We began the recitation by revisiting the themes of nostalgia and paranoia that have been so prevalent in the class’s films thus far. We wondered about these themes’ specific connection to Easy Riders and to The Conversation. In The Conversation, dramatic pauses established tension, as did the use of sound. In general, the class agreed that tight shots, fast cuts, “surveillance” shots, and other ways of directing the camera and editing shots could establish the idea of paranoia. In a historical, political context, paranoia in the early to mid-70s in the United States took the form of a lack of trust in the government; both civilians and the government itself mistrusted the government. In particular, president Nixon was obsessed with a conspiracy that he believed was against him.
Next the class discussed cynicism. In the end of Chinatown, cynicism is portrayed through the hopeless feeling of the situation and the lack of effort or ability to put effort into fixing it. Polanski’s skepticism added to this tone – he didn’t believe there to be an end to “Capitalist greed,” and therefore does not offer a solution to it in his ending. Cynicism was also discussed in Owen Land’s film, New Improved Institutional Quality: In the Environment of Liquids and Nasals a Parasitic Vowel Sometimes Develops, the soundtrack assumes that the viewer’s mind will follow the instructions given (an example of skepticism), and the main character himself, who is constantly serious, seems cynical. We wondered whether the film might be cynical of its own message and it own ability to make its message apparent to its audience (assuming that the audience is either unintelligent or unwilling to pay attention). Along with the theme of cynicism, Land’s film deals with the idea of oppression. Regarding the film’s message beyond its cynicism, theories included that the film is a satiric look at how ridiculous people seem when taking tests, that the film satirizes itself (perhaps even unintentionally) because the audience only participated because the film makes them do so, and that the film aims to comment of the ideological format of media and how the human mind can be detached from it. We also commented on the dehumanization of the narrator’s voice, and the test-taker’s expectations as a way of getting within their mind. The class also generally agreed that the film could have been shorter.
Next, Angel presented the Hoberman article. It is very history-intensive. He spoke about the Patty Hearst kidnapping publicity stunt, and its connection to the Manchurian Candidate through the theme of the government’s control of the media. The article also mentioned The Exorcist’s role as a groundbreaking horror film, and its relation to the “exorcism” of Nixon. Both Watergate and the Kennedy Assassination inspired paranoia- and cynicism-themed films (Chinatown, Executive Action).
We watched clips from The Exorcist and Taxi Driver. The Exorcist inspired paranoia about possession. Taxi Driver inspired Reagan’s attempted assassination.
Finally, we discussed The Conversation more deeply. In the film, there is a slow build up of tension, and the soundscape is largely cacophonous, which adds to it. All of the characters seem to lack a family, and the relationships that are seen on the screen are ambiguous. Harry Caul is aware that he’s being watch by God (he is a devout Catholic and hates hearing the lord’s name used in vain) and therefore tries not to commit sins. The class thought that this seemed hypocritical of him. Aesthetically, the audio is pieced together at one point so it can be hear, but then it is still not comprehendible. The last shot in which the camera is panning around suggests that he will always be watched (as does the saxophone music). The film creates a lot of unanswerable questions. One of these is: Is it possible to balance freedom and security? The themes of the danger of dependence upon technology and the “middle man” are explored.