Monday, October 12, 2015

1976: Faye Dunaway for Network

In this brilliant satire, Dunaway plays Diana Christensen, who is in charge of programming for a TV network. When an old news anchor announces he's going to kill himself on live television because he's being forced to retire, most of the big shots want to get rid of him, but Diana has the idea to give him his own segment where he's allowed to rant and rave about whatever he wants, which turns out to be mostly about how everyone is spending too much time focused on TV rather than real life. Diana is included in this, as evidenced by her failed attempt at a relationship with an older man.

I had seen this once before several years ago, but I mostly just remembered Peter Finch yelling, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" The main thing I could recall about Faye Dunaway from watching it before was that she very noticeably never wore a bra. So I'm glad I watched it again focusing on her performance because there are many more noteworthy aspects than what she was - or wasn't - wearing.

To make satire work in film, the writing has to be kind of ridiculous, but the actors have to sell it. Early in the film, I felt like Dunaway was kind of overselling it, just a bit, but after the first couple of scenes she started nailing it every time. Probably the best example is her sex scene with William Holden. Throughout their entire encounter she rambles on and on about her job and the network, barely even noticing that Holden is there. It's an unusual scene, and she pulls it off brilliantly. It doesn't seem forced; this is just the way her character interacts with people. She has several other scenes like this, where she has to casually show that watching and working for TV has made her extremely callous, that she also does very well. I'd think it would be hard to keep from laughing in some scenes, given how witty the writing is, but her character is never allowed to notice any of the irony or ridiculousness of her situations, so she has to keep a straight face. She does that very well, too. Again, a couple of her scenes early in the movie are a little over-done, but other than that it's a solid performance, in a film full of solid performances.

This movie was nominated for five acting Oscars, and won a record-tying three. Peter Finch became the first actor to win an Oscar posthumously for playing the old, exploited news anchor, and Beatrice Straight gave the shortest ever Oscar winning performance, thoroughly earning Best Supporting Actress with only 5 minutes and 40 seconds of screen time. The film also very deservedly won Best Original Screenplay. I definitely did not fully appreciate the satire the first time I watched this movie, so I'm very glad I had an excuse to watch it again.

This was Faye Dunaway's third and final Oscar nomination, at least so far. She was previously nominated for 1967's Bonnie and Clyde and 1974's Chinatown. She hasn't been in too many movies lately, but as far as I know she hasn't officially retired, so she could still be nominated again.

Coming up next: Diane Keaton, in the sixth Best Picture winner to feature a Best Actress winning performance

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