Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Parallax View


The Commission, a Congressional special committee, submits its report after months of research and hearings: the latest political assassination was committed by someone who was clearly sociopathic, obsessive.  The sort of individual the Parallax organization will recruit to eliminate senators whose views are deemed too....radical? Is Parallax a right-wing militia of sorts?

1974's THE PARALLAX VIEW does not make that clear, and it suits the cloaked, clandestine nature of the film itself.  It is a movie that exists in shadows and darkness.  You might say that master cinematographer Gordon Willis is the true star of this picture, with his use of long lenses and shallow focus and framing of  events behind curtains and in barely lit spaces. The lighting gives everything, even in broad daylight, a uniquely frightening sheen.  Anamorphic photography at its finest.

Warren Beatty plays Joe Frady, a newspaper reporter who begins to investigate after his former colleague/ lover turns up dead and a series of leads begin to point to said Organization.   Lee (Paula Prentiss) was a T.V. reporter who was there the day the senator was killed by a waiter at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle.  She tries to convince Frady that someone is trying to kill her.  Her paranoia is fueled by the deaths of four (or is it six?) others who had also been there when the Senator got it.  Didn't several of the bystanders at JFK's assassination site mysteriously die, too?

Frady, also previously in attendance at the Space Needle, brushes Lee off, thinks she's delusional.  One scene later, in a superb use of film editing, she's on the slab at the morgue.  Drug overdose, the police report reads.  Frady sniffs around a small town, where the local sheriff tries to plug him. Why? Frady will search the sheriff's house and find documents about Parallax, an agency that is in the business of hiring assassins.

More people turn up dead.  People who knew people.  Not just key people.  There are more attempts on Senators' lives.  Some are successful. Was there a second gunman?  Frady tries to learn more about Parallax by applying under a false identity.  At their headquarters, he will attend a "test", a rapid fire slide show that juxtaposes positive and negative imagery (and sometimes the same image changes connotation), set to patriotic music.  This sequence, by the way, is one of the most effective uses of stills I've ever seen.  Absolutely chilling.

And that's the best word for director Alan J. Paula's film, part two of his "conspiracy" trilogy (along with KLUTE and ALL THE PRESIDENTS' MEN) in the '70s. Everything contributes to an entirely forboding atmosphere, a feeling of hopelessness and distrust.  Perhaps the way many Americans were feeling after the ravages of the previous decade.  The '70s were, for many, like a wicked hangover from the '60s.  While the screenplay by David Giler and Lorenzo Semple, Jr. sometimes detours into silliness (bar fight, car chase) and has some fairly large plot holes (How did Frady escape from that exploding boat? How did he know that he had enough time before that bomb detonated on the airplane?), it is still a solid exercise in fear and loathing.  It may be even more reflective of American society (and beyond) today than ever before.

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