The Parallax View (Pakula, 1974)

When I tweeted on New Years Eve that Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View would be my final film of 2011, friend and filmmaker Alejandro Adams responded, “Pakula in the 1970s is America.” I can’t get this idea out of my head. Between The Parallax View and All the President’s Men, Pakula envisions American corruption as a pervasive, festering rot nearly invisible to the common man, an omniscient force beyond the grasp of the everyday citizen. It only appears for a moment, in the flash of a photograph or the shadow in a dark corner. Plausible notions of good and evil do not matter here, simply because the ideology of corruption has taken over completely, operating on a level where morality and humanity no longer function as viable options. How do we explore the truth when the very essence of American identity is permanently and potently askew?

Warren Beatty’s Joseph Frady, a loose cannon journalist who attempts to infiltrate a corporation carrying out assassinations with homegrown killers, functions as an interestingly active character, someone driven by the need to pull back the veil of American conspiracy theories. That he not only fails, but falls into a perfectly calibrated trap designed by a puppet-master he can’t even fathom, is the film’s most devastating and salient point. I can’t shake how potently Pakula meshes repeating sound effects, interior long shots, and bits of silence in The Parallax View‘s final segment. The entire sequence seems to take place in a gigantic metallic tomb, the only color coming from the gigantic sign mosaic of Senator Hammond’s face, which aptly transforms into other caricatures of past presidents.  It’s like a slide show of an American history that was never real in the first place.

2 thoughts on “The Parallax View (Pakula, 1974)

  1. Wonderful way to greet the New Year — with a film and filmmaker whose contributions to the art will probably never be fully acknowledged or understood. But you’ve made a very nice step along the way! Thanks, Glenn.

  2. It certainly was a great way to end the year. I hadn’t seen the film in over a decade so it was great to re-visit. It’s even better (and more important) than I remember. Happy New Years Jim!

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