Movies about TV. The big screen takes on all of the problems and foibles of the small screen…seems fair, since I did three posts about the best movies about movies. Let’s look at the best movies that celebrate – and analyze – the world of TV!
Manhattan – 1979. Woody Allen’s brilliant love letter to Manhattan, and it’s on this list because he works in Television!
Woody Allen plays Isaac Davis, the 42-year old Creator of a smash hit TV show, who is having a love affair with Tracy, 17. Tracy is played by Mariel Hemingway.
As Isaac says: “She’s 17. I’m 42 and she’s 17. I’m older than her father, can you believe that? I’m dating a girl, wherein, I can beat up her father.”
Isaac created a huge TV hit, but he hates what TV is all about: fake emotions, fake laughs, fake everything…
Isaac Davis: “This is so antiseptic. It’s empty. Why do you think this is funny? You’re going by audience reaction? This is an audience that’s raised on television, their standards have been systematically lowered over the years. These guys sit in front of their sets and the gamma rays eat the white cells of their brains out!”
So, he quits. And immediately regrets it, as he isn’t financially stable enough to handle unemployment. At the same time, Isaac meets Mary, the mistress of his best friend Yale. Mary is played by Diane Keaton. This is their reunion film after 1977’s “Annie Hall”, which won Best Picture, Director, and Best Actress for Keaton.
This film is so beautifully written, so lovingly directed, and so well acted, that you overlook the love affair between Allen and Hemingway, which is difficult given Woody’s ultimate involvement with a much younger woman in real life. As always, the one liners are priceless, such as when Isaac is making small talk at a party.
Party Guest: I finally had an orgasm, and my doctor said it was the wrong kind.
Isaac Davis: You had the wrong kind? I’ve never had the wrong kind, ever. My worst one was right on the money.
Ultimately, “Manhattan” is a film about longing, about lost love, and about finding happiness in life. And it takes place around the world of TV. For Isaac, it is all summed up here, as he laments the loss of Tracy:
Isaac Davis: “Why is life worth living? It’s a very good question. Um… Well, There are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. uh… Like what… okay… um… For me, uh… ooh… I would say… what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing… uh… um… and Wilie Mays… and um… the 2nd movement of the Jupiter Symphony… and um… Louis Armstrong, recording of Potato Head Blues… um… Swedish movies, naturally… Sentimental Education by Flaubert… uh… Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra… um… those incredible Apples and Pears by Cezanne… uh… the crabs at Sam Wo’s… uh… Tracy’s face…”
A brilliant film that touches upon the world of TV just enough to qualify for this list!
My Favorite Year – 1982. A hilarious love letter to the early days of live TV, with an Oscar-nominated performance by Peter O’Toole that showcased his amazing flair for comedy.
Here is the IMDB synopsis: Benjy Stone is the junior writer on the top rated, live weekly variety/comedy show, in the mid 50s. Alan Swann, an Errol Flynn type actor with a drinking problem is to be that weeks guest star. When King Kaiser, the headliner wants to throw Swann off the show, Benjy makes a pitch to save his childhood hero, and is made Swann’s babysitter.
Actor Richard Benjamin directed this film, which is hilarious, poignant and fast-paced. There are so many great Actors in this movie, from Mark Linn-Baker to Jessica Harper, Bill Macy to Joseph Bologna – and they are all terrific! But this is O’Toole’s movie, and he owns every frame of it as the swashbuckling drunk…such as when he shows up to the first writer’s meeting:
[an obviously drunken Swann meets the writing staff]
Sy: He’s plastered!
Alan Swann: So are some of the finest erections in Europe.
Then again, when he enters the women’s bathroom by mistake, and runs into Wardrobe Designer Lil:
Lil: This is for ladies only!
Alan Swann: [unzipping fly] So is *this*, ma’am, but every now and then I have to run a little water through it.
And finally, after he finds out the show is live, he panics and flees, and you find out he has been fleeing from everything in his life, including his daughter. He shares those fears with the young writer Benjy Stone…
Alan Swann: I’m afraid, Stone. I’m afraid. That’s why I couldn’t get out of the car to see my Tess, my child.
Benjy Stone: Alan Swann, afraid? The Defender of the Crown? Captain from Tortuga? The Last Knight of the Round Table?
Alan Swann: Those are movies, damn you! Look at me! I’m flesh and blood, life-size, no larger! I’m not that silly God-damned hero! I never was!
Benjy Stone: To *me* you were! Whoever you were in those movies, those silly goddamn heroes meant a lot to *me*! What does it matter if it was an illusion? It worked! So don’t tell me this is you life-size. I can’t use you life-size. I need Alan Swanns as big as I can get them! And let me tell you something: you couldn’t have convinced me the way you did unless somewhere in you you *had* that courage! Nobody’s that good an actor! You *are* that silly goddamn hero!
If you have never seen this film you must stop reading right now and go get it. Or, do what we do and watch it every six months to remind you of why you love movies…
Tootsie – 1982. An unemployed actor with a reputation for being difficult disguises himself as a woman to get a role in a soap opera.
From that simple description comes one of the best movies ever made – a brilliant comedy that looks at social issues, female empowerment, and of course, how tough it is to get a job as an Actor.
Dustin Hoffman is Michael Dorsey, and intense Actor who pretends to be a woman to get a job on a daytime soap. From there it spirals out of control in all the best ways, and Dustin Hoffman turns in another brilliant performance as an Actor who just wants to ACT. He shares an apartment with Jeff, a playwright with some unique views on theater…Jeff is played beautifully by Bill Murray, who didn’t take a credit in the film because he didn’t want people to think it was just another of his populist comedies of the time:
Jeff: “I don’t like it when people come up to me after my plays and say, “I really dug your message, man.” Or, “I really dug your play, man, I cried.” You know. I like it when people come up to me the next day, or a week later, and they say, “I saw your play. What happened?”
Michael can’t get work, and he demands to know why from his Agent, George Fields. Fields is portrayed by “Tootsie” Director Sydney Pollack.
Michael Dorsey: Are you saying that nobody in New York will work with me?
George Fields: No, no, that’s too limited… nobody in Hollywood wants to work with you either. I can’t even set you up for a commercial. You played a *tomato* for 30 seconds – they went a half a day over schedule because you wouldn’t sit down.
Michael Dorsey: Of course. It was illogical.
George Fields: YOU WERE A TOMATO. A tomato doesn’t have logic. A tomato can’t move.
Michael Dorsey: That’s what I said. So if he can’t move, how’s he gonna sit down, George? I was a stand-up tomato: a juicy, sexy, beefsteak tomato. Nobody does vegetables like me. I did an evening of vegetables off-Broadway. I did the best tomato, the best cucumber… I did an endive salad that knocked the critics on their ass!
A terrific movie about the world of daytime TV, and the plight of the working Actor, this movie is a classic!
Broadcast News – 1987. Take two rival TV reporters: one handsome, one talented, both male. Add one producer, female. Mix well and watch the sparks fly.
I’ve written about this movie before: James L. Brooks captured the world of network TV News – caught in a changing world where the presentation was more important that the information.
Holly Hunter is Jane Craig, a Producer who believes in the sanctity of news. Albert Brooks is News Correspondent Aaron Altman, who hates watching “pretty faces” coming into the business. William Hurt is Tom Grunick, the “pretty face” who comes in. After Holly falls for Tom, Albert puts it all on the line:
Aaron Altman: I know you care about him. I’ve never seen you like this about anyone, so please don’t take it wrong when I tell you that I believe that Tom, while a very nice guy, is the Devil.
Jane Craig: This isn’t friendship.
Aaron Altman: What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I’m semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing… he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance… Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he’ll get all the great women.
There is so much to love here: a love triangle, a serious look at the upheaval in network news, and terrific acting, directing and writing across the board.
There is a classic scene where Altman begs to host the weekend news to show everyone that he could do it, but it goes spectacularly wrong.
Albert Brooks revealed that when he first read the script, the scene where Aaron does a weekend broadcast simply noted “Something bad happens to Aaron on the air.” Albert was watching CNN when a reporter he’d never seen before (and hasn’t seen since) began sweating badly. Albert phoned writer/director James L. Brooks at three in the morning and stated that Aaron HAD to start sweating profusely.
A great movie that looked into the future of network news – a future that became a reality.
Network – 1976. and now one of the greatest films ever made – and talk about looking into the future of TV!
A TV network cynically exploits a deranged ex-TV anchor’s ravings and revelations about the media for their own profit.
Here are the opening lines of the movie
Narrator: “This story is about Howard Beale, who was the news anchorman on UBS TV. In his time, Howard Beale had been a mandarin of television, the grand old man of news, with a HUT rating of 16 and a 28 audience share. In 1969, however, his fortunes began to decline. He fell to a 22 share. The following year, his wife died, and he was left a childless widower with an 8 rating and a 12 share. He became morose and isolated, began to drink heavily, and on September 22, 1975, he was fired, effective in two weeks. The news was broken to him by Max Schumacher, who was the president of the news division at UBS. The two old friends got properly pissed.”
This is a brilliant dissection of a business just waiting to be perverted by greed, money – and ratings.
The movie won a slew of Oscars in 1976, including Best Actor Peter Finch – his nomination and award were posthumous. Finch became the first posthumous winner in an acting category. Best Actress Faye Dunaway. Best Actress in a Supporting Role Beatrice Straight. Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen Paddy Chayefsky.
“Network” lost Best Picture to “Rocky”, but both films have gone on to become classics in their own way. In “Network”, the News Anchor about to lose his job for poor ratings decides to tell it like it is, and in the process plugs into the mood of the nation:
Howard Beale: “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to 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!’ I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
One of the most brilliant monologues ever delivered in a movie. There is so much to talk about here, but the cast, direction and script are simply perfect.
Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy – 2004. Ron Burgundy is San Diego’s top rated newsman in the male dominated broadcasting of the 1970’s, but that’s all about to change when a new female employee with ambition to burn arrives in his office.
First of all, look at this cast: Will Farrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd and Steve Carell – in a classic look at the petty, small-time world of local news.
The film opens with this voice over: “There was a time, a time before cable. When the local anchorman reigned supreme. When people believed everything they heard on TV. This was an age when only men were allowed to read the news. And in San Diego, one anchorman was more man then the rest. His name was Ron Burgundy. He was like a god walking amongst mere mortals. He had a voice that could make a wolverine purr and suits so fine they made Sinatra look like a hobo. In other words, Ron Burgundy was the balls.”
And look at Burgundy’s co-workers:
Brick Tamland: “I’m Brick Tamland. People seem to like me because I am polite and I am rarely late. I like to eat ice cream and I really enjoy a nice pair of slacks. Years later, a doctor will tell me that I have an I.Q. of 48 and am what some people call mentally retarded. ”
Brian Fantana: “People call me the Bry man; I’m the stylish one of the group. I know what you’re asking yourself and the answer is yes. I have a nick name for my penis. Its called the Octagon, but I also nick named my testes – my left one is James Westfall and my right one is Doctor Kenneth Noisewater. You ladies play your cards right you just might get to meet the whole gang.”
This is a hilarious look at local news, and one of Will Ferrell’s best performances ever. Let me know what you think!