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May 2nd, 2005

The Conversation.

I love DVD.

The reason I love DVD is that it's seeing the re-release of films that I've never seen, and that they're appearing cheaply in venues I can stroll into off the street. I'm big on the cheap side of this, I might add, because I don't have the money to go buying different region coded films and getting them sent over here (which would present a problem for my one region coded DVD player I bought for ninety bucks, but that's not as if it present a problem for more than a couple of hours). But I love the fact that the proliferation of DVDs in general society now is so high that films are constantly being reduced to prices like fifteen bucks, and I love that fact that I can pick up something like The Conversation and find a really excellent film from the otherwise hit and miss director of Francis Ford Coppola, and not have had to go to any stress level for it.

After watching The Conversation, my belief is now that Coppola has made three excellent films: Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, and The Conversation. That pretty much covers his work in the 70s, with the exception of The Godfather 2, a film I've never really seen the fascination with. Far as I'm concerned, without Marlon Brando, that following Godfather films were limp and weak affairs.

But the Conversation isn't. Rather, it's a quiet, taunt thing that is an excellent use of perspective.

Fronting the film is Gene Hackman as Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who, working in the private industry, is hired to record people. As the film opens, he is involved in recording a couple walking through a crowded square at lunch time, an elaborate job that produces the recording that Caul becomes obsessed with during the film. His obsession grows out of his personality, for Caul is a man filled with paranoia and secrets, and both are kept in a spartan, empty life that he refuses to allow anyone into. He has become so closed off to everyone around him that his girlfriend doesn't know what he does for a living, and his only friends are those connected to his life, and all of which are being shut out by him.

Outside the opening shots of the couple through the park, the entire film is told from the point of view of Caul. Everything he sees, everything he feels... that is transferred to us, the viewer. The problem with a lot of films nowadays is that the perspective is often that of an omniscient figure (the director, one feels) who is watching the film, and trying to feed you every characters thoughts and feelings. The result, of course, is that the audience rarely connects with any of the characters in a film and is left with a hollow experience when the film ends. However, in The Conversation, when Caul goes to hand in the recordings to the director who hired him, but instead finds the director's assistant, played by Harrison Ford with just a hint of suit and power sinister, the viewer agrees with Caul that he shouldn't hand in the tape of the couple speaking;and when later, Ford is following him, that hint of sinister rises, even as he says, "I'm not following you, I'm looking for you. There's a difference. And you're in a convention of wiretappers--the math was simple."

It's a perfectly valid explanation, but by this time, you've been invested in Caul's paranoia so much that you go with it. In other scenes, where his girlfriend asks questions, you begin, like Caul, to suspect that something isn't quite right. You see dangerous shadows at every corner. You agree with Caul's lies. It's really a fantastic immersion in point of view from Coppola and Hackman, the latter providing a subtle performance where his underplayed note allows for the character flaws to establish themselves slowly. In another film--say in Enemy of the State--Hackman virtually screams to the audience, "I'm a paranoid bastard! Believe me or our insides will be fried by Government lasers in space!"

(I don't reference Enemy of the State for no particular reason, I might add. Hackman's character and wire cage in the film are recreations from the The Conversation. The only difference is, of course, that Tony Scott is behind the first and the 70s Francis Ford Coppola in the latter. It's quite a large difference, naturally, because Scott believes that you got to blow some shit up regularly to make a good film.)

However, The Conversation is really a superb film. A perfect example of perspective for anyone interested in fiction in any medium or genre, and I can't recommend it enough.

Did You Ever Eat Rat Poison?

I just went out and checked the mail. There was this little christian booklet in there, with a blue and red cover made out to look like a little overseas envelope. It calls itself the Divine Letter (though on the cover it says A Letter For You) and, accordingly, the main theme of the Divine Letter is that, "You are bad, God has to condemn you."

But my favourite part of it is the section called Did You Ever Eat Rat Poison?

It says, "We all know rat poison is dangerous. 'But you have to eat it in order to know how it works.' Anyone, who talks like that is as unwise as one who reads bad books in order to know what is bad.

Good Advice: Don't Eat Rat Poison!


Don't let inferior literature into your house, but read only good books! Read books of men who have achieved a great goal, men and women who were heroes of faith. Read also what these people say about the Bible. But watch that even such good books do not take the place of THE BOOK; for the Bible must have the first place."

Funny.

The Successful Dead.

17.


Success.


Many people register success (in writing, in life) by money and awards. Many people believe things I don't. I try not to hold it against them when they tell me this.

I don't use other people to measure success. Sure, I like it when other people say nice things and give me shit... but who doesn't like that? (Though there's this rumour going round that I don't deal with people saying nice things to me real well. Who started that? I like nice things. Tell me I'm pretty.) But people are people and if you want to keep sane, you'll take the money and whatever, and try not to think about it. Same goes for negative things. I don't dismiss negative comments, but you got to be someone in my life for me to listen to that shit. So: that leaves the question, how do you measure success? Well, I keep it simple: I have a little pot plant in the corner of the veranda. It's coloured orange and red when it flowers, and green and brown when it doesn't. A little society of green flesh and brown blooded humanoids live in the soil. They once built an ugly statue of me. You can't win, I guess. Still, every day I go out, water the plant, move it into some sun, check the soil, maybe break up a dried apricot for the little people living there. I figure if they're all alive in the morning and still doing things they like, then I'm successful. The day I walk out and everything is dead, that's the day I know I failed.

18.


Best Exit Scene.


The best death in terms of "Fucking hell, that's one way to die," belongs to a pair of men in Germany. The man who died (for only one of them did) was named Bernd-Jurgen Brandes. He wanted another man to slice deeply into his flesh, to cut a piece off, and cook it up. Then he wanted the man cutting into him to eat his cooked flesh with strong, yellowed by cigarettes and coffee teeth, and swallow so that the meat ended up in his stomach. It would be digested. Broken down. Dissolved. It would become part of the eater. It could be argued that it was a perverted oral sex fantasy, taken beyond the fun confines of the argument of spitting or swallowing for love, dear.

The man cutting into him was also German, but named Armin Meiwes. He had a fantasy about consuming a man, about having that individual in his stomach much like a mother does when she finds out that she is pregnant, only he believed that there would be no pain, and that the man's soul would be forever linked to his. The perverted mother instinct, warped through his subconscious for reasons I can't even begin to understand. Still, he was (and is) a polite man, amenable to the suggestions of the Brandes, and so he chopped off the other man's penis and flambéed it, and then the two ate it together.

Shortly after, Brandes died, and Meiwes kept eating. Both men participated willingly.

I didn't make a word of that up.


(I am answering thirty questions. I think it's gotten out of hand, but it's funny. Anyhow, all the previous rules and such have been chucked. Ask anything, leave a word, a link, whatever. It'll be turned into one of these.)