While I’m on subject of recommendations I thought my parents had made to me but they hadn’t, this year I watched The Conversation for the first time. I thought mum and dad had been telling me for years that I should check it out, but, when I was round theirs a few weeks back and thanked them for the tip they said they hadn’t. It’s an excellent, arty, independently made 70s thriller (in which Harrison Ford is shrewdly and atypically cast in a small, but important role).
By coincidence, The Conversation was in a batch of my DVD rentals-by-post around the same time as the 80s comedy Ghostbusters, which I’d seen before at the cinema, but in a matinee screening that turned out to be full of noisy kids. It was even better at a second, closer viewing.
The Conversation is famous for its excellent jazz soundtrack; the pop one of Ghostbusters (apart from its theme song) is one of the few things that lets it down and dates it. Very sensibly, the makers of Ghostbusters resolved to light and to dress the cast in a “classic” way (rather than to print supersaturated colour images of them wearing shoulder pads and rolled-up jacket sleeves); I suspect that the question of who got on the soundtrack was answered at meetings between studio and record company execs.
There are rumours that The Conversation is going to be remade to be released in 2009 and that the “second Ghostbusters sequel” is going to be a video game.
Both original screenplays were written years before funds were available to make them. This had at least two positive results: their creators were able to review them with a fresh eye, and they could make radical revisions with the benefit of experience and the discipline of a budget. Francis Ford Coppola won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for The Conversation, and an Oscar for The Godfather. Astonishingly, he worked on both films in the same year. The Godfather has since become the more celebrated (and seems less dated now), but Coppola hadn’t been interested either in shooting other people’s scripts or in adapting works from other media. As he explains on his commentary for The Conversation, and as has been the case for many great artists creating great works of art, because his American Zoetrope company was in financial difficulty and he had a family to feed, Coppola was forced to do The Godfather for the money.
Similarly, Bill Murray desperately wanted to play a “spiritual seeker” in a film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, but could only persuade the studio to let him do so if he also starred in Ghostbusters. The movie of The Razor’s Edge was a critical and box office squib; Ghostbusters was a hit with the press and public.