Hello and welcome to the unofficial Brian De Palma website.
Here is the latest news:

De Palma a la Mod


De Palma Discussion


Washington Post
review of Keesey book


Exclusive Passion

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario


AV Club Review
of Dumas book

Recent Headlines
a la Mod:

-Must-See Video:
One Way Or De Palma

-De Palma to receive
Filmmaker Award
at Venice, Sept. 9

-De Palma doc
and Blow Out
to screen at NYFF
September 30th

« February 2014 »
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28


De Palma interviewed
in Paris 2002

De Palma discusses
The Black Dahlia 2006


De Palma Community

The Virtuoso
of the 7th Art

The De Palma Touch

The Swan Archives

Carrie...A Fan's Site


No Harm In Charm

Paul Schrader

Alfred Hitchcock
The Master Of Suspense

Alfred Hitchcock Films

Snake Eyes
a la Mod

Mission To Mars
a la Mod

Sergio Leone
and the Infield
Fly Rule

Movie Mags


The Filmmaker Who
Came In From The Cold

Jim Emerson on
Greetings & Hi, Mom!

Scarface: Make Way
For The Bad Guy

The Big Dive
(Blow Out)

Carrie: The Movie

Deborah Shelton
Official Web Site

The Phantom Project

Welcome to the
Offices of Death Records

The Carlito's Way
Fan Page

The House Next Door

Kubrick on the

FilmLand Empire

Astigmia Cinema


Cultural Weekly

A Lonely Place

The Film Doctor


Icebox Movies

Medfly Quarantine

Not Just Movies

Hope Lies at
24 Frames Per Second

Motion Pictures Comics

Diary of a
Country Cinephile

So Why This Movie?

Obsessive Movie Nerd

Nothing Is Written

Ferdy on Films

Cashiers De Cinema

This Recording

Mike's Movie Guide

Every '70s Movie

Dangerous Minds


No Time For
Love, Dr. Jones!

The former
De Palma a la Mod

Entries by Topic
A note about topics: Some blog posts have more than one topic, in which case only one main topic can be chosen to represent that post. This means that some topics may have been discussed in posts labeled otherwise. For instance, a post that discusses both The Boston Stranglers and The Demolished Man may only be labeled one or the other. Please keep this in mind as you navigate this list.
All topics ал
Ambrose Chapel
Bart De Palma
Becoming Visionary
Betty Buckley
Bill Pankow
Black Dahlia
Blow Out
Blue Afternoon
Body Double
Bonfire Of The Vanities
Boston Stranglers
Bruce Springsteen
Capone Rising
Carlito's Way
Casualties Of War
Columbo - Shooting Script
Daft Punk
Dancing In The Dark
David Koepp
De Niro
De Palma (doc)
De Palma Blog-A-Thon
De Palma Discussion
Demolished Man
Dionysus In '69
Dressed To Kill
Eric Schwab
Femme Fatale
Film Series
Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Fury, The
Get To Know Your Rabbit
Happy Valley
Hi, Mom!
Home Movies
Inspired by De Palma
Iraq, etc.
Jerry Greenberg
Keith Gordon
Key Man, The
Lights Out
Magic Hour
Mission To Mars
Mission: Impossible
Montreal World Film Fest
Mr. Hughes
Murder a la Mod
Nancy Allen
Nazi Gold
Oliver Stone
Paranormal Activity 2
Parties & Premieres
Paul Hirsch
Paul Schrader
Pauline Kael
Phantom Of The Paradise
Pino Donaggio
Prince Of The City
Print The Legend
Raggedy Ann
Raising Cain
Red Shoes, The
Responsive Eye
Rie Rasmussen
Robert De Niro
Sean Penn
Snake Eyes
Sound Mixer
Star Wars
Stepford Wives
Toronto Film Fest
Treasure Sierra Madre
Tru Blu
TV Appearances
Untitled Ashton Kutcher
Vilmos Zsigmond
Wedding Party
William Finley
Wise Guys
Woton's Wake
Blog Tools
Edit your Blog
Build a Blog
RSS Feed
View Profile
You are not logged in. Log in
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
In a review for Arrow's new Blu-ray of Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise, Mostly Film's Blake Backlash analyzes how the film's song lyrics by Paul Williams work in conjunction with the film's themes and worldview. He also turns David Thomson's criticisms of De Palma upside down, embracing the very qualities that Thomson would use to dismiss De Palma with. Here are some excerpts from Backlash's inspired review:

Because it is a musical, this is Brian De Palma’s best film. The opening number is ‘Goodbye Eddie, Goodbye’, a pastiche of 50s rock n roll that, amidst all the doo-wop sass, tells the story of a singer with a terminally ill sister and not enough money to pay for her life-saving operation. He kills himself because: Eddie believed the American people / Had wonderful, lovegiving hearts / His well-publicised end he considered would send / His memorial album to the top of the charts… and it did.

The song was written by Paul Williams (who also plays Swan, the film’s villain) and is a kind of bubble-gum overture, anticipating a number of notions that the film will kick around. So we’re turned on to the idea that this movie will be about how the music industry processes tragedy into sensation and sentiment in order to sell records. But the current of dark humour in the lyrics cuts that idea with a playful cruelty in the way it views Eddie:

Well you did it Eddie and though it’s hard to applaud suicide / You gave all you could give so your sister could live / All America’s choked up inside. The overall effect is a three-minute summary of a worldview which, while more on the side of art than industry, is still ready to stick a pin in the way artists see themselves. There’s wit there and that wit is a gift from Paul Williams to Brian De Palma.

David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film makes a case against De Palma that seems capture much of why people who don’t like De Palma, don’t like De Palma. According to Thomson he is ‘ready to control everything except his own cruelty and indifference. He is the epitome of mindless style and excitement swamping taste or character… He has contempt for his characters and his audience alike.’ I’m not sure. When things do go wrong for De Palma he seems burdened not with cynicism but with an excess of moist-eyed sentimentality. One can find both sentiment and cynicism in De Palma’s films but what defines him as director is his excess. So both the cynicism and the sentiment often get given free reign. And the films are visually excessive too. De Palma is fond of lurid and striking formal techniques – split-screens, long tracking shots, slow-motion, and splashes of vivid colour – which demand the viewer either fall in love or fuck off. And sometimes, when the visual excess, the sentiment and the cynicism are all cooking at once, he delivers scenes that are marked by a vivid, sick purity.

Paul Williams makes that sentiment, cynicism and purity sing. He heightens the cynicism with lyrics that have a verbal sharpness lacking in De Palma’s dialogue. And he lends depth to the sentiment with the kind of melancholy early-70s torch-songs that seem perfect for capturing sadness and regret...

There is another affinity between the songs and De Palma’s technique. Arrow’s lush and comprehensive Blu-ray release includes a long interview between Guillermo del Toro and Williams. In it del Toro talks about the stylistic eclecticism of the songs and draws a parallel with the variety of filmmaking techniques De Palma employs. One of the conceits of the film is that the songs of Winslow Leach, the sensitive singer-songwriter who becomes The Phantom, are supposed to be debased when they are given a pop rewrite by Swan. So Winslow’s heartfelt ‘Faust’ becomes a cheerful Beach Boy’s pastiche called ‘Upholstery’. Inevitably ‘Upholstery’ is about ten times as much fun as ‘Faust’. And the scene where we see it is performed is the best scene in the film...

When I’m in the right mood, I find this scene intensely pleasurable to watch. There’s something thrilling about the ways in which the layers of smartarse showing-off connect with one another. De Palma is trying to simultaneously reference and outdo Touch of Evil by having a bomb-in-a-car scene done with two simultaneous extended long-takes, instead of Welles’s one, and combining them in a split-screen, as characters move between both takes. The fact that the bomb is put in a prop car makes such intertextual riffing come off as light and playful, rather than stifling. There’s even a hint of a self-detracting joke, in the way the scene’s reworking of Touch of Evil mirrors the way Swann has reworked ‘Faust’ into ‘Upholstery’. And it’s just fun to be able to switch one’s attention between two different types of set-piece: the musical number, and the suspense countdown. Not only that, the two add a little pep to one another: I like how the ticking of the bomb compliments the song’s rhythm. I also like how the camera move on the right-half of the screen, which shows us first The Phantom and then Swann seeing the Phantom, works as quick bit of misdirection to distract you before the explosion in the left-half.

The scene has never looked and sounded better than it does on Arrow’s Blu-ray release. In previous DVD versions the soundtracks from the two takes tended to melt into each other, so the dialogue was impossible to make out. Arrow have cleaned up the soundtrack and used stereo to compliment the split-screen. That gives the scene a tingly immersiveness that adds to how much fun it is.

Early in his career De Palma talked about wanting to be the American Godard. And, since Godard attempted to take Brecht’s theories about theatre and put them into practice in the cinema, it’s maybe not too cheeky to call Phantom of the Paradise De Palma’s most Brechtian film. There is no attempt at realism. Winslow escapes from prison by climbing into a box on the production line he works. He’s half bursting out of the box and is accompanied by both guards and old-timey, silent-film chase music. But somehow the next shot is of the box falling off the back of a truck outside the offices of Swan’s record label...

In the closing credits William Shephard appears twice, for playing ‘Rock Freak’ and for doing the choreography in the climactic assassination/wedding scene. What this means is De Palma got him to do the kind of thing he did for Dionysus in 69, which was break down the barriers between the audience and actors. So you can see Shephard at the film’s climax dancing, getting in the extras’ faces, mocking Finley and causing trouble. De Palma filmed all this like he filmed Dionysus in 69, without really knowing what Shepard would do or how people would react. He also managed to film the carefully timed assassination set-piece happening at the same time. Then he and his editor Paul Hirsch put something together that interweaves uncontrolled excess and precision well enough to prove that De Palma is, at least sometimes, truly brilliant.


Posted by Geoff at 2:16 AM CST
Post Comment | Permalink | Share This Post

View Latest Entries