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Remapping 'The Conversation': urban design and industrial reflexivity in seventies San Francisco

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 18:41 authored by Lawrence WebbLawrence Webb
In the 1970s, San Francisco gained a new importance for post-studio Hollywood. This article examines the role played by the city during a decade of crisis and reorganization for the film industry, arguing that its contribution to New Hollywood went deeper than iconic cityscapes or countercultural surface. As a rapidly redeveloping city at the cutting edge of high-tech, post-Fordist production, San Francisco offered the spaces and capital arrangements necessary to allow Hollywood sufficient breathing room to reconfigure both its relationship to its own talent and its viewers' relationship to films in ways that would fully enlist both groups in the post-industrial economy. In this article, I explore San Francisco's distinctive role through close analysis of The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974), a key text of seventies cinema. While conventionally viewed through the prism of Watergate and national politics, reframing or remapping the film in its specific urban context provides an alternative perspective on New Hollywood filmmaking and its participation in new paradigms of production, consumption and labor. Shot on location by Coppola's independent company American Zoetrope in disused warehouses, condemned buildings and newly-built skyscrapers, The Conversation evinces the material role of the film industry in the shifting productive capacities of the city. And through its central investigational narrative and evocation of two key visual tropes - the planner's gaze and the editor's gaze - it engages with the transformation of San Francisco and with new modes of authorship and spectatorship in the emerging New Hollywood.


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Yale University

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