My thoughts on William Holden in NETWORK (1976)

This week’s guest blogger is Dominique Lessing from the blog, Miss Classic Film.

Holden_NetworkUBSIt’s very special to be able to relieve a moment where an artist and in this case an actor and a piece of written material fuse together at the perfect moment in time to create a monumental moment on screen. This is what magically happened to William Holden in the year of 1976. It seems fitting that as we celebrate his centennial this year, that we acknowledge the timing of his life and artistry during this period in his career.

When Holden received the script of NETWORK by Patty Chayefsky he was in the prime of his fifties. Only at that time in his life could he have played news division president, Max Schumacher who had been through all the ropes professionally and personally, and still was finding himself grappling with possessing real meaning in his life. With an illustrious career behind him Holden brought all his wisdom, truth, and compassion to the part which he never could have done if he had taken this role in his twenties or thirties.

As I watched this film for the twentieth time for his centennial what drew me in to his character was his loyalty and truth. Now, I know what you are thinking, this is a film about fabrications, deceit, phoniness, and ego, how could I see such admirable qualities in NETWORK but Holden gives it to us in all his complexities and rawness. Right from the beginning of the picture when he witnesses his friend news anchor, Howard Beal get slashed and made into a spectacle on live television, again and again, it’s Holden who stands up and lets him even stay at his apartment to avoid the media frenzy. We quickly see that he is the only one at the station or in what it seems all of New York City who remotely cares about what happens to Beal. I also know what you’re going to tell me next, he may have been a good friend to Beal but he certainly wasn’t a good husband, let’s not forget his stint of running off with Faye Dunaway for months while all the television studio chaos is going on… Yes, this is true but Holden speaks his truth. He does.

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Whether you want to call it a midlife crisis or an act of betrayal in his marriage, what is certain and what we see is a character who doesn’t let his desires cloud his need to live in an honest way. When he goes off to live with the Faye Dunaway he knows in his heart it is the truthful thing to do. Holden then in the end leaves Dunaway because he cannot keep living dishonestly to himself because he knows that she doesn’t know how to love him or want to. Yes, this is what in the end makes him such a great character in Network, and why it is one of Holden’s films. He gives a man who is grappling with how does one be authentic when everything surrounding him has become a freak show of fabrication to gain attention and wealth.

I believe more than ever that we all need William Holden today because as our media society becomes closer and closer to the world of NETWORK, seeing a man like him who makes us think about how we are behaving and with what values is immensely important. I am forever grateful for this film and for this man, William Holden for giving us such a character depicted on screen.

Many thanks to Dominique for taking part in Holden100. Follow her on Twitter here.

For more of Holden100, click here.

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