Rewind: Warren Beatty and "The Parallax View" (1974)
November of this year will mark the return of Warren Beatty to the silver screen, starring as Howard Hughes in Rules Don't Apply, a project he also wrote, produced and directed. It marks Beatty's most ambitious project in almost 20 years, following 1998's Bulworth, the zany political dark comedy that was perhaps most notable at the time for the big radio hit off its soundtrack, "Ghetto Superstar."
The climate of Beatty's bent Senator Bulworth, who starts a firestorm by calling out the rigged system, resonates strongly with the circus show that is Decision 2016, as Bulworth was a hip-hop mash-up of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Beatty's foresight is undeniable and it's a shame Bulworth has not been restored on Blu-ray for a reevaluation in lieu of recent events.
Bulworth placed its protagonist in constant fear of assassination and it's a subject casting a darker shadow in Alan J. Pakula's 1974 political thriller The Parallax View where Beatty plays Joe Frady, a reporter investigating the mysterious shooting death of presidential candidate Senator Carroll atop the Seattle Space Needle. Pakula would go on to have a blockbuster hit in '76 with All The President's Men as Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford contribute unforgettable performances as the men who broke the Watergate scandal, further cementing their status as Hollywood legends.
Where Pakula made viewers feel the thrilling rush of adventure as Woodward and Bernstein exposed Watergate, The Parallax View is a more sinister experience, as the tension is dialed up and legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis keeps the mood relentlessly brooding. From Frady's bland brown corduroy blazer to the darkly hollow proceedings of the "official annoucement into the inquiry of the death of Senator Charles Carroll," The Parallax View is a grim affair from reel to reel.
In a pre-Internet age before Wikileaks, drones and social justice tweeters, Frady's a hip gumshoe whose sole motivation is truth seeking and he risks his life, literally, in attempting to uncover a conspiracy. Only a decade removed from the assassination of JFK, The Parallax View drapes everyone in suspicion and not any government, corporation or newspaper can be trusted.
The opening shot of the film features a contrast between a Indian totem pole and the Seattle Space Needle, perhaps foreshadowing that Senator Carroll's assassination is ritualistic in nature. As Frady digs deeper into the peculiar deaths surrounding those who were witnesses to Senator Carroll's murder, he learns of a secretive organization named The Parallax Corporation that is connected to these events. When Frady begins to infiltrate Parallax, there are deep overtones of Scientology and Manchurian Candidate brainwashing. As a company with a "Division of Human Engineering" and shadow government ties, Pakula's allusions to such CIA programs as MK-ULTRA are apparent; especially during Frady's "training" sequence where he watches a psychedelic propaganda film the corporation subjects candidates to.
The Parallax View is far from a just an atmospheric mindbender, there are explosions, car chases and a captivating scuffle that takes place amid the gushing waters of the Gorge Dam. After becoming a star with 1967's Bonnie & Clyde, Beatty was coming into his prime as a versatile Hollywood leading man in the mid-'70's and he delivers a fluid performance in The Parallax View that transports the noir of Bogart into the paranoid mood of the era.
Currently playing in cinemas is another hitman themed caper, The Accountant, starring Ben Affleck. Handsome behind and in front of the camera, Affleck is of the Beatty mold, cashing in on his clout to get projects done, although Affleck is benefiting more these days due to the lucrative rewards of playing Batman.
Dick Tracey reboot, anyone?
With the days of comic books replacing film studios as the powerhouse in film making, Beatty's latest project arrives at a time when much has changed. In the twenty-four years between The Parallax View and Bulworth, there was the revolution of home video and independent film, and in the nearly two decades that have passed since Bulworth in '98, No Rules Apply arrives in 2016 amid a digitized box office where there's a shrunken audience for what appears to be a nostalgic studio picture. Howard Hughes was a brilliant visionary, but could (did?) he have predicted people one day watching motion pictures on their telephones?
Over the years, many of Beatty's most important films have become rare relics. In the '90's, I originally came upon discovering The Parallax View while thumbing the Video Movie Guide, where I'd highlight movies I wanted to watch and then commence to tracking them down. And in an era before YouTube, Netflix and DVDs, it was either finding the VHS on eBay or taping it if you were so lucky to find it listed in the TV Guide.
Recently The Parallax View has been airing on RetroPlex, but like Bulworth it has not seen a physically restored release. Fortunately, those films, along with Shampoo and Heaven Can Wait are available for streaming on Amazon. Rules Don't Apply is due in theaters late November, but perhaps it may benefit from a simultaneous iTunes digital release as well. After all, it's amusing that a Beatty film is marketed with a hashtag and a Twitter account.
Maybe Frady's fate would've been much better had he a cellphone in The Parallax View. Even so, the film is far from a time capsule. There is a lingering creepiness of the omnipresent Parallax Corporation as observed through Pakula's coldly calculated camera lens. It's the rare film that shows that everyone, not just the politicians, are pawns for the sacrifice.
Rules Don't Apply opens November 23rd.