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Sunday, December 13, 2009
MANHOOD IN HOLLYWOOD
GREVEN BOOK DEVOTES CHAPTER TO CASUALTIES OF WAR
Manhood In Hollywood From Bush To Bush, David Greven's study on Hollywood's representations of masculinity from 1989 to 2009, was published last week by University of Texas Press. Greven has been a part of the De Palma online community for a number of years. Earlier this year, the online journal Genders published the Greven's insightful essay, Misfortune and Men's Eyes, which looked at male bonding in three early De Palma films (Greetings, Hi, Mom!, and Get To Know Your Rabbit). Greven's new book (which can also be purchased at Amazon) continues the author's discussion of the homosocial, and features an entire chapter on De Palma's Casualties Of War. Here is an excerpt from the book's introduction that discusses the chapter on Casualties Of War:

In Brian De Palma's great antiwar film Casualties of War (1989), his characteristic, career-wide experimentation with split-image effects—the split-screen, the split-diopter—takes on an entirely new significance in terms of De Palma's staging of the masochistic gaze. Daniel Lang wrote an account in 1969 of one of the most harrowing episodes of the Vietnam War: the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young Vietnamese woman by a group of American soldiers, one of whom refused to participate in and unsuccessfully opposed the group's treatment of the woman. The first, and only, film version of this case, De Palma's film emerges in the year that Bush 41 takes office and within a new wave of Vietnam films instigated by the surprising box-office success of Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986).

In this chapter, I consider the original account by Lang and De Palma's cinematic rendering of it, which I view as the synthesization of several key themes in his oeuvre, especially the failed heroism of American manhood. I examine De Palma's film as a representation of American homosociality, providing a historical contextualization of it that illuminates American misogyny and homophobia, the latter no less a key factor in the events as described in the Lang account and De Palma's film. I provide a theoretical framework of the homosocial that allows us to consider De Palma's film as a critique of the normative codes of American manhood and what Gayle Rubin, following Levi-Strauss, calls the "traffic in women." The association of Eriksson, the man who opposed the kidnapping, rape, and murder of the woman, with homosexuality by the ringleader of the group, Meserve, is analyzed as a crucial component of the narrative. I explore the ways in which the film represents homoeroticism as both a galvanizing and threatening element in homosocialized manhood, which inculcates misogyny and homophobia. Further, this film represents a strong corrective to the particular forms of nationalism in the Reagan era, carried over into the Bush era. I also examine the film's staging of a masculine battle between a "negative narcissism" and a "heroic masochism."


Posted by Geoff at 10:12 PM CST
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Friday, December 11, 2009
DE PALMA ON MEL BROOKS
SAYS SILENT MOVIE ACCURATELY REFLECTED STUDIO POLITICS
Mel Brooks, Robert De Niro, and Bruce Springsteen were three of the artists receiving Kennedy Center Honors last weekend in Washington. The Washington Post's Gary Arnold caught a compliment from Brian De Palma about Brooks' Silent Movie:

Director Brian De Palma complimented Silent Movie by observing that it reflected studio politics of the period with remarkable accuracy; to him, the farcical elements seemed more realistic than exaggerated.

Arnold would have loved to have seen Brooks and De Niro work together in the seventies.


Posted by Geoff at 10:26 AM CST
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Thursday, December 10, 2009
SCHECHNER DISCUSSES FILMING DIONYSUS

Above is video of Richard Schechner discussing the filming of his play Dionysus In '69, following a screening of the Brian De Palma-directed film this past Sunday at Austin's Alamo theater. Schechner said that just as when he adapts a play and makes it his own, he felt strongly that the film was De Palma's, and that he could (and should) make it any way he wanted to. He said that De Palma rearranged some of the chronology of the performances via editing, so that the film (in De Palma's view) would play better dramatically. Schechner revealed that he and De Palma decided to make cameos at the beginning of the film: Schechner is a "kind of chubby moustached guy at the door," while De Palma walks in as a "sleek-looking young mafioso in a suit," according to Schechner. Schechner also confirmed that a gong heard on the soundtrack was added for effect during editing. The video here comes courtesy of the Austin Film Society's P.o.V. journal-- see more videos at their site.


Posted by Geoff at 6:50 PM CST
Updated: Friday, December 11, 2009 12:21 AM CST
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Thursday, December 3, 2009
DE PALMA DISCUSSION FLOURISHES
AT HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE THIS WEEK

Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere posted a bit about Brian De Palma's Carrie Tuesday night, saying that he was "half taken and half irked" when he originally saw the film in 1976. Wells writes that the ending, with the hand jumping up out of the grave, "made me jump out of my seat, and I was thereafter sold on the idea of DePalma being a kind of mad genius." Wells then continues:

I was gradually divested of this view in subsequent years, sad to say. Actually by The Fury, which was only two years later. To me De Palma was at his craftiest and most diabolical in Greetings, Hi, Mom, Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise and Carrie. Bit by bit and more and more, everything post-Carrie was one kind of problem or another (except for Scarface).

"FACE ON MARS IS ACTUALLY AN IMAX THEATRE -- SOUNDS LIKE DE PALMA TO ME"
Wells' readers then chimed in throughout the next day and beyond, with widely differing views on De Palma's oeuvre. Everybody has their favorites, and most seemed to agree that there was something extraordinary in every De Palma film, whether they liked the entire film or not. There were staunch defenders of Femme Fatale, Dressed To Kill, Blow Out, and Carlito's Way. Mission: Impossible was also given props, with one commenter suggesting that the film will age quite gracefully throughout the coming years. A vague consensus seemed to emerge that De Palma's two most recent films, The Black Dahlia and Redacted, form a combined letdown, although The Black Dahlia also found its defenders. The most widely derided movie in the comments, though, seemed to be Mission To Mars, although that film had its defenders, as well, including this gem of a decscription from Sean: "It's a creation myth story where handsome actors [go] and discover that the face on Mars is actually an IMAX theatre -- sounds like De Palma to me."


Posted by Geoff at 1:55 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, December 3, 2009 2:00 PM CST
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Posted by Geoff at 11:58 AM CST
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Saturday, November 28, 2009
DIONYSUS RECREATED IN AUSTIN
SCHECHNER TO ATTEND OPENING NIGHT, WILL HOST SCREENING OF FILM THAT WEEKEND
Richard Schechner's Dionysus In '69 will be presented by Austin's Rude Mechanicals, using Brian De Palma's filmed version of the play as a key source material. It is a "painstaking" recreation of the original production, which was performed by the Performance Group in 1968. The play will run Decemeber 3-20 at The Off Center in Austin. Schechner himself led several rehearsals for the new production, and will be on hand opening night (listed as December 4th-- presumably the Dec. 3rd performance is a preview), when he will "briefly introduce the piece immediately before the show and will attend the opening night party following." Meanwhile, to coincide with the production, the Austin Film Society has programmed a screening of De Palma's film at 1pm on Sunday, December 6th, with Schechner in attendance. The screening will be at the Alamo theater.

Posted by Geoff at 2:54 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, November 28, 2009 2:55 PM CST
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009
LASZLO & VILMOS ON PBS
AND VILMOS PODCAST INTERVIEW
Check local listings at PBS.com this week to catch the documentary, No Subtitles Necessary: László and Vilmos, which is being shown on PBS' Independent Lens series. The film, which has been shown at various film festivals, tells the real-life story of cinematographers László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond, who fled from Hungary to Los Angeles with footage they shot of the violent Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Zsigmond, of course, would go on to shoot several films for Brian De Palma: Obsession, Blow Out, The Bonfire Of The Vanities, and The Black Dahlia. According to a Los Angeles Times article by Michael Goldman, Zsigmond had previously been reluctant to make a film about their story, but after Kovács became ill in 2006, he decided to do it. Zsigmond told Goldman, "I had turned down this idea previously. I wasn't interested in a movie about me, and I'm not comfortable in front of the camera. But by the time this idea came up, László was very ill, and I was proud of our relationship and how we helped each other. That doesn't happen often in film circles. So I basically decided to do it for László. He was such a great cinematographer, and why he wasn't rewarded more is incredible. I thought I could help him by doing this movie and making sure people in the future remember his work."

You can hear an interview with Zsigmond and No Subtitles director James Chressanthis on a 123 Film Easy! podcast from November 4th.

Posted by Geoff at 1:54 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 1:55 PM CST
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009
ARMOND: REDACTED ACTING "SUPERBLY ON-POINT"
AND BLOG REVIEWER ON REDACTED
Armond White at the New York Press begins his review of the new Iraq war-themed movie, The Messenger, by contrasting the acting style with that of Redacted:

Despite the many things wrong with Brian De Palma’s Redacted, the acting was superbly on-point. De Palma’s little-known cast got class differences right, even while the film’s rhetorical concept was slanting them into the typical Blue State condescension about working-class grunts. This bias infects the latest Iraq War movie, The Messenger, by writer-director Oren Moverman, who lacks De Palma’s instincts for actorly (human) truth. This story about two veterans (Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson) assigned MOS duty to deliver death notices to the deceased’s NOK (next-of-kin), is so bungled up with fashionable ambivalence about the Iraq War that every single behavioral detail is not just prejudicial but wrong.

Later in the review, White gives praise to the homecoming bar scene in Redacted, before reiterating his opinion that Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker is "now overrated":

For Moverman, Iraq soldiers are already dead. The Messenger is a requiem for zombies at board and overseas. Moverman isn’t skilled enough to convey complex grief like Redacted’s homecoming bar scene; he leaves his actors hanging with specious dialogue all over their faces. Full-bodied Morton has a needful, open gaze but there’s no believable sense of her character’s social reality—she’s playing a conceit. So is Foster, who is always prone to over-acting; Foster confuses making pass at Morton with showing desperation. Or is that Moverman’s confusion? Moverman can’t keep up with his actors’ misguided intensity; his camera roams over the scenes’ emotional values.

At least Kathryn Bigelow’s now-overrated Iraq War requiem, The Hurt Locker, was skillfully directed—noir tropes disguised as a war statement. Yet Bigelow’s skillful film let slip a similarly obnoxious suspicion of its characters—as in its “War is a Drug” conceit that, like The Messenger, critiques masculinity but fails to understand the depths of human commitment. It’s a sorry state when morally befuddled political tracts pass for drama.

BLOG CRITIC SAYS REDACTED ALMOST BURNS THE WAR MOVIE DOWN TO THE GROUND
Meanwhile, This Island Rod's Roderick Heath states that "Redacted almost succeeds in burning the war movie itself down to the ground, as it keeps the spirit of enquiring, experimental narrative as defined in '60s art alive and relevant." Heath feels the "cultural memory of Vietnam," along with De Palma's earlier films about that war, looming over Redacted. Heath further makes the distinction that in Redacted, De Palma is not concerned with reproducing reality, but instead, "turns realism into a mode of expression."


Posted by Geoff at 3:19 PM CST
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Saturday, November 14, 2009
DEEP INTO THE UNTOUCHABLES
BLOGGER LOOKS AT TRAIN SEQUENCE; 2 BRITS DISCUSS FILM
At H i M i P o V, Randy Aitken has written a monster of an essay analyzing the train station sequence in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables with the good-humored belief that “the devil is in the details”—rhythms, numbers, shapes, and symbols. Randy’s essay is generously illustrated with screen grabs such as the one shown here at left. Below is an example in which Randy is riffing on the use of numbers and teamwork:

Regarding Stone and Ness in The Untouchables train station steps sequence, they are a team who start out together, split up and come together again to fight and triumph over adversity while standing at the threshold of a diagonal staircase in the climax of the train station sequence. In the final moments of this sequence, as the Bowtie Killer's right arm acts as a stranglehold while the left arm has a gun to the bookkeeper's head, he threatens to kill the bookkeeper unless they are both released from the standoff. He begins a count off starting at "one" with a pregnant pause. Ness commands Stone to "take him!" and he kills Bowtie and reduces that Capone pairing down to one. Stone finishes Bowtie's counting sentence by saying "two." The visual storytelling has shown architectural space being developed and explored and through editing, framing, and dialog we have been shown changes in shapes and the proximity of these elements and forms to communicate growth and advance the story.

The establishment of a deadly horizontal relationship of the bookkeeper's head caught in between an arm and a gun has changed into a new deadly horizontal relationship between Stone's gun and Bowtie's head.

The angle of the straight line has moved counterclockwise 90 degrees.

And at the end of the straight line is a circle that has become divided into life and death.

As Bowtie's head slips out of frame downwards, an artistic modern abstraction of bloody red color is in evidence. De Palma the artist has thrown some paint upon the canvas for the audience and the characters to admire and comprehend. Bowtie has been zeroed out and we have to decide if Mr. Average, middle-American bookkeeper likes being an art critic, and we wonder if we see ourselves or the character in the canvas that he is standing too close to.

This idea of a making a connection between a straight line and a circle attached to it literally or through implication can be seen in the climax of the basement in Psycho, as well as Burke's activities in Blow Out.

PODCAST DISCUSSION
Meanwhile, at Chin Stroker VS Punter, the two British men of the title discuss The Untouchables in-depth in a podcast that runs about 90 minutes.


Posted by Geoff at 1:18 PM CST
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Friday, November 13, 2009
I HAVE SEEN THE BOX...
...and I don't really see any deliberate nods to De Palma. I loved the film-- I was one who was impressed with Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, which I felt displayed the mark of a brilliant filmmaker, even if it wasn't a complete success. I have never seen Donnie Darko, even though I am aware that by all accounts, that is the one I need to see (several people have told me not to start with the director's cut, as they feel that Kelly didn't know a good thing when he had it). After seeing The Box, I am convinced that Kelly is a major filmmaker, and will see Donnie Darko as soon as possible. But it is kind of interesting that most people seem to be disappointed with Kelly's two most recent films, and are getting ready to write him off after making a film they loved so much, while I have never seen that first film, and have been very impressed with his recent work.

The thing that strikes me as most De Palma-ish about The Box is the Herrmann-esque music that dominates from start-to-finish. This, combined with Kelly's success at making The Box seem in every way like it was actually made in the 1970s, gave me a strong feeling of De Palma's Sisters. Alternately, the music score by Arcade Fire also brought to mind John Williams' work on De Palma's The Fury, and Ennio Morricone's work on De Palma's Mission To Mars, with its serene sense of inevitable mourning. Yet I never felt these were direct homages-- simply that they seemed to share a certain sensibility (although, --SPOILER ALERT--, Mars ultimately plays a huge part in The Box, so who knows). With The Box, Kelly has taken a brief idea and expanded it with his sense of paranoia in creepy and unexpected ways that I found fascinating. Between Southland Tales and this new movie, Kelly seems to be building toward some sort of perfect beast-- something that will carry his apocalyptic, Twilight Zone-tinged sprawls to a level of cinematic beauty and brilliance. Which means that I am very much looking forward to seeing what he does next.

On a side note, the box's red button under the gleaming dome recalls Kubrick's HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and there was one point as characters are going through a library maze where I got a creepy flashback from Kubrick's The Shining.


Posted by Geoff at 6:34 PM CST
Updated: Friday, November 13, 2009 6:48 PM CST
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