Thursday, July 24, 2008

An Internal Monolouge About The Conversation

This post is in conjunction with the LAMB's Movie of the Month for July.

How does one write about a film that has been analyzed and dissected for over thirty years? Especially when the film maintains as much social and political resonance as when it was made? Can I dig too deep into a movie and make something out of nothing? Maybe Troy really is NOT an allegory for the war in Iraq and maybe The Conversation is just a movie about paranoia and the invasion of privacy. But what if it’s more?

What if the movie is trying to show me what I am becoming as a viewer, as a voyeur? What if my drive and ambition is not focused on what the movie is about, only the ‘larger picture’? What if, as Harry says, “I don’t care what they’re saying, I just want a nice, fat recording.” Could it be that I forsake the entertainment value of pictures in order to find a deeper artistic meaning, something that can satisfy me on another level that might not be intended at all? Perhaps I should just enjoy Transformers rather than debate the merits of bloodless combat and the attempt to make us identify with inanimate objects.

I have sat alone in a darkened room, and played over and over again a piece of plastic in order to find something that I believe it there, but cannot pinpoint. At times, I have become sick of perfectly good movies because I have merely spent too much time with them, albeit, by my own doing. At that point, I wonder if have become like Harry Caul. Clearly, Harry is terrific at what he does and enjoys it to a certain extent. However, he can never take full satisfaction by his accomplishments since he pushes himself to do better and distances himself personally from the subject matter.

Have I done the same? In order to try to become a better writer and critic, have I given up been entertained by entertainment and instead become obsessed with what I perceive to be underlying themes, subliminal messages and nods to current events? How can I enjoy The Dark Knight when I’m marveling at the commentary on society’s values instead of a tricked out Bat-pod? When I worry that censorship will infringe of the basic human rights to make some dick jokes? How can I think about The Conversation as a simple movie by Francis Ford Coppola and Gene Hackman when the morality and ethical questions raised by the subject matter are political fodder for our current presidential campaigns? Or whether or not Harrison Ford’s character was gay? Will it make a difference at all? Probably not.

Have I become so ensconced in my own world that I cannot let anyone in? Sure, I like going to movies by myself or with select friends, but when Harry lets people into his world, it comes crashing down. What if the same thing happens to me? What if Harry is showing me that the end result might be the destruction of my world, at my own hands, with nothing to show for any of it? Does the paranoia people perceive in Harry perhaps play as protection for actor and director? If Harry has nothing else but his work and his privacy and his work has been taken away from him, will he stop at nothing to defend his privacy? Of course, there could have never been a bug in his apartment, but that’s not enough to convince Harry. If you told me tomorrow they were going to remake North by Northwest, I would be furious until my dying day, never convinced that it would NOT happen, only waiting for it TO happen and it would be enough to push me over the edge.

Where did I go wrong? Should I have just listened? Or like Harry, should I dig deeper? Is it prudent to go looking into situations beyond your control for answers you might not like? I’m not involved in any capacity in the films I watch, except as an audience member, so why should I try to become an active participant? Why can’t I take a step back and maintain my distance as an observer? Why can’t I just call them ‘movies’ every once in awhile? Will I succumb to the same fate as Harry when I become tortured by my own thoughts and imagination and impotence to affect change in these movies and give it all up for the saxophone? Will anyone remember that I used to play the trombone in grade school? Am I getting way too existential? Do I even know what that word means? Do I sound like I do?

Will I ever enjoy movies like I did when I was young? Or has being behind the curtain and seeing the strings, learning the rope trick, the three ring trick and the disappearing coin trick jaded me to the movie magic that filmmakers are trying harder than ever to deliver to me and the masses?

Well, Dark Knight did make me feel like it was 1989 again.


Fletch said...

Getting this this weekend to watch. looking forward to it...

Totally unrelated, but I just saw on your profile that your a golfer. If you ever make it out to Phoenix...

Michael J. Mendez said...

I love Phoenix and I'm a terrible golfer, so I will definitely take you up on that next time I'm in the great Southwest.

The Mad Hatter said...

I like your angle on this one - well done!

Dean Treadway said...

God, I loved this post, Mike. Film analysis needs to be this personal. Great job!!!!

That said, once you watch a lot of movies, and write about them, you'll find that you can live in two worlds at once while watching films: The world of the real, that is, the world of you commenting on the movie you're watching, and the world of the unreal (the movie, and all its emotional trappings). You'll find that if one is affecting the other, it's a sure sign that the movie or the moviegoing experience has problems, in your view.

In other words, don't fret about it. If you're a writer on film, it's an occupational hazard.

Dean Treadway said...

It also sounds as you need to start the process of divorcing yourself from hype, so that you can innocently enjoy movies again without worrying about box office, gossip, awards, and reviews/reviewing--all are things that at their worst distract from the cleasing experience of committed moviegoing.

Big Mike Mendez said...

I think that I can let go and still enjoy a film, while appreciating or critiqueing the artistical/techinical merits of it. I just really got into writing about The Conversation for the MOTM and as always, tried to write something different that what I thought everyone else would write.

My mom always asks me if I can just enjoy a movie or if I overthink it too much. The first time, I always try to enjoy it. If I find it lacking, then I start analyzing it a little more. But a film like Dark Knight kept me trapped in the story and it wasn't until the third time that I really started to break it down, thematically and clinically.

Thanks for the comment!

JG said...


Excellent post. The struggle you mention in this blog is something every critic faces. As I recently wrote on my own blog (I swear I'm not giving myself a free plug), even I have to catch myself being led off track by an engrossing story, a heartbreaking story, or a stunning performance by an actor from time to time. Don't feel guilty for letting your analytical vigilance slip from time to time. It happens to the best of us.

If it's any consolation, a film like THE CONVERSATION was not made with the same work ethic or sensibility as a film like BLAZING SADDLES. Even though the latter was released before I was born, I can guarantee you that never once during the course of the shoot did Mel Brooks think to himself, "Boy, I can't wait to see what symbolism or hidden meanings John Simon will discover in the campfire scene!"

On the other hand, Coppola wants his audience to tear THE CONVERSATION apart because it has a lot to say about the times in which we live. If you feel the urge to dissect what's going on before you when watching an intelligent film, follow it! You have a brain for a reason. Use it.

Life is a balancing act, and film criticism is no exception. Sometimes, it's perfectly acceptable -- if not necessary -- to get lost in the wondrous world to which a film transports you. At other times, higher order cognitive processing is in order. To paraphrase METROPOLIS, either the mind or the heart will rule.

Thank you again for your insightful blog. Keep them coming.