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Washington Post
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Monday, January 26, 2009
At Tractor Facts this past Thursday, "Fox" posted an essay about last Tuesday's screening of Hi, Mom! in Austin, Texas. According to Fox...Before the show, our emcee prefaced it with a shaky disclaimer of "if you're offended by anything in this film, just remember what era it's from". He also admitted feeling a tad uneasy knowing that "this was the movie we were showing on the day Barack Obama was inaugurated". Having seen Hi, Mom! before, I immediately knew what our timid host was referring to, and that was the (in)famous "Be Black, Baby" sequence that practically takes over the second half of the film.

But what our host completely misunderstood, was that "Be Black, Baby", and the entirety of Hi, Mom!, makes for the most ideal type of viewing on a day when a black man was sworn into our nation's highest office. Because even though we just elected our first African-American president - and probably because of that - our culture has become more gun shy and eggshell aware than ever before. The elephant in the room that is "race" has been shrunk and is now hanging around the neck of every American daring to engage in a discussion of social politics.

Once again, in taking a step toward "political progress", what's sadly come along with that is an underbelly of weak-kneed cultural distress and a hesitation over open discussions.

Fox's post was challenged in the comments section by The Cooler's Jason Bellamy, which led Fox to clarify in a subsequent comment:

So to take the elephant in the room being "shrunk" thing, yeah, it does sound like I'm saying it's lessened, but what I meant to imply was that everyone now carries it with them wherever they go. It's not just in the room, it's around our necks, hanging over our heads, behind our eyes, etc.

More clearly, yes, I think race is even more touchy a subject now that Obama is president. That's not the President's fault, it's just the current climate...

But I think you may be missing my point about Hi, Mom!. (And again, I will concede that I may have done a not so swell job of laying it out...).

I'm not saying that it's so socially relevant today because it openly confronts race issues (which it does), but rather because it highlights both a soft-headed, submissive mentality (the audience members in Hi, Mom! who feel that going through the Be Black, Baby gauntlet grants them instant enlightenment the way many people feel an Obama election grants the country instant salvation) and militant-style discourse (the radicals that who put on the play and confront people on the streets with the notion that only their point-of-view is the just one) that is currently dominating our political culture.

Mind you, I don't mean to imply that the above is exclusive to a leftist/liberal ideologie, it's just the phase we're currently in, and what DePalma chose to target for this particular film. (Still, he makes it clear that Jon slides along the ideological scale, becoming a right-wing bigot in the end after commiting a terrorist attack).

Fox mentions this latter point in his original post:

The final scene in Hi, Mom! brings us back to Jon Rubin, who, overnight, has gone from leftist urban guerrilla to hawkish right-wing bigot. DePalma is showing the fine line that exists between these two ideological fringes of extremism. As a good friend often says to me, when you move too far along either end of the political spectrum, eventually you may find yourself around onto the other side.

After ripping through a slur-filled rant to a news reporter, Jon looks at the screen and says "Hi, Mom!". Freeze shot, the end. And what a timely image for a post-Election '08 American audience to take in in this age where the cult of personality is raging like I've never seen it before.

Also in the insightful essay, Fox says a few words about De Palma and the many labels attached to him over the years before delving deeper into the context of "Be Black, Baby" within the whole of Hi, Mom!, using frames from the film to illustrate the confused motivations between promoting and participating in the radical theater production.

Posted by Geoff at 3:11 PM CST
Updated: Monday, January 26, 2009 7:52 PM CST
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Thursday, January 22, 2009
The editors at Cahiers du cinéma have chosen Brian De Palma's Redacted as the best film of 2008. Number three on their list is Matt Reeves' Cloverfield, a film that shares a similar technological theme with Redacted. Joel & Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men was number four on the Cahiers list. You can see the entire top 10 list by clicking here-- if you go down the page a bit, there are several links to articles about Redacted stemming from the magazine's cover story last February.

Redacted, which was released in the U.S. in 2007, had made at least six critics' top 10 lists for that year: Glen Schaefer (#6 on his list), Mick LaSalle (#5), Scott Foundas (#10, tied with No End in Sight and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Stephanie Zacharek (#10, tied with No End in Sight), Christoph Huber (#6), and Bill Krohn (#10). Now for 2008, there are at least two more French critics who have placed Redacted on their top 10 lists. According to the January-February issue of Film Comment, French film critic and radio personality Frédéric Bonnaud has placed Redacted at number 10 on his list. Bonnaud's number one film was James Gray's Two Lovers, which was number five on the Cahiers editors' list, and which seems to have made the top 10 lists of many in France-- Gray's film opens in the U.S. on February 13th. Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited was number three on Bonnaud's list.

Fiches du cinéma critic Pierre-Simon Gutman listed his top 10 in no particular order-- it includes Redacted, Appaloosa, Grace is Gone, and, listed first (although there is "no order" intended), Two Lovers. The latter film was also chosen as best of the year by the Fiches editors. Sean Penn's Into The Wild topped the Fiches readers' poll of best films of 2008.

Posted by Geoff at 12:33 AM CST
Updated: Monday, January 26, 2009 12:43 PM CST
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Erik Van Looy's Loft, written by Bart De Pauw, opened to great success last October in Belgium. The film apparently features several nods to Brian De Palma. Variety's Boyd Van Hoeij wrote that the film features "a nod to Brian De Palma in a standout sequence at a casino." FilmFreak's Alex De Rouck mentions that Van Looy and De Pauw emphatically wink to De Palma "in his Hitchcock period (especially in the long scenes in Dusseldorf and in the casino)." The film currently has no release date for the U.S., but, despite both critics' feeling that the film has one twist too many, it seems worth keeping an eye out for...

Posted by Geoff at 6:01 PM CST
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Monday, January 19, 2009

A poster designed by Methane Studios for the upcoming Austin Film Society screening of Carrie...

Posted by Geoff at 11:36 PM CST
Updated: Monday, January 19, 2009 11:38 PM CST
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A poster designed by Tim Doyle for the upcoming Austin Film Society screening of Phantom Of The Paradise...

(Thanks to Adam!)

Posted by Geoff at 11:32 PM CST
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Saturday, January 10, 2009
The Austin Film Society is running a program this month called First Blood: The Early Films Of Brian De Palma. The program kicks off this Tuesday, January 13, with a screening of the DVD of Murder a la Mod (the 7pm screening is already sold out, but there are still tickets left for the 9pm screening). The 7pm screening of Greetings (also from a DVD) on January 17th is also sold out, as is the 7pm screening of Dionysus In '69 (from a DVD) on January 24th. The 9pms are still available in both cases. The other films being screened are Hi, Mom! (35mm print from the MGM archive screens January 20th), Sisters (35mm print from the Academy archives screens January 27th), Phantom Of The Paradise (digital version from Criterion Pictures to be screened via DVCam February 3rd), and Carrie (35mm print from the MGM archive screens February 10th). See the website for specific screening locations, but also to read the terrific summaries provided by the Austin Film Society's Guest Curator Bryan Poyser, who writes the following as part of an introduction to the program:

The seven films presented here display a provocative, free-wheeling, politically subversive sensibility, rich with sarcasm and gleeful satire, bent on jolting the audience into thinking about what they’re seeing rather than lulling them with fantasy or romanticism. Undoubtedly, it is this rigorous and contrarian agenda that keeps most audiences and critics from fully embracing De Palma, but perhaps also makes him both the most frustrating and addictively watchable filmmaker of his generation.

Posted by Geoff at 11:19 PM CST
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Thursday, January 8, 2009
The Virtuoso of the 7th Art's Romain Desbiens has posted a new summary of Brian De Palma's early works on a page titled, Les Debuts New-Yorkais 1961-1971. The page, which is currently only available in French, features Romain's usual array of well-chosen and well-layed-out images from De Palma's films, as well as those of his influences. Meanwhile, David Greven has written an essay called "Medusa in the Mirror: The Split World of Brian De Palma's Carrie." You can read it at the Australian online journal Refractory. Greven's essay is part of a special issue devoted to split and double screens.

Posted by Geoff at 2:57 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, January 8, 2009 2:58 PM CST
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Thursday, January 1, 2009

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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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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