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.
One of my favourite films – it is like a version of Blow Up for sound recording instead of photography. Why would anyone want to re-make it though? I can’t see it being improved.
Have you seen Enemy of the State? Gene Hackman plays a character who is not the same person (they deliberately give him a different name) but is is exactly what you would imagine Harry Caul becoming twenty years later – and when they pull up an old photo of him from his security files it is a still from The Conversation that they use.
Enemy of the State is a lot more fun to watch if you have seen The Conversation first.
Yes, I have seen Enemy of the State and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I’d seen The Conversation first. That business of “aging” and renaming a famous character from a previous film was also attempted with The Rock (the only Michael Bay production ever to get a “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes), in which Sean Connery is clearly meant to be a superannuated James Bond. Of course, some people would argue that Sean Connery has played a superannuated James Bond in every film he’s made since 1980.
While you’re here, Skuds, thank you for recommending Respect Yourself: The Stax Story, which I downloaded from the BBC site have so far watched half of. Amazing stuff.
Artistic productions of all kinds are so often improved by a tight financial budget. I think the same could be said of a tight ‘intellectual budget’ as well. Films like BladeRunner or Alien manage to deliver a few genuinely interesting ideas within the practical constraints of the popular sci fi thriller. Films like 2001 and Solaris never justify their scale and pomposity.
Whilst we are on recommendations, if you have not already done, watch In Bruges. It is beautifully shot, with a very amusing Stoppardesque script, not at all the Guy Richie knockoff that it was advertised to be. Rent it if only to see a film in which Ralph Fiennes and Colin Farrel turn in good performances.
The contrast between Solaris and Stalker (also by Tarkovsky) is an even better illustration of this principle The latter is a much better bit of science fiction despite being little more than three men wandering around a field for several hours.
Not sure about downgrading 2001, though. It is rather good. I have a vague ambition to watch it stoned someday, in much the same way that I have a vague ambition to someday watch “Withnail and I” sober.