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The Parallax View: Kuleshov On Steroids

By Karel Segers

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The 70s was the best decade for film. It was also the time of the smart thrillers: political, conspiracy, spy thrillers, and a director who completely mastered all three, was Alan J. Pakula. He made his mark with All The President’s Men, Klute, and my absolute favorite: The Parallax View.

I’m not sure what attracts me more in The Parallax View: Warren Beatty’s charm, the sense of menace throughout the picture, or Pakula’s breathtaking direction. Pakula manoeuvres from dead-cool suspense to straight-up fun, without blinking.

Somewhere early in the film, Beatty’s character Frady takes on a local redneck who turns out to be the deputy. It’s an unlikely combo of tough physical action, and a touch of vaudeville.

MOVIE WITH A VIEW

[Spoilers] The movie is a visual spectacle, and this is clear from the first minutes. In a nail-biting sequence, we witness the assassination of a popular senator, right on the dome-shaped roof of the Space Needle.

The first half of the movie is just a lot of fun to watch. That fun appropriately comes to an end at the mid point. You may have figured out that I am a sucker for mid points, but this one is a mofo in its own league. To understand it, I need to tell you something about a Russian who died nearly half a century ago.

LEV AND FRED

Film students know about Lev Kuleshov, or the effect named after him. Kuleshov demonstrated that your perception of an image is coloured by what you see right before. He showed the photo of an expressionless face to an audience three times.

First, in conjunction with a plate of soup, next with a woman on a divan, and finally with a coffin. The audience raved about the acting, as the expression subtly changed from hunger to desire, to grief.

Hitchcock fans may remember how Hitch looked into the camera, squinting. Next follows footage of a woman with a baby, and Hitch smiling… a kind old man. But when the woman and baby are replaced by a woman in bikini, Hitch suddenly becomes a dirty old man.

At the Mid Point of The Parallax View, Frady gets to see his own mini-Koyaanisqatsi.

KULESHOV ON STEROIDS

The mid point of this film is testimony to Pakula’s brawn. To put a six minute sequence with a barrage of still images at the centre, not only shows that you have balls, but it means you have clout with the studio.  To place the clip, here is what happens in the first half.

In his investigations about the murder of the senator, Journalist Frady traced suspicious documents back to a corporation that seems to recruit and train assassins. He infiltrates the ‘Parallax’ company, and as part of his ‘induction’, he is made to watch this video. During the video, his responses to the images are measured. Because we know that Frady doesn’t have the psychological profile of a murderer, some tension lies in the fact that this sequence may unmask him as a fake. Normally, I would say ‘enjoy’. More appropriately here perhaps, ‘endure’…

About Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst, script editor and producer with experience in rights acquisition, script development and production. His screenwriting classes have trained writers in Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and his clients include international award-winning filmmakers as well as three Academy Award nominees. Karel is the founder of The Story Department and Logline.it!, and he ranks in the world's Top 10 of most influential people for screenwriting on Twitter.

 

Screenwriting Article by Karel Segers

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