POSTED LAST FRIDAY AT JOBLO, FILM SCHOOL REJECTS, & THE DISSOLVE
Sorry for the late notice on these, but last Friday, three new interviews with Brian De Palma popped up on the web. Here are some highlights (THERE MIGHT BE SOME SPOILERS!):
What is the process when you take a film and make it into your own? What are the steps that make it a De Palma film?
I don’t really think about that. It’s a lot of problem solving. You take from the original film, which you like, and when you say, “Well I can’t reveal the murderer’s identity when this character is killed, unlike the original film. So, I’m not gonna show that. Well, where is she? In the original film, she’s in the movie theater. In this, I put her in the ballet because that’s something that I always wanted to put in a film. I wanted to juxtapose the ballet with the murder, but that’ll evolve. And I was fortunate enough to find a very talented ballerina who had done the ballet in Germany and we were able to get the rights to reproduce it in our movie. All these things sort of make the movie and I could use this split screen idea to make the audience think that Noomi is at the ballet by using that trick and ultimately revealing that she’s not at the ballet, but she’s really under the scaffolding by Christine’s house.
I love when you use split screens. It’s one of my favorite things you do in your films. The way you use it to tell a story is fascinating. Have you always liked using that, especially in a film like this?
Well, it’s a technique, one that’s very effective. I tried to use it in Carrie to show the destruction of the prom, but something that I realized is that it’s not good for action. Split screen is not good for action and I consequently used very little of it. When we looked at it, I said, “This is not working.” So, I removed a lot of split screen from that sequence, but it’s kind of a meditative form. A kind of form to show a lot of juxtaposition and it’s a slow form. It’s a form that you have to allow to really sink in and it worked quite well in this movie. Using the ballet as this sensuous act between these two dancers and, kind of like a magic trick, you’re looking at one side of the screen when something really sinister is going on on the other side. When you can catch an audience off guard a little bit, that’s quite good.
I like the fact that in your work you still focus on the slow burn and it seems like a lot of filmmakers today don’t do that. They want to keep the action going. Do you ever feel like you need to move on and just do a film with quick cuts and all that?
No, I think that’d be a big mistake. After seeing these big action films, it feels like an endless drumming. After a while, everyone says, “Please, stop! I can’t take this anymore!” The sequences are too long, they’re not carefully thought out and with all choreography and in all action sequences you have to have a slow build up in order to go fast. You need to be quiet in order to be loud. That’s sort of a basic thing in all art forms, whether it be music or film.
Film School Rejects' Jack Giroux:
[This interview also has a lot of De Palma quoting Rachel's lines from the film and laughing about them, etc.]
De Palma: Are you really a film school reject?
I actually couldn’t afford to go to film school.
I am a film school reject! I took a two semester course at NYU. The teacher and Martin Scorsese were so unhappy with my movie. The problem was I shot it in three days, but it was supposed to be done in eight weeks. He took my whole unit off my movie and put them on another movie, leaving me alone in the editing room. They never liked me at NYU. Well, I am a film school reject, so I can identify with your site [Laughs].
Why didn’t they like you at NYU?
You know, if you haven’t been to film school, you shoot 100 feet of film, people talk about it, you shoot another 100 feet of film, and everyone talks about it. I shot all my film on a weekend. I wasn’t interested in what they had to say about my 100 feet of film. That was the end of my film school experience. Later on I taught, so I went to the other side of it.
Would you recommend film school?
Yeah. When I was in graduate school I had a very good theater teacher where I learned a lot. I’d absolutely recommend it.
When do you know what the visual language of a film is going to be? When writing the script for Passion, do you know exactly how the camera should move and the aesthetic you want?
Well, at the beginning of the movie, you’re basically dealing with girls talking to girls across a desk, so you have to find an interesting location to put all that. I found a fantastic office building in Berlin. When you get into what Isabelle is dreaming and what actually happened and what didn’t, then you get a chance to really pull out all the stops and make it very visually evocative. Of course, I love to do stuff like that.
Over the past few years, from The Black Dahlia to Mission to Mars, you’ve taken on notable challenges. At this point, is it still easy to find challenges?
Every film has its challenges. As long as you have ideas and ways to solve them that are interesting to your particular aesthetic, it’s great fun to do. This film had a great opportunity because it’s all women, and I love shooting women.
Even the German girl who played Dani was another fabulous actress. She had a very difficult part because she was acting for her first time in English and she had all that complicated exposition. I mean, with “Dani the explainer” in that kitchen scene, her job is to make that interesting. That was quite a feat she managed.
She has a such a distinct look as well.
Yeah, she was in Perfume as well. I’m a friend of Tom Tykwer’s. When I saw that red hair in Perfume, I thought, “That’s what we want!” I wanted red, but not that red [Laughs]. I love that film.
Same here. There are a few filmmakers from your generation that have kind of lost their touch. What’s the trick in maintaing that initial spark?
You mean, how have I not become a fossil?
Thanks. How do I answer that? Well, with fame and success, people tend to insulate themselves. I tend to still be very much the film student, basically. I’m the only director that goes to film festivals just to see movies. I’ve been saying this for 30 or 40 years, but nobody seems to have caught on. When I go to a film festival they ask, “What are you doing here? Do you have a movie coming out?” “Well, no.” “Then what are you doing here?” I say, “I’m here to look at the movies!”
I don’t have bodyguards or an entourage. I go to the movies like if you were at a film festival. Also, I hangout with a bunch of young directors. I miss the fraternity we had in the 1970s, because all my friends from then are in different parts of the country. I hang out with directors who live in my neighborhood. That keeps you lively. What can I say?
The Dissolve's Scott Tobias:
The Dissolve: One of the more compelling aspects of the movie is its office setting, which is this transparent space where people also have hidden agendas. What were you looking to get out of that design?
De Palma: That’s an extraordinary building in Berlin. The whole building was vacant because of the recession. So we were very fortunate to get in there. And it’s a beautifully designed home for these aggressive advertising executives. I scouted many buildings, and we were very fortunate to get that particular one, because the schedules changed, and sometimes the buildings weren’t available. A lot of things happen in movies by happenstance, and you adjust your material to that.
The Dissolve: When you were scouting buildings, this was the type of space you were looking for?
De Palma: An office is an office. There’s a table, and somebody’s on one side of the desk and somebody’s on the other. And there are a lot of scenes like that in the film, so the more interesting space that you could put them in, the happier I am.
The Dissolve: Your work is carefully orchestrated, but where does the planning stop? Are there areas of the production that you like to leave open?
De Palma: This is a relationship picture, and the girls came in to rehearse, and we sort of watched what they did and how they played with the material, and we adjusted the script to their interaction. But in terms of the long, silent sequences, the dream sequences… That’s pretty carefully laid out. I had a lot of time to basically storyboard the whole movie.
The Dissolve: Does it frustrate you as a filmgoer to see the language of a film employed less carefully than that? All that work is elided in a lot of movies.
De Palma: Yes, I would agree. I’m astounded by—whether you’re making a science-fiction movie, a zombie movie, a Star Trek, a Marvel Comics Spider-Man movie—these action sequences that seemingly go on endlessly, without any type of shape or form. So much in action has to do with choreography, and orienting the viewer in where everything is. And I’m amazed all the time that nobody seems to pay much attention to that. So you basically get action and reaction, and it’s like an endless drumming without any shape.
The Dissolve: It seems like they’re trying to make up in sheer, visceral force things that could be done much more elegantly.
De Palma: And obviously, in order to have a crescendo, you have to have some silence. It’s just so simple, but nobody seems to pay much attention to it. They’re basically banging at you constantly. And then in a movie, it’s two hours, too, and then everybody says, “My God, when is this going to be over?” [Laughs.]
The Dissolve: Passion includes a really big split-screen sequence. What was the planning like for that, and what effect were you were looking to achieve?
De Palma: I always wanted to use that ballet. I saw it on video on the Internet. It was shot in the ’50s somewhere with Jerome Robbins’ choreography of Afternoon Of A Faun. And it’s a fantastic idea: ballet dancers in a rehearsal room going through their motions, relating to the mirror, and then obviously culminating in the kiss at the end. And I’ve always wanted to use this piece. I just think it’s so beautiful, and so cinematic. So I had the opportunity to put it into this film. The original movie had Isabelle going to the movies and slipping out the side door, and I put her at the ballet. And I used that tight close-up to make the audience think she was always at the ballet while the murder was going on at the house.
[Regarding the score for Passion, De Palma said:]
I’d say the toughest thing we had to figure out was the scene where Noomi suffers that humiliation and walks down from her office to the garage. We had to figure out how to not make it too sentimental, and at the same time deal with the fact that she’s been demolished. So that was very tricky. We spent quite a lot of time trying to get the exact right cue.