Started myself off on a kick with my Pacino post yesterday, I think. I’m in the mood to watch all those great movies from the first half 70s starring Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, and Gene Hackman. Began last night with The Conversation, since it’s streaming on Netflix.
It’s good. It’s too good. Too good at being itself. It’s relentlessly what it is. No let up, no relief, no breaks in the tension or mood. If you ever want to make the case that perfection is actually the enemy of great art, The Conversation can be exhibit A. Hackman is too good too. John Cazale isn’t. He’s just right.
Afterwards, I looked up some things about the making of the film and on imdb found that director Francis Ford Coppola and Hackman set out to make Hackman’s character Harry Caul look like a man who wears his entire narrow, gray, and depthless emotional life on the outside, hence the unhip, civil engineer’s glasses, the mustache that says nothing about Harry except that he has a mustache, and the odd, unnecessary transparent raincoat. Part of achieving this “look” was having Hackman wear suits ten years out of date.
When’s ten years out of date from the time frame of the movie?
Mad Men era.
I’m sure it read differently in 1974, but from the perspective of post 1970s audiences who’ve long since accepted the idea that everything hip and groovy about that kidney stone of a decade was really the exact opposite, Harry doesn’t look like the “nudnik” Coppola and Hackman set out to make him. Harry’s dressed in the uniform of an adult professional as opposed to dressed up in the costume of the determinedly I may be a banker or a Presidential aide but I’m still a member of the counterculture at heart Rock Hudson as McMillan wannabes.
He’s no Don Draper, but, when he’s ditched the raincoat, next to the other men around him---except for Cazale and Harrison Ford, who three years before Han Solo is seen here giving off a vaguely gay vibe as an unctuous, cookie-baking smoothie of an executive’s assistant---with their overwide ties and earth tones and hot-combed hair and bushy porn star mustaches, Harry looks not stylish but at least put-together, grown-up, and in a way cool.
Which would explain Teri Garr waiting up for him night after night.
Nothing else does.