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Alan J. Pakula's "The Parallax View"
January 5, 2012 8:11 PM   Subscribe

Welcome to the testing room of the Parallax Corporation's Division of Human Engineering.

Back in the 1970s occasional mainstream movies were unafraid to tackle difficult, even dangerous issues. Network's vision of a society dehumanized by television can arguably be said to have come almost 100% true. Parallax's unseen conspiracies also have come to pass, depending on one's point of view. We now believe that those who control access to 'reality' can create any 'truth' they desire. Since the lines between news and editorial content and pure fiction are now completely blurred, who can tell?
posted by Trurl (29 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
I watched this movie not too long ago on TCM or something like that. It was shocking that I hadn't seen it before. Part of a loose trio of movies by Paluka (Along with Klute and All The President's Men), it really is informed by the mistrust of government and suspicion of power which was pretty widespread in the era of Nixon and Vietnam.

It's a great great movie, with one of the strangest interludes in the middle of it (here the first link in this FPP). If you haven't seen it, I recommend it. If you haven't seen it in a while, I recommend you see it again now. Remarkably prescient, takes chances which NO movie would take today, and decidedly of its time and yet reaching into today.

Great thing to put forward, Trurl. Thanks for the post.
posted by hippybear at 8:18 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh wow. That was really great. I'll have to watch the full movie at some point.
posted by Evernix at 8:36 PM on January 5, 2012


I love The Parallax View. Very weird, very well directed by Pakula, and a great performance by Beatty. Appropriately bleak ending. Hey, it was the 70s.
posted by zardoz at 8:44 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


it really is informed by the mistrust of government and suspicion of power which was pretty widespread in the era of Nixon and Vietnam

Maybe there's another CIA... inside the CIA.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 8:49 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why am I Thor?
posted by Diablevert at 9:03 PM on January 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


Ladies and gentlemen, you have been invited here today for the official announcement of the inquiry into the death of Senator Charles Carroll. This is an announcement, not a press conference. Therefore, there will be no questions
posted by growabrain at 9:07 PM on January 5, 2012


HA! I separate my friends with PARALLAX VIEW. You either get it or you don't. Thank you and goodnight.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 9:15 PM on January 5, 2012


(I used to separate my friends with ERASERHEAD, but I ended up lonely.)
posted by Ron Thanagar at 9:16 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is this film cyberpunk?
posted by LogicalDash at 9:19 PM on January 5, 2012


Why am I Thor?

Me Thor!
posted by mikelieman at 9:25 PM on January 5, 2012


This test is also appears, weirdly enough, in the Billy Joel video for 'Pressure'. I got a hold of a block of six hours of uninterrupted MTV that someone recorded from the day that video premiered on September 9, 1982, and was surprised the that test footage actually appeared in a few segments of the video.
posted by chambers at 9:43 PM on January 5, 2012


Me Thor!

You're Thor? I'm tho thore I can't even pith.
posted by fatbird at 9:45 PM on January 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Is this film cyberpunk?

Not sure if you're making a joke or not, but no. There's really no use of any of the tropes of cyberpunk in the film at all.

That interlude which is linked above is part of a brainwashing program which the hero undergoes as part of his induction into the corporation at the heart of the movie's conspiracy.

It's paranoid and difficult and definitely made in the 70s, with lengthy shots and not a lot of quick cuts, allowing actors to work scenes instead of assembling a scene in the cutting room. I'd not classify it as cyberpunk on any level. But that's just me. Others may know better.
posted by hippybear at 9:46 PM on January 5, 2012


Is this film cyberpunk?

It feels kinda Bester...
posted by Artw at 10:38 PM on January 5, 2012


Why am I Thor?

Because it would've cost too much to show Superman.

I watched Parallax two summers ago with my dad, who had seen the movie years before. I thought it was a decent 70s conspiracy thriller with a fine Beatty performance and the noticeable differences in pace and editing styles when compared with contemporary movies (mentioned upthread). But the brainwashing scene blew my fracking mind. At the time we had a neat home theater set up with surround speakers and a digital projector beaming the movie onto a white sheet I had tacked into the ceiling. It was fantastic. That single scene elevated my overall impression of the film. It remains one of my favorite movie sequences. Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being...

So, for me Parallax View belongs in a category of movies where one scene or sequence stands out above the film taken as a whole. Another (more extreme) example is Cube Zero, the dreadful prequel to the excellent Cube. Cube Zero is a very bad movie, but it has one scene of weird, kind of Kafkaesque absurdity that stands out from the rest of the dreck.
posted by mediated self at 11:38 PM on January 5, 2012


Why am I Thor?

Because that's where you're a Viking!
posted by loquacious at 12:37 AM on January 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oddly enough, it turns out that Warren Beatty is not the Kwisatz Haderach. Sad, but true.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 12:44 AM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great Post, I love this film. You know your 70s moveis Trurl, that To Live and Die In LA car chase post was also awesome.

70s movies, so much bleaker, so much better.

" Cube Zero, the dreadful prequel to the excellent Cube" - mediated self

This must be a different cube to the atrocious one I saw; now that really is a bad movie, and i like films like Cherry 2000.
posted by marienbad at 2:23 AM on January 6, 2012


Thank you for this post! It's good for quickly installing some perspective. A few people I know who are my age need a damn sense of perspective.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:39 AM on January 6, 2012


Nice, I always liked that scene. I always thought it was also a play on montage scenes you would see in various places in the 70s. I remember seeing montages like that in school, museums. They were always called something like "life" And had stills set to random instrumentals. This one of course turns sinister, right after they show the piles of cold hard cash and a nice rare steak.

Of course it wasn't really any kind of testing or brainwashing at all, but simply set decoration for what they wanted Joe Frady to think. After all, after passing the test and resisting some very obvious brainwashing a reporter would think he was pretty darn smart. The Parallax Corporation is of course way too subtle for such ham handed antics.

It also sets the viewer up, after all, we saw the brainwashing montage from Frady's perspective. Stupid Parallax Corp think they can put one over on us.

All in all I think it is a very subtle re-examination of the same territory as The Manchurian Candidate.

You should do a Klute or Three Days of the Condor post. :)
posted by Ad hominem at 4:51 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have the strangest urge to kill the Prime Minister of Malasia.
posted by Shepherd at 7:37 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I freaking love this film. It reminds me a bit of Michael Clayton with the strange, long, quiet shots.
posted by georg_cantor at 8:50 AM on January 6, 2012


Network's vision of a society dehumanized by television can arguably be said to have come almost 100% true.

This seems an odd claim. TV surely had a far more powerful hold on the nation in the 70s than it does today. Network is a great film, but the media world it describes and parodies is dead and gone. No network has the kind of market or mindshare now that they had then.

Parallax's unseen conspiracies also have come to pass, depending on one's point of view.

And this, too, seems weirdly presentist--part of Metafilter's general tendency to think that "once upon a time" (meaning "before I was really politically conscious") everything in America was wonderful and now we've fallen into a hitherto unimaginable repressive nightmare. The CIA really got up to some unbelievably crazy shit in the 60s--with far less scrutiny and public accountability than anything they're doing now. Parallax isn't foretelling the "future" at all; it's completely a product of its time (and a wonderful one, indeed).
posted by yoink at 9:45 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


No network has the kind of market or mindshare now that they had then.

News Corp, much?
posted by FatherDagon at 10:04 AM on January 6, 2012


News Corp, much?

Fox's viewing figures would have been a rounding error for any of the Big Three in the 70s.
posted by yoink at 10:12 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am possibly over-invested in comics as I see Thor and Superman as completely different sets of symbolic values and the idea that they might be interchangable would just never occur to me...
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on January 6, 2012


This must be a different cube to the atrocious one I saw

The original Cube isn't Citizen Kane, but it is an effective independent film that makes the most of a high concept premise and a one-room set.

I see Thor and Superman as completely different

I am possibly under-invested in comics but I saw the images in the test film not as ME=Thor but ME=Superhero. Special powers, outsider status, that sort of thing.

Of course it wasn't really any kind of testing or brainwashing at all, but simply set decoration for what they wanted Joe Frady to think.

That's a very good point, and something I hadn't considered in light of the film's final plot twist [Spoiler alert]: that Parallax doesn't recruit assassins, they recruit patsies.
posted by mediated self at 11:04 AM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the post. Just watched it and thought it was great. The speed of the editing was perfect, and they didn't try to cram too much story into it. Something about 70s movies where they felt comfortable just taking a picture and letting you look at it for a while. Simple and to the point. There was some really cool 70 architecture in there as well that made me think "skateboarding is an inevitability".

Reminded me of the dead zone, I guess because of the assassinations.
posted by jonbro at 1:52 PM on January 7, 2012


Regarding Thor, the fact that he is blond-haired and blue-eyed doesn't seem like a complete coincidence given the recurrence of Nazi iconography in the rest of the montage.
posted by whir at 10:12 AM on January 8, 2012


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