“Thin voices penetrated the dank rumble of the city, shouting ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!’ Then suddenly it began to gather, the edges of sounds and voices, until it all surged out in an indistinguishable roar of rage …”
Great stuff, don’t you think? Great writing. Dank rumble … edges of sounds and voices. The tympanum of the ear vibrates. As at the end of some mighty novel, we have a sense of the symbolic plane fully and finally accessed—of things being simultaneously what they are and more than they are. Here it comes, out of borderline scratchings of unease and preverbal dissent, streaming, converging: The Great Anger. The Day of the Boiled Frog. I wonder whether Paddy Chayefsky, drafting these lines into one version of the screenplay of Network, had that great-writer feeling—whether he felt, even momentarily, wintry and towering and Bellovian.
Probably not, is the answer I’m getting from Dave Itzkoff’s Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies. Chayefsky, in Itzkoff’s telling, was a battler, a scrapper, low to the ground. And in 1975, as he was getting Network together, he was 52 years old and suffering the routine mortifications of the writer in Hollywood. The head of script development at United Artists—which was supposed to be producing the movie—had pronounced Chayefsky’s screenplay “all madness and bullshit philosophy.” The studio had further proposed a series of changes (as Chayefsky wrote to his lawyer) “so amateurish and counter-productive they are hardly worth commenting on.” But, he added, “I maintained my temper.” Keeping a lid on it was important. To supervise the passage of Howard Beale, flipped-out oracular anchorman/everyman, from the cave of his imagination onto the big screens of America, Chayefsky (whose tantrums were famous) would have to be witheringly, pitilessly sane.