“I was paid $50 a week as an AFI intern to be on set.”
Jon Boorstin was a young documentary filmmaker who worked as assistant to director Alan Pakula on “The Parallax View.” The film premiered in June of 1974.
“The week after we opened “Chinatown” came out and sucked all the air out of the room for thrillers, we kind of got buried,” says Boorstin in a phone interview with Testset.
“The Parallax View,” follows a reporter, played with increasing dismay by Warren Beatty, investigating mysterious deaths associated with a political assassination. The film fits perfectly amongst paranoid thrillers that thrived in the‘60s and ‘70s; movies like “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962), “Three Days of the Condor” (1975), “Executive Action” (1973) and “The President’s Analyst” (1967).
Recently “The Parallax View” has undergone a resurgence with a Criterion Blu-ray coming out last February, along with the May 29th re-issue of Michael Small’s influential soundtrack on multi-colored vinyl from Cinema Paradiso Recordings, a company that specializes in limited edition LPs of unique soundtracks.
Small’s minimal and discordant creativity can be heard in movies from the era like “Parallax View,” “The Star Chamber,” “Night Moves” and “Marathon Man” among others.
The Criterion Collection release includes extras featuring two interviews with Alan J. Pakula recorded in 1974 and 1995; a featurette profiling the film’s cinematographer Gordon Willis; and a dialogue with Boorstin discussing aspects of the movie that cement “The Parallax View’s” reputation as a cult film.
Film Within A Film
At a pivotal point in the movie the audience is treated to a film-within-a-film as undercover reporter Beatty auditions as an assassin for the mysterious Parallax Corporation.
In a tour de force of filmmaking the five-minute montage takes the viewer on an odyssey of images that represent the American Dream juxtaposed with titles like “Mother” and “Love” and “Country.”
Boorstin found himself tasked with finding and clearing all the images that propel the action.
“It catches the feeling of what America should be before your beautiful mother is taken away and your house burned,” says Boorstin.
While Beatty sits alone in a large auditorium, with his hands and fingers on galvanic skin response pads watching the recruitment film, the audience sees what he sees.
Boorstin compares the brainwashing scene in the film “A Clockwork Orange” (1971). “Only Kubrick wasn’t showing you the movie McDowell was watching,” says Boorstin.
“Clearing the rights was part of the project. Once I found the images I knew where they were from, we made a book and contacted people to get permission and all that. I didn’t have go get anyone’s permission for the shot of Chairman Mao though,” adds Boorstin.
After a minute, and a single shot of a Norman Rockwell-esque young girl praying we shift into images of Mao and Hitler. The counterbalance of opposing messages are amplified by subliminal illusions. Things get ugly.
“There’s a looming shadow of the father chasing a little boy in a dark hallway, and there’s a shadow of his hand on the wall only it looks like a penis,” says Boorstin.
Photos of lovers were from a cutting edge Los Angeles photographer and images of men in hot pants came from the Village Voice.
With the photo of a man hanging from a tree Boorstin notes: “The idea was to start sentimental and loving, to escalate from the arms of mother and apple pie into people getting shot and hung.
“The Parallax View” gets even more intense after this sequence and ends with Beatty trying to prevent another political killing.
“They didn’t have a script, there was a writer’s strike,” says Boorstin. “The book was about a detective in New York but the movie is about a reporter in San Diego; Beatty was pay or play. The script was written while making the movie.
“While we were shooting the scene where Warren opens a desk drawer and sees the entry form for the Parallax Corporation we had a television on the set. Between takes we were watching Nixon on TV saying ‘I am not a crook.’ It was a weird transition.”
Boorstin would also work with Pakula as an associate producer on “All The President’s Men,” and as writer and producer on the 1986 psychological thriller “Dream Lover.” Regarding “All The President’s Men” Boorstin says, “It’s a movie about why people need to confess. People have no reason to talk, yet they have to talk.”