From the early to mid-1970s, director Alan J. Pakula made three unrelated films that have become known as the director’s “paranoia trilogy.” 1971’s “Klute,” which I’ve written about before, 1976’s “All The President’s Men,” and 1974’s “The Parallax View” starring Warren Beatty. It’s been written about many times, American cinema grew up and changed dramatically starting in 1968 with films like the Beatty starring “Bonnie and Clyde”. The decades-old production code was looking increasingly outdated as the 1960s brought cultural changes. Audiences and filmmakers were ready for a change.
The background to these films were tumultuous times for America, the country had experienced the assignations of the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Jr. and by the time “The Parallax View” hit theaters in June 1974, The Watergate Scandal was in full effect (President Nixon would resign just a few months after “Parallax” was released). This sense of political unease and mistrust crept in movies of the era, and “The Parallax View” is one of the best. Shot by the legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis, “The Parallax View” centers around a journalist looking into the murder of a senator at the top of the space needle in Seattle.
Beatty does a great job playing a reporter who is a recovering alcoholic, who despite his boss insisting he enjoys a nice well paid beat reporters job, can’t help but dig deeper and deeper when new evidence comes his way, and others who were present the day of the assassination three years earlier, begin to die. What Beatty finds is a mysterious organization that seems to be at the center of things, and seems to have reached far wider and deeper than Beatty could realize.
Having seen, and written about The Criterion Collection’s edition of Pakula’s “Klute,” I was excited to see “The Parallax View” for the first time. Sometimes conspiracy centered thrillers can feel a bit overwhelming and overdrawn, but “The Parallax View” isn’t that. It’s a well-paced, well-executed movie, with truly wonderful imagery from Gordon Willis. The movie sort of keeps you guessing, as well as any conspiracy film, can, with a good sense of suspense and unease that stays with you during the one hour and forty-two-minute running time.
Now I can’t claim to have seen all of Pakula’s trilogy, having only watched bits and pieces of “All The President’s Men.” It’s clear though why the films in his “paranoia trilogy” are so celebrated. Beatty’s character is often seen through long distances, giving a sense that you’re not only watching the movie but that someone is watching Beatty as he goes about his investigation. I wasn’t entirely sure the day I watched the movie if I was up for a political conspiracy thriller—there has been way too much of that in real life lately—but the film held me from the first frame and I was truly impressed up to the last.
“The Parallax View” makes its blu-ray debut from Criterion, a new 4K transfer was used for this disc, sourced from the original 35mm camera negative. Pakula and Willis are both, sadly, no longer with us, but a 2005 master of the film that Willis approved was used for reference, and the movie’s original color timer, Jon Boorstin, was brought in to get the new master as close to Willis’s vision as possible. The result is a fantastic looking print, with dark shadows and rich imagery. It’s easy to say this is the best the movie has ever looked on home video, and maybe the best since the original prints seen in theaters in ’74.
Criterion has brought a good array of bonus materials as usual. There’s a new introduction to the film by director Alex Cox, and archival interviews with Pakula and Willis, plus a new interview with Boorstin. It makes for a good supplement to the film itself. The movie is great and comes highly recommended from yours truly, Criterion has once again put together a great collection. See you next week.