Sidney Lumet has directed more than forty films, including such American classics as the backroom courtroom drama 12 Angry Men (1957), the chilling nuclear-war thriller Fail-Safe (1964) and the bankrobbing-gone-wrong docudrama Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Perhaps none struck a bigger chord than 1976’s Network, the story of a TV station that scores a ratings coup by sensationalizing its news program. With a deluxe edition now on DVD, the Hollywood legend discusses its relevance today.
What was the reaction to Network in 1976?
We previewed it, and at the end of the “I’m mad as hell!” sequence, the audience burst into applause. Everyone kept saying, “What a brilliant satire!” But I came from television and kept saying, “It’s pure reportage.” Even then, news was treated as entertainment. The only thing that hadn’t happened was somebody being shot on-air.
What about news-as-entertainment drove you nuts?
What drove me up the fucking wall was to end on an upbeat story. That’s where the puppy dog came in.
Did any real journalists weigh in with their opinions?
On network news, those were still the days of John Chancellor and Walter Cronkite, and they couldn’t have been more admiring [of the film]. And almost every female correspondent was claiming she was the inspiration for Faye Dunaway’s character — that she was an unmitigated, wild bitch was beside the point.
What do you think of reality TV?
Reality television is such an oxymoron: As soon as you put a camera there, that’s still reality? What the fuck?
You’re known for grueling rehearsals. How did they go?
The process was devoted to high comedy, making it look real but taking it just a slight inch past reality. Like when Robert Duvall’s character says, “I got me a big fat-titted hit” — a great line.
Do you think any of your movies are flawless?
I don’t look at my movies. It’s painful because all you see are your fuck-ups.