Network is a striking film in many ways, not least of which because of the dynamic way it is filmed. The filmmaking matches the intensity, almost comically dramatic. One of the most famous scenes is Howard Beale’s “I’m as mad as hell” speech which sets off his short-lived prophet career.
After Beale announces, on-air and much to the surprise of his producers, that he will commit suicide during the following week’s broadcast, he is fired. His friend and head of the news department, Max Schumacher, arranges for him to have a dignified good-bye on-air, but Howard uses the air time to rant. People tune in, which increases the news department’s otherwise dismal ratings and the executives decide to put Howard back on air. His “mad as hell” speech takes place here. The speech has the effect of invigorating his audience, catapulting Beale to prophet status.
The scene takes place on a dark and stormy night. Beale comes in to do his broadcast seconds before he is scheduled to be on air, leaving no time for hair or makeup, or even to dry from the rain. He looks ragged, and is acting slightly frenetic.
The crew is tensely gathered behind the cameras. Some are worried and some are hoping that he will go off the rails again and continue to improve their ratings. We see the two-camera view, leading the audience to experience him as the crew does. This helps increase the tension. He begins, “I don’t have to tell you things are bad, you know things are bad. It’s a depression” He immediately jumps into a diatribe about the woeful state of the nation, about the bad economy and rampant crime.
We then see him as though we were standing behind the camera, looking at the man. Again, this allows us to relate to the tension that the crew must be feeling.
As he documents terrible things that are happening, the camera zooms in, mimicking the increasing attention of everyone looking at him. What he is saying resonates; he is saying things we are all thinking. And there’s something about the clocks and the red and black phones in the background, which would be innocuous in any other news set, which lends to the air of intensity in the scene. The camera continues to close in on Beale.
Here, Howard is telling people that he wants them to get mad. When he says this, we cut to Diana Christensen, who pushed to put Beale back on air. She is an interesting, cutthroat kind of a character. She doesn’t give a damn about Beale or his mental state, except for how they might jump-start their ratings. When he barks, “I want you to get mad!” Christensen looks on, positively gleeful.
Now he gets real prophetic on us. He stands, raises his arms, and says, “So, I want you go get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’” The imagery is practically biblical, his message affecting his physical movement with the idea of his viewers following him.
He continues his instructions and abruptly moves out from behind his desk. The crew frantically gives instructions for the camera to follow him, and they scramble out of his way. This is interesting because in some way, it’s breaking the third wall. If we, as viewers, are supposed to identify with the crew as we watched, then he is now coming into our space. It’s both invasive and invigorating.
Now we move to a living room, specifically Max Schumacher’s living room. He is watching Beale’s speech with his wife and daughter. The shot of Beale through the television gives us a chance to see him not as the cast does, but as the thousands of viewers watching him do.
Schumacher’s daughter looks out the window to find people standing outside or sticking their heads out the window and yelling. Dozens of people yelling, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” It is still storming as we saw at the beginning of the scene, and the effect is dramatic.
It’s the moment when Beale-mania takes over the public, which drives the rest of the film. The scene is intense and dramatic, particularly because the camera invites us to identify not with Beale, as we never see anything from his own point of view, but with the crew and audience as they watch him. We, too, are expected to declare that we’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore.