Tuesday, March 22, 2011


(April 1974, U.S.)

It's startling enough that director Francis Ford Coppola even found the time to make anything in between both GODFATHER films. Instead he managed to make one of his best pieces of work and get it nominated for best picture of the same year (1974) as THE GODFATHER-PART II's nomination.

THE CONVERSATION is a Michelangelo Antonioni's BLOW-UP-inspired thriller stars Gene Hackman as Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who runs his own company and is highly respected by others in the same profession. Harry is also obsessed with his own personal privacy; his apartment is almost bare behind its triple-locked door, he uses pay phones to make calls, claims to have no home telephone of his own and his office is enclosed in wire mesh in a corner of a much larger warehouse. He's completely professional at his work but finds personal contact with other people difficult (almost sounds like ME!). Despite his insistence that his professional code means that he's not responsible for worrying about the actual content of the conversations he records or the uses to which his clients put his surveillance activities (like murder), he is, in fact, wracked by guilt over a past wiretap job that left three people dead as a result. His sense of guilt is sharpened by his devout Catholicism. His only leisurely hobby is playing along with his favorite jazz records on a tenor saxophone in the privacy of his apartment.

Getting back to murder; it becomes clear early on that the conversation Harry records between a seemingly innocent young couple will likely end in someone's demise. The interesting twist is that the victim doesn't turn out to be the one you might expect. Just when you think a young couple in love are going to be killed at the hands of a powerful corporate executive, you find out that it was the other way around. And frankly, trying to imagine that sweet little Cindy Williams (remember Shirley?) could be responsible for killing anybody is a challenge in itself.

The final sequence of this film, in which Harry discovers that his own apartment has been bugged and goes on a frantic search for the listening device is most intruiging. It starts off simple enough in which he checks obvious locations like the telephone and the hanging light fixture. Failing that, he starts tearing up the walls, the floorboards and ultimately ends up destroying his apartment to no avail. There's almost a sense of tragedy involved here in that you know Harry Caul is the best at what he does and yet, somehow, the other people have gotten the best of him, and try as he might, it seems he will never find the bug that's been planted in his apartment. His personal security is dead forever. By the end of the film, he's left sitting amidst the wreckage, playing the only thing in his apartment left intact: his saxophone.

By the way, did you ever see ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998) with Will Smith and Gene Hackman (it was only okay)? If you did, then you'll remember that Hackman's character was a man exactly like Harry Caul, only he wasn't Harry Caul. He SHOULD have been Harry Caul! It would have been amazing for him to play that same character again twenty-four years later for us to see what became of him.

Just a quick word now about personal security in general, something we all cherish so presciously and fight so hard to protect. But do we REALLY protect it as we claim we do?? Think about this for a moment - everytime we spill our guts on Facebook, Twitter or any other bullshit social network that's out there we are, in fact, freely surrendering our personal security to anyone and everyone with a keyboard or iPhone at their hands (people have lost jobs and their marriages because they couldn't keep their big, stupid mouths shut on social networks). Hell, everytime we inconsiderately speak into our cell phone while riding the train or sitting in a restaurant, we surrender our personal security to anyone or anything that may be listening. I suppose my only point in all of this is to clearly outline the hypocrisy we all walk around with in our daily lives. If we truly wanted to protect our personal security to its ultimate end, we would likely have to resort back to rotary telephones and good ol' fashioned letter writing. Not gonna happen.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Harry Caul: " I'm not afraid of death, but I am afraid of murder."

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