A newscaster, Howard Beale (Peter Finch) tells everyone on primetime news that he’s going to kill himself in a week. He’s fired but then immediately rehired because he sparks a spike in that stations ratings. Obviously suffering a mental breakdown, and slowly degenerating in cognition, the network execs see nothing but profits and give him his own show as a “present-day prophet” that becomes phenomenally successful. At the same time Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) uses everything in her power to take over the news department and make Beale’s program as profitable as possible. She’s kind of like a greedy villain you’d expect to have in Bugs Bunny cartoons with money signs in her animated eyes as she sets her sights on anything. That which doesn’t make her money gets kicked to the side. She’s a villain, but a very human and real one. And she also steals every scene she’s in, which you might think is hard to do with an off-their-rocker character like Howard Beale but they don’t ever actually share the screen together for some odd reason.
This movie is as slow-paced as you’d expect from a movie made in the 70s, but it’s a pacing that works for it, it creates this feeling of a slow-burn as the Howard Beale show grows into something off-the-wall. A news show marketed only for the entertainment value. And it shows that the execs of any corporation don’t care at all about the people working for them. All they care about is their own greed, and if you can’t feed that greed, they kick you to the curb. I really like Faye Dunaway in this movie because of that. She watches herself becoming the monster she is and tries to get the most human character in the movie, Max Schumacher (William Holden) to be with her and love her, if only to hold onto the last shred of her own humanity before she gives everything of herself for the television network she works for.
This movie is a work of art. It’s meta at points, dramatic in parts, kind of comedic throughout, and cynical as all hell but in a good way. It’s totally unique, though some might consider TV to be dying as a medium the essence of this story is timeless. It shows what happens when endless consumerism by the public is matched by corporate greed which doesn’t care about the people it tramples as it tries desperately to generate more money.
Truthfully, when I was first starting to go through this list I was hoping that every single entry would be just as powerful and poignant as this movie is. Of course then I saw that things like Avatar was on there and it was like, “oh, I guess not…” It’s like I said in an earlier article, that perfect movies are pretty rare. I mean, they aren’t completely uncommon and we maybe get one once a year if we’re lucky (sometimes more in particular good years). I think we’ll need a lot more years of movie history before we have 1,001 movies of them to fill up a list with.
I thought I’d talk about some of the qualities of what I think makes a movie perfect. For one, they are works of art, and as most works of art they are timeless. They can be watched from that point on you will be able to watch it and enjoy it. Even though this movie is about a medium which isn’t quite the powerhouse it once was, it tells a story of how unbiased expansionism can turn every person into a product, slavery in its own right.
Each scene in a perfect movie tells a story. You can experience just that scene, and you would get sense of the movie it’s from but also feel as if you’d experienced a story as a whole with a complete beginning, middle, and end just as that scene. Take any sequence in this movie, or Inglourious Basterds, or Back to the Future, and you would get this sense without having to watch any other scene in the film.
As a third thing, it’s something I said in a previous article, that it’s a “movie that’s interesting or entertaining throughout with no mistakes.” It’s a lot harder than it should be because making a movie is a group effort, no matter what it is. If everyone is on board with the project enough, whether because they believe in it that much, they’re being paid enough, or they’re just damn good at their job, and that somehow everyone involved, from the actors, directors, and producers, to the cinematographer, composer, and the editor, to the hairstylists and the props people, all collaborate and create what is a movie without any faults. Oh, you also need a good script. Can’t make a good movie with a bad script, that’s rule number 1.
There’s more than that, and some of it is on a movie-by-movie basis, but I would say those three qualities are shared by all movies I would consider perfect.
Why you should watch it before you die: There’s really nothing else quite like it.
10+: This movie is perfect, especially because of the hairstylings.