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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Parallax View (Blu-ray Review)


The Film
The Video
The Audio
The Supplements


In this paranoid Watergate era political thriller from Alan J. Pakula, Warren Beatty stars as small-time journalist Joe Frady who begins to investigate the assassination of a senate candidate near Seattle's Space Needle and begins to uncover a vast conspiracy tying together a number of deaths of people who witnessed the killing and the nefarious Parallax corporation that seems to be hiring people as assassins. The film has grown in stature over the years and is generally regarded as one of the great political thrillers of the era. Criterion Collection releases the film here in a new 16-bit 4K restoration on Blu-ray.

The Parallax View Criterion Collection Blu-ray PackshotThe Parallax View is the classic 1974 post-Vietnam, Watergate-era political thriller from Alan J. Pakula starring Warren Beatty that captures the claustrophobia, anxiety, and paranoia of the American public during that era.

Taking as its que the Kennedy assassinations, Beatty plays smalltime journalist Joe Frady who gets wrapped up in investigating the assassination of a senator at Seattle’s Space Needle, but when his newswoman former girlfriend Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss) who was also there ends up dead in a mysterious overdose (in another one of the film’s deaths that alludes to a historical killing/assassination conspiracy), Joe begins to investigate further and finds more people associated with the senator and who were present the day of the killing turning up dead in mysterious ways. Joe stumbles on a corporation connected to the and decides to dig deeper by infiltrating the Parallax Corporation as one of their hired assassins, going through their Parallax test. He soon becomes more and more isolated and disgruntled as he loses himself in his assumed identity, but there may be more about him and everyone that the Parallax Corporation knows that he even realizes.

Shot by the famed “prince of darkness” cinematographer Gordon Willis, known for his low light photography in films like Klute and The Godfather, Parallax is the second of what is known as Pakula’s “paranoia” trilogy, coming between Klute (1971) and All the President’s Men (1976). This particularly film out-paranoid them all, however, giving us the darkest conspiracies, the most hopeless protagonists, and the most stunning ending that wraps up ominously with a dark room wherein a senate panel ominously declares their findings on the investigation into the assignation then just disappear into the shadows.

The film proved too dark and paranoid even for the Watergate-era, doing the worst of the three Pakula “paranoid trilogy” films, but has grown in stature over the years, being highly regarded as one of the great political thrillers to come out of the era alongside films like The Conversation (1974) and neo-noir thriller Chinatown (1974). In retrospect, and probably why the film has continued to gain stature, The Parallax View was very prescient on matters of corporate takeover of the intelligence state, coverups, and post-truth conspiracies.

The Video

This is a new digital transfer done in 16-bit 4K resolution from the original 35mm camera negative on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner. Color was referenced from a 2005 master overseen by original cinematographer Gordon Willis, with this new version being supervised by the original color timer Jon Boorstin. The 2.39:1 AVC 1080p encodement from Criterion Collection looks about right for the medium speed Eastman 100T 5254 color stock negative the film was shot on and the many low light scenes that the magnificent cinematographer Gordon Willis captures. There’s a fine, crisp layer of grain, coarser than some may be used to today, but hardly overwhelming, and very natural and purveying lots of fine detail. The colors look warm and accurate, although there are some spots, mostly in the more well-lit scenes, where color does look a bit pallid. Take chapter 3, ~mark 00:13:18 as an example where Warren Beatty speaks with Paula Prentiss in his apartment. I at first thought maybe there were some variants in film sources going on but knowing that this seems to be sourced from the same camera negative and going back to look at it again, it just appears to be the lighting and filming choices that washout the colors. Otherwise, this is a solid transfer.

The Audio

The original monaural soundtrack for The Parallax View was remastered from the 35mm magnetic track using Avid Pro Tools and iZotope RX. It’s provided on this Blu-ray from Criterion Collection in LPCM 1.0 and sounds good enough although it cannot escape the limitations of the distortions and limited dynamics inherent in the original recording.

The Supplements

This is a good collection of bonus features, especially the Alex Cox introduction and Alan J. Pakula interviews. This isn’t one of the most feature-rich Criterion releases, but as always with Criterion, it’s not all about the quantity.

  • Alex Cox Introduction (1080p; 00:15:00) – An in-depth introduction to the film by filmmaker Alex Cox recorded by the Criterion Collection in October 2020.
  • Alan J. Pakula, 1974 (1080p; 00:17:59) – Recorded on November 20, 1974, as part of the American Film Institute’s Harold Lloyd Master Seminar series, this conversation features Alan J. Pakula discussing his approach to directing and the making of The Parallax View.
  • Alan J. Pakula, 1995 (1080i; 00:05:55) – In this interview, recorded by the American Film Institute in 1995, director Alan J. Pakula reflects on how The Parallax View conveyed the anxieties of the early seventies.
  • Gordon Willis (1080p; 00:18:16) – One of the most acclaimed cinematographers of the 1970s and ‘8ps, Gordon Willis was nicknamed the “prince of darkness” for his use of extremely low lighting, most notably in Klute and The Godfather. In this interview, recorded in 2004 for the American Society of Cinematographers, Willis discusses his working relationship with director Alan J. Pakula and their stylistic approach to shooting The Parallax View.
  • Jon Boorstin (1080p; 14:55) – In this interview, recorded by the Criterion Collection in October 2020, Jon Boorstin discusses working on the written psychological test and the Parallax test video for The Parallax View.
  • Booklet featuring cast and credits, information on the transfer, and an interview with Alan J. Pakula by Andrew C. Bobrow

The Final Assessment

The Parallax View is a thicket of paranoia, corporatocracy and deep state conspiracies that foreshadowed our modern post-truth world. This new 4K restoration of the classic Watergate-era political thriller on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection is a must-own film for cinephiles.

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The Parallax View is out on Blu-ray and DVD February 9, 2021 from the Criterion Collection

  • Rating Certificate: R
  • Studios & Distributors: Doubleday Productions | Gus | Harbor Productions | Paramount Pictures | The Criterion Collection
  • Director: Alan J. Pakula
  • Written By: David Giler | Lorenzo Semple Jr. | Loren Singer (novel) | Robert Towne (uncredited)
  • Run Time: 102 Mins.
  • Street Date: 9 February 2021
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
  • Video Format: AVC 1080p
  • Primary Audio: English LPCM 1.0
  • Subtitles: English SDH

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