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The Conversation
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  • The epistemology of sound -- jazz and reverberation
    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....more info
  • ". .the Dangling Conversation"
    Another great F. F. Coppola movie. With Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, Cindy Williams and Terri Garr, how could it be anything but? Spooky and chilling, as electronic evesdropping and photographic surveilance is taken to depressing levels. You will be left wondering throughout most of the movie. Great and thought-provoking....more info
  • The Coversation: what the autistic cannot hear
    Harry Caul is an expert in the field of electronic surveillance. He has been hired by the director of a large corporation to record a conversation between his wife and another man. It is no easy feat. The conversation will occur in a noisy public place. The targets know they may be watched. They speak low, allusively and are forever in motion. Caul, his assistant Stan and two students borrowed from the AV department of a nearby university tape the conversation with but three pickups: a mic planted in the shopping bag of a man following the couple and two parabolic microphones mounted with cross-hairs from atop surrounding buildings. Later, and further to his expertise, Harry will sit at a bench in his workshop with four tape players and will slowly begin to cut and mix the recordings into an intelligible, uninterrupted run of speech-a conversation, the conversation.

    The story owes a little something to Antonioni's Blow Up (in which a photographer tries to decipher a tale seemingly told in a series of grainy, blown-up photographs) and the character of Harry Caul may be a descendent of Kafka's harassed tribe of persecuted everymen. Harry knows both too much and too little; he is an expert and an innocent. He can tape anyone anywhere and lift the fuzz of ambient noise and extraneous voicings from the most impossibly difficult mixes; but Harry lives at a remove, at a distance from the world on which he spies. His experience of the world outside his lab is always mediated through some mechanical filter: a microphone, a camera lens, undiscriminating magnetic tape. They stand between Harry and love, friendship, compassion--between Harry and involvement in what he considers a dangerous blur of unprofessional inquiry.

    But the conversation he has deciphered has ended on an unexpected and jarring note. It pricks his conscience and Harry suddenly sees his targets as people and finds himself obliged to decipher meanings, feelings and emotive codes with which he is studiously unfamiliar. Harry isn't sure what he knows about the couple and their impending dilemma, but he knows too much about the inner-workings and the underpinnings of a world where knowledge is invasion. Harry finally decides to intervene, to act to help the couple. And this harrowing, climactic scene shows Harry once again employing an unrivaled expertise in the pursuit of information that he is ill-equipped to interpret. The result is the ultimate discovery that he was never at any real remove from the world--it was always watching him and with a skill far surpassing his own. It is a revelation with which Harry cannot live peaceably and dooms him to his obsessive and ultimately paralyzing paranoia in what is, perhaps, the most haunting conclusion in cinematic history.

    I hope you will take my word for it when I tell you that this is Francis Ford Coppola's finest work--spare, focused, minimalist direction, perfectly complementing a singularly deep, rich charge of narrative. And Gene Hackman has never been better....more info
    'The Conversation' is one of the greatest psychological thrillers ever made and is one of the best movie I have ever seen. This is Francis Ford Coopola at his absolute best, slowly and subtley building tension with each passing minute until your nerves cannot take it anymore. The story is about an electronics expert who is asked to tape record a conversation between a man and a women in a city park. To tell you anything more about the plot would be both a shame and a crime. Watch it alone and with the lights off. It will stay with you for a long time. ...more info
  • "I'm not afraid of death, but I am afraid of murder."
    Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" will not be confused with any of his "Godfather" films. This film is not epic in scope. It is instead a small, claustrophobic character study told without the cinematic operatics. It is also a film that leaves virtually no impression on the viewer after it is over.

    Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is a surveillance expert with a tragic past. Hiring himself out for private jobs, he accepts an assignment to eavesdrop on two individuals walking together in public. The recording he produces is not perfect but it suggests that a murder might soon be taking place. Harry tries to ignore the fact that his recording might lead to dire consequences by telling himself he was just doing his job. However, his conscience continues to torment him and he becomes obsessed with solving the mystery behind the conversation he recorded.

    "The Conversation" is fascinating for providing a behind-the-scenes look at the art of professional eavesdropping. Yet, it is tedious as a character study. The film does a great job of defining Harry Caul as a disaster of a man on both a professional and a personal level. However, watching Harry come apart at the seams is not exactly riveting entertainment despite Hackman's wonderful performance. The entire film simply feels out of balance because there is too much emphasis on character and not enough emphasis on story. Upon its release, "The Conversation" offered up some interesting commentary on the current orientation of the country shortly before Watergate, but it just feels over-simplistic and lacking content-wise when viewed today....more info
  • Outstanding work!
    In between Godfather films, Francis Ford Coppola made this masterpiece. There are many actors that would go on to bigger and better things. Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, John Cazale to name a few. But it's Gene Hackman's show, who gives his best performance since the French Connection. A classic!!...more info
  • Long & Dull
    There are a few moments in this flick that are useful but overall it's lonnggg and dullllll; I would not recommend it for entertainment purposes....more info
  • This movie goes like a classical music piece.
    This movie is a sheer and distinct case study.
    The case is, the lonesome by choice and by profession, anti-hero Harry Caul, a private surveillance expert and his own paranoid very blocked world.

    The title refers to the task he has been assigned to, to record a conversation between two people in a crowded square during a lunch time break. He succeeded in his mission at first, but when he tried to live inside his task, he failed in his life.

    I recommend you; do not criticize this deliberately slow going movie while it is running.
    This movie moves like flowing molasses. It reveals its own layers and secrets with each going moment, get assured that you will be completely satisfied when it ends.

    Consider how close the director succeeded in creating the sense of the overwhelming paranoia, at first you get skeptic, asking if Caul is overacting in his cautious way of life, then you get yourself skeptic too, imagining the number of conspirators surrounding him and may have roles in the crime.

    The movie depends on the understanding of the screenplay by its creators.
    The theme concentrates on longing to, retrieving, and then consequently the losing of believes; in love, personal capabilities and maybe in religious believes.

    Look for the motive that began all this conflicts. It is the search for love.

    The love he observed between the two young people of his surveillance task.

    The love that moved him backward towards his past, in feeling the guilt towards the victims of his previous tasks,
    And forward towards his search for love and meaning.

    This motive that reminded him of the necessity being human, of asking questions about nature if his job. Is it just to be a delivery man or to be like an artist who reacts with the elements of his art work, the motive to be an insider instead of being an outsider.

    And then comes the revelation and its consequences, when he realizes how far he was wrong, fragile and unsafe.
    So he chooses to surrender and escape to his last (maybe) safe refuge, his own saxophone.

    Just like its music score, this movie goes like a classical music piece.
    With perfect tempo and without one unnecessarily line.

    Notice these two considerable key scenes.
    1-While the conversation between Hackman and Ford in the convention, there is that man, who carries a Saxophone which might or not be tapped, might or not be replaced by the one in the Caul's apartment. And the latter is might or not be the only thing that could be tapped and left without checking in Caul's apartment.
    2- Caul's dream vision of the hotel room no.773 is as the same as in the real hotel. We cannot assume that the director was very conservative about the money spent on locations. But of course it was meant to be like that, in order to implement the dreamy reality of the final act of this movie....more info

  • Chilling Classic
    The classic always seems to be the best well believe it or not I had to see this movie because a good deal of parts seem to be found in his more recent "Enemy of the State" Staring Gene Hackman and Will Smith with the tones being the same only in a more technology based society. Keeps you wondering "WHO" and does your job make what you do bad as the addage goes depends if you view the whole picture and not judge on just fragments. Strong, riviting, with a twist....more info
  • Listen up! Get this film... (4.5 stars)
    I echo other comments that this is perhaps Coppola's best film in its characterization, simmering plot development, and pace, all carefully crafted to offer a unique vision of the world of the professional eavesdropper.

    Made during the paranoia surrounding Watergate, "The Conversation" manages to resonate more today. I'm not talking Patriot Act or the War on Terrorism. I'm talking about the Internet. Harry Caul hides behind technology, uses it to connect with people, yet cannot connect with real-live human beings. His one "friend" -- the colleague played by the late John Cazale -- he even fails to relate to, unless it's strictly about the work.

    In the end, Harry's isolation becomes complete when the technology he uses becomes his jailer. The final panning shot of this film is worth the entire DVD alone, but the commentary tracks provide priceless insight into the mind of Coppola at the time when he was still an outsider himself....more info

  • Great acting, confusing and annoying plot.
    I agree with the reviewer from Maryland. The movie was confusing, lacked suspense, and got very irritating. Gene Hackman was excellent, and so was John Cazale, but the other characters were very flawed and I can hardly remeber anything that happens with them. The plot was confusing. Why did the boss die instead of the two lovers? And what did "When The Red Red Robin Comes A Bop Bop Boppin' Along" have to do with this? Skip this one; it is too confusing and should be forgotten....more info
    You have seen "Who-Dun-Its." This is more like a riveting "Who-Will-Do-It."

    What a passionate movie about a surveillance man, who by profession records conversations for clients, for purposes unknown to him (how a client uses the recording is not his business.) During one of such recordings, he believes he has captured the plotting of a murder. A gratingly intriguing quandary ensues, one that'll have you glued to the screen until the very end!

    For one thing, the movie does NOT feel like 1974 with its immaculate DVD transfer. If it weren't for the music, which is markedly 70s, or the nature of telephones (the type you turn with your fingers, instead of buttons) you really couldn't tell it was the seventies.

    Secondly, Coppola did a fabulous job of making the technology credible to viewers. Pay attention to minor details, the film makes no presumptions about audience's intelligence. For instance, you'll also be taken around an actual symposium of surveillance tech, and presented a detailed scene where surv pros talk about possible ways of making recordings for a specific case.

    Apart from the mystery that forms an absolutely electric undercurrent for the theme, it's also a great lesson on how sophisticated technology means very little without the human brain to make the correct lecture of "objective" results.

    Quite simply, this movie is must-watch material, and not only for tech aficianados!...more info

  • Great
    There are some works of art that are obviously derivative of others, and obviously inferior, because they simply ape the earlier work, tweak a few minor things, and try to pass off their theft as `homage'. The Conversation (1974), written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is not one of those minor works. It has a manifest endebtedness to Michelangelo Antonioni's brilliant 1966 film, Blowup, yet it does not merely ape that film's existential dilemma of an accidental photograph possibly cluing its lead character into murder. Instead, The Conversation probes far more deeply into its lead character Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) and his life, to see what might cause a man to misinterpret reality to suit his own psychic needs.
    Another major difference is that the tale in Blowup is one that is wholly accidental, whereas the story The Conversation is built upon is an outgrowth of the deliberate and paid for actions of Caul, the leading West Coast surveillance expert, who has been hired by the mysterious Director (Robert Duvall) of a giant corporation to spy on his wife Ann (Cindy Williams) and her lover Mark (Frederick Forrest). The film opens, around Christmastime, with Caul and his entourage tailing and listening in to the conversation of the two lovers as they stroll in Union Square, an open air park in downtown San Francisco. The fragmented bits of conversation he pieces together only later, and comes to feel that the couple is being set up for murder by his employer. The opening zoom down from a sniper's eye level, focuses on a mime (Robert Shields) who is annoying people in the square. Eventually he sidles up to and mimics Caul, who walks away. The opening scene was filmed by Haskell Wexler, and the rest of the film by Bill Butler, who took over after Wexler and Coppola had a falling out.
    It is a shame that in the nearly thirty years since the 1970s, Coppola has never made a film that comes close to the power of his films from that era. Despite its debt to Blowup, The Conversation is a far more realistic and multi-layered film. That does not mean it's better nor worse than Blowup, just not a ripoff. It is far more internalized, even if a little less subjective, than the earlier film. This seeming disconnect between the objective and that witnessed by the audience only deepens the desire to rewatch the film. Especially great is the fact that the film's lead is the sort of character other films ignore, to focus on one of the players in the love triangle, or perhaps Martin Stett. Caul is a functionary, an apparatchik- yet he's real, and his struggle is every bit as interesting as the `sexier characters'. Yet Coppola heeds Juvenal's query from his sixth Satire: `Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?' (`Who watches the watchmen?') There are many watchers in this film, yet the final watcher is the audience, and what they watch is greatness, simple in its complexity.
    The Conversation is a great, simple, and small film, never too long at an hour and fifty-three minutes, and it may be Coppola's best. It was very timely, considering the milieu of Watergate, but the idea came to him in 1967. It started filming in late 1972, and wrapped shortly before Watergate came to light, yet it has been lost between the three other titanic films he made in the 1970s: The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, and Apocalypse Now. Whereas those three films were operatic, this film is a chamber piece, and apropos of that, the piano only soundtrack by Coppola's brother in law David Shire, so reminiscent of Erik Satie piano pieces, is perfect, for, as Coppola says in his commentary, the piano is a lonely instrument; lonely as Harry Caul, or an unanswered question.
    ...more info
  • The Commentaries Embellish This DVD
    This is an excellent piece of filmaking. Very, very underated to date although many of the Amazon posts catch this piece of story telling. Like the parallel editing sequence that MADE the end of Godfather 1, really kill (pardon the pun) at least according to Robert Evans (The Kid Stays in the Picture)-it is interesting to note that this particular new editor of "The Conversation"-contributed alot of great ideas to the story as well as working on the sound mixing. FFC was off working on Godfather II, so perhaps the Editor has a little more freedom and time to work his magic. Funny-most of the workers of the young studio were non-union so he could not even be credited as a picture or sound Editor. Famous Director of Photography Haskell Wexler was "let go" by Francis very early on and replaced. This action gave the film a superior look, for the theme of the film. You have to love the retro vibe of all that electronic tape gear in the digital age we now live. The visual look is crisp and stunning. If you view this DVD-watch BOTH commentaries. The haunting piano melody over the DVD Menu and that appears throughout the story-is worth appreciation alone. I actually sat down and counted out both sets of machine gun triplets in what is a rather dreamy piece of solo piano. As many have said already-this belongs in your DVD library. And let's not forget the early work here of Harrison Ford-complete with scar on his chin; Cindy Williams; Robert Duvall and Teri Garr. Enjoy and relish. People ARE watching and listening. Even Gene Hackman's sax has "ears."...more info
  • See This More Than Once
    This is one of those films I'm glad I gave a second chance because it got much better..... and has continued getting better with each viewing.

    I know a few other people who watch this DVD and ask, "What's the big deal?" Well, do what I did and give it another chance. Here's a tip: put on the English subtitles. It helps understand what is going on, as the taped conversations are often difficult to discern. Then, you might discover what I did: a fascinating character study, one that did not bore me as it had on the first viewing.

    It's the study of a paranoid loner who is suffering a guilty conscience over the work he has done over the years, and what tragic consequences could happen with the latest project he's involved with. Without giving anything away, the loner's fears are realized in a shocking ending, but not in the way he imagined.

    Gene Hackman, as always, does a super job of acting. He dominates the film as the main character, "Harry Call." The topic matter - high-tech surveillance - was intriguing, too. After watching this film, I wondered what kind of surveillance tools are available now, 35 years after this film was made.
    ...more info
    Reading over the reviews here of this remarkable movie, I'd say most of its virtues have been well covered, and what's behind most of the bad reviews uncovered: people who don't get this movie are ones who need the usual thriller or Godfather stuff, which this film doesn't provide. It's small-scale, enormously subtle in story and acting, and its originality is as subtle as the rest of it. Among the trio of friends who came up together--Spielberg and Lucas the others--I think Coppola was the only real grownup, and the most ambitious to say something truly serious, though he also had the grand visual flair of the other two. The Conversation is at the heart of his work. If I had to compare it to anything, it'd be the Melville story "Benito Cereno," in which we think we know what's going on but we don't, not at all. Other reviewers mention the "philosophical" aspect. For me, here's what that's about: With the most sophisticated technology available, professional bugger Harry Caul finds out what two people said. But what he doesn't understand is the _meaning_ of what they said, and the meaning is what makes the difference. The way Coppla reveals that, with a little trick of sound, is for all its quietness one of the most brilliant and hair-raising moments I know in film. It's a parable of technology, of the meaning of truth, of the nature of preconceptions (who we expect to be the bad guys aren't) and lots else--the philosophically inclined can take their pick. In my own list of greatest movies of all time, this is somewhere in the first five. If you don't need exploding fireballs in your thrillers and know great acting and directing when you see it, this movie is as good as it gets....more info
  • Over-rated
    Apres "The Godfather," Francis Ford Coppola decided to indulge his artistic urges and this is what he produced. It's arty alright, but it's also very boring. Gene Hackman is wasted. A very young Harrison Ford is a hoot to see, though. There's a limited jazz soundtrack. It's primarily interesting as a film to look back at the very dated early '70s styles....more info
  • The a boring one!
    Ugh.....I was really psyched to see a film that would be juicy and all I got was a long-drawn-out, hollow flick written, directed and played out by big-time names! I feel like I wasted 2 hrs. of my life watching this thing. Two better films on intrigue are "The Falcon & the Snowman" and "Three Days of the Condor"....more info
  • Classic, but a bit slow
    Fans of Gene Hackman in "Enemy of the State" may find this Seventies movie worth a look. Any fans of spy movies will probably find this an interesting movie as well. When an electronics surveillance expert, played by Hackman, is hired to monitor a couple he becomes concerned for their lifes when he finds out the wife is having an affair. The husband is the jealous type and politically very powerful. The story takes a dramatic twist in the end that you probably won't anticipate. Good parts from Cindi Williams, Robert Duvall, and Harrison Ford. Well made movie with good cast, sets, and music. My only complaint is it seems to plod along and for a current young audience this may be boring. I recommend it as a rental but not to purchase.
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  • One gem: one lady between two giants
    A Cannes' winner among other virtues, this film is like the fourth symphony of Beethoven: a princess between two power muscle men.
    In fact the godfather I and II literally absorbed and in a certain way detoured, (together with Appocalyse now) the attention about this movie.
    A genuine masterpiece that confirms the status of Mr. Coppola to the highest rank in the cinema's story.
    Hcakman has never been best....more info
  • Snooze......
    We loved "Enemy of the State" and this was recommended as the movie that led up to it. BORING! This movie is NOTHING like Enemy of the State, it was slow, predictable and a total sleeper. The only reason we watched to the end was that we were SURE it had to get did not....more info
  • One of my five favorites
    Pure, unpretentious genius unfolds before the viewer in this complex film, simply told, complete with what has to be one of the subtlest "gotchas" in cinema. From a cinematic perspective, The Conversation breaks the rules, which Coppola expertly reinvents, from the first slow, achingly long voyeuristic zoom into Union Square to the cold empty layers of Harry Caul's (his name a rather silly pun) apartment that echo his isolated, threatened existence. Coppola's camera distances the viewer from Caul, but just like Caul's transparent raincoat, we see beyond the lens into the quiet, tortured confines of Caul's mind.

    As a story, The Conversation relies again upon subtlety and a patient viewer to watch Caul ironically become a casualty of his own profession. As Caul is the architect of his own success, he too becomes the architect of his own demise. The joke is on Harry, as the viewer, too, peers into the life of a man obsessed with privacy, a man who ultimately faces an unthinkable under an ever watchful eye....more info