🎬 #2 Francis Ford's Paranoia and Fincher's Favourite
Welcome to Week 2 of the newsletter. Not a very explosive opening I'll give you that. So like all good filmmaking, let's cut to the chase. This week's two film choices, on the 50th Anniversary of The Godfather, are below. Hint it's neither The Godfather nor The Godfather Part 2.
Happy choosing, happy viewing,
FILM ONE: THE CONVERSATION
1974 Dir Francis Ford Coppola
The first time I saw this film was kind of the first time I was consciously aware that a well designed film is having a lead character that's perfectly designed for precisely that story. Like they couldn't be in any other film. It's the equivalent of designing a road just for one very specific race car. A road designed to push it to its limit and test what the car is made of. Because of this, it's the kind of film that I like to describe as 'tight.' There's no fat on it - everything that happens lays another piece of the plot's road or develops character.
I think it's Gene Hackman's best performance and apparently he thinks the same. Bill Butler's camera work feels numb and sterile in the best possible way. It keeps us at a distance in a story that revolves around audio surveillance, with an expert who tries to keep his distance from the moral details of his work. And then we witness, from an almost surveillance like vantage, the fall out that occurs when his whole world changes. If Gene Hackman surveillance expert sounds familiar - he played a character with a similar job in Tony Scott's excellent Enemy of the State. In fact if the whole concept sounds familiar its because it was heavily inspired by Antonioni's Blowup, which uses a similar story device but is instead based on a visual, not audio, medium. This film and Blowup then went on to inspire De Palma's Blow Out. There you have it. It's actually pretty amazing that Coppola snuck this one out in between Godfather Part 1 and 2.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 53 minutes of my precious life watching this? Gene Hackman stars as a paranoid audio surveillance expert who loves God and has a crisis of conscience as he spirals downwards into his own obsessive world, while playing soulful sax to himself.
*Available on Sky Go and Sky Movies*
Fact: Coppola came up with the idea when he had a conversation with Irvine Kershner [Dir Empire Strikes Back] about the latest surveillance equipment that made it possible to pick out a single voice from a crowd of people. Bonus: This was the first film that Walter Murch helped edit.
FILM TWO: KLUTE
1971 Dir Alan J. Pakula
When I was 18 or so David Fincher was my favourite director so I devoured everything that one of his favourite directors, Pakula, had to offer, including his 'paranoia trilogy' of which this is one entry. One of the things I love about learning about film, is reading about who your favourite directors were inspired by. You can then kind of trace the influence backwards giving you a weird family tree of style and approach. You learn more and it also reassures you that your heroes aren't some kind of demi-gods touched by genius. They were inspired and influenced by people just like you are by them. Anyway I'll stop wanging on. This film shares a similar stylistic approach to The Conversation, probably why I love both of them. Like the above film, we are kept at a distance. The framing, the pacing feels very purposeful, exacting and graphic. Willis' muted colour palette and overall underexposed mood obviously really weighed heavy on a younger Fincher.
This is a very haunting film, about an out of town private detective trying to protect a prostitute while solving a missing person case. Donald Sutherland is great alongside Jane Fonda who won the Oscar for her portrayal of Bree Daniels. And like The Conversation, it inspires tense paranoia and tests the boundaries of the lead characters as their world's clash and merge. If its influence on Fincher wasn't already obvious there is a mid shot of a tape to tape audio player that could almost be lifted from Se7en.
TL;DR why should I spend exactly 1 hour 54 mins [1 minute longer than The Conversation] of my precious life watching this? Get enveloped by the stark paranoid mood of Jane Fonda playing a prostitute who may be the key to a missing persons case. While Donald Sutherland's Klute, tries not to fall in love with her.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, Apple, YouTube
and Google Play*
Fact: Gordon Willis, the DOP, shot Coppola's Godfather trilogy.