Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Cindy Williams, Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 113
Date: 07/04/1974

The Conversation (1974)

4 Stars (out of 4)

'Cell' Phone

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) sits on a park bench in Union Square wearing his strange, transparent raincoat. He watches Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams walking in circles, singing "Red Red Robin." It's a moment that will haunt him for the rest of his life. And though many of us have seen this moment before, it's never been so clear or colorful.

That's because Paramount Home Video's new DVD of Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974) is a triumph. It gives the film a new, crisp luster that hasn't been seen in 25 years. Moreover, it's one of the very best DVDs I've seen.

In The Conversation, Harry records a private conversation for a mysterious bigwig. But as he listens to it again and again, he begins to suspect that someone will be murdered. Though the film is an acknowledged tribute to Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup (1966), The Conversation has aged far better than that '60s relic. That's thanks to Walter Murch's genius editing and sound design, and Coppola's paranoid crafting, in which Harry's knowledge of what's going on never spans beyond his immediate vicinity.

Paramount's 2001 DVD release contains two different commentary tracks, one by Coppola and the other by Murch. Coppola sometimes simply narrates the movie; at other times, he gets choked up over absent friends like actor John Cazale (also in The Godfather) and his son Gio (who appears briefly in one scene). He also reveals his original ambition to make the movie a combination of great detective writing and characters from a Tennessee Williams play.

Murch often lets minutes go by without saying anything, but when he does, he reveals many of his technical secrets. The disc also contains a short vintage documentary about the making of the film, and a trailer. And I cannot emphasize enough how great this new transfer looks. A must-own.

Somehow the video rights of this movie fell to Lionsgate, and they issued a new DVD in 2010. A Blu-Ray followed in 2011, including all the great extras from Paramount's old DVD. Quality is fine, though I miss the menus from the old DVD.

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