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Monday, August 24, 2009
DIONYSUS IN 2009
41 YEARS LATER, JOAN MACINTOSH REPRISES ROLE OF AGAVE
When Joan MacIntosh portrayed Dionysus' aunt Agave in Richard Schechner's Dionysus In '69, itself a 1968 adaptation of Euripides' The Bacchae, she was twenty-something years old. Now in her sixties, she is playing the same role in a new version of the play directed by Joanne Akalaitis (and with music by Phillip Glass), now running through August 30th at the Public Theater's Shakespeare In The Park in New York. MacIntosh was once married to Schechner, and of course, De Palma's film of the 1968 production was released in 1970. This latest version of Dionysus is getting mixed reviews, but Theater Mania's Andy Propst likes it, and has priase for MacIntosh's performance:

But the greatest tragedy belongs to the spellbound Agave, who returns to the city proudly holding her son's head, announcing that she has killed a young lion. It's a horrific moment, made all the more so by MacIntosh's fierce commitment to the woman's wild delusion.

And while several reviews find that the show's biggest problem is finding relevance in modern society (see the reviews at Backstage and the New York Times, the latter of which calls the production "toothless"), Propst noted an interesting element of the stage design:

John Conklin's scenic design, an arc of bleachers that's backed by jutting beams, suggests the rubble at the World Trade Center. Indeed, this visual only reinforces one's sense that The Bacchae remains a call to moderation in the face of the incomprehensible.

I also have to mention the amusing anecdotes regarding raccoons rustling about amidst the outdoors production. Ben Brantley at the New York Times themes his review with the raccoons, while the Financial Times' Brendan Lemon actually felt the tug of a raccoon and looked down to see the animal "hopping up and down and nibbling on my right shoe."


Posted by Geoff at 11:36 PM CDT
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Saturday, August 22, 2009
MUIR ON BODY DOUBLE & BLOW OUT
John Kenneth Muir continued his weekly essays about Brian De Palma films last week with a look at Body Double, delving deeply into the issue of mysogyny often leveled at that film. This week, Muir looks at Blow Out-- here is a key excerpt:

In Blow Out's most ironic and mocking use of iconic American imagery, Jack arrives too late to save Sally from Burke, but De Palma's camera triumphantly spins around the tragic duo nonetheless. As an "average" citizen dies below so the powerful may continue to "serve," in the heavens above fireworks explode with orgasmic glee and abandon.

The illusion of freedom and liberty are alive for all to see in the sky, even if Sally (and the truth...) die right here; their ends acknowledged only by Jack.

Sally's personal story in Blow Out also serves as a metaphor for disillusionment and disenfranchisement in America. Sally begins her journey as a disinterested observer, just minding her own business trying to make a buck any way she can. She doesn't even watch the news "because it is too depressing." When Sally finally does get involved in the "political process," in a quest with Jack to reveal the truth about this conspiracy, what happens? She is brutally murdered.

In this case, a murdered innocent in a movie may very well represent a disappointed, disillusioned electorate in real life. Most people don't get involved in politics, and those activists who do so inevitably face disappointment because things don't seem to change, or get any better. The parties in power may alternate, but the entrenched interests don't. Killing Sally in Blow Out is, essentially, killing hope in the democratic process; it's killing political involvement. From a certain perspective, there are no real "good guys" in Blow Out because even the guy in "search of the truth," -- Jack himself -- exploits the simple-minded Sally (representing the American electorate) for his own purpose. He ruthlessly uses her for his ideological agenda...and she ends up dead, even though that agenda was inarguably noble.


Posted by Geoff at 11:32 PM CDT
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Friday, August 21, 2009
TARANTINO ON THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Posted by Geoff at 3:37 AM CDT
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Thursday, August 20, 2009
TARANTINO'S TOP 20 FILMS OF PAST 17 YEARS
COMPARES "FRIENDLY RIVALRY" WITH ANDERSON TO DE PALMA/SCORSESE
At left, Quentin Tarantino lists his 20 favorite films to come out since he made his first feature, Reservoir Dogs, 17 years ago. In talking about the list to Straight.com's Ian Caddell, Tarantino compares the "friendly rivalry" between himself and Paul Thomas Anderson to that between Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese:

“I actually made it a point to write down my favourite films of the last 17 years, which is when I started directing, and I am happy to say it was hard to break it down to 20,” Tarantino recalls during an interview in a Los Angeles hotel room. “I was delighted to find I wanted to have at least 30. I had to make some tough decisions. I think that shows there are a lot of great filmmakers out there doing terrific work. The one who immediately comes to mind is Paul Thomas Anderson. I feel that I am [Marlon] Brando to his Montgomery Clift. Brando was better because he knew Montgomery Clift was out there, and Clift was better because he knew fucking Brando was always there.

“I remember when I met Brian De Palma, who was always a hero of mine, and he was saying that he had a friendly rivalry with Martin Scorsese. He was shooting Scarface, and on one of his days off he went to see Raging Bull. He said that just seeing that classic opening shot with the rain and the slow motion of Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta dancing, he thought, ‘There is always Scorsese. No matter how well you do and how good you think you are, there is always Scorsese staring back at you.’”

Tarantino was a fan of unique filmmaking styles before he ever directed a movie himself, and that holds true today. He says that while he may be Brando to Anderson’s Clift, there are several other contemporaries who have made an impression on him. “I really like some of the directors who have come along in the last two decades—people like Paul and Rick Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, and not just because they are friends. I am not friends with David Fincher but I love his work. I think right now the most exciting cinema in the world is coming out of Korea. I think Memories of Murder and The Host by Bong Joon-ho will definitely be on that best-20 films list.”

BASTERDS SHOOTOUT RECALLS SCARFACE
Speaking of Scarface, The Oxford Times' Damon Smith states that Inglourious Basterds includes "a cinema shootout that conjures memories of Brian De Palma’s Scarface."


Posted by Geoff at 4:55 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, August 20, 2009 10:50 PM CDT
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009
BASTERDS CLIMAX CHANNELS CARRIE
TARANTINO AGREES: "WITH NAZIS AS OPPOSED TO MEAN HIGH SCHOOLERS"


Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf suggested to Quentin Tarantino that his new film, Inglourious Basterds, is heavily influenced by Brian De Palma's Carrie, and Tarantino could see where he was coming from. Here's the excerpt from Rothkopf's article:

“It’s actually fun for me to be analytical,” Tarantino offers, adding that he may yet end up a reviewer. “And when I write, I still have my Sergio Leone–itis, whereby no character can show up without having his 20-minute introduction.” Invoking the Italian maker of epic spaghetti Westerns whom Tarantino still places at the top of his pantheon, he deftly cuts to the core of Inglourious Basterds: a war movie in decor and subject, but one laced with lengthy battles of wit and words that build to deliriously tense highs, much like Leone’s expertly edited mano a manos.The new movie is being marketed as a Brad Pitt “men-on-a-mission” action film, but it’s actually dominated by gab, flirtation, geeky tangents about German cinema and a drunken barroom card game.

Bring this false advertising to Tarantino’s attention and he’ll smile. “That’s kind of my way,” he explains. “Whatever sets me on a course to write a movie is usually pretty thin: a heist movie, a martial-arts movie, whatever. But then the idea is to go beyond that, to bust down the walls of genre. It’s only now that I could tell you that there’s more to Basterds than I thought. This movie is about language, duplicity.” I suggest to him that it’s also about Brian De Palma’s Carrie, especially the fiery climax, and Tarantino agrees vigorously. “With Nazis as opposed to mean high-schoolers—sure!”

LONG ROOM-TO-ROOM TRACKING SHOTS RECALL DE PALMA
Yet another viewer of Inglourious Basterds was reminded of De Palma (as well as Leone). Kyle Smith blogs that "portions of the movie are pure Sergio Leone," and that "the long tracking shots that take us from room to room remind me of Brian De Palma." Looking forward to seeing it.


Posted by Geoff at 11:48 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 11:50 PM CDT
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Monday, August 17, 2009
BALTIMORE GROUP WANTS TO STAGE PHANTOM
BUT FIRST: GRÜNDLEHÄMMER
Tim Smith at The Baltimore Sun ran a story yesterday about a group of recent college grads who are gearing up to stage Gründlehämmer, a rock opera with laughs, gore, and 15 songs. Co-writers John DeCampos (who also contributed to the music) and Aran Keating (who is also directing) originally proposed making a stage version of Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise. After Gründlehämmer finishes its single-weekend run from October 2-4 (at Baltimore's 2640 Space), DeCampos would still like to pursue the Phantom Of The Paradise idea. More information is available at the Baltimore Rock Opera Society (BROS). Curiously, there are two "songs" available for preview on the site, but when either of them is played, the files consist of a seemingly identical six seconds of drumming-- could be a little prank, as the society members seem a tad irreverent.

Posted by Geoff at 12:22 PM CDT
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Sunday, August 16, 2009
SCARFACE RERELEASED IN U.K. THEATERS
"DEFINITIVE" '80S MOVIE HAS "ALL ITS DIALS TWISTED UP TO 11"
A digital version of Brian De Palma's Scarface was released in U.K. cinemas this weekend. A couple of U.K. critics had some interesting takes on the rerelease, with one suggesting that Scarface is the "definitive" film of the '80s, while the other finds tongue-in-cheek relevence to the current political atmosphere.

The Guardian's John Patterson

It's not the best film of the decade (that might be Raging Bull) or the most influential (except among gangsta rappers), or the most elegantly crafted (good god, no), but somehow Scarface manages, both intentionally and utterly accidentally, to capture the 1980s' atmosphere of unflagging greed, moral emptiness and materialistic crassness to a tee. It's as irreducibly 80s as Reagan's black plastic hairdo, Madonna's bustier and the Jane Fonda Workout.

Scarface is a movie with all its dials twisted up to 11. No one does lines of cocaine (a loathsome drug for a loathsome era), they do piles of cocaine; chainsaws are brandished, not switchblades; the vague, censor-baiting hints at Borgia-syle incest in the original morph here into Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio screaming at her brother, "Ya wanna fuck me, huh, Tony? Huh?"

But Tony is a fully-fledged 1980s-style unzipped capitalist go-getter, worthy of admiration given the Friedman-fundamentalist economic fumes wafting through the zeitgeist back then; he's a Horatio Alger hero with a hole through his septum, he's Arkan in the making.

The List's Paul Dale

All of which makes this brilliant, cold-blooded masterpiece rather a strange proposition at a time when President Obama is opening up relations with the seemingly progressive sibling Raúl Castro. Myth has it that during his time as 46th Vice President of the United States in the Bush era, Dick Cheney liked to spend his downtime staring at a corporately revised map of Cuba which showed which US conglomerate would go where come the day that the US colonise the Caribbean island again. Could it be that Universal has been promised a spec there? A little place in the sun to wait out another Depression? Where multimillion-dollar mergers can be brokered by Skype and movies can be made for a tenth of the price? Could the re-release of Scarface be the beginning of their chainsaw wielding march on Cuba? Either way it’s great to see you again Tony.


Posted by Geoff at 12:22 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, August 16, 2009 12:24 AM CDT
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Thursday, August 13, 2009
MUIR ON RAISING CAIN
REFLECTING THE '90s 'CRISIS IN MASCULINITY'
John Kenneth Muir continued his weekly look at the films of Brian De Palma last week with an essay about Raising Cain, which he calls "a satire, exposing the schizophrenic, contradictory messages sometimes sent by our culture to men of the day." Muir writes that the multiple personalities inside Carter (all played by John Lithgow) reflect the era's crisis in masculinity, leading to the inevitable transformation from a man into a woman:

Carter's many alternate personalities also expose further the crisis in masculinity. Cain is seen as inherently disreputable. He's a smoker for one thing (another big no-no in the Age of Political Correctness), and he's also, well, psychotic. Yet, Cain is the "man of action." Carter outsources his dirty work to Cain, because as a "sensitive" modern male he is deemed incapable of protecting himself or his family. When Carter gets into trouble attempting to subdue Karen, a local mother, Cain suggests that Carter kiss her to allay the suspicions of passers-by. This is something that would never occur to the diffident Carter on his own; but a solution which jumps out immediately to Cain. Cain is Id, through and through. The voice we all hear, but rarely act upon.

Yet another of Carter's personalities, Josh, has regressed to boyhood. He's a terrified child, one constantly fearing the wrath of his father. Again -- not entirely unlike Carter -- Josh is an image of masculinity reverted to a "harmless" or impotent stage, pre-adolescent, and therefore pre-sexual.

Finally, the guardian of the children is the personality named Margo. Importantly, Margo is female. Margo rescues Amy, destroys the Elder Dr. Nix, and restores order. It is a woman, therefore, who finally usurps the role of "hero"/"conqueror" in modern America. Carter can only become a hero when he is...female. The film's valedictory shot is of a looming, powerful Margo, standing heroically behind his family (Jenny and Amy). Carter could only be himself (a caring individual and care-giver) when in the personality and guise of a woman...and the last shot explains this visually. Margo is not menacing; not evil. She is triumphant.

Muir also describes the way De Palma uses space, movement, and the unbroken take to represent Carter's multiple personalities:

When all this back-and-forth must at last be explained to the just-barely-keeping up audience, De Palma proceeds in snake-like, coiled fashion. He brilliantly stages an elaborate, lengthy tracking shot (approximately five minutes in duration) that follows two police detectives and Dr. Waldheim from the top floor of a police station down two stair-cases, through an elevator, down into the morgue,...where the shot ends on a close-up of a corpse's horrified expression of horror.

All throughout this masterful, unbroken shot, Waldheim explains the history of the Nix family and the theories underlying multiple personality disorders. She basically describes the events of the movie (Cain vs. Carter) in a fashion that makes sense out of perspective we've witnessed thus far. It's a journey from the top of Carter's mind, literally, to the bottom...to Cain's mind, where we spy his murderous handiwork (the corpse).

De Palma understands that form must echo content, and so the form of his film -- multiple perspectives coming together -- reflects the flotsam and jetsam Carter's splintered mind. The virtuoso unbroken shot is Waldheim's tour of that mind, a narrative maze of twists and turns, of science and ultimately death. But importantly, this tour is an unbroken one (like Waldheim's dissertation), making linear sense of the tale for the viewer.


Posted by Geoff at 12:00 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, August 14, 2009 1:13 AM CDT
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009
TARANTINO TALKS CAT PEOPLE
SCENE IN INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS REMINDS RODRIGUEZ OF DE PALMA
Miami Herald movie critic Rene Rodriguez interviewed Quentin Tarantino this past weekend for a piece that will run this Sunday. Rodriguez offers a preview in his blog, in which he asks Tarantino about his use of David Bowie's theme from Paul Schrader's Cat People remake, mentioning to the director that the scene in which the song is used reminded him of Brian De Palma:

Q: You once said that when you use a pop song in a movie, you want to use it in a way that will always remind people of your film whenever they hear it, so no other filmmaker can ever use it. In this movie, though, you use David Bowie's Cat People (Putting Out Fire), which was written for the 1982 Cat People remake.

A: I've always loved that song and I was always disappointed by how Paul Schrader used it in the movie. He didn't really use it; he threw it in over the closing credits. I remember working at the Video Archives at the time and thinking "If I had a song like that for my movie, I'd build a 20-minute scene around it!" So I guess I did.

Q: There's a really cool sense of dislocation when that song comes on, which still sounds so modern, yet we're in World War II France. It's one of my favorite sequences in the film. It reminded me of Brian De Palma, back when he was still good.

A: When I got the idea to use it, one of the things I liked is that the song was once removed and you already knew it from something else, as opposed to something that was written for the movie. You're listening to the lyrics of the song and you're watching Shoshanna [a character in the film played by Melanie Laurent] doing all this stuff, and you sit there thinking "Wow, this song was written for Cat People, but it's totally appropriate for Shoshanna's story!" It plays like an interior monologue for her.

A comment on the blog post from mrbluelouboyle reminds readers that Tarantino had courted the idea of casting Cat People's Natasha Kinski in Inglourious Basterds, which makes the choice of song seem less random than Rodriguez had originally considered.

WELLS: TARANTINO "HAS GONE BATSHIT CRAZY"
Meanwhile, Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells does not hold back in describing his contempt for Inglourious Basterds, stating, "I realize it's a Quentin movie that's basically about Quentin's bullshit, but -- I'm trying not to sound like a rabbi here -- Inglourious Basterds reeks of arrogance and sadism and indifference to the value of human life." Wells believes Tarantino has buried himself too deep inside own creative genius hype. Wells writes:

Inglourious Basterds is proof that QT has gone batshit crazy in the sense that he cares about nothing except his own backyard toys. He's gone creatively nuts in the same way that James Joyce, in the view of some critics, crawled too far into his own anus and headspace when he wrote Finnegan's Wake. All I know is that this is a truly empty and diseased film about absolutely nothing except the tip of that digit.


Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 1:49 AM CDT
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Monday, August 10, 2009
EBERT ON DIRECTOR COMMENTARIES
(OR DIRECTORS, LIKE DE PALMA, WHO DON'T DO THEM)
Roger Ebert's Answer Man column this week fields a letter from Kevin Fellman, asking for Ebert's opinion of "film directors such as Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma and John Landis, who refuse to provide audio commentaries on their DVDs, instead opting for their films to 'speak for themselves.'" Fellman continues, "Would someone such as yourself, who has, indeed, provided commentaries on various films, tend to agree that these directors are cheating fans and scholars by withholding their own personal insights?" Ebert's answer is: "It’s their film and they can do what they like. I once tried to enlist Orson Welles in talking through Citizen Kane, and his response was, 'I’m tired of talking about that film.'"

Posted by Geoff at 11:54 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 12:06 AM CDT
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