26 ago. 2011

The Conversation

(Francis Ford Coppola, 1974). Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is a nerdy-looking San Francisco surveillance guy hired to tape a conversation between a couple in a crowded plaza. He listens to the tape over and over again, looking for some clues. He's supposed to turn the tape over to the director of some organization (Robert Duvall) but instead meets with a character played by Harrison Ford. Very little happens for most of the movie, until he sleeps with a blonde woman after a convention of surveillance experts and he wakes up to find the tapes stolen... He's afraid some harm will come to the woman whose conversation he had taped. The real movie is all in what happens in the last half an hour, with themes of voyeurism, action and inaction, and moral responsibility.

The film is tense and slow-moving, with several scenes that seem pointless or over-long, as though Coppola were trying to be anti-operatic after directing The Godfather. Hackman is good in this kind of role, but otherwise it's a 3-star movie. I guess you'd want to see it if you were writing a book about FFC.

What strikes me is how in movies like "High Noon" there is nothing wasted, nothing thrown away, whereas in a kind of semi-avant-garde movie of the 60s there is a kind of indecision or aimlessness.

8 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

I don't disagree with your rating, though I'm more sympathetic to slow-moving pictures with scenes of murky import in which we sit and watch actor's faces. At least to the idea of them -- Altman did better than Coppola in this line, to pick one at random.

It's conventional to call the Godfathers "operatic", but the word doesn't really fit that well. Notably, even the most dramatic operas move quite slowly, and there's no equivalent in them of the swift decisive punctuation of the genre picture, or the punchy "lines" that everyone loves to quote, which are the verbal equivalent of the explosions, shootouts, and horses' heads. (That's why death scenes in opera are the butt of jokes.)

Agreed that in this movie Coppola was trying to turn from his genre success to what he regarded as a serious movie. Hard not to notice, though, that he turned to a crime / mystery plot.

Finally, I have affection for this picture because it uses modern-day San Francisco locations well. (Same to a lesser extent for Dirty Harry.) But that doesn't recommend it to the less besotted.

Vance Maverick dijo...

In all that rambling, I forgot I was going to ask a question. Before I saw the picture, I read something of Christopher Ricks', where he complained about the manipulation of the recording taken in Union Square. Hackman listens to it several times, and eventually it changes slightly -- there's a difference in emphasis which changes the meaning. Ricks was upset at the deception -- but I thought it wasn't deceptive at all. In context, I thought it was clearly a representation of the way Hackman (suddenly) heard the line, and wasn't a change in the film's claims about reality. Did this strike you, either way?

Jonathan dijo...

I heard that more as a cleaning up of the tape than as a change of emphasis. I'd go with your interpretation. The hearing of the tape is focalized through Hackman.

Not that I noticed in particular, though.

Jonathan dijo...

Also, good point about the word "operatic." I was repeating a cliché about the movie without really giving it a second thought.

Jim Murdoch dijo...

It's a while since I saw the film but I remember it as a wonderful character study and the plot (such as there was one) was of secondary importance. The scene at the end where he dismantles his room and we leave him in its wreckage playing jazz was exceptionally striking. Put it this way, after I'd seen the film I wanted to go away and write a character like that.

Tom King dijo...

My friend Bob Feldman playing sax in that movie, and teaching Gene Hackman how to play.

Professor Zero dijo...

I saw this when it was new! I like it.

Andrew Shields dijo...

My sister and I watched it in the middle of the night one summer in the late 70s, and she had nightmares for weeks.

I love how Shields and Yarnell are miming in Union Square at the beginning, and when Shields starts miming Hackman, the latter is very uncomfortable, which signals that the eavesdropper does not want to be eavesdropped on.

The shift in emphasis in the sentence is not a problem to me at all, but one of the most striking things about the movie. Hackman interprets the sentence one way because he wants to interpret it that way (because he has a thing for the woman he was eavesdropping on), and then when he cleans up the sound he hears that the emphasis is different, which means that a different person was in danger.

I like the drifting quality of the movie, but then I love Jarmusch, the king of the drifting movie. At the same time, the interlocking perfection of Hitchcock is also wonderful.