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Sunday, April 5, 2009
RESERVOIR FROGS

"WHEN TRUFFAUT MET TARANTINO"
The Financial Times' Nigel Andrews looks at the fifty-year anniversary of the French New Wave through a Quentin Tarantino lens, where Godard is "Mr. Red," Truffaut is "Mr. Pink," and Chabrol is "Mr. Black," etc. Andrews writes:

And no group portrait of the “Reservoir Frogs” is complete without the man known affectionately, as “Frog One”, after the mastermind in French Connection II. André Bazin, critic and essayist, mapped out a new direction for French cinema. He was valuable even in catalysing the energies of those who disagreed with him. His vision of a seamless realism based on the plan-séquence (uninterrupted take) so irritated Godard that it helped create the acts of defiance, like A Bout de Souffle, by which the pupil shook off the teacher.

Or, to maintain the metaphor, by which the new criminal shook off the old lag and mentor. For the New Wave was a crime: that was its beauty. It was an outrage against law, order and aesthetic decency. If you have doubts that that was its spirit and agenda, look at the films. See what a preponderance are stories involving crime. In their early years Godard, Truffaut and Chabrol could hardly pick up a camera without depicting robbery or violence. The overthrow of society and culture was both their missionary activity and their favourite story.


Posted by Geoff at 6:24 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, April 5, 2009 6:25 PM CDT
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Thursday, April 2, 2009
MICHAEL CAINE ON DRESSED TO KILL
SAYS TRANSVESTITE ROLE WAS TURNED DOWN BY "EVERY AMERICAN ACTOR"
Michael Caine discussed some of his film roles in an article published yesterday in the Los Angeles Times. Here's what he said about working on Dressed To Kill:

That was my only foray into transvestism. It was a very scary movie. I was a great fan of Brian De Palma. He came to me because every American actor turned him down. I'm sure because it was transvestism. But I wasn't afraid of that. I had never done it. But I must say that women's clothes are very uncomfortable. I hated them. Also, I had padded knickers because you have to put on hips. Fortunately for me, there was a real girl who did a lot of [the scenes]. She was 6 feet 2, the same as me and when we got made up, we looked very, very much alike.


Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, April 2, 2009 11:59 PM CDT
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009
PSYCHIC VISIONS
ARMOND WHITE ON FAST & FURIOUS/THE FURY
Armond White on Fast & Furious in the New York Press:

[The] closest [director Justin] Lin gets to bliss is the hokey moment Dom psychically imagines a road incident involving his ride-or-die lovematch, Michelle Rodriguez. Lin spins the camera 360 degrees as the past envelops Dom’s consciousness. It updates Brian De Palma’s breathtaking Vision on the Staircase sequence in The Fury, yet nothing else in Fast & Furious justifies such an hallucinatory leap.


Posted by Geoff at 9:48 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 31, 2009
GREETINGS & RICHARD HAMILTON
AND NEW ESSAY SAYS FILM CAPTURES THE '60S

Okay, so I promised a couple of additional posts about Greetings for the weekend-- I guess for me, the weekend is still blobbed into this week. Anyway, two Sundays ago, MovieMan0283 posted a very nice essay about Greetings, which he said "presents us with a fully-formed vision, however different from the vision [Brian] De Palma later cultivated." MovieMan0283 feels that De Palma's early film was a different animal than the mumblecore stylings of the average independent film from young directors of recent years. And while De Palma would go on to make films that were more deliberately planned and shot, MovieMan0283 nevertheless sees that "there are signs that the filmmaker behind Scarface and Carrie is also the mind behind Greetings"...

For one thing, despite some intentionally sloppy stagings (De Palma sees Godard's jump cuts and raises him a jump cut in which the background and positions of the characters also changes) there's an obviously gifted eye behind the camera. One sequence is particularly striking: as the tired trio parade in Central Park, trying to keep one potential draftee awake so that he'll flunk his examination the next morning, one of the scruffy group breaks away to chat with a street personality, a photographer displaying his increasingly fuzzy blow-ups of a single photograph, interpreting their aesthetic while simultaneously acknowledging the debt to Antonioni's Blow-Up (a constant reference for De Palma here; particularly in relation to the examination of the Zapruder film). Meanwhile, as the zoom lens moves in closer and closer the two remaining buddies, punch-drunk from a night of staying awake, continue to cavort in the background, De Palma holding them in the increasingly tight shot as the heady dialogue continues in the foreground. Here and elsewhere, he's able to balance multiple elements for a dizzying kinesthetic effect.

ABOUT THAT PHOTOGRAPHER
The artist in the scene mentioned above (and in the Greetings shot above) is Richard Hamilton, who is considered one of the fathers of the "pop art" movement (a movement that is satirized in Greetings when Robert De Niro's Jon labels his voyeuristic project "peep art"). At left is the piece Hamilton is showing to Gerrit Graham's Lloyd, titled "A Postal Card for Mother," in which a series of blow-ups of a beach scene are folded out accordion-like from the source photograph. The same year that Greetings was released, Hamilton designed the famous-iconic cover for the Beatles' "White Album," as well as the poster inserted inside the double-LP package, for which he asked for and was given hundreds of unpublished photos of the band to sort through.

THE '60S IN A NUTSHELL
MovieMan0283 goes on to discuss how Greetings seems to capture a moment from the 1960s when "new" and "old" coexisted:

The movie opens and closes with a television set, clearly situated in some unseen person's kitchen, on which LBJ gives a crowing, preening speech about the war. Greetings' compulsive references extend outside of the cinema (which is already more than most contemporary movies can manage) to the outside world and its frantic, apocalyptic, painfully immediate zeitgeist, something which contemporary Hollywood had more or less walled off (though fissures were beginning to appear in that particular wall). Indeed, Greetings seems to be broadcast from an alternative history: one in which American cinema was as engaged with political and cultural reality as European cinema or American music. The movie hits all the 60s touchstones, which works only because it takes them all for granted: there's the jingle-jangle folk rock of the title track, the cinematic array of Jules et Jim-esque tricks which De Palma employs, frank sexuality and nudity which earned the film an "X" rating (coupled with a sexism often crossing over into misogyny which, joined by constant reference to "fags" and a cavalier attitude towards racial epithets, reminds us that the 60s rebellion was not as PC as preachy leftists, not to mention preachy conservatives, would have us believe).

The 60s - and Greetings - are close enough to the 50s for some macho, un-PC social attitudes to remain (even as the movie's characters mock social conventions and Establishment politics). The film is so close to the clean-cut Camelot of '63 that the Kennedy references seem au courant, yet it is also close enough to the 70s to employ the stylistic range and adult content which that decade would make de rigeur. This, to me, captures the fascination of the 60s in a nutshell: not so much that the era represented the "new" as that it represented the crosshairs of "new" and "old" where World War II was something people in their thirties remembered while schoolchildren would grow up to found dot-com companies, where the traces of classical black-and-white cinema still lingered but the wide-ranging possibilities of the movies' future was just barely over the horizon. The changes happened so fast that for a brief moment, "new" and "old" co-existed - it was modern America's adolescence and Greetings captures that moment beautifully.


Posted by Geoff at 2:29 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, April 2, 2009 11:29 PM CDT
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Friday, March 27, 2009

This is the full cover of the bestseller seen in the woman's apartment (with a bookmark hanging out the top) in Greetings. As a bestseller, the book and its cover were widely known at the time of Greetings' release. The Boston Strangler earned author Gerold Frank the Edgar Allen Poe Award in 1967 for Best Fact Crime Book from the Mystery Writers of America. It can be surmised that the juxtaposition (see the first photo in the post from yesterday) of the naked woman waiting and the cover of this book would have been a jolt to the average viewer in 1968 (even if they had not read the book, being a bestseller, most would have been familiar with the cover all over store shelves everywhere). A bookmark hanging out of the book in the still from Greetings indicates that the woman is reading the book, yet, via a computer date, she trusts a virtual stranger, letting him into her own apartment and allowing him to roam around freely.

Posted by Geoff at 2:32 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, April 2, 2009 11:33 PM CDT
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Thursday, March 26, 2009
GREETINGS LINKED TO STRANGLERS
AND NEW ESSAY COVERS GREETINGS/HI, MOM!/RABBIT

After reading David Greven's terrific new essay on male bonding in Brian De Palma's Greetings, Hi, Mom!, and Get To Know Your Rabbit (published in the current issue of Genders), I noticed that Greven somehow had seemed to overlook a key plot point in Greetings that I would love to see him riff on (more on that later). Curious, I pulled out my DVD of the film to check on said plot point, and discovered something rather astonishing-- namely The Boston Strangler, paperback edition of the Gerold Frank true crime book, dead center in the frame from Greetings as shown above. Astonishing, of course, because De Palma is currently preparing to film Susan Kelly's more recent investigation of the case as presented in her book, The Boston Stranglers, and because I don't recall noticing this title in Greetings before. However, you can bet that De Palma did-- check out the countershot below:

Note some key differences between the two reverse shots, beginning with the way the three books are angled in the second shot, so that the viewer can clearly see the cover of The Boston Strangler. Also notice how in the first shot, there appears to be a long row filled with books behind Strangler, while in the reverse shot, there are only three key books and what looks like a glass jar to the left of those. Keeping in mind that De Palma edited as well as directed Greetings with a decidedly loose, freewheeling style, the lack of proper continuity in the shots echoes the purposely off-kilter jump-cuts used in various scenes throughout the film (Greven's essay delves into one of these scenes, where a patron in a clothing store switches places back-and-forth with the store's proprieter via these sort of surreal jump-cuts). Frank's account of the Boston Strangler case was first published in 1966, two years before Greetings was released. Richard Fleischer's film, based on Frank's book and starring Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda (and featuring plenty of split-screens), was released a mere two months prior to Greetings.

One can guess that the Boston Strangler case was still a fairly frenzied affair in 1968. Placing that book square in the center on the big screen, next to a naked woman who has left her bedroom door open, allowing total access to a man she's only just met through a computer dating service, must have been a howl of a joke in the movie theater in 1968 (especially with the film version about to hit screens). It would have been key to the joke to have the book still noticeable from the front cover in the reverse shot, as Paul (Jonathan Warden) looks in, gazes upon the woman's naked body, smiles and then decides not to bother with her. In the second shot above, De Palma has placed two other key books on the shelf: Naked Came I, which directly comments on the scene at hand, in which the woman, who has just berated Paul for not being prepared for anything other than sex, retreats to her bedroom and humbles (compromises) herself by taking off all of her clothes and lying in wait (the book's title indirectly echoes the Book of Job, which would figure prominently in De Palma's Mission: Impossible when Ethan Hunt pulls the Holy Bible off the book shelf); and, among the many film-themed books and magazines diligently placed throughout Greetings, I Lost It At The Movies, the first collection of film reviews by Pauline Kael (in the shot at right is another key film book placement within Greetings).

 

So on to the plot point that led me to rewatch this sequence in the first place, which appears to have gone overlooked in paragraph #38, below, of Greven's essay (I have emphasized two key phrases in bold):

At one point, Paul goes to the home of a woman with whom he has a computer-dating-arranged assignation. During their conversation, he reveals that he doesn't own a car and that he's already eaten; he makes it clearly obvious that he is only there for sex. Brassy and demanding, she upbraids him for being ill-prepared for their date. Like a general describing the battle-readiness of his troops, she points to specific elements of her romantic-evening-ready attire: "You see these shoes? 'Socialites'!" He wilts visibly under the glare of her scorn. She storms off. Yet when Paul goes to check in on her, she is lying in her bed, silent, naked. He walks off, and away. More than any other, a profound sense of loneliness, of a lack of connection, permeates this scene. This sense of cold isolation also tinges the scene in which Lloyd, feverishly pontificating over the JFK assassination and his multiple conspiracy theories, uses the silent, naked body of the woman he is in bed with as a living canvas, turning her over, and back again, drawing strategic sites of the grassy knoll upon her body. Like a cadaver, her body mutely complies with his feverish demands and doodling. The necrophiliac quality of this scene provides further evidence for the lack of relatedness between men and women, even in a scene that establishes physical intimacy between them. (The necrophilia here is too half-hearted to vie for the status of perversity.)

What Greven seems to have overlooked is that it is the same woman in each scenario he describes above-- Paul leaves the woman lying naked on the bed, and goes outside to call Lloyd from a payphone. Paul tells Lloyd that his computer date did not seem like a good match for him, but that "since you're one of my best friends," maybe she would be a good match for Lloyd. The film then cuts to a shot of another strategically placed piece of literature: the cover of Film Comment...

The camera slowly pulls back to reveal the film magazine, with its cover story about the JFK assassination, covering the pelvis of the woman as Lloyd can be seen manipulating her stiff, motionless, and otherwise naked body. A viewer (especially one watching in 1968) might at first imagine that a Boston Strangler type of situation is in process here as the camera pulls back and sees that the potential strangler has been replaced by Lloyd's JFK obsessions. But instead of a lifeless corpse, we eventually find that the woman is merely sleeping, apparently having already been sexually satisfied (in her slumber, when Lloyd needs her to turn around to put a shirt on her, he kisses her once or twice on the neck until she dozingly complies). What is implicit in this sequence of scenes is that Paul has left the woman in her apartment, and allowed his friend Lloyd to take over (did Lloyd have to knock, or did Paul leave the door unlocked?). What makes it a key point for Greven's highly insightful essay is that it may further complicate his central questions of male bonding and the treatment of women within the homosocial sphere.

I have a couple more things to post about Greetings-- watch for two more posts this weekend...


Posted by Geoff at 3:13 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, March 27, 2009 12:15 PM CDT
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Monday, March 23, 2009
DISCUSSING CARRIE
AND OTHER TEENAGE GIRLS ON FILM
In an article in yesterday's Guardian, Eva Wiseman looks back at Michael Lehmann's Heathers, and links it to Brian De Palma's Carrie as a film about a teenage girl with issues, in contrast to typical films about teenage misfits (such as The Breakfast Club). Wiseman quotes Dr Catherine Grant, "an art historian and specialist in the representation of female adolescence in art," about Carrie. "She represents the potential of repressed sexuality that is often attributed to teenage girls," Grant told Wiseman, "and the conflict that occurs between being a 'nice girl' and a sexual adult. She literally explodes with her repressed teen powers." Wiseman then writes, "While Carrie White's budding telekinesis and eventual breakdown are a little way removed from our own secondary school experiences, we share her issues: self-hate, female destruction, sexual frustration, awkward hair."

Wiseman also quotes feminist theorist Kate Random Love, who states that the teenage girl on film "is a wonderful barometer for measuring a culture's fantasies and anxieties about femininity at the time. For example, it's surely no coincidence that in the 1970s - the decade that began with the second wave of feminist uprisings - the most notable representations of female adolescence were in horror films such as The Exorcist and Carrie. Femininity itself became a monstrous force rising up with the potential to destroy everything."


Posted by Geoff at 11:38 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, March 23, 2009 11:39 PM CDT
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MORE PHANTOM SET PHOTOS
AT THE SWAN ARCHIVES, OF COURSE
A few more shots of Brian De Palma and, separately, Paul Williams, have been posted on the production page at the Swan Archives. Click on any of the photos to see a larger version. The pics show De Palma sitting in his director chair, observing and thinking, and others show Williams looking lighthearted as he sits and talks with others on the set.

Posted by Geoff at 11:00 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009
PHANTOM ON THE STAGE

WILLIAMS SAYS HE & DE PALMA "ABOUT TO BEGIN WORK"
PLUS: WRIGHT INTRODUCES PHANTOM IN TORONTO;
'70s FLASHBACKS:
WILLIAMS PERFORMING "HELL OF IT" FOR BRADYS AND HARDY BOYS;
P.J. SOLES & BETTY BUCKLEY COMMERCIALS


In the YouTube video posted above (which we found thanks to Akahan!), you can see Edgar Wright introducing Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise Sunday night at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. As part of the intro, Wright read an e-mail message that Paul Williams composed specifically for the audience that night. The e-mail from Williams read, in part, "Mr. De Palma and I are about to begin work on the stage version of Phantom Of The Paradise at last, and it will be ready for viewing… God knows, not I." In December of 2007, at an Edgar Wright presentation of the De Palma film in Los Angeles, Williams revealed that a stage version of Phantom was in the works, and that De Palma and producer Edward Pressman were involved. Pressman is developing a remake of the film, and it is speculated that the film remake would follow a successful stage version.

Williams has been trying to get a stage version together with De Palma since the 1980s, and De Palma had even discussed the project earlier this decade with Antonio Banderas, who had just appeared in De Palma's Femme Fatale, and had just had recent success on Broadway with the musical Nine. De Palma was set to direct a workshop for a stage version at the beginning of 2007, but then got involved in making Redacted instead. The news that Williams and De Palma are getting set to delve into the project is exciting, but note also that the halls of Valhalla Motion Pictures are currently buzzing with preparation for De Palma's next film project, The Boston Stranglers, which is due to go into production late this spring.

De Palma a la Mod reader Ryan Clark discovered a YouTube clip of Williams singing Phantom's closing number, The Hell Of It, on a Halloween episode of the 1970s TV show The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. The clip has also long been available for viewing as an "Easter Egg" at The Swan Archives by clicking any of the site's "Death Records" logos at the bottoms of most pages. Another startling find was made last week by Vinnie Rattolle: a clip of Williams singing The Hell Of It on an episode of the long forgotten The Brady Bunch Hour. In the clip, Williams gets to menace Peter and Greg Brady, and sings the song amidst a chorus of female dancers in costumes that could have come right out of Phantom Of The Paradise. Hearing Williams sing lyrics like, "Good for nothing, bad in bed, nobody likes you and you're better off dead" on such a cheery family variety show is somewhat surreal. Special bonus link: check out Vinnie Rattolle's unearthing of a couple of Carrie-era commercials featuring Betty Buckley and P.J. Soles.


Posted by Geoff at 4:54 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 4:31 PM CDT
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Monday, March 16, 2009
LETTERS DEBATE SINISE
AND HIS CRITICISM OF DE PALMA & REDACTED
Today's Chicago Tribune featured letters to the editor debating the newspaper's interview last week with Gary Sinise, in which Sinise criticized Brian De Palma as having been "out to get the troops" by making 2007's Redacted. All three letters printed today expressed support for Sinise's general backing of U.S. soldiers, but the first one, written by Chicago's Roger Shiels, took a dismissive swipe at De Palma, linking him and his film to Jane Fonda's controversial protests of the Vietnam war in the early 1970s:

Hats off to Mr. Sinise. As for director Brian De Palma, no wonder he had no comment. He was probably sequestered in his basement watching Jane Fonda workout videos.

The third and final letter, from Terry Green, president of Strata Productions, suggested that Sinise was hurting his own cause by "bashing Hollywood war films":

If Mr. Sinise had seen Redacted, he would know that it's a reminder of the cost of war and that its director, Brian De Palma, doesn't "hate the American military," but is highly critical of the system of government that created the situation that is the subject of his film.

And while I think almost all war movies today are anti-war propaganda films and many of them exploitative, they're essential because they create a dialogue, which hopefully leads to solutions.

I don't want Mr. Sinise to stop using his celebrity to shed light on the heroic efforts of our soldiers, but bashing Hollywood war films only hurts his cause.

The story is the death and destruction of war.

Anything less is a distortion of the truth.


Posted by Geoff at 5:12 PM CDT
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