Re: The Conversation
Mr Sausage, I actually agree with a lot of what you say, especially about this film being more of a 'character study' than the Pakulas. Perhaps that's why I see it as having less in common with Antonioni - I don't really see any of his films as character studies. La Signora
, Il Grido
maybe come close, but even there I tend to feel that the protagonists are more embodiments of concepts or aspects of human relationships than fully-realised individuals. That isn't to say that they're not authentic, just that they reflect a worldview that observes individuals as more or less helpless elements within larger systems - in Pakula's hands this is more politicised, obviously.
It seems like what we're disagreeing about is the extent to which Harry Caul is simply paranoid, and the extent to which he is actually perceiving some awful truth that everyone else is lucky enough to be blind to - I tend to lean towards the latter reading. Yes, he ends up stuck in a spiral of self-destructive obsession, but he has every reason to be stuck there. His annihilated state is grounded on reality rather than mere perception, and as such he's more like Rock Hudson at the end of Seconds
, or Paul Muni at the end of I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang
, or Caleb in William Godwin's original ending to Caleb Williams
(a great novel on this same subject) than, say, Jack Nicholson at the end of The Pledge
(tried to think of a better example but I'm drawing a blank). Having said that, I'd come back to the point I made earlier about Harry Caul
playing the saxophone at the end. There is almost a sense of peace here, as if he knows there is nothing more he can do to resist the intrusion of dark forces into his life. His destruction of the Virgin Mary statue is a key turning point here. His tragedy has always been that he can't do his job without getting people hurt: one of the reasons he is so paranoid is that the people he bugged on a previous job ended up dead. But at the end of the film, he can at least retreat into his music - something that's just for him, something that no 'bugger' can really get to, and that is guaranteed not to place him or anybody else in danger. The camera may pan back and forth like a surveillance camera, but this also signifies that it is mechanical and inhuman. Harry himself stands out in that final shot as a vestige of humanity, victimised almost into oblivion, but still clinging on by a thread. In a way it's actually less bleak than the endings of La Notte and Red Desert, which I compared it to earlier. It's not totally unlike the ending of another great paranoid film from this era, Rosemary's Baby.
This discussion makes me think of Michael Corleone's trajectory in the first two Godfather
films: on one level, when you get to the end of Part 2 you can see how the monster Michael has become has emerged from aspects of his character that were always there, even when he was trying to distance himself from the corrupt family business; on another level, you can see how that same monster is the logical outcome of the corrupt business Vito started up for much more sympathetic reasons (and, to put it differently, the logical outcome of the social circumstances that led to Vito's being in that position to start with). So there's that same tension between character and circumstance; it's why these films work so well as modern-day classical tragedies.
Re: The Parallax View
'oh yeah' just said several of the things I was trying, less successfully, to say earlier, especially about Beatty's reaction to the test. As well as Blow Up
, this strongly reminds me of Zabriskie Point
: the student radicals, the orgy in the desert, the anonymous 'climax' at the airport, the imagined destruction of bourgeois idols at the end; it's all so detached and dispassionate. And when that sunset fades to black at the end, it's less the traditional symbol of the happy ending than an obliteration which swallows us all up. I love how these films put us into this state of mind where all definitions and distinctions seem to blur into each other and vanish. Antonioni is less frightened by this than Pakula - of course this goes back to the fact that Pakula is much more focused on politics, as such - and even finds a kind of beauty or release in it.
I also agree with 'oh yeah' about Small's score. As I said earlier, Shire was obviously asked to do something similar for All the President's Men
, and does it very well; there, though, the music is more evocative of the quiet forces chipping away at the powers that be, whereas Small's score just sounds like those same powers that be quietly winning the day, which is exactly what they tend to do.
Re: All the President's Men
Of course the Watergate story is a fascinating one, but it really doesn't scream cinema and a laid back style focusing on Woodward and Bernstein is probably the weakest way to go about things (I'd personally say Altman tackled the most exciting). Despite all of this possibility for failure (not even mentioning Peck 2.0 as one of the leads) the film manages to not just be great, but as great as these sort of things get. It's presenting a wonderful dissertation of the role of the journalist, presenting as factually as possible the ultimate tale of American corruption, and presenting a wonderful labyrinth of lies that finally reveal the truth. We have to believe these liars and understand the nature of the liar to work towards that golden object, truth. Best yet it does all of this in as entertaining a way as possible (had to be the inspiration for Zodiac) and further proves that everything is better with more Jason Robards.
Since we've moved to a new thread, I just wanted to quote the rest of knives' original tribute to this film from the Alternate Oscars thread, first of all because his reference to 'that golden object, truth' was one of the things that spurred me to post on this in the first place. I think it's a perfectly valid reading of the film, and in some ways the most obvious and 'correct' one, but I think one of the big things Fincher carried over into Zodiac
was the sense that these seekers after truth actually lose sight of exactly what the truth is or might be, or why it matters. Fincher's film is more of a character study: we see three obsessive individuals destroying themselves for reasons that, as we gradually realise, have little to do with the Zodiac case itself, so that the 'revelation' at the end (which someone referred to earlier) really doesn't seem like a significant revelation at all - it's a totally, and brilliantly, bathetic ending. In Pakula's film the bathetic ending suggests (to me) that these forces of resistance might themselves still be trapped within a larger system they can't even begin to stand up to.
I also wanted to defend Robert Redford, who can be annoying but is in danger of being underrated. Trying watching Michael Ritchie's The Candidate
if you don't believe me - I think Redford is terrific in that one.
Two famous phrases from the ending of another paranoid '70s classic spring to mind: 'as little as possible' and 'forget it, Jake - it's Chinatown'. They conjure up that sense of utter futility that defines so many American films from this period. Another one that I dimly recall is Elektra Glide in Blue
which joins Chinatown in that small, select group of films with tacked on unhappy endings. Marvellous stuff.