The Conversation (1974)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Saturday, June 23 and Sunday, June 24 at the Museum of the Moving Image's "Paramount in the 1970s"
Harry Caul’s seemingly debilitating conviction that someone is watching him should feel familiar—in 2012, we know someone’s watching us. Happily—or not—we’ve prepared for the display, choosing what to post and where to upload. But if we the inheritors have perfected of the art of surveillance, poor frenzied Harry, tearing rooms apart in search of bugging devices he hasn't placed, was Coppola’s canary, brought low prophetically, just before the Nixon administration and our remaining faith in the presidency went down in a mess of wires and a cacophony of recorded talk.
As The Conversation’s wizard of the wiretap, Gene Hackman’s Harry is best in country at producing, from cacophonic ambience, the strains of intelligible speech. His latest job—the successful taping of a conversation between a couple walking in circles around San Francisco’s Washington Square—is a feat within the profession, with the other geeks-done-good in the surveillance biz appropriately reverent and envious. But Harry, who used to work for the DA, hears something strange, not least in his client’s refusal to meet with him to receive the tapes. The translucent wrapper-raincoat, the unfashionable glasses are all red herrings; with savant-like skills and a tragic (we soon learn) past, Harry’s kin to Sherlock or Spiderman just as much as he’s a descendent of Antonioni’s impossibly cool photographer. But it’s also, finally, disconcertingly, impossible to really know, despite virtuosity with the highest tech. Despondent, Harry hears the tapes again, again—and some sacred mystery remains in the nuances of speech.