Week 5, Cynicism and Paranoia; section 3, 11:00 AM – 12:15 PM, Jaap

In recitation, section three, on the twenty-second of February, Jaap elaborated from last night’s lecture on the second blog post assignment. Going into the week’s subjects of conspiracy and paranoia in the 1970’s, he presented a clip from the torture scene in John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man. In discussion of its relevance, we pointed out the fact that all parties—Dustin Hoffman in the chair and Laurence Olivier and his henchmen, as well as the audience—are both trying to figure out something to no avail, hence paranoia. We also pointed out that we as the audience—as well as Dustin Hoffman—cannot figure out the meaning of the organized actions going on—Hoffman’s kidnapping, entrapment, repetitive questioning (“Is it safe?”: We do not know what “it” refers to), and torture—, hence conspiracy; the theme of underground Nazism in the film was also mentioned as pointing toward the theme of conspiracy. We also discussed the device of the MacGuffin, an object in a work that drives the plot forward but is not actually very important in relation to the narrative as a whole; in Marathon Man, for example, the “it” in “Is it safe?” is a collection of diamonds stolen from Holocaust victims and survivors, but by the time we figure this out, we care more about Dustin Hoffman’s safety. In The Conversation, there are numerous MacGuffins: Has there really been a murder? Is Harry Caul’s (Gene Hackman) apartment bugged at the end of the movie? Who stole the recording? Whether these are real events or cerebral ruptures in the mind of Harry Caul, they still play as parts of a metastasizing paranoia. With the presence of ambiguity, what remains to be seen is the individual’s response.

Following this discussion, we had a presentation by Julien on “The Man Who Would Be King”, Chapter 5 from Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Pointed out in the presentation were the themes of conflict in the ranks of Hollywood production—namely intergenerational conflict—and the near-fiasco production of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, with Francis Coppola acting as both a sell-out—as maker of mainstream Hollywood films, instead of pursuing his dream of his own independent “auteur” status as per the French New Wave—and as a rebel—refusing to back down from most of his demands, from the actors he wanted to shooting on location in New York City in a 1940’s period setting. Also brought up was the idea that “Success comes from conflict,” which about sums up all of the stories in that chapter, from the production of The Godfather to the production of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. Jaap took over afterward and added on with the reinvention of “old, traditional” genres, with The Godfather reinventing the gangster genre and Chinatown reinventing film noir. He also brought up the sequel boom that followed The Godfather, Part II’s winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, giving rise to multi-film franchises, including Star Wars, Jaws, Death Wish, Halloween and Friday the 13th.

We returned to the topic of paranoia with the close-ups scene from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Jaap cited Blow-Up as the inspiration for Francis Coppola’s The Conversation, the two films being similar for their questions of realism and of truth taken through forms of media, as well as the possible corruption of the senses through media. This segued with Emily’s presentation on “Ciné Paranoia: Conspiracies Unmasked, 1973-75”, an excerpt from J. Hoberman’s book The Dream Life. Brought up was a relating of the 70s’ to the 60s’ times of rebellion and denouncing of major authority figures, although instead of protesting rights to freedom of voice, people were now protesting the freedom of the mind in the landscape of media overload and government conspiracy, giving rise to the new question, How much of the media is fiction? Following the presentation, Jaap showed the two consecutive  sequences from the opening of Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men, as well as the meeting scene between Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook). Jaap focused on “Deep Throat”‘s advice to Woodward—telling him to not follow the media in his pursuit of Nixon in the Watergate scandal, because they blew everything of proportion—as a poignant statement of the relationship of media vs. conspiracy, summing up the recitation.


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