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Tuesday, December 9, 2008
"De Palma is consistently conjured, in a manner that surpasses even the most excessive auteurism, as a kind of Godhead..."
At Screening The Past, Adrian Martin has reviewed Eyal Peretz's Becoming Visionary: Brian De Palma’s Cinematic Education of the Senses. Martin titles his review "Strange Days," highlighting the idea that to Peretz, nothing in De Palma's cinema is seen as natural. Martin writes:

To Peretz, nothing that happens in a De Palma film – no gesture, line of dialogue, bit of behaviour, camera angle or scene transition – is natural, obvious or common-sensical; on the contrary, all is ‘strange’, bizarre, in urgent need of interpretation. The word strange appears multiple times on many pages; indeed, this book could have been subtitled (with a nod to Raymond Durgnat) The strange case of Brian De Palma. Becoming Visionary launches itself from where the best De Palma criticism wisely begins: from the sense that everything in these films is grandly unreal, illogical, unbelievable, risible, grotesque, a live-action cartoon. So much for the stuffy old business of character psychologies (and believable performances), dramatic/comic themes and coherent, and fictive-world meanings! Peretz is more riveted by the falling softball that inaugurates the deepest action and logic of a story (in Carrie), or the sudden apparition of a big toe (Bataillian, bien sur – in The Fury) that is merely the first of a string of breaks or interruptions (on every level of the cinematic apparatus) which crack open the coherent shell of a diegesis and open up to something else: an Outside or Beyond that, however, is not metaphysical (that would be a kind of sin in Peretz’s argument) but somehow immanent – immanent to the filmic frame itself.

Martin states that he hesitates to call this a film book, and while he at first sounds skeptical about Peretz's "frequently stimulating, occasionally baffling" deep focus on certain moments in De Palma's films, he pleasantly admits to finding the book rather engaging. Martin explains:

It would be easy – it has already become a reflex in recent, disenchanted cinephile commentaries on the occasional writings on film by contemporary continental philosophers – to complain that Becoming Visionary has seemingly not much to do with the films it discusses, or (a worse charge) that it simply lines up some choice illustrative or allegorical moments from them in order to cue a heavy bout of philosophising. However – once I got past the defensive Cavellian moment on page 6, listing De Palma (after the great-philosopher roll call) as the ‘unlikely hero’ of this adventure – I found myself (almost despite myself) very engaged with this book; this successful diversion of a reader’s preconception is the mark of a good and interesting critical/theoretical work. (Why read something that merely confirms what I already think I know about De Palma, in the language that has already confirmed it?)

All in all, an interesting take on an interesting take.

Posted by Geoff at 7:54 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 7:56 PM CST
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