I decided to add film to this collection of writings and begin
with Francis Ford Coppola's relatively unknown classic, 1974's
with Gene Hackman, Cindy Williams (yes, from Laverne &
), and Harrison Ford. Coming off the success of the
, Coppola surprisingly made a relatively
low-budget film with, at the time, mostly unknown actors. Gene
Hackman later reprised this role in 1998's Enemy of the State
loosely a 90s remake.
The movie centers around Harry Caul (Hackman) a surveillance
man in San Francisco and his growing interest in a conversation
he tapes between a woman (Williams) and a man (Frederic Forrest)
she is apparently having an affair with. Their conversation takes
place in a crowded downtown park at lunchtime, chosen for its
level of anonymity and safety. The fact they are able to be recorded
by Harry, (with two directional mics, located in adjacent buildings,
and a man following with a mic in a shopping bag) gives the film
a strong underlying theme of the vague boundary between the private
and public realms. Harry Caul's isolated and workaholic existence
complicates the issue as his expertise imbues a paranoia deep
in his psyche.
We travel with Harry as he compiles the three recordings into
a final, clean copy for his client, the woman's husband. Although
the techniques (reel-to-reel tapes) are outdated by recent standards,
these scenes are fascinating as more and more of the conversation
becomes apparent. Harry's interest in the couple grows as he
encounters each, on separate occasions, at the office building
where he is supposed to deliver the final tape, peaking when
he realizes the couple believes they are in danger. His obsession
leads to action, unusual in Harry's typical detachment from his
client's business, and the film's climax.
Although not as visually impressive as The Godfather
Coppola finds an appropriate means to express the paranoia of
the main character, and hence the whole film. The constrictive
and isolated nature of interiors dictates that most scenes take
place indoors, with the exception of the park (which reverses
our usual senses). Through a combination of cinematography, slowly
revealing the conversation, and manipulation of the viewer Coppola
is able to surprise us, a supreme goal for any storyteller.
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