Monday, October 12, 2009

My Neighbour's Wife Has Been Kidnapped!

It turned into an Alan J. Pakula weekend for me for some in I ended up screening three of the director's mystery thrillers from the mid 70's; Klute, The Parallax View, and All The President's Men, 'the paranoia trilogy' as they've come to be known. And as much as part of me hates being an old fart and talking about the good ol' days of movies and how they don't make films like they used to...they really don't make films like they used to.

All three are open mysteries (more or less)...we know the ending or the killer or the bad guys from the beginning, yet they still 'thrill' to this day. All three have great scripts with fantastic cinematography (Gordon Willis) and terrific actors (Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Roy Scheider, Warren Beatty...c'mon!), but where they really shine is in the direction by Mr. Pakula. And the shine isn't because of the ways we've come to praise direction today: flash, bang, smash, boom, bang, razzle, dazzle...but rather Pakula's ability to exercise restraint; create tension and suspense and drama through pause, effect, understatement, and quiet; and the near absence of any music and/or film edits and cuts.

From The Parallax View, Warren Beatty suspects the worst is about to happen to a plane he's travelling on and quietly strives to resolve the situation without drawing undue attention to himself.

From Klute, Jane Fonda is confronted by her stalker and the movie's killer after he traps her in a dressmaking factory (SPOILERS + just a bit of that creepy score off the top - 'shiver')...

And one of my favourite movie scenes of all time, Redford catches a break in Woodstein's quest to uncover the puzzle of Watergate...while on the phone...filmed in a one-sided oner.

There's a beat, around 6 minutes into the scene, where Dahlberg tells Redford that he gave the money to Maurice Stans...and it must have been SO tempting to punctuate that moment with a big music sting. I mean, it was the payoff, the climax as it were, to the entire shot...c'mon! And yet, Pacula didn't. He just let it play. Perfect. And even though it's all one shot with a slow zoom in, it's still 'directed', albeit unobtrusively, with a split diopter lens keeping the left and right side of the frame (foreground/background) in focus reinforcing the motif of visual claustrophobia.

There's a quiet confidence in direction like this that you just don't see anymore. Or there are directors today capable of directing this way, but the companies and the studios won't let them or don't want them to. And that's really a shame, really.

No comments: