by Travis Mateer
so much depends upon the white spyfucker glazed in skyscrapers beside the red chickens -William Skink
If the poem above sounds familiar, that’s because it’s an adaptation of a poem by William Carlos Williams, a poem I have poetically abused here to draw attention to what I think this old spy movie actually represents, and trust me, it’s not good. I’ll reference this poem at the end of the post, because spyfucker is a term that’s actually used in the dialogue. But first…
Since this post is about a movie, I’ll provide the obligatory warning that there will be spoilers involved in my effort to explain why I think Three Days of the Condor is both a threat and a taunt by the CIA that a long fuse got lit in 1975 when this film was released to audiences across America. Let’s begin.
Watching this movie (directed by Sydney Pollack) correlated with the arrival of a book I ordered online by Frances Stonor Saunders, titled The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. Before getting filed in the “intelligence” sub-section of my library, I looked for some context to use for this post, and I found it in the epilogue; a lengthy excerpt updating readers about one of the people in the book and his more recent (relatively speaking) media involvement. Here’s the quote (emphasis mine):
Tom Braden went on to enjoy a successful career as a syndicated columnist and co-host of the CNN talkshow, Crossfire. In 1975, whilst a government committee was preparing the fullest ever review of U.S. intelligence activities Braden penned a swinging attack on a CIA subsumed by power, arrogance, and an obsession with lying. “It’s a shame what happened to the CIA,” he wrote. “It could have consisted of a few hundred scholars to analyze intelligence, a few hundred spies in key positions, and a few hundred operators ready to carry out rare tasks of derring-do. Instead, it became a gargantuan monster, owning property all over the world, running airplanes and newspapers and radio stations and banks and armies and navies, offering temptation to successive Secretaries of State, and giving at least one President [Nixon] a brilliant idea: since the machinery for deceit existed, why not use it?” Braden concluded by advocating the dissolution of the CIA and the transfer of its remaining functions (those few which could still be justified) to other departments. “I would turn the psychological warriors and propagandists over to the Voice of America. Psychological warriors and propagandists probably never did belong in a secret agency.”
The committee being referenced is clearly the Church Committee, named after Idaho Senator, Frank Church. This government effort at transparency became a fascinating window that briefly opened for the public to peek through, and it was shocking. What year did this committee convene, you ask? 1975, the same year this movie hit the theaters. A coincidence?
Watching this movie in 2023 is surreal because there’s a visual reference that smacks the viewer over and over again, especially a viewer watching this movie AFTER the date September 11th, 2001, and that’s the use of the Twin Towers. And it’s not just for scenery shots. No, the towers were used for actual inside scenes, like, you know, CIA offices. A coincidence?
I was surprised to see the towers featured so prominently in this film. I thought they had been completed in the 80’s, but no, it was 1973, just two years before this film was released. That is some VERY curious timing.
Another curious thing is the name of one of the rogue CIA agents who gets killed, and that’s the name WICKS. Why is that curious? Well, what’s a wick?
It’s funny that the word OIL is in the definition of the word WICK because our Condor, Robert Redford’s character (named Turner, who turns on the turncoats) is in the crosshairs precisely because of oil in the middle east, and the desire of US corporate interests to control it. Getting a war going in the middle east, to get at the oil, is what Turner comes to suspect is the goal of the rogue faction he’s spotted with his pattern-recognizing brain and a little help from the company computer, and he’s right!
The complete void where one might expect the semblance of a moral compass to exist is quite impressive. Turner gets a woman to help him (Faye Dunaway) after he kidnaps her at gunpoint, steals her car, gags her, ties her up in the bathroom…but he likes her photographs! No, really, it’s supposed to be some kind of touching moment, I guess, and you know in movies what eventually comes next–once the hands get untied, of course, because this ain’t no bondage porn!
The “relationship” between Turner and his Patty Hearst companion reaches peak-cringe at the following moment of the film. Here’s the dialogue with my emphasis:
No, Kathy, don’t sell yourself short in this commodified world of company men and mercenaries–you are SPARROW HAWK! And Turner wouldn’t have been able to talk to the boss guy without your guile and guts!
Does this movie end with a good guy beating the bad guy, getting the girl, and riding off into the sunset? No, there are no good guys, you can barely see the sky from the dingy streets of New York, and the girl doesn’t figure in to the calculations of the final scene between Turner and a CIA middle management guy by the name of Higgins.
The end of the film is remarkable for its bleakness. Turner thinks he has The Company because he gave the New York Times the story, but does he? Because the concluding question of the film, posed by Higgins, is this: will they print it? And how far can Turner get if they don’t? Here’s how the film ends:
While I can’t say watching this film was enjoyable, I do enjoy critically examining the popular culture we’ve been consuming UNcritically for far too long.
Isn’t this interesting? I think it’s interesting, but I’ll just leave it at that, for now.
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Thanks for reading!