Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies, by Dave Itzkoff (Times Books, 304 pp., $27)
In this authoritative telling of the making of Sidney Lumet’s widely admired 1976 film Network, Dave Itzkoff leaves no stone unturned. Included are endlessly detailed accounts of every stage of the inception, production, and exploitation of the tale of schizoid television newsman Howard Beale and the forces in the media who stand to benefit from his sickness. You will learn how screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky researched the film by paying visits to NBC and CBS, and how the project took shape through Chayefsky’s laborious writing process. You will learn how mathematically precise Lumet had to be in staging a sex scene with anxious participants William Holden and Faye Dunaway. You will learn not only what Chayefsky said the night he won an Oscar for writing Network, but also what he said the following year, when he was there to announce that night’s winner.
And there is more. Although Itzkoff frames the book as a quasi-biography of Chayefsky (an unusual and admirable decision given how much ink is spilled in books of this kind on directors), he does not give short shrift to any of the film’s other main figures, Lumet, Holden, and Dunaway among them. For example, not only does Itzkoff document the fascinating interplay between Chayefsky and Lumet on Network — the domineering scribe working mostly tranquilly with the well-established auteur — but he goes on to describe what happened afterward, with Lumet feeling insulted when asked to essentially take a pay cut on Chayefsky’s follow-up, Altered States.