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.



video

24 comments:

Arboghost! said...

I totally aced that test.

Peter Nellhaus said...

The Mighty Thor - American Patriot!

Jonathan Lapper said...

I was not only hired by Parallax within minutes, they made me trainer!

Jonathan Lapper said...

Peter, my hammer strikes hard for justice. I hammer in the morning, I hammer in the evening, I hammer all over this land.

I hammer out danger, I hammer out a warning. I hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.

Arboghost! said...

This movie is just scary. It's one of those films I watch slackjawed from start to finish, hoping it ends differently from the way it did the last time I watched it.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I was reading a couple of reviews of it last night and the critics spoke of how nice it was that its reputation has grown since its release. At the time, it came and went but by 2002 it had actually received a couple of votes from critics polled for the Sight and Sound poll. Now I don't think it's that good, but people I've heard write it off haven't seen it since 1974 and should give it another look.

Another criticism I've heard is that it's "ridiculous" and "unbelievable", as if a paranoid thriller does not by necessity have to go into areas of un-reality to accomplish its goals.

Anyway, it's a favorite seventies thriller of mine, a movie I'll take any day of the week over Oliver Stone's JFK, which doesn't end with nearly the amount of dripping irony as Parallax does.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

This clip is the main reason why I've always championed Parallax as a truly remarkable film. Every time I see it I'm subjected to nightmares afterward.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Ivan - Don't watch the clip! But seriously, I've touted this movie for decades and most of the time it never worked out. But in the last couple of years more people seem to be able to "see it," to "get it," so to speak. I don't know what that means, especially since I am loathe to believe in conspiracy theories myself, but it makes me feel vindicated.

BLH said...

I think it's the weakest leg of Pakula's Paranoia Trilogy; but that's a pretty high compliment as far as I'm concerned.

If you can survive the extended detour through Hazzard County which colors the first third of the picture (and spills over into the legitimately ridiculous), it's a very strong, disquieting piece of work.

Jonathan Lapper said...

BLH, I agree that the Hazzard county part of the movie, as you put it, is the weakest. The whole extended fight in the bar sequence with the deputy is needless. And all of it leads to one simple discovery, that one (one out of seven) of the witnesses was puposely drowned. Why that warranted twenty minutes of screen time while the other discoveries did not eludes me. So I agree. This movie was a good testing ground for getting to All The President's Men just a couple of years later.

Flickhead said...

For what it's worth, I saw this when it came out on a double bill with Freebie and the Bean.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I'm having a hard time imagining this playing with Freebie and the Bean. A paranoid thriller and a buddy picture. I'd put the paranoid thriller first then the buddy picture second as a release valve.

Flickhead said...

One good thing about movie exhibition before home video was the random double feature, one week's A-movie playing with something that came out a few months earlier. The pairing was rarely premeditated and generally very entertaining.

In 1973 I saw To Have and Have Not paired with What's Up, Tiger Lily? at a revival theater and it stands among the most memorable moviegoing experiences I've ever had.

Jonathan Lapper said...

The first, and only, time I ever saw What's Up Tiger Lily? the safe cracking scene had me rolling with laughter. I haven't seen it since and I was very young so if that scene in fact sucks don't hold it against me.

Flickhead said...

Unless you're drunk or high, it's best to save Tiger Lily for when you wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. There are a lot of movies that work better under those conditions...

Jonathan Lapper said...

it's best to save Tiger Lily for when you wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep.

That's so true! I've had a few movies watched while sick and up in the middle of the night that I would have never given two minutes of my time to otherwise.

BLH said...

it's best to save Tiger Lily for when you wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep.

Isn't that what Law and Order is for?

christiandivine said...

The Parallax Test is one of the most brilliant scenes in American film history. Period!

Flickhead said...

A friend of mine calls them "2am Movies"... it started a few years ago when he urged me to rent Cannonball Run II, because he'd seen it in the middle of the night on cable. I told him I hadn't seen the first Cannonball Run. He said, "like it matters." So I rented Cannonball Run II and soon found myself wondering, What the hell am I doing? Thereafter we realized, you gotta see these things under certain conditions.

Some of my 2am Movie favorites are Coyote Ugly, Mr. Majestyk and Dirty Dancing. Believe me, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Peter Nellhaus said...

2AM is also perfect for Spaceballs.

Jonathan Lapper said...

BLH, you got that right.

Christiandivine - It's mesmerizing isn't it?

Flickhead, Peter - Good lists. I think 2 a.m. is the perfect time for Spaceballs, especially if you're half asleep, sick and drunk. I would also nominate any Billy Jack movie.

Flickhead said...

...along with anything directed by Max Baer or with a character named Buford T. Pusser...

Jonathan Lapper said...

That's Sheriff Buford T. Pusser.

Also, any movie starring Evel Knievel.

MovieMan0283 said...

Great movie - great scene. I actually saw this for the first time when I tuned in to AMC about ten years ago. This scene was just beginning and I knew nothing about the larger movie. It was quite an experience.

(I wrote about it, and the movie, here:

http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/2008/12/parallax-view.html)