Friday, 18 November 2011

The Conversation.

Gene Hackman as Harry Caul.
A classic film, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. The Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club asked that very question of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 movie The Conversation. By the end of a very interesting evening hosted by Alec Barclay the consensus of the very intent audience was that it probably was, due to a variety of reasons. The reasons offered were that it is an extremely well grafted film with a very clever plot twist, some imaginative camera work, and superb direction by the man whose other work in the seventies included redefining the gangster genre with The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part 2 (1974) and making his Vietnam masterpiece Apocalypse Now (1979), and is probable one of the best film’s Gene Hackman made in a long and distinguished career.

John Cazale plays Harry's assistant Stan...

 Hackman plays Harry Caul a paranoid and reclusive professional surveillance officer who is instructed to spy upon a young couple. After bugging a crucial conversation, he suspects that his work may lead to their murder. Haunted by a previous tragedy in which he became implicated, he becomes obsessed with finding out the truth behind the conversation he has been asked to record. This psychological thriller, written and produced as well as directed by Coppola, was released after the Watergate scandal broke, therefore the themes of surveillance, paranoia and eavesdropping was prominent in the minds of Americans. 

Alec informed us that Coppola started work on The Conversation screenplay right after the opening of You’re a Big Boy Now in 1966, and completed a first draft in 1969. At that time there were very few original screenplays being written, and he had resolved ‘to do films only from my own original stories.’ But nobody was prepared to finance the film until Coppola had his huge success with The Godfather. The screenplay for The Conversation was partly inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up, from1966.

with Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest as the subjects of Harry Caul's surveillance....

Continuing with his introduction Alec when on to quote Coppola saying that the director had a desire to imitate and be inspired by Antonioni. “Blow Up is a very beautiful and intriguing film because it combined Antonioni’s sense of mood and personal texture and a sort of non-verbal film making with a very curious plot. I very much thought oh that’s the kind of film … these are the kinds of films I want to make where you take a theme or an idea or an area that might be something innovative. Right from the beginning I wanted to make a film about privacy; using the motif of eavesdropping and wiretapping, and centering on the personal and psychological life of the eavesdropper rather than his victims. It was to be a modern horror film, with a construction based on repetition rather than exposition, likes a piece of music. And it would expose a tacky, subterranean world of wire tappers; their vanities and ethics; the conventions that they attend; the magazines they read; and the women they value. Ultimately, I wanted the film to come to a moral and humanistic conclusion.”

and Harrison Ford as the manipulator Martin Stett.

The subject matter is still very relevant today with CCT, credit cards, and GPS systems and of course e-mails. Is anything we do today private? Coppola’s film is a very clever study of a paranoid reclusive loner who gradually realises the consequences of the job he carries out. Slightly dated but well worth seeing and yes a classic.

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