|1974 USA The Conversation|
Summary: After the success of the first Godfather picture, Francis Ford Coppola could do anything he wanted. He chose a very loose adaptation from the leading character and basic scenario of Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-up, to create this both exciting and provocative thriller about a surveillance specialist who finds himself involved in a murder plot.
In Blow-up, a fashion photographer takes a picture in the park and comes to believe that he may have evidence of a murder. The difficulty is that the visual evidence is not conclusive -- it demands interpretation and no amount of manipulation can overcome the ambiguity of the image. Here, Harry Caul uses elaborate techniques to record and collect fragments from what seems to be an innocuous conversation, but that he begins to suspect will be used in a murder plot.
Just as Blow-up became not only a film about a photographer and a murderer but also a meditation on vision and on the cinema -- so The Conversation is a rich and sophisticated film about the nature of sound and the interpretation of sound and in particular about the way in which sound is captured for film. Apart from having an excellent jazz soundtrack, the film is very subtle in its sound editing.
It opens on a crowded park, and we immediately become aware that the sound of the crowds and the music and the individual people and the cars is recorded sound. We hear the subtle distortions that come from blowing up sound recorded from a distance, and that in a finished soundtrack would be removed. It turns out we are both watching the crowd and watching and listening in as a couple in the crowd is being recorded through a number of highly specialized surveillance techniques. Later in the film, we are reminded at several points and in several ways that the sound in a film is an artificial construction and that it is independent of the visuals. Some scenes that initially seem like they are part of the normal exegesis of the film, turn out to be reconstructions based on how certain characters heard and interpreted recorded sound; in other scenes the aural artifacts we have become familiar with show up to indicate that we can never be sure whether the sound is just part of the film or whether it is being recorded by a third party.
This is an excellent film on a number of levels, as a political thriller, as a portrait of a paranoid individual, but also as a meditation on the nature of sound in film. Definitely one to watch ... and listen to.