Pakula.  Pakula was on absolute fire from 1971 to 1976 with this unofficial paranoia trilogy and then we’re largely done—unlike Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg and others American filmmakers that emerged during that incredibly fertile period in American cinema– there’s no second act here for Pakula. Those three films though—Kluke, The Parallax View, and All the President’s Men– are immaculately crafted and are consistent so let’s appreciate what we have. They are clearly the work of an artist. He’s a style-plus director (very easy to discuss below in that section) even if his filmography, specifically the depth beyond those top 3 films, may not warrant being rated as the 74th best director of all-time.

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from All the President’s Men– the narrative is engaging for sure- but it’s Pakula’s direction (lighting, lens choice) that makes this conversation epic

Best film:  The Parallax View

  • It’s the middle film in the paranoia trilogy Pakula did from 1971-1976— all 3 films (Klute, All the president’s men) are superb
  • Rightly so- this films comes up often when critics talk about the best political or paranoia films of all-time
  • After the breathtaking prologue- the forward dolly “warren commission”-like statement shot and finishing free-frame is wonderful
  • The eerie score certainly adds to the atmosphere
  • There’s a long brainwashing video sequence that certainly made me think of a clockwork orange
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from The Parallax View– set design brilliance
  • There is just one wonderful set piece after another ( space needle, gorge damn, the yacht, the parallax corporation building (the architecture here looks like it’s from Tati’s playtime))
  • Long silent chase sequence, followed by a Manchurian candidate and JFK inspired finale amongst yet another beautiful set piece… it’s a stunning ending with the long shot of the tables at the convention
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the finale to The Parallax View
  • Reverse-dolly warren commission finale shot is a wonderful bookend to the opening and a massive middle finger to the establishment
  • One of Warren Beatty’s best films as an actor in the lead
  • Top 5 of the year quality level film
  • Must-See/Masterpiece border
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this is Antonioni from La Notte— oppressive modernity squashing our protagonist

total archiveable films: 7

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 2 (The Parallax View, All the President’s Men)

the arrangement of figures here in All the President’s Men

top 100 films of the decade: 3 (The Parallax View, All the President’s Men, Klute)

most overrated:  Nothing-  Pakula only has one film in the TSPDT critical consensus top 1000 and it’s All the President’s Men at #483 which is underrated by 100 + slots.

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ditto here- the shot isn’t great just because of the split diopter — it’s the arrangement of the two actors, the columns

most underrated:  Parallax View. I have it rated out as Pakula’s best film and, disastrously (for the poor critics), it’s not on the TSPDT top 1000.

another from Parallax– architecture as character– actually a villain here

gem I want to spotlight:   Klute. This page isn’t about Gordon Willis but many are going to give Willis credit for Pakula. Before Manhattan, Annie Hall, The Godfather and Part II we had Klute—and Pakula needs to get some credit for shaping the look and darkness here (Willis’ work before this, with like Hal Ashby on 1970’s The Landlord doesn’t look like this). It’s the first film in the paranoia trilogy, chalk-full of gorgeous paranoia-inspiring camera zooms, the Antonioni architectural influence, and Jane Fonda’s best performance.

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this is my favorite shot from Kluke – wall art quality photography
another stunner from Klute

stylistic innovations/traits:   If this is easy to discuss it’s a good sign for the auteur and Pakula is so easy and fun to talk about. His best work emphasized dread in large looming set pieces—corporate offices, the space needle (this is pure Hitchcock but instead of thrill Pakula went with Orwellian fear) and the congressional library. That’s right, through superior film style, Pakula makes a library seem horrifying. The paranoia here is achieved through the small characters lost in oppressive architecture (La Notte), machinery/modernity (Red Desert, Modern Times, Playtime)  and open spaces (Antonioni). The natural lighting (or lack thereof) and shadows is trademark—it’s more consistent in Pakukla’s work than Coppola’s, Roeg’s or anyone else who emerged from this era or worked with Gordon Willis (and influenced the likes of David Fincher, Soderbergh). If the set piece work and lighting weren’t enough we have the trademark Pakula camera zooms. It’s a beautiful marriage of content and style with the surveillance themes in his trilogy. We’re watching (Fonda, Beatty, Redford/Hoffman) from afar. I could do another page on Pakula’s work (albeit from Welles) using the ceiling, specifically corporate natural lighting, as mise-en-scene and how it’s influenced so many films today from Zodiac to Homecoming.

Pakula and his zooms– a perfect marriage- here utilized to perfection to create fear and paranoia in All the President’s Men

top 10

  1. The Parallax View
  2. All the President’s Men
  3. Klute
  4. Sophie’s Choice
  5. Comes a Horseman
  6. Presumed Innocent
  7. Starting Over
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magnificent silhouette shot in Klute

By year and grades

1971- Klute MS
1974- The Parallax View MS/MP
1976- All the President’s Men MS
1978- Comes a Horseman R
1979- Starting Over R
1982- Sophie’s Choice HR
1990- Presumed Innocent R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives