This week, Jeff Godsil revisits Roman Polanski's The Tenant, from 1976, and Matthew of KBOO's bedtime story program Gremlin Time looks at My Young Auntie (1980), a comedy martial arts film which was the first starring role for who some consider "the Greatest Woman Martial Artist in the World," Kara Hui, who also did a lot of work behind the camera, and even as an editor, while in the book nook, we scrutinize the new BFI Film Classic on Alan Pakula and Robert Redford's All the President's Men. But first, some rapid fire thoughts on recent films on the big screen.
There’s a reason why at the start of this episode I referred to Alan J. Paula and Robert Redford’s All The Presidents Men.
Robert Redford had a vision for All the President’s Men. He had followed the original reporting that appeared in the Washington Post by the two reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. He bought the rights to the subsequent book while it was still being written, and in fact guided the text to what it became, that is, not a history of the crimes, but the story and intrigues behind the reporting. As the film’s producer, he hired Alan J. Paula, and was behind many of the casting choices, in collaboration with Pakula, already an expert in that facet of filmmaking. He was also supportive of hiring Gordon Willis of The Godfather and earlier Pakula films to photograph the film in his characteristic tones that emulated the painter Thomas Eakins and especially The Gross Clinic (he was also influenced by Edward Hopper’s barren American nightcaps and rectangular structures and Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson).
We learn all this or are reminded of it by Robert B. Ray and Christian Keathley’s new BFI Film Classics volume on the film.
Robert B. Ray is Professor of English at the University of Florida and the author of A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980, The ABCs of Classic Hollywood, and several others, all excellent, while Christian Keathley is a Professor of Film and Media Culture at Middlebury College and the author of Cinephilia and other books and several essays.
The book coms in four detailed chapters, an introduction and a conclusion, the film’s credits, and a summary of key points in the Watergate story. The four chapters are titled:
1.Who's in Control?
2.The Scripts and Their Ellipses
3.Cast Performance Styles
4.Découpage and Dialectics
The authors take this taut thriller which still holds up and note that Redford and Pakula removed explanatory passages from the script in order to put the viewer in the same state of mind as the befuddled reporters.
The film does have its annoying bits, such as when, walking up to Hugh Sloans' house, Bernstein says, “All these neat, little houses and all these nice, little streets... It's hard to believe that something's wrong with some of those little houses,” to which Woodward replies, “No it isn’t.” Also the dialogue slips into that plot and detail signaling manner where people tell things to each other that they already know, so that the viewer can keep up (the Segretti scene).
Write the authors:
Another point is:
But the authors don’t just roam in the ethereal. They provide maps of the Post’s newsroom, camera and set set-up charts for certain dialogue sequences, provide lists of the people Woodstein interviewed, in order, on the phone and in person, and they emphasize the use of extreme close-ups for the phone interview sequences, where we only see the reporter(s) and hear the subject. Redford is superb in these sequences, and we are introduced to Woodard’s occasional habit of sometimes using the wrong word (turning to the newsroom to ask, “Does anyone here speak English .. uh, Spanish?”) which sound so realistic one might think that Redford is being a bad actor. He isn’t. As the pair write:
The whole film is excellently acted, even down to one liners. When Woodward enters the court house, he asks a clump of reporters who is representing the burglars, someone says, “Some country club type.” To my ear the line is delivered beautifully, realistically, as is the White House person who tells Woodward on the phone that Howard Hunt wrote “spy novels or something.” Throughout his career Pakula managed to draw beautiful readings from his casts, due both to his skill in that area, and in strategic casting.
The camera set-ups and editing continue to keep one uncertain, they write:
Focusing on Woodward with Deep Throat, they show how the rhythm of the editing creates expectation that lulls the viewer into a prepared shock:
The book concludes on a high note, pointing out the last scene’s great subtlety:
As support for a reading, try also to find online the original screenplay by William Goldman, which fills in some narrative gaps and underscores how Redford and Pakula tilted the film toward the mysterious and unsettling. There is a scene where the reporters meet Mrs. Graham, and several other sequences are much longer. Ray and Keathley’s All the President’s Men is officially available this May from the BFI, via Bloomsbury. It is worth the weight.