Network is one of the best media films ever made. Of a sharp and steep humour, the film could not be more timely: a TV network that will, quite literally, do anything to get an audience. The anything is the exploiting of the fall, rise and fall, and the insanity of Howard Beale (Peter Finch), a long-time, old-time news anchorman who is about to get the heave. It states so accurately that all the maneuvers made in the television executive suites are all about making money, while old-fashioned, scrupulous newsmen like Max Schumacher (William Holden) are left out and let go eventually. The entire cast is superb, and Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch and Beatrice Straight all deservedly won an Oscar for their roles, the latter for a performance of only a little over five minutes, the shortest performance to have ever won an Academy Award for acting. Network (1976) was directed by Sidney Lumet, known for the social realism in many of his movies, and written by acclaimed Paddy Chayefsky, who was also awarded an Oscar.
“Does Faye Dunaway really have the skirt taken in in sixteen different places?” reads the chapter on art direction and clothes in Sidney Lumet’s book, Making Movies. “The answer is yes,” he writes. “And she’s right. Nothing can make actors feel more comfortable or uncomfortable than the clothes their characters are wearing. Aside from comfort, however, clothes contribute an enormous amount to the style of the picture.”
Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), is a television executive of cunning ambition and lack of feeling, who lives for her career. Faye is so good and so believable in her role, which may be her best. The 70’s working-woman costumes, designed by Theoni V. Aldridge, fit her character like a glove. Clothing was becoming very deconstructed and fluid after the mid-1970s, and the colour palette of Diana’s wardrobe was typical for the decade’s fashions, too: beautiful browns, creams and whites, with a few accents of colour, like burgundy or green, here and there.
Classic camel coat, knee-high camel boots, plain crewneck, turtleneck or shawl-collar sweaters, pussy bow silk blouses (very Yves Saint Laurent), right-below-the-knee pleated or straight-cut skirts, T-strap shoes: these are all part of Diana’s work-wear wardrobe and, in fact, we don’t get to see her wearing any other kind of clothes much (except for a bathrobe, a white gown and a single more casual outfit, composed of white trousers and light yellow t-shirt), which is another way to tell us that even her clothes serve her professional purpose, which is all she is about. In his book, Sidney Lumet recalled his meeting with Faye before she accepted the role: “Crossing the floor of her apartment, before I’d even reached her, I said, ‘I know the first thing you’re going to ask me: Where’s her vulnerability? Don’t ask it. She has none.’ Faye looked shocked. ‘Furthermore, if you try to sneak it in, I’ll get rid of it in the cutting room, so it’ll be wasted effort.’ She paused just a second, then burst out laughing. Ten minutes later I was begging her to do the part. She said yes. She never tried to get sentimental in the part, and she took home an Academy Award.” Faye Dunaway blazes the screen with fire and no sentimentality.
Almost every outfit is accented with a wide leather belt in a shade of brown, marking the waist.
A sleek, 1920s style bias cut white silk evening dress, with deep V neck and back, recalling to mind a Madeleine Vionnet gown,
as the designer was the one who introduced the bias cut to the fashion world in the ’20s.
Photos: stills from the film, Classiq Journal. Credit: MGM, United Artists