The Conversation is my favorite movie. To paraphrase the old Marine Corps Rifleman’s Creed, there are many great films out there and everybody has their favorite, but this one is mine.
Last month (former Marine) Gene Hackman was the featured star over at Turner Classic Movies, and re-watching this great movie on TCM rekindled my longtime interest in finding a movie poster from my favorite movie.
In it, Gene Hackman plays surveillance expert Harry Caul. “The best in the business.” The poster gives us his backstory and a pretty good idea what it’s all about in four short sentences.
Harry Caul is
an invader of privacy.
The best in the business.
He can record
between two people
three people are dead
because of him.
Harry is hired by a mysterious corporate fat cat known only as The Director (a small but important part played by Robert Duvall) to do the technically challenging job of recording the conversation of two people walking around San Francisco’s Union Square during a busy lunch hour.
Harry isn’t told the significance of the conversation and he’s learned from experience it’s better not to ask. Or care about the answer. Over the course of the movie, Caul/Hackman becomes convinced he knows what the conversation is all about, and you guessed it—it’s murder.
This knowledge reminds him he does in fact have a conscience, and a sense of responsibility. He’s tortured, conflicted by his competing desires to remain invisible and to intervene. His inner torment is echoed by David Shire’s haunting piano work in the soundtrack. It’s rather reminiscent of Erik Satie and captures the loneliness and tragedy of Caul’s character perhaps better than any words ever could.
Why is this such a great film? Film critic Walter Chaw does a far better job describing this film’s brilliance, including the intricacy and even brilliant serendipity involved in its making— than I could ever do. It would also take more time and space than I have available in this short VCH Finds piece to ever do it justice.
Read his full-length review to get the full picture. (Forgive the pun.) It’s Chaw’s favorite movie, too. I thought it was interesting that we both discovered it in undergraduate film classes and were both blown away by it for similar reasons.
I’ll just hit some of the highlights of Why It Matters. Chaw isn’t the only critic who loves this movie. It currently has a 98 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s a good start. The Conversation is a brooding, paranoid masterpiece from arguably the greatest decade of movie making.
They made some great movies in the 1970s, and the American directors, producers, and actors of that era were clearly intoxicated by the new freedom the post code era gave them, and by the artistic European movies that inspired them to make home grown, grown-up movies for intelligent audiences. The Conversation was directly inspired by Antonioni’s Blow-Up from 1966.
Director Francis Ford Coppola made The Conversation in between two other projects that turned out pretty well: The Godfather and the The Godfather Part II. See what I mean about it being a great era in film history?
I find this last part of Chaw's review particularly compelling evidence of The Conversation's place in the film universe:
"And despite Coppola boasting films like the first two Godfathers and Apocalypse Now as his legacy, [The Conversation's] easily the best thing he's ever done. I had the rare chance over lunch a few years ago to tell him so. It's meaningful to me that he didn't argue."
I bought this “one-sheet” poster on eBay for ten bucks plus shipping. Examples in nicer condition may go for hundreds of dollars, but my copy is pretty tired looking up close and has some condition issues. There is masking tape at the top and bottom, and an old scotch tape repair. That's all really just more character, and I love it.
The size is the older 27 x 41 inches, which became 27 x 40 after 1985. One-sheet posters from that era were usually shipped with one vertical crease and three horizontal creases. This one will go in my office (Chaw had one in his office for ten years; now it hangs in his living room).
So I finally have my poster from my favorite movie, battered as it is. There are many like it, some in better shape, but this one is mine.