is an icon in the film industry, and this book covers his career in quite some detail, taking the reader movie by movie, with some sidebars into other projects.
Cameron might be best known for reinventing multiple genres across his 40-year career in films. Starting with The Terminator and his work on Aliens and T2: Judgement Day, and continuing through The Abyss and True Lies before shifting to drama with the smash hit Titanic Cameron has always found new ways to approach his subject matter. (affiliate links) “He doesn’t simply make films,” writes Nathan, “he invents the means to match his imagination.” And that imagination seems to know no bounds as his films have taken us to futuristic wastelands, deep sea stations, and of course to distant planets.
Nathan’s book (affiliate link) provides a wonderful companion for those looking to dive even deeper into the world of James Cameron and learn what makes this master tick as they patiently wait for his most anticipated film to arrive in theaters this December.
Check out my reviews of Cameron's movies below:
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?