Few popular films have gripped the public and captured a moment as well as Sidney Lumet’s spooky Network, where Faye Dunaway, William Holden and Peter Finch allow an intimate look at the network news machine circa 1976. (Network‘s funnier but equally grim cousin, Broadcast News, makes for a good double feature.) The Paddy Chayefsky-penned Network hit hard and close when it was released and like all great art it still shows us our current world. The tools of the trade have changed (to Twitter et al), but the game is the same. Corporate media smelling profit in blood and sensationalism, and having little shame in exploitation.
One alleged inspiration for Finch’s famously “as mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore” anchor, Howard Beale, was a woman named Christine Chubbuck. Chubbuck, a Florida newscaster, shot and killed herself on air in 1974, while the film was being written. Chubbuck’s story is the subject of two films at Sundance this year, “Christine” (starring Rebecca Hall) and “Kate Plays Christine” (starring Kate Lyn Sheil). They take different approaches to exploring the human tragedy of the 29-year-old Chubbuck’s suicide, and what it said then (and still says now) about the public’s insatiable desire for titillation and gore — and the profitable suppliers of that demand. And as they must, the films also explore Chubbuck’s personal suffering: not just her anger but her depression and its tragic consequences.