I saw Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation the other day. Again. What a strange, amazing, paranoid movie. Nobody could make a movie like that in America today. I bet no studio would touch it. It's too unique. Coppola made it in 1974, between the two Godfathers and after Watergate, and it is just right for that era and even more right for ours. It won Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Sound. In those days they gave Oscars to good movies.
It comes in handy to revisit The Conversation nowadays, when we have no more privacy (if you think you still have privacy, you are living in dreamland) and the corporate and government snooping are at an all-time high. The Conversation will chill your blood and make your hair stand on end, but not like you are used to, with cheap thrills. It will deeply disturb you.
The pace is almost glacial (for an American film), but what nerve Coppola had. What imagination. It is a truly original film. It has a tremendous, shocking revelation, and it is about the weirdest milieu ever. Who can forget that sorry ass snoopers party? A convention of surveillance stuff? Wow. WOW.
The infinite implications of this movie make you feel that tip of the iceberg frisson that is particularly delightful for those us who believe the world is a rotten cesspool of slime. Evil is everywhere in this movie and yet it comes from a deep human need to know and control everything and everybody. In a word: fascism (or communism, same thing). That's where we are heading, if we continue allowing the powers that be to intrude upon our lives with complete abandon and impunity.
Gene Hackman is so frozen into a massive lump of paranoia and distrust, he seems like he is about to shatter into shards of glass. The repetitive, loopy, melancholy music by David Shire is perfect, as is the sound editing, by the great Walter Murch. And John Cazale is there, and where there is John Cazale, I always miss him. The saddest man in movies, ever. He left too soon.
Let me say, for the sake of argument that there would be no The Lives of Others if it wasn't for The Conversation. Yet the clarity and lack of sentimentality or manipulativeness of the first movie, makes the other one, as competent as it is, look like a soap opera.