Working for a safe, affordable, vibrant, innovative, and interconnected city.
Learn More Home Page This Department
Link to the Office of Film + Music Home Page Link to Office of Film + Music Home Page Link to Office of Film + Music About Us Page Link to Office of Film + Music Contact Us Page
Kate Becker, Director Stephen H. Johnson, Director, Office of Economic Development

Film Home
Film Permits
Film Manual
Film FAQ
Film Resources
Film History
Economic Impact Study
Mayor's Film Award

Music Home
City of Music Website
Music History & Map
Economic Impact Study

Seattle's Content Technology Initiative

Happy Hour Events

In appreciation and recognition of Seattle's long and illustrious film history, we are proud to partner with Scarecrow Video to bring you weekly reviews of historical Seattle films. Each week we will showcase a new movie, with special emphasis on how these films show Seattle's most filmable locations.

The Parallax View (1974)

The opening shot of Alan J. Pakula's thriller is a ground-level view looking up a totem pole. On the pole, a myriad of faces and eyes stare down at us, watching, observing. It's immediately unsettling, and becomes disorienting once the camera swings left to reveal another large structure that was previously hiding behind the pole: the Space Needle. The camera stops, taking in both structures, and for a moment the totem's eyes are no longer staring at us. Instead, they're looking over at the Space Needle, cueing us that we should be much more interested in what's going down at that weird, artificial, inversely shaped structure in the sky. At the same time, we hear the tom-tom of drums, ominous perhaps, until we hear cheering as well. This is part of the brilliance of The Parallax View, one of a handful of major Hollywood films that people can immediately identify as filmed in Seattle, in large part due to the bravura opening sequence. Pakula and cinematographer Gordon Willis constantly juxtapose images in the frame to disorient viewers, causing us to question what we are seeing and wonder what we should be seeing. The filmmakers do this not only with images, but also with characters, sounds, music, you name it. As soon as we see the totem and the Space Needle, there is a cut, and we're now at the base of the Needle, watching a news report on a Fourth of July parade (the one we heard a second ago) marching through the Seattle Center. But, again, the parade cuts our line of vision to the reporter, and we are left with a jumble of images and sounds. One of these brief images introduces Warren Beatty, a huge star at the time but here a nominal spot in the background. This pattern continues until we're finally atop the Needle, where the film's definitive act-a breathtaking assassination attempt and its aftermath-occurs. Other examples of this disorientation and undercutting happen at the Woodland Park Zoo*, where two large men (Beatty and Kenneth Mars) discuss matters of life and death while riding a train six sizes too small for them; on a visit to Lake Chelan where Beatty encounters a friendly sheriff who may not be so friendly; and at the Gorge Dam, where an idyllic scene by the Skagit River turns into a furious nightmare once the floodgates open. Pakula, Beatty, and company must really have enjoyed their time in Washington using the lovely locales and landmarks, because once the movie shifts south to L.A., about thirty minutes in, we could be anywhere. Or, anywhere in 1974 America, where distrust in our leadership and conspiracy theories regarding assassinations and power struggles were part of the daily discourse. That Pakula could take that weltanschauung and turn it into one of the most suspenseful, taut, nearly ascetic thrillers of its time is a testament to his greatness; a greatness he would take to another Washington two years later to confront a very real conspiracy in All The President's Men.

-Mark Steiner

*Despite being listed on the city's official film location brochure and other publications, local film historians are still divided on whether this scene was actually filmed at the zoo. If you can help verify this location, please contact us at Scarecrow.

Back to Scarecrow on Seattle Archives