Saturday, January 31, 2009

Favorite Moments: The Parallax View

This scene from the 1974 political thriller The Parallax View is trickier than it looks. The scene occurs as Warren Beatty, pretending to be a violent loner so as to infiltrate the Parallax Corporation sits down to take a test with them. The corporation takes isolated loners and molds them into assassins. The "test" here is simply a film of still images and words put to music. While it is ostensibly shown to Beatty, in actuality it is shown to us, the audience. That's where it gets tricky. Gordon Willis, the great cinematographer of so many landmark films of the seventies including The Godfather and Manhattan, and Alan Pakula, the director of The Parallax View, worked on the short film together and the challenge was to produce a film that looks like it would work on an isolated loner in reaffirming his beliefs about family, society, race and the American Dream while at the same time being obvious enough to the viewer that the changes in editing and placement of images is evident. And it does, and they are.

Watching this "test" serves its purpose beautifully. That purpose, for Pakula, is to show the viewer exactly the type of person that becomes an assassin without going through the laborious motions of creating another character for the movie to follow in depth. Simply watch the film and you know exactly what type of person the Parallax Corporation has working for it, doing its killing. And it's placement is brilliant too. It occurs near the end of the second act of the film, with about thirty-five minutes to go. After this test film, the audience now knows the type of person Beatty is up against. Fittingly, his character is in increasingly more danger, and more powerless, from this point on, until the end, when running as fast as he can just isn't fast enough.