classic film

Five-star cinema: Alan J Pakula’s conspiracy trilogy

If you are convinced that they are out to get you, ‘Klute’, ‘The Parallax View’ and ‘All the President’s Men’ are the films for you.

“He acted alone.” Now where have we heard that before?

Alan J Pakula’s The Parallax View is bookended by political assassinations. Both are declared to be the works of disturbed individuals with inexplicable hatred towards their targets. In both cases, an investigative commission baldly states that there is “no evidence of a wider conspiracy, no evidence whatsoever”. This commission is seen from afar, a group of faceless men behind a table that seems to float in a pool of darkness. They are opaque, disinterested and possibly implicated in the crimes themselves.

‘The Parallax View’.
‘The Parallax View’.

When his ex-girlfriend turns up dead soon after claiming that people who witnessed the first assassination are being killed one by one¸ ragtag reporter Joe (Warren Beatty) sets out to investigate. Joe’s journalistic skills are dubious, and he seems more cowboy than truth-seeker, but he makes a discovery so incredible that it simply has to be believed: the Parallax Corporation is hiring assassins from around the country to kill politicians. Who is using the services of this mysterious group that operates from the heights of a skyscraper and makes potential recruits watch a video that manipulates images to change their meaning? Is the company, as its name suggests, a parallel government?

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The recruitment video in ‘The Parallax View’.

The Parallax View is the second in Pakula’s chic and compelling conspiracy trilogy, which captures the general paranoia that marked the 1970s in the United States of America. Each of the films is shot in a style that mixes documentary realism and stylised cinematography and production design, each features top-drawer Hollywood talent, and each confirms the average citizen’s worst possible fears. Are the telephones being tapped? Are we being followed? Is the government in cahoots with crooked corporations? Is the Central Intelligence Agency in my bedroom? Yes to all.

Surveillance is a running theme in the trilogy. In the first entry, Klute, a New York City prostitute becomes the central figure in missing person investigation. The movie takes its title from Donald Sutherland’s detective, who follows a trail of obscene letters that leads to the cluttered apartment of call-girl Bree (Jane Fonda). Her confident and seductive air masks deep fears that she is being watched. What do you know? Bree is right.

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The trailer of ‘Klute’.

In the third and most well-known film in the set, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) uncover a massive surveillance plot by Richard Nixon’s Republican Party. A forensic recreation of the Watergate scandal of 1972, All the President’s Men has influenced several films, from Zodiac to Spotlight. As movies about the mechanics of investigative journalism go, it remains at the top of the list.

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‘All the President’s Men’.

The three films were shot by the great Gordon Willis, whose ability to transform everyday physical spaces into sinister dens of conspiracy is perhaps unrivalled. In Klute, a sewing workshop becomes a lair of death. In The Parallax View, Willis juxtaposes the individual against massive structures – a tower, a dam, a glass-fronted high-rise – to convey helplessness and powerlessness. The cavernous buildings in The Parallax View swallow up honest people, while in All The President’s Men, the Washington Post newsroom – actually a fabulously detailed set – becomes a battleground for the freedom of expression. Even a parking lot, where Woodward meets the mysterious source codenamed Deep Throat, tingles with atmosphere.

Deep Throat in ‘All the President’s Men’.
Deep Throat in ‘All the President’s Men’.

The 1960s and ‘70s were a fruitful decade for movies made by liberal filmmakers who were keen on exploring a less benign side of the ruling class. The long list includes The Manchuranian Candidate (1962), Executive Decision (1973) and Three Days of the Condor (1975). Pakula’s suspicion that the American people’s greatest enemy is their elected government resurfaced in The Pelican Brief (1993), but the realism, paranoid architecture, and clear-minded moral outrage that makes even The Parallax View’s most fanciful claims halfway credible were missing.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

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According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.