The Conversation

PFA Collection Print
Lecture by Amy Rust

The Conversation is that rarity among Hollywood films: a formalist narrative. Not since Hitchcock has anyone contrived an American film with such intricate color patterns, subtly linked props and decor, intertwined musical motifs, and dialogue bristling with cross-references. But above all, The Conversation is a love story, the story of a professional eavesdropper who becomes vicariously involved with a woman he encounters through wiretapped conversations and surveillance cameras. Harry Caul steals privacy for a living but is so obsessed with his own privacy that he suffers near-pathological loneliness and guilt. Contracted to trail an executive's wife suspected of marital infidelity, Caul becomes fearful that he may be part of a murder plot. In many ways, The Conversation is Coppola's response to Blow-Up, another film about a hero who can respond only through technology. But as Gene Hackman plays him, Caul is anything but emotionally dead. Unlike Antonioni's nameless photographer, Caul suffers from a surfeit of feeling, agonizing inside his self-made traps.

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