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THE CONVERSATION
1974 - Francis Ford Coppola
United States
97
Opening Shot

The Conversation opens with one of the best sequences in American film history. A technically flawless achievement, it becomes the critical catalyst for the entire film. It is best to leave this sequence for the viewer to experience for its skillful use of setup, of editing, and of sounds. It begins (over the opening titles) with a long shot looking down on a crowded park in San Francisco. The shot slowly pans in toward the crowd before it starts to settle in on a mime who starts following a man in a long trench coat. The man walks away from the mime and the camera follows him...

The Film

Francis Ford Coppola was clearly at the top of his game upon the release of his 1974 masterpiece, The Conversation. Made after The Godfather and released the same year as The Godfather 2, The Conversation is often overlooked. However that's very unfair, as this film is every bit as brilliant and in fact I'd say it is my favroite Coppola film! It's a thought-provoking film which raises an uneasy question: If someone hires you to bug somebody, then they use that information as reason to kill them, are you responsible? The Conversation is a flawless study of paranoia, guilt, responsibility, and privacy. Its greatness lies in the skillful way Coppola raises these thought-provoking dilemma without losing focus of the central narrative and character. Gene Hackman is absolutely perfect as the strange, but ultimately fascinating protagonist, Harry Caul. The film contains so many memorable scenes I don't know where to start. The opening sequence is technically masterful, and of course the ending is very chilling and very, very clever! Obviously the use of sound is pivotal in this film and Coppola matches it with a perfectly moody score by David Shire. Absolutely one of the best films of American cinema's wonderful decade of the 1970's.

The Filmmaker

In terms of the vast commitment and involvement of cinema, Francis Ford Coppola stands among the most important filmmakers of America today. Besides his own films (many of which are regarded as classics) Coppola has produced a wide range of films throughout the world, written screenplays for other directors (most notably his Oscar winning screenplay for 1970s Patton), and also has restored lost classics (Abel Gance's 1927 silent masterpiece Napoleon). He has also generated family ties to cinema as two of his children (Sofia and Roman) are directors, and his sister (Talia Shire) and nephews (Nicolas Cage among others) are actors. Coppola is a filmmaker who has a respect of films and filmmaking and is focused on the art forms possibilities and improvements. He embraces the advancements of technologies and sees such aspects as a way to further develop the art form for the future. Of course it should not be forgotten that Coppola is an outstanding filmmaker. One of the leaders of American cinema's influential filmmakers that emerged during the 1960s and 70s who gave the director more freedom and a creative voice apart from the Studio system. Coppola's work during the 1970s is masterful. Starting with The Godfather in 1972 (which is often regarded along with it's sequel among the very greatest achievements of American film), Coppola also made the skillfully stylish The Conversation (which to me is his greatest film), and the hauntingly poetic Vietnam masterpiece Apocalypse Now in 1979. The production of the film was a disaster that took nearly four years to complete. Coppola struggled mentally and psychically with the process of getting the film complete. Many feel his best work was left behind with his efforts of completing Apocalypse Now, but Coppola has made some good films since (including the underrated One From the Heart that nearly left Coppola's Zoetrope Studios in bankrupt for it's failure at the box office). Coppola's incredibly visionary skills as a filmmaker are evident throughout all his work. There is a strong sense of political or romantic emotion that drive the narrative and challenge the viewer, but above all Coppola's films are always expressed, stylized, and remembered for their mesmerizing imagery.

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