I don't know why it took me three months to write this up, but it did...I'll drop it here. One of my top all-time moviegoing experiences!
I took a 30-hour trip to LA from San Francisco in January to attend:
- John Lithgow's one-man show ("Stories by Heart")
- DRESSED TO KILL, FRENZY and RUN LOLA RUN during Edgar Wright's WRIGHT STUFF II festival, at the Tarantino-owned New Beverly Cinema
(Tarantino's wonderful quote about the theatre: "As long as I'm alive, and as long as I'm rich, the New Beverly will be there, showing double features in 35mm". And the price of attendance seems to be $7 - a price that was not raised during Wright's special program)
So it was a very De Palma-themed weekend, despite the fact that I abandoned my plan of checking out the Chemosphere house featured in BODY DOUBLE.
Reinforcing that feel was my visit to, immediately upon arrival, one of
LA's more noted examples of "programmatic architecture" -- Randy's Donuts, acting as my stand-in for LA's most famous example, the Tail o'the Pup that Jake Scully patronizes. And oddly, my reading material on the first half of the trip was a Parker novel ("The Man with the Getaway Face") -- and when I got home I read online that De Palma is attached to a Parker adaptation!
So it was a massively cross-referential night of cinema - a Hitchcock
thriller (the murderers role of which Michael Caine declined), followed by a De Palma thriller (the murderer's role of which Caine accepted), both of which feature intensely dramatic music, plenty of skin, virtuoso tracking shots, shocking violence, penultimate scenes set in guarded hospital wards and dollops of queasy humor.
FRENZY was preceded by Edgar Wright discussing the film with author/Hitchock scholar Bill Krohn, who provided some fascinating context for the film. He talked about how Hitchock "saw everything", in regard to cinema - he noted viewings of SATYRICON, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, TWISTED NERVE and Dario Argento's BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. The last two mentions were particularly interesting -- while Krohn mentioned Michael Caine's passing on FRENZY (he apparently called the Anthony Shaffer script "disgusting"), he didn't point out the obvious inference: that Hitchcock then chose Barry Foster based on having seen him in TWISTED NERVE. Foster and Caine are so close physically - longish ginger hair that seems to have the same processed wave; coiled, repressed physicality; the same matey/aggressive Cockney voice and rhythms -- that seeing the two films one after another set off entire waves of cross-echoes.
Krohn's remarks were the best proof I've yet heard that Hitchcock knew of Argento. For years I've read the same supposed comment ("that Italian fellow is starting to make me nervous"), which I've never put any stock in since I've never seen any attribution, and since it never struck me as something that Hitchcock would say in public anyway, even if he believed it. Hitchcock wasn't in the business of promoting other people.
In any event: Hitchcock's having seen BIRD (which premiered in the US in June 1970) raises the possibility that one of the notable shocks was taken from that film (and then later reused by both De Palma and Argento himself): the camera focused on a character's head and remaining stationary as the head moves out of frame -- revealing something frightening (a killer or a corpse) behind the character that has not been seen by them or by us.
The FRENZY print at the New Beverly (which followed Hitchock's tour-of-the-premises trailer for PSYCHO, from Tarantino's collection) was spectacular - the theater claimed it was a a new print and this was literally its first screening, which I have no trouble believing. And the film played extremely well to the sell-out crowd, about 2/3 of which had not seen it before (Edgar Wright asked for a show of hands before the screening). The comedy went over big (it's very well-done) and a couple of the scenes remain very unsettling.
One thing I noticed both at this screening and one at the Castro two years back: the "I say, that's not my club tie, is it?" line at the beginning doesn't get much of a response. The first time I saw the film was was about a year after its release, a 16MM screening at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, and I distinctly recall the line getting a big laugh. Different time, different culture, different audience.
(More weird cross-references: I saw a tweet the next day to the effect that "Steve Coogan was sitting in my row [during FRENZY], laughing along with everyone else", and then I get back and find this:
Keith Gordon discussed DRESSED TO KILL with Wright before the screening; some of what he had to say I had either read or heard him discuss on the DVD's special features, but it was still fascinating and a treat to see him. He had high praise for his co-stars, particularly Caine -- he only had one scene with him but it was an emotional one, and he said Caine was very helpful in preparing him for it. He also said that Caine knew a lot of dirty jokes, and that he came to the set every day even if he wasn't in scenes being shot -- a level of commitment to the film that Gordon says is rare for a star.
High praise as expected for De Palma, as well -- he was apparently very open to being shadowed and questioned; and Gordon said that he thought that De Palma could easily be a director of photography, since he was intimately involved even in such things as light placement on the shoot.
One thing I found odd: of the four De Palma trailers shown, BODY DOUBLE got (by a huge margin) the least response. In LA! Is this movie just not on the radar of the folks who were here, was it the fact that it's the least kinetic of the trailers, or..? RAISING CAIN, I felt, got the biggest (and I personally love CAIN more than BODY DOUBLE) but I was just surprised...
The print of DRESSED TO KILL was quite possibly the same one I saw at the Castro a few months back, a little soft but not bad at all and what a magnificent film on the big screen.
Keith Gordon (who said that he hadn't seen the film for many years) indicated ahead of time that it was the uncut international version but in fact (as he said afterwards) it was not.
I intercepted Keith Gordon as he was coming up the aisle, followed by Edgar Wright. I thanked him for coming and asked him if he would sign the paper cover insert for the DRESSED TO KILL VHS I'd gotten in Tokyo 20 years ago. He seemed happy to do so, and from his inspection of it it seemed clear he'd never seen it. Edgar Wright poked his head over Gordon's shoulder to see what it was and said "oh, is that the Japanese one? Very cool!" I said that at the time there was no way to get a widescreen version of the film in the US, short of laserdisc, and I didn't have laserdisc. That was the extent of my interaction with Mr. Wright but it was certainly fun to have a brilliant director admiring my swag.
Gordon also said that he wasn't exactly sure why HOME MOVIES wasn't out but that he had some hope it would get worked out.
The "midnight" showing of RUN LOLA RUN actually started closer to 1:00 AM. It was introduced by Wright who again asked who hadn't seen it before -- and again gave his standard rejoinder, "Envy these virgins!" -- and suggested first-time viewers sit as close to the front as possible for fullest and trippiest sensory-overload experience.
The cross-referencing continued as Wright read an e-mail received from LOLA director Tom Tykwer:
Dearest midnight animals at the new beverly,
i am deeply frustrated that I cannot be with you tonight at my favourite theater showing my good old red hot riding hood baby. That is in particular as i am going to be in town just a few days from now. But i’ll see you at some of the other screening of Mr. Wright’s great choices later this week. Definitely not going to miss The Warriors and Thunderbolt and lightfoot. both Walter Hill and Michael Cimino have been heroes of my youth and it’s not difficult to find their traces in the movie you’re about to watch. And speaking of Mr. Brian De Palma who Edgar also salutes in this series with his super classic Dressed To Kill. Any split screen or slow motion use you’re gonna encounter in the next 80 minutes: thank you Brian, master of the universe of playfully dark sexy stylish and terrifying motion pictures.
Meanwhile – enjoy the other thing i hate to miss tonight: master of ceremony edgar wright’s introduction into: run lola run!
I'd only seen this once, years ago on video, and really enjoyed seeing it big with an enthusiastic crowd.
I ended my night by snapping a quick pic of the marquee and driving from Hollywood to Venice at 2:30 in the morning, which (being a non-Angeleno) struck me as a very LA thing to be doing.
The next day was Lithgow's "Stories by Heart"; this was essentially acting-out of a Wodehouse story and Ring Lardner's "Haircut", coupled with a framing section/intro about the importance of stories to him, while growing up and beyond. The Wodehouse story was very, very funny, and Lithgow does about ten different characters, including a parrot. "Haircut", by contrast, is a gradually darkening monologue by a single character, and managed to incorporate some of the creepiness that Lithgow brings to his crazies. A fine performance overall, and recommended.
Two pronunciation things I learned during the show: Lithgow rhymes with "go", not with "cow", and Wodehouse is pronounced "woodhouse".
Hey the Criterion BLOW-OUT is available!