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THE PARALLAX VIEW, JFK, RFK, etc.


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I didn't want to go to work on Sunday, November 24, but my mother

insisted I go to Milwaukee County Stadium to do my job as a vendor

at an NFL game (I was putting myself through high school that way).

The Packers were playing the San Francisco 49ers. I later met a 49ers player from that game who told me he and his colleagues were resentful at having to play; the NFL owners were largely conservative

and didn't care about Kennedy, to say the least. When the news about

Oswald being shot came through before the game, I saw it breaking

as a wave in the stands with people listening to their little transistor

radios, the only time I've ever seen news being received that way.

So I missed the live TV broadcast but saw the tape later that day. I always

resented I couldn't have stayed home and watched the unfolding

news that Sunday. On the Friday night, my siblings went to see

the lousy PT 109 movie at our local theater while I watched Oswald

being dragged through the halls of the police station denying he

was guilty and saying, "I'm just a patsy!" (That's one reason

I care more than they do about the case.) By that evening I was believing

in Oswald's innocence, and from the first radio reports I began hearing at 12:40 that day and the abrupt

change at 1 p.m. to shift all the shots from the front to behind, my journalistic antennae (I had already

been a journalist for three years when it happened) told me

something was wrong with the lone-gunman story.

Edited by Joseph McBride
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On 3/8/2021 at 7:30 PM, James DiEugenio said:

1.  In the first scene, the guy who escapes from the crime and ends up on top of the space needle was a famous stunt man named Chuck Waters. That had to be a. matte shot when he falls off right? 

 

There's another deck below the rim of the Space Needle dome, on which they would have laid stunt-man fall cushions.  When you see the patsy climb the ladder up to the dome, that's where he's climbing from.

Edited by David Andrews
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BTW, has anyone seen the Criterion Collection version?

I only have the old DVD transfer.  I can imagine how that photography looks in 4 K.

And they always have good extra features.

What a company they are.  There is some mystery about who owns it right?

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12 hours ago, Joseph McBride said:

I didn't want to go to work on Sunday, November 24, but my mother

insisted I go to Milwaukee County Stadium to do my job as a vendor

at an NFL game (I was putting myself through high school that way).

The Packers were playing the San Francisco 49ers. I later met a 49ers player from that game who told me he and his colleagues were resentful at having to play; the NFL owners were largely conservative

and didn't care about Kennedy, to say the least. When the news about

Oswald being shot came through before the game, I saw it breaking

as a wave in the stands with people listening to their little transistor

radios, the only time I've ever seen news being received that way.

So I missed the live broadcast but saw the tape later that day. I always

resented I couldn't have stayed home and watched the unfolding

news that Sunday. On the Friday night, my siblings went to see

the lousy PT 109 movie at our local theater while I watched Oswald

being dragged through the halls of the police station denying he

was guilty and saying, "I'm just a patsy!" (That's one reason

I care more than they do about the case.) By that evening I was believing

in Oswald's innocence, and from the first radio reports I began hearing at 12:40 that day and the abrupt

change at 1 p.m. to shift all the shots from the front, my journalistic antennae (I had already

been a journalist for three years when it happened) told me

something was wrong with the lone-gunman story.

Joseph,

    I hope you didn't have to sell beer and brats at Lambeau Field during the sub-zero NFL Championship "Ice Bowl" game between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys in '67.  You were probably away at college by then.

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I watched the film again last night.  First time in years.  I think its even better now.

One new thing I noticed: in the scene in the morgue, on the soundtrack, there is a bell tolling, going off every four seconds or so.  They use that later on also.  I must have seen the film about five times and I never noticed that before.  Art concealing art.

The other thing I noticed.  Pakula's narrow framed compositions, and also his tendency to begin a scene either from behind the character, like at the tiny tot train park,  or by not using the Hollywood cliche of an establishing shot to show us the main character and his relation to the others in space.  For example, when we see William Daniels after Beatty pursues him, he is behind a boat and we only see his feet.  Taken together these have a disorienting effect. Let me add, on the boat, that is a really wonderfully done scene before it explodes.  If you recall, Daniels shows Frady the picture of the real hit man at the Space Needle. And that is the guy who poisons Hume Cronyn later. And man, was Cronyn good, he mastered that whole "Kid, you're crazy but I love you" attitude so subtly and strongly, that its not a cliche. 

I have seen several of Pakula's films.  To me, I really do not think there is any question that this was his best, and also his best directed.  Its both a cinematic and historical/cultural  icon.

 

Edited by James DiEugenio
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One of the things I noticed is how much improvisation was in play on a still-uncompleted script.  For instance, dialog is overdubbed in the train ride scene and the boat scene, sometimes not matching the actors' lip movements.  In the boat scene, one unsynched line is needed to improve the exposition where the day's script pages didn't.  (That boat ride with Austin Tucker seems mysterious and evocative because less is said outright than implied by crime scene photos - meaning they didn't have locked-in dialogue for that scene.  Compare it to the kind of thriller that nails down every line of exposition...like All the President's Men.)

The train ride seems out of sequence with the story.  For instance, Frady asks the former FBI man if there's a pill that simulates death by heart attack, which lines up with Paula Prentiss's explanation of some suspicious witness deaths.  But Frady also asks for a fake ID that will show he's a "hostile misfit," when he doesn't learn that Parallax is looking for such until many scenes later.  Unless that's supposed to show that Frady is the perfect patsy type already.  (*Lee Oswald namechecked here*)

Pakula seems to be trying to pull off Hitchcock location tropes in several scenes.  For instance, the patsy falls from an iconic building (Saboteur, 1942).  Then Frady faces uncertainty and danger on every sort of public conveyance - a train, a boat, an airplane.  Is the fact that the train is a miniature kiddie ride a joke on Hitchcock (Strangers on a Train and North By Northwest), or a laugh on the studio because the plane and the boat ate up the locations budget?

All in all, it's the Pakula film that plays most like an Altman film.  Altman's style (which Beatty endured earlier on McCabe and Mrs. Miller) may have influenced the production's willingness to forge ahead on improvisation and rely on post-production fixes.

One of the stylistic motifs that you remember the film for is the use of emptiness and absence to suggest danger or foreboding.  Of many examples: after the Paula Prentiss character fails to convince Frady of the conspiracy, we last see them together filmed through white curtains with shot through with backlight.  In the next shot, the woman is dead on a morgue table, and Beatty, out of frame, takes a long. mournful beat before walking on, into an empty space the doctors have vacated.  When the candidate arrives at the assassination scene, we see an ominous empty window where previously the Parallax men stood watching Frady on the catwalk.  The dark catwalk scene is full of doors that open into empty spaces that saturate the film with blocks of white light through which shaded conspirators come and go.  Frady doesn't know what he's running into when he tries to exit through one of those white-hot spaces.  As motifs, they're the flip side to the near-blackout darkness of the shadowed committee room, illustrating how the blazing truth is obscured.

Edited by David Andrews
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My favorite shot, even though there are many good ones, is the one of Paula Prentiss through the glass smeared with blood at the Space Needle, after the wrong assassin has fallen off.

To me, that is not just symbolic of her, but its really generational.

And I guess Pakula really valued Willis, because the film has very sparse front credits, I mean Prentiss is not even included, but Willis is.

Edited by James DiEugenio
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     After watching the jarring scene where the boat suddenly blows up, I thought The Parallax View was going to end with Warren Beatty getting blown to bits in the airplane at 31,000 feet.  

    As for Beatty's performance in Altman's film, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, it's my favorite.  And Leonard Cohen's terrific soundtrack certainly enhanced that film.  I've watched it many times just to hear those songs.

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9 hours ago, W. Niederhut said:

Joseph,

    I hope you didn't have to sell beer and brats at Lambeau Field during the sub-zero NFL Championship "Ice Bowl" game between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys in '67.  You were probably away at college by then.

The Packers suck, they always have and always will.  Though I have to respect some of their teams and really like Brett Farve.  The Ice Bowl was the first game I ever remember really watching on black and white TV with my dad and uncle at 11 years old.  Jerry Kramer was off sides, he admitted it in Instant Replay (reviewed by me in a 8th grade speech class).  I still have the NFL Classics VHS I watched for years in July in the Texas summer heat to chill and get warmed up for the coming season.  Bob Hayes sticking his hands in his pants to keep them warm on plays he wasn't involved in.  The Packers noticed.  Frozen coffee before it could be drank.  Did Lombardi really order the field heater not be turned on the night before?  

Edited by Ron Bulman
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