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Thursday, January 1, 2009
CRUISE CONSULTS SCHWAB
VALKYRIE'S 2ND UNIT DIRECTOR & VISUAL CONSULTANT

Eric Schwab, who advanced from location manager to second unit director under Brian De Palma's wing throughout the '80s and '90s, is credited as second unit director on Bryan Singer's new film, Valkyrie, which stars Tom Cruise. Schwab is also credited as "visual consultant" on Valkyrie, a credit he was also given on Cruise's last big action film, Mission: Impossible III. It is nice to see Cruise putting his trust in the eye of Schwab after working with him and De Palma on the first Mission: Impossible film in 1996.

I saw Valkyrie recently, and found it a solid work of suspense that could be considered something like Mission: Impossible goes to World War II. The film moves quite rapidly, demanding the viewer's attention to keep up with the mechanics of the characters' plot to kill Hitler, and throwing us into moments of suspense that are deliciously fun to watch. It all leads to some pretty powerful scenes near the end as the coup plot comes undone.

Schwab was trusted by De Palma in 2007 to shoot all of the faux "French documentary" footage for De Palma's Redacted himself. In 2001, Schwab wrote and directed his own feature, The Learning Curve.


Posted by Geoff at 2:47 PM CST
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Friday, December 19, 2008
Sragow on Repo!

The Baltimore Sun's Michael Sragow today discusses Repo! The Genetic Opera. Sragow writes:

The story is all backed-up from the beginning. Too bad the director, Darren Lynn Bousman, doesn't have the gift that Brian De Palma had in The Fury (now there's a potential midnight movie) of making a movie's impacted subplots tremble and quake before they all come flooding out...

The clotting of pop opera and carnage, as well as the trash-icon appearance of [Paris] Hilton and the daring casting of Sarah Brightman as GeneCo's singing spokesperson, Blind Mag, comprise this film's bid for pop chic. Hilton is passable (I presume audiences cheer when her face peels off ), and Brightman summons the bracing delivery and regal presence of an authentic operetta star. But there's no zest or imagination to the slaughter, as there is in a [Tim] Burton or De Palma movie. After a while, all you see during the worst mayhem are thrown-together piles of imitation guts.


Posted by Geoff at 12:25 PM CST
Updated: Friday, December 19, 2008 12:26 PM CST
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HICKS ON QUANTUM OF EDITS

Chris Hicks writes in today's Salt Lake City Deseret News:

I learned something while watching Quantum of Solace for the second time recently: Quick-cut edits can have the same effect as shaky-cam.

That is to say, when the camera's point of view or angle changes in rapid succession, it has essentially the same effect as a hand-held camera that rapidly bounces up and down.

This is not a good thing.

During this second viewing of the latest 007 movie, I found myself counting the seconds between cuts. And I decided that there are two apparent rules: The seven-second rule applies to character or dialogue scenes, and the three-second rule applies to action.

I'm not kidding.

I don't think a single shot in an exposition scene lasts more than seven seconds, and no single shot in a chase scene lasts more than three.

This is a strange evolution . . . or devolution . . . of filmmaking technique, since there was a time — not so long ago, really — when directors took great pride in long takes, those single "tracking" shots that could last from 30 seconds to a few minutes, and which required a great deal of rehearsal, of both the players and the camera.

Hicks goes on to discuss the use of long takes by Hitchcock, Welles, and De Palma, contrasting their intricately planned and rehearsed takes with Baz Luhrmann's current Australia, where, according to Hicks, "an emotional moment leads to an overhead shot that travels from the top of a water tower to the farmland below to the desolate landscape in the far distance. It makes for touching, sweeping symbolism. But it's perhaps 15 seconds in length — and it may be the lengthiest shot in the film." Hicks concludes:

The point is, movies seem to be in such a hurry these days that they often feel like theme-park rides. Quantum of Solace, though enjoyable on its own terms, is much more of a mindless thrill ride than its character-driven predecessor, Casino Royale. But the ride is getting a little too bumpy. Quantum of Solace is also occasionally headache-inducing. Not to mention incomprehensible. Who's driving which car? Who's slugging whom? Where the heck are we now? Are these really the questions you want your audience asking?


Posted by Geoff at 12:18 PM CST
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008
BODY DOUBLE SOUNDTRACK RELEASED
INTRADA 3000-COPY LIMITED EDITION OF DONAGGIO SCORE
Intrada has just released a limited edition soundtrack of Pino Donaggio's score from Brian De Palma's Body Double. The complete soundtrack has never, to my knowledge, been officially released before. Selected tracks have shown up here and there on various collections, but this is the real deal. The Intrada web site states that this is the "complete score presented in brilliant stereo from original 30 i.p.s. multi-track session masters vaulted at Sony Pictures." The release marks volume 86 in the Intrada Special Collection, and is limited to 3000 copies. The CD has 21 tracks totaling over 68-minutes, and sells from the Intrada web site for $19.99. The web site describes Donaggio's Body Double score like this:

Pino Donaggio creates what might be his greatest masterpiece, compliments Hitchcock style visual set-pieces with massive musical set-pieces of his own. Signature display of Herrmann-ish strings, layers of bold over-the-top brass (particularly French horn) for claustrophobia sequences, sinous & sexy themes for sleaze elements, throbbing synths for graphic drill murder, dynamic orchestral action for final confrontation, you name it! At heart is primary love theme plus gentle secondary idea for high violins that lingers throughout... Savor every note, from smallest keyboard cues and intricate synth overlays through porno-film source pieces to framing vampire movie music and grandiose orchestral fireworks! Natale Massara conducts.


Posted by Geoff at 9:20 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 9:24 PM CST
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Friday, December 12, 2008
MORE SCARFACE 25TH
OLIVER STONE, KEN TUCKER, MOVIE GEEKS
Movie Geeks United! paid tribute to the 25th anniversary of Scarface last Sunday by interviewing Ken Tucker, author of the recent Scarface Nation. The show also featured clips of the Geeks' previous interviews with Brian De Palma and Steven Bauer, as well as trivia and discussion of the film. Click here to listen to the Scarface show. On last Wednesday's show, the Movie Geeks interviewed Mark Margolis, who played Alberto the Shadow, the assassin whose lack of morals leads Tony Montana to draw a violent line in the sand. Discussing the filming of that scene with the Geeks last night, Margolis said that in between takes, Al Pacino did a lot of "lame" talking about locker room-type subjects. Margolis was wondering for an hour and a half what he was doing there listening to such uninteresting and uninspired machismo, and then suddenly came to the realization that Pacino was in fact talking in character-- it wasn't Pacino talking, but Tony Montana, 24-7.

STONE RESPECTS DE PALMA FOR CHOOSING HIS OWN APPROACH
Oliver Stone was interviewed by Tucker for Scarface Nation. We all know that Stone was at odds with De Palma for slowing down Stone's fast-paced narrative and excising dialogue scenes in favor of elaborate camera shots and long takes. Stone tells Tucker that had he been directing the film himself, he would have made it more "realistic and fast-paced, because it was more like, let's get to know this world. [But] Brian chose another approach, and I respect him for that."

In Tucker's book, Stone discusses some of the real life inspirations for his Scarface screenplay, and how De Palma added a oft-"excessive" operatic framework over the material that took liberty with logic. Stone is quoted as saying that certain things about De Palma's edits were sticking in his craw. "To me," Stone told Tucker, "what was being sacrificed was narrative sense and atmosphere."

OPERATIC FRAMEWORK, BUT LOGIC IS "REALLY LOOPY"
Stone elaborates on some of the issues he brought up in the memo he sent to producer Martin Bregman and Pacino in this excerpt from Tucker's book:

Stone's irksome memo addressed what he felt were "questions of logic. The film has a realistic base onto which was put an operatic framework. Which is okay-- it made the movie what it is, but for operatic purposes you don't throw out logic, and certain things were sticking in my craw. I think Brian had strayed--" Stone pauses here, looking for the right words before simply sighing and saying, "Sometimes his plot points are ridiculous. It's as if there's nobody keeping rational logic there. He's done certain things in other of his films too that are really loopy"-- Stone pauses to laugh almost affectionately-- "really loopy."

"A HONG KONG ACTION FILM BEFORE ITS TIME"
"I'll give you an example," Stone continues in Tucker's book...

"I think the ending was written realistically, that Tony had fucked over the cartel. And they came to get him at the mansion, and I'd written it as four or five gunmen sneaking up on him on his property, and, of course, when I got on the set"-- Stone laughs and shakes his head in disbelief-- "it was like thirty or forty gunmen! It could have been fifty or sixty-- it didn't matter. It became a Hong Kong [action] movie at that point. And I'm surprised-- but, well, people loved it! And I don;t say Hong Kong idly, because after Scarface, Hong Kong action films started upping their numbers, shooting people much more readily and easily.

It changes the nature of the film; it was so outrageous at this point, and Brian just kept going and going, and for some reason it works. Why does it work to have, I don't know, a hundred men go in there and shoot at Tony, all alone? I didn't know, I didn't see it, back then. [But] that's a Hong Kong action-film shoot-out before its time, right?

So despite Stone's misgivings, Tucker told Michael Sragow at the Baltimore Sun that Stone is a big enough man to say, "I have to hand it to Brian; he knew what he was doing. He captured something that was in the air." Part of what De Palma captured in the ending of Scarface may have been inspired by King Kong, with Tony Montana acting as the old-fashioned monster, defiantly fending off attackers from below as he sits on top of the world (which for the original King Kong would have been the Empire State Building). Indeed, it would seem as though De Palma could have read the script and, either consciously or subconsciously, amped up the threat to Tony Montana as an echo of the ending of the 1933 classic. The climax of King Kong is quite obviously referenced at the end of De Palma's 1962 short Wotan's Wake, so it is definitely a film on De Palma's radar.

In fact, in a 1997 Journal Of Film And Video article titled "At Work In The Genre Laboratory: Brian De Palma's Scarface," Tricia Welsch suggested that De Palma's film alludes to both Frankenstein and King Kong. For Welsch, this "postmodern hybrid" of the gangster film was problematic, as it alluded to the Cuban immigrant as a "monster." Welsch further felt that De Palma's reputation added an element of the slasher film to the mix, but it is also interesting to note that Stone himself began directing by making horror films like Seizure and The Hand (both made before writing Scarface), so Scarface as a horror/gangster hybrid seems valid from the ground up. In any case, De Palma spoke in those days of wanting to break out of genres and of creating new ones, and his free-wheeling sensibilities were perhaps most aptly described by critic Jake Horsley, when he referred to De Palma as a "pinball wizard."

A COUPLE MORE LINKS
Tucker was also interviewed recently by Craig D. Lindsey at the Philadelphia Weekly. Elsewhere, Tucker and Bauer are two of several people quoted in a Scarface 25th anniversary article posted by Lee Hernández three days ago at the New York Daily News.


Posted by Geoff at 2:11 AM CST
Updated: Sunday, December 14, 2008 11:08 AM CST
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Wednesday, December 10, 2008
MORE PHANTOM OUTTAKES
AT THE SWAN ARCHIVES
The Swan Archives has unearthed yet another small batch of unused footage from Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise. Go to the site's production section and click on the "Swan Song Fiasco" page to see some newly discovered footage of the receptionist flipping through the names to check on Winslow Leach-- some more of the names on the list can be seen, including Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson. Also on that page is a newly uploaded take of Winslow barging into the Death Records reception area, revealing another "Swan Songs Enterprises" sign. Click on the Outtakes page to see newly discovered footage of Winslow stabbing himself, and also footage of Winslow introducing himself to the receptionist in several takes.

Posted by Geoff at 1:35 PM CST
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Tuesday, December 9, 2008
ADRIAN MARTIN ON BECOMING VISIONARY
"De Palma is consistently conjured, in a manner that surpasses even the most excessive auteurism, as a kind of Godhead..."
At Screening The Past, Adrian Martin has reviewed Eyal Peretz's Becoming Visionary: Brian De Palma’s Cinematic Education of the Senses. Martin titles his review "Strange Days," highlighting the idea that to Peretz, nothing in De Palma's cinema is seen as natural. Martin writes:

To Peretz, nothing that happens in a De Palma film – no gesture, line of dialogue, bit of behaviour, camera angle or scene transition – is natural, obvious or common-sensical; on the contrary, all is ‘strange’, bizarre, in urgent need of interpretation. The word strange appears multiple times on many pages; indeed, this book could have been subtitled (with a nod to Raymond Durgnat) The strange case of Brian De Palma. Becoming Visionary launches itself from where the best De Palma criticism wisely begins: from the sense that everything in these films is grandly unreal, illogical, unbelievable, risible, grotesque, a live-action cartoon. So much for the stuffy old business of character psychologies (and believable performances), dramatic/comic themes and coherent, and fictive-world meanings! Peretz is more riveted by the falling softball that inaugurates the deepest action and logic of a story (in Carrie), or the sudden apparition of a big toe (Bataillian, bien sur – in The Fury) that is merely the first of a string of breaks or interruptions (on every level of the cinematic apparatus) which crack open the coherent shell of a diegesis and open up to something else: an Outside or Beyond that, however, is not metaphysical (that would be a kind of sin in Peretz’s argument) but somehow immanent – immanent to the filmic frame itself.

Martin states that he hesitates to call this a film book, and while he at first sounds skeptical about Peretz's "frequently stimulating, occasionally baffling" deep focus on certain moments in De Palma's films, he pleasantly admits to finding the book rather engaging. Martin explains:

It would be easy – it has already become a reflex in recent, disenchanted cinephile commentaries on the occasional writings on film by contemporary continental philosophers – to complain that Becoming Visionary has seemingly not much to do with the films it discusses, or (a worse charge) that it simply lines up some choice illustrative or allegorical moments from them in order to cue a heavy bout of philosophising. However – once I got past the defensive Cavellian moment on page 6, listing De Palma (after the great-philosopher roll call) as the ‘unlikely hero’ of this adventure – I found myself (almost despite myself) very engaged with this book; this successful diversion of a reader’s preconception is the mark of a good and interesting critical/theoretical work. (Why read something that merely confirms what I already think I know about De Palma, in the language that has already confirmed it?)

All in all, an interesting take on an interesting take.


Posted by Geoff at 7:54 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 7:56 PM CST
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Monday, December 8, 2008
Images from Blow Out

Jeremy Richey today posted images from Brian De Palma's Blow Out as part of his series, "Images From My All Time Favorite Films," at Moon In The Gutter.

Posted by Geoff at 10:30 PM CST
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Sunday, December 7, 2008
DEJA VU

Space Ace sent in this poster image for The Lodger a few weeks ago, noting the obvious similarities with the poster for The Black Dahlia. In the November 28 issue of Entertainment Weekly, Jesse North criticizes the "criminal" similarities on display in the Lodger poster:

1. A dead woman's ghostly visage faces heavenward.

2. A joker-esque trail of blood oozes from the corner of the woman's plump red mouth.

3. The titles are stylistically severed in two by an ominous red line.

4. The credits list a quartet of actors-- but Dahlia's cast is way, way sexier. (Sorry, Alfred Molina!)


Posted by Geoff at 11:11 AM CST
Updated: Sunday, December 7, 2008 11:15 AM CST
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Friday, December 5, 2008
TIME'S TOP 10 PROHIBITION TALES
To mark the 75th anniversary of the end of prohibition, TIME presents "Bootleggers, Bandits and Badges: The Top 10 Prohibition Tales." Number nine on the list is Eliot Ness and his band of Untouchables. Number eight is the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre.

Posted by Geoff at 11:40 AM CST
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