CONDUCTED BY MUBI'S DANIEL KASMAN; 'PASSION', BALLET, TCM, 'FRANCES HA', SO MUCH MORE
MUBI's Daniel Kasman today posted a fantastic interview with Brian De Palma, mostly about Passion (and watch out for possible minor spoilers within), but the conversation also gets into all kinds of film-related areas: TCM retrospectives, De Palma's relationship with composers, some key movies he's seen at film fests over the years, Greta Garbo, etc., etc.
In the midst of a discussion on composers De Palma has worked with, he talks a bit about working with Pino Donaggio on the new film. "With Pino," De Palma tells Kasman, "I worked on temp tracks for each of the cues, then changed them as we got closer and closer together to the feel of the scenes. One typical example was Noomi's breakdown, where I originally had that marvelous music from Contempt. There's nothing more beautiful than that, so our goal was to try to approach it."
De Palma mentions (again) all the beautiful women in Passion, "like my fabulous ballerina, who was just extraordinarily beautiful." And that's her, Polina Semionova, pictured here and below. In the following excerpt, De Palma briefly discusses filming in Berlin, the pervasive use of phones in Passion, and provides more details about his original idea to open Passion with a play on Christopher Nolan's Inception:
KASMAN: I love that the film is ostensibly set in Berlin but it's not until two-thirds the way through the film that people are speaking in German and are subtitled. It really does feel “international.” I remember the first time I went to Berlin was for the film festival, which is centered at Potsdamer Platz, which is also where much of Passion is shot. I couldn't believe that this was Berlin, was a city, this strange, anonymously post-modern mall / office complex / multiplex. It was unreal to see this expressed in your film, this transnational corporate space. It could have been London, or many, many other places.
DE PALMA: Yeah, and we also have the advertisement for the [film's] ballet on Potsdamer's big screen, but I don't think many catch that.
KASMAN: One of the things I really love about your films is that they are real records of the technology being used at the time of their creation. With Passion, its use of Skype and cameras that can record video—you're no longer making phone calls, you're making video calls. When you're writing the screenplay, are you integrating this technology into your plotting?
DE PALMA: I'm very aware of technical innovations. I used to build computers when I was in high school, knew every new technical advance. That sort of Internet, computer stuff I sort of play with as a hobby. It's fascinating to me. The most strange thing you notice in the last ten years is everybody walking around with these things [picks up my cellphone]. I'm always looking at people walking down the street looking like this [peers intently at the screen, mimes touching the phone's buttons], talking across tables and doing this. So, I thought to use this as a sort of weapon, almost, in a movie, first start the whole things as a commercial for this experience. It's very funny, ironically with the new iPhone there's all these competing smartphones that have commercials which try to satirize this very use and experience. Originally, the cellphone commercial in the film was going to be based on something out of Inception. The whole movie deals with dreams and the creation of this idea from Noomi [Rapace]'s subconscious. I had this whole, very complicated, three level thing where they finally find the key and it's the key to a vault and in it's the Panasonic phone. But I had some director fans of mine read this, and they liked the script but said “You can't do Inception!” And I asked why, commercials are constantly copying movies; but they suggested I think of something else. I thought for a while and looked on the Internet and there was this commercial—that I replicated, practically. My commercial is based on a real one, with two girls, one of whom stuck a phone in her back pocket, had people staring at her ass while it photographed them, and put up on the Internet. It went viral but people found out a week or two later it was created by two advertising executives.
KASMAN: You say you replicated it, and while I haven't seen the original, one of the first shots of the commercial is very much your image, of a multi-paned mirror and the women refracted across it.
DE PALMA: We did add the mirrors, but it's very much like the original commercial.
KASMAN: Clearly whether directly or not, the original commercial is inspired by the sort of paranoia of surveillance technology you've been making films about for ages. I suppose you are satirizing something that is already playing off your cinema. Yet, in something like Dressed to Kill, this surveillance technology is a niche thing, the boy is a geek and he happens to have this as a hobby. Whereas now, at the end of your new film we see a character recording an entire crime with a cell phone—this is no longer an unusual act performed by an outsider. Any consumer now has a device in their pocket that can record a crime or blackmail a person.
DE PALMA: Or follow someone and record them.
KASMAN: Exactly. It's not strange any more, the potential seems to be pervasive.
DE PALMA: That was the whole idea, having the phones and their many uses play across the whole movie, leading into the surrealistic last dream. Phones are always ringing—that's something else I've observed: in a restaurant a phone rings and everyone grabs for theirs. It could be their phones, whose phone is it?