The Parallax View is an amazing, somewhat forgotten relic from the last sustained period of interest and originality in American film. Shot by Gordon Willis, ASC and directed by his long time collaborator Alan Pakula, it was one of the first movies to memorialize the Watergate-era paranoia that at the time was still very new. Even now, with that dissonant feeling a constant part of our culture, it has a disturbing way of getting under your skin. Having not seen it in many years until a few nights ago, I was surprised at how well it has aged. Apart from an embarrassingly chintzy avoidance of pyrotechnics that occurs about halfway through (it did save a lot of money!), The Parallax View was made by mature minds for an informed audience.
As you’d expect, Willis’ work is superb. He had just set a new standard with his photography of the first two Godfather films and though it would be years before he’d be properly recognized, he was at the top of his game. Working in anamorphic format and a more contemporary style, his images here are no less powerful; graphically strong yet free of artifice, they illustrate his philosophy of conveying the maximum amount of information to the viewer in the simplest way possible.
There is one instance however in which Willis calls on a slight bit of gimmick. But in doing so he shows what separates the genius from the hack. It’s a perfect fit for the material, setting the table pre-credits and just five minutes into the film for the moral distortion we’re about to witness. Take a look at the clip.
Dolly in, zoom out. Normal to…not normal. Brilliant!
The Parallax View was recently re-released on DVD and BluRay by Criterion, the unsurpassed gold standard for such treatment. The supplementary materials contain segments of a 2004 interview with Willis that was conducted by American Cinematographer editor Stephen Pizzello and photographed by yours truly. I urge you to check it out.