THE CONVERSATION (1974)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Cinematography by Bill Butler (and uncredited: Haskell Wexler)
This week’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot episode at The Film Experience is all about The Conversation, the film sandwiched between Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, released the same year as the latter movie. It’s one of my favorites of the paranoia thrillers that were so prevalent during the 1970s, and it’s become even more prescient as our technology has advanced (as can be seen in Steven Soderbergh’s latest Kimi, which I did watch shortly after revisiting this). Now while The Conversation is more about the sounds, its visuals are just as impressive, and during this recent re-watch, I was especially struck by how the film’s protagonist is framed throughout much of the running time.
Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is a lonesome person and a lot of what we see of him are moments by himself, such as when he’s doing surveillance work or playing his saxophone. Even when he’s in the company of others (like in the second shot I highlighted here), there are shots of him sequestered from everyone else, emphasizing his solitary existence. It all builds up to the film’s final sequence and the last image of this character the audience is left with.
It’s shown early on in the movie how obsessed Harry is with his privacy, especially since he knows people like himself could be monitoring his every move. Try as he might though to protect himself, as he does here when using a payphone instead of the phone in his apartment, there’s always a chance of being seen or heard. I love the way this scene is shot, slowly closing in on Harry’s face as he tries to arrange a meeting with his client, almost as if we’re intruding on his private conversation. I also just like the way the red lights of a nearby storefront are caught in the reflection of the phone booth, obscuring him a bit from view.
This shot of Harry comes within the first 10 minutes of the film, as he and his colleague Stan (John Cazale) are camped out in their surveillance van, listening in on the titular conversation. Parked along San Francisco’s Union Square, Harry watches as other people pass by, who are unaware of his presence through the one-way window. This image of him exemplifies his efforts to close himself off from the world and the people around him, choosing to observe life outside of his own.
Be sure to check out what others have chosen as their best shot from The Conversation here!