Wednesday, August 9, 2017



Director/Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola

In between “The Godfather,” and “The Godfather Part II”, Francis Ford Coppola went out on his own and independently made “The Conversation,” the one great movie of his that doesn’t get the credit among audiences as his other great ones, but don’t tell that to critics. They remember it among his best works, some who even consider it his best, and remember Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul as one of the great loners of cinema. He’s a surveillance expert, exceptionally well-known within his field, he’s listed as a notable guest as a Surveillance conference that he attends, where he is hounded like a celebrity, yet apparently, he’s strangely inadequate at his field at the moment, at least personally. 

The title refers to a conversation between a young man and woman (Michael Higgins and Cindy Williams) which he is hired by an executive (an uncredited Robert Duvall) to record. It’s not an easy conversation to get, and it takes a while to sort out the recording to hear exactly what they were talking about. His apartment has three locks and a burglar alarm, although his landlord has a key and left a birthday present. He has a girlfriend (Teri Garr) that he keeps in another apartment, but she eventually dumps him for being too secretive. We only gradually begin to scratch the surface of the character, and even by the end, we know only certain explanations for his actions, but not necessarily a complete look at Harry Caul. 

He’s not good with people, most of whom seem to want something from him, so he constantly shuns them away. It takes only a day for his partner (John Cazale) to suddenly switch to a rival. Meanwhile, as he decides not to return the tapes until he can deliver them to the Executive in person, he suddenly hears more of the conversation, which seems to indicate something bad about to happen, which is confirmed by the Executive’s Assistant (A very young Harrison Ford).

Inspired in part by Michelangelo Antonioni’s film “Blow-Up,” which is also in the Canon of Film btw,  Coppola effectively brings this complicated character and weaves him into a mystery that he can only begin to realize how complex it truly is. The way we can only scratch the surface of the character, he can only scratch the surface of the mystery, and realize just how much their actually is to his quiet secluded world, and how it isn't as secluded off from the rest, as it seems first.

Watching it again, there’s always more things in the movie that I didn’t catch or remember before, like the eerie and strangely impending piano score that actually feels quieter and calmer then you'd think at first, or a dream sequence that again brings us just slightly more information about Harry, as he tries to warn the young woman of an impending doom, but is unable to. More hauntingly, the notions it indicates with it's themes of security and privacy, and constant awareness and fear that somebody is able to listen in on us, and probably does nearly everyday, makes the film almost seem prophetic in this day and age. I don't know what Harry Caul would be doing in this hi-tech cyber-security world, where everybody needs to be protected from whomever's watching from the other side of the computer screen I'm typing this on, but I'm sure he's more needed now then ever in his profession right as his skills are most eroding.

Harry is a man who hides his own inadequacies personally and professionally from people, yet he spends his days and life listening in and observing them. As the modern-day technology continues to drive more people to skype and webcams, and fewer to the conventions and bars, “The Conversation,” seems to get more prevalent with each viewing. Probably more of a warning too....

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