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  • Writer's pictureBig Rick Stuart

‘The Conversation’ Is Still Pristine, 50 Years Later

This Coppola movie was filmed in San Francisco and San Francisco looked great!

It begins with a bird’s-eye view: a predatory perspective on San Francisco’s Union Square that renders the park in stark, almost geometric terms. Eventually, the camera begins zooming forward and down, a slow, deliberate movement that heightens the sense of documentary realism—a bustling urban scene observed at a distance—while introducing Coppola’s obsessive and claustrophobic theme of technological control. We’re not as free to look around as we think we are, and it’s not long before the shot isolates our protagonist, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), who cuts a noticeably solitary figure in his slate-gray raincoat.

Accosted by a mime, Harry refuses to engage, suggesting that his loneliness is by choice; the street performer, meanwhile, is a nod to Italian maestro Michelangelo Antonioni, whose 1966 art-house hit, Blow-Up, had been a beacon to so many emerging young American directors. In that virtuosic tour de force, a photographer poring through his own snapshots thinks that he sees evidence of a murder scene; in Coppola’s homage, a surveillance expert, the aforementioned Mr. Caul, comes to suspect that one of his field recordings contains garbled but distressing audio evidence of a potentially lethal conspiracy against two civilians.

Haunted by his past complicity in a violent tragedy, Harry decides to figure out who’s trying to kill the people he’d taped in the park and why, effectively contradicting his own philosophies of distance and disinterest. “I don’t know anything about curiosity,” he tells a colleague. As it turns out, what Harry doesn’t know could kill him.

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