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Thursday, March 5, 2009
TRIPLE DE PALMA
ESSAYS ON REDACTED - BLOW OUT - FEMME FATALE
PLUS SPECIAL ADDED BONUS: DIONYSUS IN '69

It's been a great week for writing about specific Brian De Palma films. First up, a most insightful piece about De Palma's latest, Redacted, from The Celluloid Liberation Front, courtesy Vertigo Magazine:

Departing from the contemporary paradigm of technological convergence, whereby every observer is at the same time an observed subject, De Palma illustrates the spread of a culture of exhibitionism as the potential telematic evolution of cinematographic voyeurism. Terrorism is, occidentally rather than accidentally, gaudy and voyeuristic...

Redacted is a film that we could (and perhaps should) have made ourselves in front of a computer. In the You Tube era we are the editors of our own ongoing works, that we constantly assemble through the potentially meaningful intersections offered by the net whenever we connect to it. As Baudrillard had provocatively warned us during the first Gulf War, the practice of warfare is indivisible from its narrative and representational strategies, with the latter indeed retroacting with the actual forms of war according to the given cultural situation.

That is why Redacted is a masterpiece of congruency between form and content. For De Palma, Redacted represents a sort of return to the subversive insolence characterising his early films such as Greetings or Hi, Mom, where he would mix super-8 family footage and the fleeting lightness of underground comics with the anarchic structure of the freest ‘nouvelle vague’, always stimulating The Responsive Eye (the title of one of his early shorts about an optical art exhibition) that needs to know what is happening (in Iraq).

MCWEENY ON BLOW OUT
Next up, Drew McWeeny posted an essay Tuesday about De Palma's Blow Out as part of his Motion/Captured Must-See series:

The film opens with a truly hilarious movie-within-the-movie called "Coed Frenzy." Oh, god, how I wish De Palma had really made "Coed Frenzy," because it looks like the sleaziest film ever made. And at the end of this five minutes of uber-slasher footage, De Palma pops the balloon with a joke. But that joke has two punchlines, and the other one's not delivered until the closing frames of the film, where it's finally deployed to devastating effect...

Obviously, this film draws on influences like the Chappaquidick tragedy involving Ted Kennedy and the JFK assassination and the French '60s hit Blow-Up, but De Palma mixes all of these elements into a paranoid thriller that feels original, and not just like a bunch of pieces jammed together. Setting it in Philadelphia during "Liberty Day," a patriotic holiday that bathes the whole world in red, white, and blue, De Palma uses this simple thriller plot to peel back the entire subtext of the post-Watergate '70s. There were any number of "don't trust the government" thrillers made after Richard Nixon and his army of clowns bungled the break-in and shattered America's trust in its leaders permanently, but this film raises the stakes by suggesting that absolutely no one is to be trusted.

TOBIAS ON FEMME FATALE
And just today, Scott Tobias posted a wonderful essay about De Palma's Femme Fatale as part of his weekly A.V. Club series, "The New Cult Canon":

Every year at the Toronto Film Festival—and quite possibly at other festivals around the world, major or minor—director Brian De Palma can be spotted shuffling around with the rest of the press and industry folks, slipping inconspicuously into one screening after another. If he weren’t a semi-celebrity (at least among nerdy cineastes like me), he’d fit the prototypical profile of a festival critic: Bearded and schlubby, outfitted in comfy jeans and old running shoes, bleary-eyed from dragging himself through four to six screenings a day. Point being, he remains a voracious cinephile, and what’s more, he as much as any filmmaker alive sees the world through the prism of other movies. Detractors like to tar him as a vulgarian and a hack, someone who cribs ideas from masters like Hitchcock and updates them through modern-day explicitness and empty formalism. But he’s really more like his badge-wearing brethren at the film festival, a critic who happens to work behind the camera, commenting on the medium’s history, devices, and tropes while taking a jaundiced view of the world at large. If there’s such a thing as a “wonky” director, De Palma fits the bill better than anybody.

Even by De Palma standards, Femme Fatale is about as wonky as it gets, and if that isn’t apparent enough in its movie-movie title, there’s also the opening shot of De Palma’s femme fatale, an icy blonde played by Rebecca Romijn (while she was still Stamos-ed), watching the noir classic Double Indemnity on television, perhaps to pick up pointers from Barbara Stanwyck, cinema’s reigning double-crosser. And this is before the curtains open on a magnificent setpiece at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, the same festival where Femme Fatale itself would première a year later. It hurts the brain to consider the many layers of artifice De Palma is piling on just in the first few minutes, but for what’s essentially an academic exercise, the film is an awful lot of fun...

At the moment that Laure/Lily seems to meet her maker in the Seine, we’re suddenly thrust back in time seven years ago, when Laure met Lily, and Lily’s suicide set her fate on the track we’ve followed. Suddenly, the movie itself has a doppelgänger, except now Lily can take Laure’s path, and the world can change in the minor but crucial ways that will set everything right. It seems crazy for De Palma to cast Laure’s adventures as an extended dream of what might have been (“I’m your fucking fairy godmother,” she tells Lily. “I just dreamt your future, and mine too”), but he’s been preparing you for it the whole time, from little details like the “Deju Vue” posters rolled out on the Paris streets to the general feeling that you’re watching a movie about movies. And as you know, in movies, anything can happen.

DIONYSUS IN '69 ON THE WEB
Also of note, courtesy of the Atlantic Film Festival Association's Ron Foley Macdonald: Dionysus In '69, the film of the Performance Group theatre production that De Palma made with Robert Fiore and Bruce Rubin, can now be watched on the web (but not downloaded) for educational purposes via the NYU HIDVL website. To see the video, you have to go to the main page first, and then do a search for Dionysus In '69. Macdonald provides some interesting information about the film, including the following tidbit:

Dionysus In 69’s bracketing orgy scenes, however, are still pretty shocking to watch. They were originally done with the actors completely naked; for De Palma’s filming the men donned black jockstraps while the women wore flimsy and torn--but still skimpy--short tops and bottoms.


Posted by Geoff at 10:53 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, March 5, 2009 10:56 PM CST
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