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The Conversation
The Conversation
is a 1974 American mystery thriller film written, produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola
and starring Gene Hackman with supporting roles by John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Cindy Williams, Frederic Forrest, Harrison Ford, Teri Garr
Teri Garr
and Robert Duvall. The plot revolves around a surveillance expert and the moral dilemma he faces when his recordings reveal a potential murder. Coppola cited the 1966 film Blowup
Blowup
as a key influence. However, since the film was released to theaters just a few months before Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
resigned as President, he felt that audiences interpreted the film to be a reaction to the Watergate scandal. The Conversation
The Conversation
won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film, the highest honor at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival. It was nominated for three Academy Awards
Academy Awards
in 1974 and lost Best Picture to The Godfather Part II, another Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola
film. In 1995, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry
National Film Registry
by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Originally, Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
distributed the film worldwide. Paramount retains American rights to this day but international rights are now held by Miramax Films
Miramax Films
and StudioCanal
StudioCanal
in conjunction with American Zoetrope.

Contents

1 Plot 2 Cast 3 Production

3.1 Inspiration

4 Reception

4.1 Box office 4.2 Critical response 4.3 Accolades

5 Influence 6 See also 7 References

7.1 Bibliography

8 External links

Plot[edit] Harry Caul is a surveillance expert who runs his own company in San Francisco. Caul is obsessed with his own privacy; his apartment is almost bare behind its triple-locked door and burglar alarm, he uses pay phones to make calls, claims to have no home telephone and his office is enclosed in wire mesh in a corner of a much larger warehouse. He has no friends, his girlfriend Amy knows nothing about him, and his one hobby is playing along to jazz records on a tenor saxophone in the privacy of his apartment. Caul insists that he is not responsible for the actual content of the conversations he records or the use to which his clients put his surveillance activities. However, he is racked by guilt over a past wiretap job which resulted in the murder of three people. This sense of guilt is amplified by his devout Catholicism. Caul, his colleague Stan and some freelance associates have taken on the task of bugging the conversation of a couple as they walk through crowded Union Square in San Francisco, surrounded by a cacophony of background noise. Amid the small-talk, the couple discuss fears that they are being watched, and mention a discreet meeting at a hotel room in a few days. The challenging task of recording this conversation is accomplished by multiple surveillance operatives located in different positions around the square. After Caul has merged and filtered the different tapes, the final result is a sound recording in which the words themselves are crystal clear, but their meaning remains ambiguous. Caul feels increasingly uneasy about what may happen to the couple once the client hears the tape. He plays the tape again and again, gradually refining its accuracy. He concentrates on one key phrase hidden under the sound of a street musician: "He'd kill us if he got the chance." Caul constantly reinterprets the speakers' subtle emphasis on particular words in this phrase, trying to figure out their meaning in the light of what he suspects and subsequently discovers. Caul avoids handing in the tape to the aide of the man who commissioned the surveillance. Afterward, he finds himself under increasing pressure from the client's aide and is himself followed, tricked, and bugged. The tape of the conversation is eventually stolen from him in a moment when his guard is down. Caul eventually discovers the truth: the couple were talking about killing the woman's husband - Caul's client. Caul gets a phone call from his client's assistant, who tells him not to look any further into the matter, and says, "We'll be listening." Caul goes on a frantic search for a listening device, tearing up his apartment to no avail. He sits amid the wreckage, playing the only thing in his apartment left intact: his saxophone. Cast[edit]

Gene Hackman
Gene Hackman
as Harry Caul John Cazale
John Cazale
as Stan Allen Garfield
Allen Garfield
as William P. "Bernie" Moran Cindy Williams
Cindy Williams
as Ann Frederic Forrest
Frederic Forrest
as Mark Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford
as Martin Stett Michael Higgins as Paul Elizabeth MacRae
Elizabeth MacRae
as Meredith Teri Garr
Teri Garr
as Amy Fredericks Mark Wheeler as Receptionist Robert Shields as The Mime Phoebe Alexander as Lurleen Robert Duvall
Robert Duvall
as The Director[1]

Production[edit] Coppola has cited Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup
Blowup
(1966) as a key influence on his conceptualization of the film's themes, such as surveillance versus participation, and perception versus reality. "Francis had seen [it] a year or two before, and had the idea to fuse the concept of Blowup
Blowup
with the world of audio surveillance."[2] On the DVD
DVD
commentary, Coppola says he was shocked to learn that the film utilized the very same surveillance and wire-tapping equipment that members of the Nixon Administration
Nixon Administration
used to spy on political opponents prior to the Watergate scandal. Coppola has said this is the reason the film gained part of the recognition it has received, but that this is entirely coincidental. Not only was the script for The Conversation completed in the mid-1960s (before the Nixon Administration came to power) but the spying equipment used in the film was discovered through research and the use of technical advisers and not, as many believed, by revelatory newspaper stories about the Watergate break-in. Coppola also noted that filming of The Conversation had been completed several months before the most revelatory Watergate stories broke in the press. Since the film was released to theaters just a few months before Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
resigned as President, Coppola felt that audiences interpreted the film to be a reaction to both the Watergate scandal
Watergate scandal
and its fall-out. The original cinematographer of The Conversation
The Conversation
was Haskell Wexler. Severe creative and personal differences with Coppola led to Wexler's firing shortly after production began and Coppola replaced him with Bill Butler. Wexler's footage on The Conversation
The Conversation
was completely reshot, except for the technically complex surveillance scene in Union Square.[3] This would be the first of two Oscar-nominated films where Wexler would be fired and replaced by Butler, the second being One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), where Wexler had similar problems with Miloš Forman.[4] Walter Murch
Walter Murch
served as the supervising editor and sound designer. Murch had more or less a free hand during the editing process, since Coppola was already working on The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Part II
at the time.[5] Coppola noted in the DVD
DVD
commentary that Hackman had a very difficult time adapting to the Harry Caul character because it was so much unlike himself. Coppola says that Hackman was at the time an outgoing and approachable person who preferred casual clothes, whereas Caul was meant to be a socially awkward loner who wore a rain coat and out-of-style glasses. Coppola said that Hackman's efforts to tap into the character made the actor moody and irritable on-set but otherwise Coppola got along well with his leading man. Coppola also notes on the commentary that Hackman considers this one of his favorite performances. The Conversation
The Conversation
features a piano score composed and performed by David Shire. The score was created before the film was shot.[6] On some cues, Shire used musique concrete techniques, taking the taped sounds of the piano and distorting them in different ways to create alternative tonalities to round out the score. The score was released on CD by Intrada Records in 2001.[7] Inspiration[edit] The character of Harry Caul was inspired by surveillance technology expert Martin Kaiser, who also served as a technical consultant on the film.[8][9] According to Kaiser, the final scene of the film - in which Caul is convinced he is being eavesdropped in his apartment, cannot find the listening device, and consoles himself by playing his saxophone - was inspired by the passive covert listening devices created by Léon Theremin, such as the Great Seal bug. "He couldn't find out where [the bug] was because it was the instrument itself."[10] Reception[edit] Box office[edit] The film made $4,420,000 in its domestic gross on a $1,600,000 budget. Critical response[edit] The film currently holds 98% on Rotten Tomatoes
Rotten Tomatoes
with an average of 8.7/10 based on 48 reviews with the consensus: "This tense, paranoid thriller presents Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola
at his finest—and makes some remarkably advanced arguments about technology's role in society that still resonate today."[11] Roger Ebert's contemporary review gave The Conversation
The Conversation
four out of four stars, and described Hackman's portrayal of Caul as "one of the most affecting and tragic characters in the movies."[12] In 2001, Ebert added The Conversation
The Conversation
to his "Great Movies" list, describing Hackman's performance as a "career peak" and writing that the film "comes from another time and place than today's thrillers, which are so often simple-minded."[13] In 1995, The Conversation
The Conversation
was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry
National Film Registry
by the Library of Congress
Library of Congress
as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Gene Hackman has said it's his favorite of all the films he's made. In 2012, the Motion Picture Editors Guild listed the film as the eleventh best-edited film of all time based on a survey of its membership.[14] Accolades[edit] The Conversation
The Conversation
won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film, the highest honor at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival.[15] The film was also nominated for three Academy Awards
Academy Awards
for 1974,[16] but the Academy preferred Coppola's The Godfather
The Godfather
Part II, unlike critics in the National Board of Review
National Board of Review
and the National Society of Film Critics.[17]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)

Academy Awards April 8, 1975 Best Picture Francis Ford Coppola Nominated [16]

Best Original Screenplay Francis Ford Coppola Nominated

Best Sound Walter Murch
Walter Murch
and Art Rochester Nominated

British Academy Film Awards 1975 Best Direction Francis Ford Coppola Nominated [18]

Best Actor Gene Hackman Nominated

Best Screenplay Francis Ford Coppola Nominated

Best Editing Walter Murch, Richard Chew Won

Best Soundtrack Art Rochester, Nat Boxer, Mike Ejve, Walter Murch Won

Cannes Film Festival May 9–24, 1974 Grand Prix du Festival International du Film Francis Ford Coppola Won [15]

Directors Guild of America 1974 Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Francis Ford Coppola Nominated [19]

Golden Globes January 25, 1975 Best Motion Picture - Drama The Conversation Nominated [20]

Best Director - Motion Picture Francis Ford Coppola Nominated

Best Screenplay Francis Ford Coppola Nominated

Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama Gene Hackman Nominated

National Board of Review December 25, 1974 Best Film The Conversation Won [21]

Best Director Francis Ford Coppola Won

Best Actor Gene Hackman Won

Top Ten Films The Conversation Won

National Society of Film Critics January 5, 1975 Best Director Francis Ford Coppola Won [22]

Influence[edit] According to film critic Kim Newman, the 1998 film Enemy of the State, which also stars Gene Hackman
Gene Hackman
as co-protagonist, could be construed as a "continuation of The Conversation." Hackman's character in Enemy of the State closely resembles Caul: he dons the same translucent raincoat and his workshop is nearly identical to Caul's. Enemy of the State also includes a scene which is highly similar to The Conversation's opening surveillance scene in San Francisco's Union Square.[23] See also[edit]

List of American films of 1974 List of films featuring surveillance

References[edit]

^ Hilditch, Nick (27 February 2002). " The Conversation
The Conversation
(1974)". BBC. Retrieved 11 June 2017.  ^ Ondaatje 2002, p. 152. ^ Stafford, Jeff. " The Conversation
The Conversation
(1974)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 11 June 2017.  ^ Townsend, Sylvia (19 December 2014). " Haskell Wexler
Haskell Wexler
and the Making of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'". Retrieved 2 March 2015.  ^ Ondaatje 2002, p. 157. ^ "discussion of soundtrack". Archived from the original on 15 January 2002. Retrieved 22 May 2017.  ^ Intrada Special
Special
Collection Volume 2 ^ "Martin Kaiser". IMDb. Retrieved 22 May 2017.  ^ Martin Kaiser; Bob Stokes. "Odyssey of an Eavesdropper". Martykaiser.com. Retrieved 2 September 2017.  ^ GBPPR2 (22 September 2011). "The Last HOPE: TSCM - A Brief Primer on Electronic Surveillance
Surveillance
and "Bug" Detection (Complete)". Retrieved 22 May 2017 – via YouTube.  ^ Movie Reviews Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes ^ Ebert, Roger (1974). "The Conversation," 01 January 1974, Retrieved 28 November 2012 ^ Ebert, Roger (2001). "The Conversation" 04 February 2001, Retrieved 28 November 2012 ^ "The 75 Best Edited Films". Editors Guild Magazine. 1 (3). May 2012.  ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: The Conversation". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-04-26.  ^ a b "The 47th Academy Awards
47th Academy Awards
(1975) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2 October 2011.  ^ Berliner 2010, p. 61. ^ "Film in 1975". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 11 June 2017.  ^ "DGA Awards History". Directors Guild of America. Retrieved 11 June 2017.  ^ "Conversation, The". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 11 June 2017.  ^ "1974 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 11 June 2017.  ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. Retrieved 11 June 2017.  ^ Pramaggiore & Wallis 2005, p. 283.

Bibliography[edit]

Berliner, Todd (2010). Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292739540.  Ondaatje, Michael (2002). The Conversations: Walter Murch
Walter Murch
and the Art of Editing Film. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.  Pramaggiore, Maria T.; Wallis, Tom (2005). Film: A Critical Introduction. London: Laurence King Publishing. ISBN 1856694429. Retrieved 22 May 2017 – via Google Books. 

External links[edit]

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v t e

Francis Ford Coppola

Films directed

The Bellboy and the Playgirls (1962) Tonight for Sure
Tonight for Sure
(1962) Battle Beyond the Sun
Battle Beyond the Sun
(1962) Dementia 13
Dementia 13
(1963) You're a Big Boy Now
You're a Big Boy Now
(1966) Finian's Rainbow (1968) The Rain People (1969) The Godfather
The Godfather
(1972) The Conversation
The Conversation
(1974) The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Part II
(1974) Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now
(1979; Redux, 2001) One from the Heart
One from the Heart
(1982) The Outsiders (1983) Rumble Fish
Rumble Fish
(1983) The Cotton Club (1984) Captain EO
Captain EO
(1986) Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) Gardens of Stone
Gardens of Stone
(1987) Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) New York Stories
New York Stories
(segment "Life Without Zoë", 1989) The Godfather
The Godfather
Part III (1990) Bram Stoker's Dracula
Bram Stoker's Dracula
(1992) Jack (1996) The Rainmaker (1997) Youth Without Youth (2007) Tetro
Tetro
(2009) Twixt (2011)

Written only

Is Paris Burning? (1966) This Property Is Condemned
This Property Is Condemned
(1966) Patton (1970) The Great Gatsby (1974)

Produced only

American Graffiti
American Graffiti
(1973) The Junky's Christmas (1993) Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) Don Juan DeMarco
Don Juan DeMarco
(1995) Lani Loa – The Passage
Lani Loa – The Passage
(1998) The Florentine (1999) The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Enterprises

American Zoetrope Zoetrope: All-Story Rubicon Estate Winery Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola
Presents

v t e

Palme d'Or
Palme d'Or
winning films

Union Pacific (1939) Torment (Hets) (1946) The Lost Weekend (1946) The Red Meadows (1946) Brief Encounter
Brief Encounter
(1946) María Candelaria
María Candelaria
(1946) Neecha Nagar (1946) The Turning Point (1946) La Symphonie pastorale (1946) The Last Chance (1946) Men Without Wings (1946) Rome, Open City
Rome, Open City
(1946) The Third Man
The Third Man
(1949) Miss Julie (1951) Miracle in Milan
Miracle in Milan
(1951) The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1951) Two Cents Worth of Hope
Two Cents Worth of Hope
(1952) The Wages of Fear
The Wages of Fear
(1953) Gate of Hell (1954) Marty (1955) The Silent World
The Silent World
(1956) Friendly Persuasion (1957) The Cranes Are Flying
The Cranes Are Flying
(1958) Black Orpheus
Black Orpheus
(1959) La Dolce Vita
La Dolce Vita
(1960) The Long Absence
The Long Absence
(1961) Viridiana
Viridiana
(1961) O Pagador de Promessas
O Pagador de Promessas
(1962) The Leopard (1963) The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
(1964) The Knack ...and How to Get It
The Knack ...and How to Get It
(1965) A Man and a Woman
A Man and a Woman
(1966) The Birds, the Bees and the Italians
The Birds, the Bees and the Italians
(1966) Blowup
Blowup
(1967) if.... (1969) MASH (1970) The Go-Between (1971) The Working Class Goes to Heaven
The Working Class Goes to Heaven
(1972) The Mattei Affair
The Mattei Affair
(1972) The Hireling (1973) Scarecrow (1973) The Conversation
The Conversation
(1974) Chronicle of the Years of Fire
Chronicle of the Years of Fire
(1975) Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver
(1976) Padre Padrone
Padre Padrone
(1977) The Tree of Wooden Clogs
The Tree of Wooden Clogs
(1978) Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now
(1979) The Tin Drum (1979) All That Jazz
Jazz
(1980) Kagemusha
Kagemusha
(1980) Man of Iron (1981) Missing (1982) Yol
Yol
(1982) The Ballad of Narayama (1983) Paris, Texas (1984) When Father Was Away on Business (1985) The Mission (1986) Under the Sun of Satan (1987) Pelle the Conqueror
Pelle the Conqueror
(1988) Sex, Lies, and Videotape
Sex, Lies, and Videotape
(1989) Wild at Heart (1990) Barton Fink
Barton Fink
(1991) The Best Intentions
The Best Intentions
(1992) Farewell My Concubine (1993) The Piano
The Piano
(1993) Pulp Fiction
Pulp Fiction
(1994) Underground (1995) Secrets & Lies (1996) Taste of Cherry
Taste of Cherry
(1997) The Eel (1997) Eternity and a Day
Eternity and a Day
(1998) Rosetta (1999) Dancer in the Dark
Dancer in the Dark
(2000) The Son's Room
The Son's Room
(2001) The Pianist (2002) Elephant (2003) Fahrenheit 9/11
Fahrenheit 9/11
(2004) The Child (2005) The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
(2007) The Class (2008) The White Ribbon
The White Ribbon
(2009) Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
(2010) The Tree of Life (2011) Amour (2012) Blue Is the Warmest Colour
Blue Is the Warmest Colour
(2013) Winter Sleep (2014) Dheepan
Dheepan
(2015) I, Daniel Blake (2016) The S

.