Palme Thursday Palme Thursday is A.A. Dowd’s monthly examination of a winner of the Palme D’Or, determining how well the film has held up and whether it deserved the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival. The Conversation (1974) Is it irony or just hypocrisy that Harry Caul, the professional snoop Gene Hackman plays in The Conversation, is obsessed with protecting his privacy? Maybe it’s neither. Maybe the guy’s just been doing what he does for long enough to know how easy it is to breach the firewall of someone’s personal life. Maybe a healthy supply of paranoia is just a side effect of becoming the “best bugger on the West Coast.” If there is an irony dripping off of Francis Ford Coppola’s suspense classic, it’s teased by the title itself: Harry spends the whole movie studying, dissecting, and decoding a single conversation, all the while remaining incapable of holding one himself. And it’s that failure, that inability to grasp the vagaries of human interaction, that causes him to miss a crucial detail—the most important clue—until it’s much too late. The years have been kind to The Conversation. To say that it transcends the topical appeal it may have held upon first release is to acknowledge that surveillance anxieties haven’t exactly waned over the four decades since. And though the movie embodies much of what we’ve all come to cherish about ’70s American cinema—the moral ambiguity, the irresolution, the willingness to go downbeat in a way Hollywood never had… [Read full story]
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