Cinema: Watergate on Film

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The man they settled on was Alan Pakula, who had just come off another study in American political paranoia. The Parallax View, but whose work on Klute was what had really impressed both actors. They felt he had done an excellent job in building by visual means menace and tension into a script that had lacked those qualities. "If our project was to succeed, we'd need the same kind of tension," Hoffman remembers thinking. He adds: "Bob liked him because he felt he wouldn't jump on a liberal bandwagon. Redford saw the film as a detective story, not as a polemic against Nixon."

All three now returned to the Post for further observation of its people and its workings. The hassle over the first-draft script had worked a subtle change in the atmosphere; there was a new wariness in the relationship between the moviemakers and the newspapermen. Hoffman was particularly distressed. At one point he marched on Redford, crying, "Screw it. Let's fictionalize it. I just hate the attitudes around here. Everybody will know what paper we're really representing. What's the difference?" Redford, too, was unhappy. "The ambivalence of the Post drove me nuts," he recalls. He also feels that something valuable emerged from this time of tension, a restoration of his objectivity. He now says, "I felt it was important to fall out of love with the Post too."

Much as he respected Hoffman ("One of the joys of the movie was working with Dustin; he has one of the most wonderful acting minds I've ever worked with"), he disagreed with him about the advisability of fictionalizing the film. He and Pakula were convinced that documentary-like realism was essential to the picture, that they had to develop what Pakula calls "an immediacy, a sense of being there," that would replace conventional melodrama as a means of sustaining interest. He also felt this attention to workaday detail would protect against the picture's "overwhelming potential for pretentiousness."

This shared obsession is probably responsible for sustaining the relationship between Redford and Pakula through the strains that were to develop after shooting began. Pakula is a painstaking director, capable of talking out a scene for hours before putting it in front of the camera. Then his habit is to insist on endless retakes, covering every nuance his actors develop as they rework a scene, giving himself every imaginable option once he takes the film into the cutting room. Redford is an actor who does not find a character through ratiocination or conversation, but rather by getting as quickly as possible into action and seeing where his instincts lead him. He also fears the loss of spontaneity that comes with excessive repetition. "I kept thinking, "Let's get it over with,' " Redford remembers.

Then, too, he was the senior officer present on the set, the man charged with keeping the picture on schedule and on budget. "Part of me had to be the responsible producer and part of me wanted to be creatively indulgent as an actor.

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