From Edison’s earliest experiments synchronizing film strips with wax cylinder records to the latest in Dolby Atmos audio technology, if the history of film sound tells us anything, it’s that we can’t rely on our senses to accurately tell us what happened. Yet, it’s a lesson surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) seems not to have learned in The Conversation (1974), Francis Ford Coppola’s thriller about a man hired to record a conversation between two people in a busy San Francisco park.
Does the conversation lead to murder? Is Harry culpable? Often cited as a companion to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, a film about a photographer who accidentally captures a murder on camera, The Conversation asks more questions than it answers, but the questions it poses remain relevant in our contemporary world full of technology and those who might misuse it. We will talk about Coppola’s interest in the central moral dilemma, as well as the influence of European art cinema on New Hollywood. We will also address the film’s reception, which is impossible to separate from the Watergate scandal, given that the impeachment hearings began a month after its release.
The Conversation benefits greatly from a complex soundtrack constructed by famed sound designer Walter Murch, who also received an editing credit. The music—a piano score by David Shire and saxophone performances played by Gene Hackman himself—initially seems simplistic, but upon closer examination, is revealed to loop back into The Conversation’s theme of how easily sound can be made to reflect what we wish were true. Join us for a rich and rewarding seminar on a film that is important to see—and essential to hear.
Are you interested in “just” seeing this movie? Additional showtimes can be found here.
Cinema Classics Seminars offer an entertaining and engaging way to learn more about some of the true classics of world cinema. All students receive an introductory lecture before the film and a guided discussion after the film. In addition, those in attendance receive a ticket to see it on the big screen, as well as popcorn and a drink. Please note: the screening associated with this seminar will be open to the public, as well.
If you are unable to attend this seminar on site, you can rent and stream it in our Remote Classroom beginning a week after the event date.
Please email BMFI Programs and Education Coordinator Jill Malcolm with any questions.