' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: The Parallax View (1974)

Friday, October 30, 2020

Friday's Old Fashioned: The Parallax View (1974)

A newspaper reporter, Joseph Frady (Warren Beatty), hot on the trail of the suspicious Parallax Corp has maneuvered his way into earning an interview. He sits down in a darkened room and is shown a recruiting video that is more like a montage of Americana, each image unspooled before him representing a different patriotic-sounding adjective: love, country, mother, father, me, home, god, enemy, happiness. Eventually the video speeds up and the images and adjectives get mixed around, enemy becoming love, or god becoming country, and so forth. It’s like the “30 Rock” Sunstream ad (America – Innovation – Tomorrow) combined with “A Clockwork Orange.” Throughout this scene, director Alan J. Pakula eschews cutting back to Frady, simply immersing us in this video, suffering no pretense that this is anything other than his own movie’s thesis. Made, obviously, in the wake of the JFK assassination, released two months before Nixon’s resignation, distrust in institutions abounded, and this recruiting video becomes a manifestation of America’s fractured psyche, all its ideals and values having become so muddled it’s hard to tell which is which and what they mean or if they even mean anything at all. 

“The Parallax View” begins with a Seattle 4th of July parade, a scene of which Pakula himself said: “I wanted to start with Americana. And I want to start with sunlit Americana, the America we’ve lost.” In the ensuing scene, atop the Space Needle, a Bobby-ish Presidential candidate is shot. The audience in this moment is omniscient, made aware of a second assassin, though this person, the actual shooter, escapes while the other assassin is caught in a foot chase concluding outside the 605 ft spire. This sequence, scored to nothing more than the sound of the men’s shoes scuffling along the roof of the top house, is an impressive, frightening moment of thriller verité, not showing us the assassin plunging to his death, just suddenly, with one yelp, going over the edge, vanishing, which may as well be America itself plunging into an abyss. The getaway of the second assassin, though, leaves a web of mystery, as does the emergent truth that anyone who witnessed this person dies of natural (read: suspicious) causes. The truth is out there. And in the era of Woodward and Bernstein, it is Frady, a journalist, who will seek to uncover it. The truth, though, in “The Parallax View” proves more elusive, not just a moving target but an unstoppable torrent evoked in a scene where Frady wrestles with a local good ol’ boy sheriff in front of a dam, racing to beat the thunderous deluge before it drowns him. 

Three years after the Presidential candidate is killed, the case closed in a quick scene where a congressional committee asserts the person who fell from the Space Needle acted alone. Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss), however, a news reporter who witnessed the death, visits Frady, her ex-boyfriend to express disbelief in the committee’s findings. Other witnesses have died off, one by one, under seemingly normal conditions though she’s convinced it’s a plot. Frady stands there and, like ten million dumb dudes before him, writes off a woman’s pleas for help with a simple, familiar diagnosis: she’s crazy. She’s not, of course, and Pakula cuts from billowy white curtains framing Frady to the white sheet at the hospital pulled up over Lee’s dead body. After a few beats, Frady enters the frame from the left, his head bowed, looking like a lost little boy. It’s not just what kick starts him to investigate but emblematic of how Pakula and Beatty, who worked on the script with his director, question both the idea of masculinity and what passes for a matinee idol hero. Frady gets into a barfight with a guy who, judging his long mane, thinks he’s a girl and he is typically outfitted in a denim jacket, a far cry from a suit and tie, a vestige of the counter-culture in a society, as “The Parallax View” sees it, of towering corporations who control everything. That includes the eponymous company, offering nothing less than the privatization of political assassinations, recruiting young men distorted by resentments and paranoia, burgeoning Travis Bickles every one, idealists gone astray, lonely men given a purpose in the worst way. 

Frady’s own loneliness is evoked in Gordon Willis’s famous cinematography, brilliantly utilizing space to render Frady as small and inconsequential, lost no matter how close he gets to finding everything out. He might play the hero in a stunning and mostly silent mid-movie sequence where he thwarts the bombing of a jet with a Senator onboard, but just as that sequence ends with him only staving off the worst, the bomb still heard exploding offscreen, he ultimately fails to save the day. The conclusion takes places in a giant auditorium staging a run-through for a giant rally scheduled later that evening for Senator Hammond (George Davis), the red, white and blue tablecloths stretching as far as the eye can see in a mostly empty place giving the impression of a party being over. Indeed, Hammond, showing up for rehearsal, is shot dead as a recorded version of that night’s prepared speech blares in the background, rendering his words as white noise. And when Frady, spying from the catwalks above, is noticed, he is fingered by the people below as the shooter, bolting toward an open door, the area around it draped in blackness while a white light pours out through the open frame. It is one last chance to see the light, in other words. Then, it all goes black. 

No comments: