what i watched last week
music friday: ann peebles, “i can’t stand the rain”

by request: the parallax view (alan j. pakula, 1974)

(Are spoiler warnings necessary for a movie that is almost 40 years old?)

Tomás is the first person to get a second request, which makes sense since his list was much longer than anyone else’s. In this case, we have a movie I have never seen, and I looked forward to this.

I remember when the film was released, and can’t recall why I never got around to seeing it. I thought about it more than once, though, during the 2010 run of the short-lived TV series, Rubicon. That series was often compared to 70s paranoid thrillers, because 1) it was paranoid, 2) conspiracy was at its heart, and 3) … well, it wasn’t always thrilling, but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. I wrote, “Rubicon was 24 for intellectuals, and by that I don’t just mean it was directed towards smart people. Rubicon was about intellectuals … the heroes weren’t emotionally distraught shoot-first-ask-later archetypes, but instead really smart, neurotic office workers who pored over endless piles of intelligence documents, looking for connections.”

I bring this up because, even though the pace of Rubicon was excruciatingly slow, it kept my attention in a different way than did The Parallax View. Because in the film, the guy who is onto the conspiracy is played by Warren Beatty at his mid-70s sexiest, and while Beatty is a smart man, the last thing he could play in 1974 was a neurotic, obsessive office worker poring over documents. His presence ensures that the character will spend very little time on documents, and a lot of time rushing off on adventures. And Pakula doesn’t create nearly enough tension in those scenes. They are imaginatively photographed (courtesy of Gordon Willis of Godfather fame), but odd camera angles don’t make The Parallax View tense any more than the Expressionist sets of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari made that film scary.

As for the vaunted paranoia of the film, it is there, as it was in many American films of that time, and the paranoia is justified when Beatty’s character dies at the end. But the film insists on an absence of ideology that makes the Parallax Corporation a bit bland. They are not driven by political concerns; they will kill anyone. They are ultimately only mercenaries. Whatever conspiracy exists turns out to be beyond the scope of the movie, which never even bothers to suggest what might lie behind The Corporation. Its paranoia is merely a reflex response to the times. 6/10.

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