Cast & Crew
Francis Ford Coppola
In San Francisco, renowned surveillance expert Harry Caul and his recording engineers, Stan and Paul, tape the conversation of Mark and Ann as they walk through busy Union Square. Their circuitous route and the noisy public space complicate the assignment, and Harry must use three simultaneous tapes, each of which captures only a portion of the discussion. Harry reacts to Stan and Paul's curiosity about the purpose of the assignment by reminding them to simply get the job done. He returns to his sparse, impersonal apartment and is upset to discover that his landlady has left a gift for his birthday, thus obtaining personal information and bypassing his elaborate alarm system. He then spends the evening alone playing his saxophone. The next day, in his warehouse office, Harry synchronizes the three tapes in order to isolate Mark and Ann's voices from the surrounding sounds, and captures almost all of the innocuous-sounding conversation. At night, he visits his girl friend, Amy Fredericks, in the apartment he keeps for her. Although she is initially excited to see him, when he once again refuses to reveal any personal information, she tells him that she has seen him spying on her, and will no longer wait for him to visit her. The next morning, Harry brings the tape to Mr. C, the high-level businessman who has commissioned the recording. When Mr. C's assistant, Martin Stet, insists on taking the tape himself, a mistrustful Harry grabs it away and ignores Stet's warning not to get involved. After recognizing both Mark and Ann in the building's elevator, Harry returns to his office to listen to the tape again. Noticing an inaudible whisper, he uses specialized equipment to discern the words "He'd kill us if he got the chance." Stan once again asks for information about the assignment, and when an edgy Harry barks at him to keep his work impersonal, Stan stalks out. Later, Harry visits his church and confesses to a priest his fear that the tape will be used to hurt Mark and Ann. At a surveillance conference held the next day, Paul introduces Harry to business rival William P. "Bernie" Moran, for whom Stan is now working. Harry is terrified to see Stet following him, but later Stet reveals that he only wants to set up another meeting with Mr. C. After the conference, Harry invites Paul, Stan, Bernie and two women back to his office to drink. There, Bernie jealously pushes Harry to reveal how he accomplished his most famous job, a Washington, D.C. welfare scandal. When one of the women, Meredith, flirts with Harry and urges him to confide in her, he finally admits that he misses Amy. Later, Bernie tells the group how the welfare scandal resulted in the deaths of three people, and then, gloating, takes out a tape he has secretly made of Harry's conversation with Meredith. Harry explodes in anger and throws everyone out, but Meredith insists on staying. While he obsessively replays the tape, worried that innocent people will be hurt again, Meredith seduces him. Later, while sleeping, he dreams that he is revealing intimate details about his childhood to Ann, and when he awakens, Meredith and the tape are gone. Back at Harry's apartment, Stet calls on Harry's unlisted phone to warn him that he is being watched and should come to Mr. C's office for payment. There, Harry realizes that Ann is Mr. C's wife. Afraid of what Mr. C. will do to Ann, Harry remembers Mark's taped comment about an appointment at a hotel that afternoon, and rents the room next to theirs. Soon, he hears an argument between Mr. C. and Ann and then sees a bloody handprint on the adjoining balcony window. Horrified, he tries to escape the noise of the argument by turning up the television and burying himself under the bedcovers. Hours later, he rises and breaks into their room. Everything appears perfectly clean until he flushes the toilet, which overflows, flooding the room with blood. Harry races to Mr. C's office where reporters are asking Ann about her inheritance now that Mr. C. has died, supposedly in a car crash. Just as Harry recalls the comment "He'd kill us if he got the chance" and realizes that Mark and Ann were not in danger, but rather planning a murder, Stet notes his presence. When Harry returns to his apartment, Stet calls to warn him that he is being watched. Undone by the thought of his secured home being breached, Harry searches for bugging devices, shredding the curtains, disconnecting the wiring and pulling up the floorboards until his apartment is destroyed. Finally, Harry is left alone, playing his saxophone amid the wreckage.
Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola
Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Doug Von Koss
Best Writing, Screenplay
In a plot that bears similarities to Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966) except that the focus is on sound recording and not photography, a reclusive surveillance expert named Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) stumbles across what he believes to be a murder plot. It begins when he is hired by a client (Robert Duvall) to record a conversation between a young couple and through repeated playbacks of their dialogue suspects they may be in great danger. Then the tapes are stolen and Harry, feeling guilty over what he has uncovered, becomes increasingly obsessed with the couple (played by Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest). Should he warn them? Should he try to intervene somehow? As Harry's paranoia escalates he is driven to investigate a reference to room 773 at the Jack Tar Hotel, the site of a planned murder. His discovery of the truth leads to a shocking denouement and the realization that he has become a victim of his own profession.
According to Coppola, "he first conceived the idea for The Conversation in the mid-1960s while listening to director Irvin Kershner (The Flim Flam Man, 1967) discuss espionage and state-of-the-art surveillance tactics...He told Coppola about long-distance "shotgun" microphones that looked like rifles. They were so powerful that when they were aimed at the mouth of each speaker they could actually record a conversation between two individuals, even in the midst of a crowd." (from Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola by Gene D. Phillips). This particular detail so fascinated Coppola that it became a key element in the elaborate opening sequence in The Conversation in which Harry records a couple's conversation in a crowded public park in downtown San Francisco.
In developing the central character of Harry Caul, Coppola read extensively on wiretapping and surveillance experts such as Bernard Spindel, a legend in his field, and Hal Lipset, a San Francisco native, who was eventually recruited as a technical consultant on the film. The director also incorporated some autobiographical details into Caul's background; in high school, Coppola was a science geek and president of the radio club. One time he even planted hidden microphones around his own home so he could eavesdrop on family conversations. He envisioned Caul as someone who was an oddball in his youth, always tinkering with gadgets like himself. Even the character's name reinforced his hermetic nature. "I called him Harry Call," Coppola said "but she [the transcriber] had typed Caul. When I saw what she had typed, I decided to keep the spelling, since I knew what a caul is. It is the membrane that surrounds a fetus until it is born. Through most of the movie, Coppola continues, Harry wears a translucent plastic raincoat, a visual symbol that he is still insulated inside a caul." (from Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola by Gene D. Phillips).
Gene Hackman was Coppola's first choice for the role of Harry. "He's ideal because he's so ordinary, so unexceptional in appearance," Coppola said. "The man he plays is in his forties, and has been doing this strange job for years." Despite Hackman's brilliant performance in the role, it wasn't a pleasurable experience for him. "He was really a constipated character," Hackman recalled, "It was a difficult role to play because it was so low key." This, of course, was a challenge to Coppola as well - how to make a taut, compelling film with such a cerebral character at the center?
The one person who helped Coppola transform The Conversation from a static portrait of a loner into a riveting, Hitchcock-like thriller was Walter Murch, an ingenious sound engineer who had previously worked with him on The Rain People (1969) and American Graffiti (1973). The director stated "although the film was about privacy, sound would be the core element in it. So I suggested that he [Murch] edit the picture as well, which he hadn't really done before and didn't think of as his specialty. He agreed. And that was when I got to know Walter as a filmmaker..." As a result, the sound in The Conversation adds a disturbing and disorienting texture to the movie that gives it tension and a constant edge. Murch points out, for example, "you don't know what the point of view is at the opening. It's clear only that you are high up looking down on Union Square in San Francisco, hearing those soft, billowy sounds of the city at lunchtime. Then, like a jagged red line right across the view, comes this distorted - you don't know what it is - this digital racket...you will learn what it is soon enough, and you will learn that what you assumed was a neutral God's-eye point of view is in fact the point of view of a secret tape recorder that is recording all of this, picking up these distorted sounds that are the imperfectly recorded voices of the targets, the young couple's conversation sometimes muffled by the sounds of the square."
Initially Haskell Wexler was hired as the cinematographer on The Conversation but became so combatant and opinionated over how the film should be shot he was fired and replaced with Bill Butler who had worked with Coppola once before on You're A Big Boy Now (1966). Wexler's Union Square sequence, however, which was extremely difficult to shoot, remains in the film and sets the appropriate tone of paranoia that runs throughout the film. Other than the Wexler incident The Conversation was a harmonious production. Coppola was able to shoot the film in his hometown of San Francisco (the warehouse used for Harry's workspace in the film was only five blocks from the director's American Zoetrope studio) and work with his own repertoire of actors, many of them on the verge of major career breakthroughs - Harrison Ford, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams, John Cazale, and Teri Garr. Robert Duvall, who was already a well-established character actor and Best Supporting Actor nominee (for The Godfather), agreed to appear in an important but unbilled cameo.
Though dwarfed by the success of the two Godfather pictures, The Conversation still managed to attract the attention of the Academy voters and garnered three Oscar® nominations including Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Sound. It deserved more and certainly Gene Hackman should have been nominated. But the critics definitely took notice with Time magazine stating, "For Hackman, Caul presents a substantial challenge. It is a largely interiorized role in contrast to the action parts in which he has recently built his career. He responds with the most substantial screen performance he has done." Newsweek proclaimed the film "brilliantly original in its basic style and mood and prophetically American in its vision of a monitored society," while The Hollywood Reporter noted "a film of triumphant style and overwhelming passion, white hot with American anguish." And The Conversation is no less relevant today.
Producer: Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Roos, Mona Skager
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola
Cinematography: Bill Butler
Film Editing: Richard Chew
Art Direction: Dean Tavoularis
Music: David Shire
Cast: Gene Hackman (Harry Caul), John Cazale (Stan), Allen Garfield (William 'Bernie' Morgan), Frederic Forrest (Mark), Cindy Williams (Ann), Michael Higgins (Paul), Robert Duvall (Director), Teri Garr (Amy), Elizabeth MacRae (Meredith).
by Jeff Stafford
Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola by Gene D. Phillips)
Gene Hackman by Allan Hunter
A Conversation with Lawrence Kasdan - May 22 in Atlanta
This year's Icon Award, made possible by MailChimp and other generous supporters, will be presented on the evening of Sunday, May 22, 2016 at the Woodruff Arts Center's Rich Auditorium. The program will include film clips, behind-the-scenes images, and tributes from key collaborators such as Glenn Close, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Kevin Kline, Geena Davis and more. The Q&A with Mr. Kasdan, as he reflects on his filmography and life experiences, will be moderated by ArtsATL co-founder Catherine Fox. ArtsATL is an independent, non-profit online publication that delivers coverage of and critical dialogue about the arts in Atlanta. The program will begin at 7:00 PM, and will be followed at approximately 8:30 PM by a private reception, which will take place at the Twelve Eighty restaurant. The VIP reception includes cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, an opportunity to participate in the silent auction of exclusive autographed movie memorabilia, and a chance to meet Mr. Kasdan.
The Icon Award for Contributions to the Cinematic Arts will be awarded annually to honor exemplary artists who have upheld the tradition of artistic excellence in film, informed directly or indirectly by a Jewish subject or sensibility, and who inspire preeminence in filmmaking worldwide.
General Admission tickets are $36 and are now on sale. A limited number of VIP tickets, which include the post-program private reception with Mr. Kasdan, are still available for $200/individual or $350/pair at AJFF.org.
A link to the Icon Award promotional announcement can be seen here: http://ajff.us/AJFFIconAwardKasdan
"From the intimate character dramas The Big Chill and The Accidental Tourist, to the indelible blockbusters The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Kasdan's career continues to have a rich impact on the broad popular consciousness," says Kenny Blank, executive director of AJFF. "The gifts of storytelling and craftsmanship, which Kasdan's work reflects, are held in the highest regard by AJFF and our audience."
"I'm very honored and flattered to be the first recipient of the AJFF Icon Award for Contributions to the Cinematic Arts, a pleasure only increased in that it is co-presented by ArtsATL, an organization dear to my heart," Kasdan says of the tribute.
Responsible for writing some of the biggest blockbusters in Hollywood history, Kasdan is an accomplished director who specializes in helming poignant ensemble character dramas including The Big Chill (1983). He made his directorial debut with the steamy noir Body Heat (1981), followed by such films as Silverado (1985), The Accidental Tourist (1988), Wyatt Earp (1994) and Dreamcatcher (2003).
Kasdan co-wrote the Star Wars trilogy sequel film Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), the biggest hit in U.S. history, and has written the series' Han Solo spin-off film with his son Jon.
He has been nominated for four Oscars: twice for Best Original Screenplay for The Big Chill (1983) and Grand Canyon (1981), and twice for The Accidental Tourist (1988), for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay; The Accidental Tourist was awarded Best Picture by the New York Film Critics Circle.
In 2006, the Writers Guild of America West bestowed on Kasdan the Screen Laurel Award, screenwriting's highest honor, for life achievement in the field.
For more information about this year's Icon Award for Contributions to the Cinematic Arts, sponsored by MailChimp, visit AJFF.org, or stay connected via social media on Twitter @ATLJewishFilm and on Facebook and Instagram at atljewishfilm.
ArtsATL is an independent, open access, online publication that delivers coverage of and critical dialogue about the arts in Atlanta. Our mission is to inform and educate the community and beyond about the arts in Atlanta, and in so doing, expand the audience and help build a sustainable, cohesive and mature local arts community.
ArtsATL is grounded in the idea that public discussion of the arts is a key component of an arts community. We link artists and arts organizations with their prospective patrons and audiences to build a vibrant, informed and engaged creative community.
AJFF's mission is to entertain and engage diverse audiences with film through a Jewish lens. In so doing, AJFF fulfills its vision to inspire communities to new levels of social and cultural understanding. Seeking to use the power of film both to entertain and educate, AJFF challenges conventional perspectives on Jewish culture and history, life in Israel, and the work of Jewish artists--particularly where these stories intersect with other communities.
AJFF ranks as the world's largest Jewish film festival and Atlanta's leading film festival of any kind. AJFF attracts audiences of nearly 40,000 moviegoers, and features an international collection of more than 70 narrative and documentary films (in both feature and short form) that connect with the Jewish experience. The festival brings to Atlanta major films representing more than two dozen countries each year. No screening is without a guest speaker or panel discussion, led by filmmakers, actors, authors, academics and/or other experts. This year marks not only AJFF's second year as an independent non-profit, but will also be its first time offering additional forms of programming throughout the year.
The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival was founded in 2000 by the Atlanta Regional Office of American Jewish Committee (AJC), a global advocacy organization that enhances the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel through education, outreach and diplomacy. Through the power and shared experience of cinematic storytelling, AJC and AJFF foster stronger bonds within the Jewish community, and intergroup relations with Atlanta's diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities. Today, AJFF is an independent non-profit arts organization that continues an active partnership with its founding agency, American Jewish Committee.
A Conversation with Lawrence Kasdan - May 22 in Atlanta
I'm not afraid of death, but I am afraid of murder.- Harry Caul
I'm not following you, I'm looking for you. There's a big difference.- Martin Stett
Every time I see one of those old guys, I always think the same thing.- Ann
What do you think?- Mark
I always think that he was once somebody's baby boy.- Ann
He'd kill us if he got the chance.- Mark
We'll be listening to you.- Martin Stett
Reportedly Gene Hackman's favorite of his movies.
the director who hires Harry Caul.
Opening aerial shot taken from atop what was then the City of Paris department store. Today (2000) it's a Neiman-Marcus.
The Jack Tar Hotel, site of the grisly murder scene in room 773, is today (2000) the Cathedral Hill Hotel located on Van Ness Avenue at Geary.
Gene Hackman's character was to have been named Harry Call, but a typing error led to his being name Harry Caul and the name stuck.
According to an April 1974 New Yorker article, Francis Ford Coppola began the screenplay for The Conversation in 1966, finishing it in 1970. A June 1969 Daily Variety article stated that he originally wanted Marlon Brando to star. Modern sources have pointed out that "Harry Caul" was named after "Harry Haller," the main character in Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf, who, like Harry, was a recluse. Coppola produced the film for The Director's Company, which he had formed along with fellow directors Peter Bogdanovich and William Friedkin. The picture was shot in San Francisco, CA, on location in Union Square and in Coppola's newly formed American Zoetrope Studio, marking the director as one of the first major American filmmakers of his generation to open a studio outside Los Angeles.
Haskell Wexler was originally hired as director of photography, but within weeks, according to news items, friction between Wexler and Coppola caused the director to replace him with Bill Butler. After filming was completed, prior commitments forced Coppola to leave the footage in the hands of Walter Murch, who oversaw the complex editing procedure. A modern source quotes Coppola as referring to Murch as "an author" of the film, because of the editor's role in crafting the final story.
A November 1972 Daily Variety news item adds Timothy Carey and Raymond Bieri to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Although a January 1973 Hollywood Reporter item adds Abe Vigoda to the cast, he does not appear in the final film. Modern sources include the following members to the crew: Production Assistant Lawrence Bridges; Saxophone player for Gene Hackman Justin Gordon. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Sound (Murch and Art Rochester) and Best Original Screenplay (Coppola). In addition, it won the Palme D'Or at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, and was awarded the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor awards from the National Board of Review.
According to a December 1973 Variety article, KGO-TV news cameraman Harold A. "Buck" Joseph sued Coppola, Paramount and American Zoetrope for $30,000. He alleged that, upon trying to film the production after locals complained about excessive smoke used in one scene, he was attacked by Coppola and two other men. The final disposition of the suit is undetermined.
Voted Best Director (shared with "The Godfather, Part II") by the 1974 National Society of Film Critics.
Voted Best Picture and Best Director by the 1974 National Board of Review.
Winner of the Palme d'Or for Best Picture at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival.
Released in United States 1974
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States 1998
Released in United States October 1999
Shown at Cinequest 1998: The San Jose Film Festival January 29 - February 4, 1998.
Selected in 1995 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Re-released in United Kingdom March 1, 2002.
Released in United States 1974
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Cinequest 1998: The San Jose Film Festival January 29 - February 4, 1998.)
Released in United States October 1999 (Shown at AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (Classic Film Retrospective) October 21-29, 1999.)