It’s always comforting to find out that comedians you admire are film nerds just like you, so color us quite pleased when Larry Wilmore, host of Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show,” joined host Wayne Federman at the New York Comedy Festival to screen and discuss Alan J. Pakula’s seminal 1974 conspiracy thriller “The Parallax View.”
An undisputed favorite of Wilmore’s — and a film not many contemporary audiences have seen — “The Parallax View” is the second entry in the director’s Political Paranoia Trilogy, following “Klute” and preceding “All the President’s Men.” Warren Beatty stars as political reporter Joe Frady, who begins to suspect the mysterious Parallax Corporation may be involved in the assassination of a presidential candidate. As he investigates, others who share his suspicions start turning up dead, including his editor. Eventually, Frady uncovers a conspiracy bigger than anyone expected and he must race to prevent the corporation’s next big hit.
While the film’s dark thrills are miles away from the comedy Wilmore is famous for, there’s more than enough political intrigue to make the film a natural fit in Wilmore’s pantheon of favorites. After the screening at Film Forum, Wilmore and Federman got to the bottom of what makes “The Parallax View” so great with a spirited Q&A session. Highlights from the nerdfest Q&A are below.
Pakula’s Direction Traps Your Mind
“The thing about really good films [laughs] is you find easter eggs all the time,” Wilmore joked. “There’s something all the time and as I was watching it this time, I was really interested in [Alan J. Pakula’s] direction. There was so much restraint. I think this was a time of filming similitude. There was this movement for realism and if you notice how many master shots he has in this movie and how he stays in the wide shots of the master shots for an uncomfortably long time, that gate closes for an uncomfortable long time.”
“He does that intentionally, not by accident. It disarms you a bit, it removes you from the action a bit. It’s the opposite of a true action film. And that’s why I call it a psychological thriller as opposed to a political one,” Wilmore continued. “That’s one of the things that makes this film so interesting — it attacks your mind and your thinking as you’re watching it, too.”
Being a Beatty Fan
“I don’t know if it’s my favorite,” Wilmore added. “When I was asked to share a film, and when we asked how many people had seen it a lot of people had raised their hand that they hadn’t seen it. That bares me up. But this is a movie that people should see.”
The Cinematic Rules of the Thriller
“Whether it is or not is a different story, but this movie is, a combination in my mind, of the JFK assassination and Robert Kennedy’s assassination. In fact, the way that he was even killed with the waiters is very reminiscent of that. And the fight scene at the bar — can we talk about that for a second? Beatty punches him and he’s like, ‘Oh fuck!’ [laughs]. And usually the hero is just going all in,” Wilmore said. “I love that, and they’re rassling. It really looked like a real fight, which was good.”
The Critical Reaction
“I think it was dismissively compared to Hitchcock in the beginning,” Wilmore said about the critics’ views. “He’s on this plane and then something happens, but then nothing really happens and then that’s forgotten. It’s like ‘Well, no, that’s part of the journey’ [laughter]. They were very dismissive.”
Being Reminded of Current Events
“Some of it is stirring some of the emotions of: Are we being protected? Can we trust who’s in charge of us? Can you really guard against these types of events?,” said Wilmore. “The thing is with terrorism, when people want to commit bad acts, they only need to be right once. They only need to get through there once and you just have to be so vigilant. It’s almost impossible to stop any of that kind of thing.”
“That’s why I really don’t care for a lot of political talk when these types of things happen, so let’s let the dust clear and see what’s going on,” he continued. “It’s one of the times to try to come together and get some perspective on things. It brings up all kinds of feelings on that stuff.”
Movies as Time Capsules
“I like those movies as time capsules too because I’m from Southern California, it looks like a lot of it was shot there, and I remember that. I was like ‘I remember those Safeways! That’s exactly what they looked like!'” Wilmore laughed.