Archives de Catégorie: Film review

To die for

Written by: Joyce Maynard and Henry Buck
Directed by: Gus Van Sant

Nicole Kidman

Deliciously wicked. Recounting the story of Suzanne Jones Maretto, a shallow and crazy small-town girl haunted with fame, To Die For offers an exquisite and vitriolic vision of the deleterious effects of television, and its culture of instant celebrity. Suzanne’s ridiculous but persevering quest for stardom not only reflects the fulsome narcissism of a unique character amazingly played by Nicole Kidman, but also accurately deciphers the inherent problems of the medium of television.

In the locality of Little Hope, New Hampshire, the newlywed and oh-so photogenic Suzanne Stone Maretto struggles to reach fame. Since her childhood, her one and unique goal is to be on TV. And in order to fulfill her fantasy, she’ll do anything, from cheating on her husband during their honeymoon, to influencing a ductile youngster into killing him. No matter how futile the position, if on television, she’s willing. “I would do anything to get that job, anything”, she suggests to her Ed Grant, her interviewer and future boss at the insignificant local cable station where she finally gets hired.

Even though genuinely dotty a persona, Suzanne Stone Maretto well incarnates a generation of individuals that grew up swimming in television culture. The first piece of evidence of that matter is her obsession with physical appearance. When Suzanne first meets her sister-in-law Janice Maretto, she means to suggest that she should resort to plastic surgery if she wants to have the slightest chance to succeed as a figure skater. As a TV’s children, image is essential to her: Her array is always impeccable, and she feels alien to people who don’t pay attention to their look. “You know Mr. Gorbachev, the guy that ran Russia for so long? I am a firm believer that he would still be in power today if he had had that ugly purple thing taken off his head”, she earnestly asserts.

But even more meaningful than her fixation on handsomeness is her faith in television as a value-giver. To Suzanne, the mere fact of being on TV is a sign of worth. That’s why she constantly picks in the world of television to take decisions in her own life, from what meal to prepare for her guests to what name to give to her beloved dog. The ludicrousness of her mimetic taste somehow illustrates the quasi-religious status that television has acceded since its inception. “You’re not anybody in America unless you’re on TV. On TV is where we learn about who we really are”, she affirms. And there, she has a point: Many people take what’s on television for gospel, hence the dangerousness of such a powerful and all-encompassing medium.

Even her desperate will to be on TV is pretty much a good depiction of a society in hunger for recognition and fame. When traipsing in a wasteland with her friends, Lydia Mertz, one of the three youngsters that Suzanne manipulates into getting rid of her husband, notes: “Just to be on TV would be something nice, and something different”.

To Die For certainly is not a movie about TV journalism. It is however a powerful, shocking and amusing media satire, for television is shown in it as both manipulative and dangerous. That Joe Maretto, Larry’s father, reacts to his son’s death by destroying his television set with a baseball bat is not an accident. On the contrary, it is a highly symbolic gesture that captures the whole movie’s spirit. Framed as a pseudo-documentary within a pseudo-documentary, this movie clearly aims at bringing the viewer to reflect upon the way one receives information when it comes out of a television set. And it does, leaving a bittersweet taste in the mouth.



Affiche du Film
Written by: Paddy Chayefsky
Directed by: Sidney Lumet

Mad, hysterical, despicable, totally unrealistic and yet astute. Trying to qualify Network in a nutshell is a hard endeavor. The difficulty is to reflect with soundness its ambiguities. How can one possibly explain that this movie is at the same time fascinating and exasperating? How can one possibly decipher the fact that Network is at some points excruciating to watch, very often lousily shot, undoubtedly too long a movie, and yet remains a must see? Well, in fact, it might be as simple as that: because it outrageously distorts the perceived reality of the television industry, this satire efficiently brings its viewers to some sort of objective reality about it.

With this incongruous and exaggerated lampoon of the television industry, the script-writer Paddy Chayefsky leaves the viewer with both an acrid taste in his mouth, and an interesting idea of the gears that could lead television to run amok. A very pessimistic idea obviously. To be sure, there is no way one would switch on his TV set after watching this movie, for television is depicted in it as a lawless economic machine in avid pursuit of good ratings.

After 15 years serving as the UBS network star anchorman, Howard Beale, “the mandarin of television”, is fired because of poor ratings. Having nothing in his life but his career, he then resolves to commit suicide on air, and publicly declares his deadly intention. The producers therefore decide to immediately throw him out of the network, afraid that this “grotesque incident” might have a negative impact on the network’s share of audience. They nevertheless let him come back on air for a respectable farewell. But instead of apologizing for his vulgar attitude, Howard Beale starts babbling about the “bullshit” of life. And directly following his rant, the ratings of his show soar. The producers hence bring him back as a commentator. This is the start of a dizzy fall of ethics at the network. This is the start of “the story of Howard Beale, the man killed because he had lousy ratings”.

In this movie, Diana Christensen, the attractive and careerist woman in charge of programming well incarnates the economically driven world of television. “I want angry shows”, she says without any shame, whether it is authentic footage of terrorist attacks or the delirium of a man who “articulate(s) th(e) rage (of the Americans) for them”. If good ratings impose brainwashing or propaganda of some sort, it is no problem for Diana. There is no doubt her character is way too caricatured. However, her position reflects a trend that has become prominent in the TV industry. “TV (indeed) is show biz”, and her obsession with audience is far from being a fantasy of the screenwriter. Even news is now polluted by the need to meet a certain reach. “Television is not the truth… Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers, and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business », rightly asserts Beale in an impulse of lucidity.

In this film, the depiction of TV as THE mass medium par excellence is oh-so-relevant. There is nothing better for preaching the gospel than somebody prime time on television, as the many and tangled characters of Network have well understood. Why is Howard Beale, the « mad Prophet of the Airwaves » so important? Precisely because he’s on air, and by being on air, he can draw millions of people to get to their windows and shout : “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”.

Some people would describe Network as a dark comedy. I wouldn’t. Network certainly has some amusing moments. However, if it had to be qualified, appalling would be the right adjective. It indeed forces its viewers to face a troublesome reality : even in its most grotesque scenes, Network is, somehow, a pretty exact and bewildering reflection of the television industry.