The Conversation (1974)

The Conversation (1974) does for sound recording what Blowup (1966) does for photography. While Blowup has a little more tangential fun (the Yardbirds and a ménage à trois, for starters), The Conversation tracks an equally engaging descent into madness due to a fascination with something perhaps better left alone.

Harry Caul is a professional eavesdropper/surveillance expert. While creating a master copy of a conversation he recorded from multiple sources, he begins to suspect that the recording may hold clues to prevent murder. Is it all in his head? Is this something he should get involved in? Mostly, this situation provides Harry the opportunity to start to think about the consequences of his profession and the information he provides people.

Throughout the film, the conversation is played over and over, and the words become progressively more haunting and the film becomes progressively more tense. The build up of this suspense is perfect, validating the slow pacing at the beginning that allowed for character and mood development. It should also be noted that the cinematography and editing is also gorgeous. Scenes unfold slowly with long takes and interesting actor blocking. In other words, The Conversation is a perfect movie. Francis Ford Coppola, I miss the 70s you.

Here are some choice images from the film:

The beginning shot is a surveillance angle of the crowd where the conversation happens. Yes, that's a mime in a military uniform.

Harry (Gene Hackman) and Stan (John "FREDO!" Cazale) tracking the recording in the van.

Even the static shots are interesting. in this movie.

I appreciate that Coppola allows naturalistic quiet moments to take place in order to build the reality of the situation.

Did I mention a beautiful and young Harrison Ford is in this movie?

The process of recording the conversation is made clear in flashbacks that show who recorded what aspect of the conversation when. The busyness and interrupted images of the couple mirrors the ambient noise that interrupts their conversation at certain points. In other words, this is something technical made cinematic and interesting.

In a lovely moment of irony, Harry confesses his sins to an unseen Priest. The focus shifts to the Priest making us focus on who's listening in on Harry.

Harry experiments with new technology at a surveillance convention. The blank, "just-the-facts" expression Gene Hackman uses throughout the film creates a believable and enigmatic character.

Martin Stett (Harrison Ford) becomes more menacing, tracking Harry down.

How surveillance experts party.

Quiet moments when Harry removes himself from the group say a lot about his introverted personality.

I maybe just wanted to show Harrison Ford being menacing again. But this really is a great tracking shot as Harry is being forced out of the office.

Harry not only has an ear for conversations, but also jazz. The soundtrack offers a lonely and isolated vibe that only jazz can provide. Check it out.

Also found on the DVD was a fantastic behind-the-scenes featurette shot contemporary to the filming of the Conversation.

Proof that 2010 is the reincarnation of the 70s, Francis Ford Coppola's outfit and beard.

Shout-out to Coppola and George Lucas's production company, American Zoetrope's logo. I'll add this bit of knowledge to my already too big repertoire of cinematic fun facts.

Now go watch this movie. Please, take my word for it.

1 comment:

  1. I feel it's possible I saw this as a wee lass....but I have no CLEAR memory. I am SO tracking this down. You have no idea.