Block Cinema film series explores ideas about power and lack of privacy


Source: Chai Lee

“Geof Oppenheimer: Big Boss and the Ecstasy of Pressures,” an exhibit at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, features a sculpture called “Civil/Evil.” Block Cinema is screening a series of films selected by Oppenheimer that explore issues related to the exhibit.

Rachel Yang, Copy Chief


Harry Caul is a surveillance expert with an extreme job: eavesdropping on other people’s conversations.

Caul is a character in “The Conversation,” which will be shown at the Block Museum of Art on Thursday.

The film is the second in a series accompanying Geof Oppenheimer’s exhibition, “Big Boss and the Ecstasy of Pressures,” currently being shown at Block and marks the first time the museum has commissioned work by a contemporary artist, said Michelle Puetz, Block’s curator of media arts.

The film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the filmmaker behind the iconic “Godfather” franchise, revolves around Caul’s struggles as he tries to decipher the ambiguous meaning of these conversations and makes difficult decisions about what he should report to his employer.

Despite the fictitiousness of “The Conversation,” the film delves into real issues about structures of power and privacy, said Puetz.

“We’re growing up in a culture, especially undergraduates at the University, (where) perhaps it’s normal to think about the fact that your email could be read by anyone,” Puetz said. “Those issues of public and private … and the regulation of our ability to communicate by the government and by these higher powers are absolutely in this film.”

The film connects to the themes of Oppenheimer’s exhibition, which will be on display until Nov. 30, and explores ideas about how societal pressures regulate behavior and how systems of power, such as the federal government or prisons, relate to individuals in society.

The film series, selected by Oppenheimer to accompany the exhibition, kicked off Oct. 15 with a screening of Lars von Trier’s arthouse comedy “The Boss of it All,” which satirizes people’s love-hate relationship with authority.

Justin Lintelman, Block’s program coordinator, said he anticipates an audience at Thursday’s screening because the first film and the preceding discussion with Oppenheimer drew about 50 people. “The Conversation” is also appealing because of its status as a classic film and its famous director, Lintelman added.

Will Schmenner, Block’s guest film curator who helped to curate the film series with Oppenheimer, said he hopes the exhibition and film inspire audiences to reflect on their own ideas about power and privacy. He said people should question what they hear and not accept everything at face value because, as Caul realizes in the film, language is often ambiguous.

“(The film will) get people to think more about the assumptions that they make,” Schmenner said. “It helps open people’s eyes to how powerful the systems in our civilization are.”

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