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Sunday, September 26, 2010
You may recall a year ago, when the Globe and Mail's Rick Groen reported that Gaspar Noé was excitedly asking around at the 2009 Toronto International whether anyone had seen Brian De Palma in the audience for Noé's Enter The Void. This weekend, Enter The Void has finally opened in select North American theaters, and Noé has been mentioning De Palma to interviewers as a key influence on his latest film, which he worked on for about a decade. Discussing his film with Filmmaker Magazine's Brandon Harris this past summer, Noé stated he had in mind Kenneth Anger's Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome "or some of Brian de Palma’s movies," adding, "I really like aerial shots and everything in the one with Nicholas Cage. Snake Eyes I think." Harris then confirmed the movie title, and added that "Snake Eyes also has a bravura long tracking scene," to which Noé replied, "A good one."

Noé discussed his use of the camera as a point of view in the film with Prospect Magazine's Justin Villiers, explaining that Irreversible was a kind of experimental preparation for the new film:

I was working on Enter The Void many years before Irreversible, so I had been thinking about using such a free-flowing camera. It’s been done a lot before, but never in such an expanded way. There are many shots in Brian De Palma’s movies when the camera is flying over someone’s head, there is a similar shot in Taxi Driver, as well as in Lars Von Trier’s Europa or even in Mishima by Paul Schrader. There’s also, in Minority Report, one long shot that hangs above the set. I like those shots, but I’d always dreamed of having a movie where for one full hour you’d be flying above the sets. I’m happy that no one else did it before me.

When asked by IFC's Nick Schager where the central idea for Enter The Void came from, Noé laid out his influences from the beginning:

When I started studying cinema, I was watching “Eraserhead” over and over. I also discovered “Altered States” and I discovered maybe LSD and mushrooms at the same time. And I thought it would be good to do a movie from the perspective of the main character, like “Lady in the Lake,” but in which you would follow the guy and his hallucinations. Then I read these books about life after life, and the “Tibetan Book of the Dead,” and I thought it could be even better if the guy dies and you see him floating above the living, like all these reports of out-of-body experiences. Also, I really, really like all those astral shots, which are often in Brian De Palma’s movies, where the camera is floating above people.

You don’t see many movies that really impress you during a lifetime, but “2001” was maybe my major cinematic shock. Then among the latest ones, “I Am Cuba” convinced me that the movie had to be shot with master shots. I saw it before shooting “Irreversible,” but “I Am Cuba” affected both “Irreversible” and this one.

Noé further elaborated to Schager on his inspirations for his use of point of view shots:

One day many years ago, maybe when I was in my late teens or early 20s, I took some mushrooms with friends, and then I went back home and they were playing “Lady in the Lake” on TV. That’s when I decided that the first part of the movie should be shot in first-person perspective. When it comes to the flashbacks, that doesn’t come from any other movie. I just thought that, in my own memories or in my dreams, I always see myself like a shadow on the right or left side, but I feel my presence. My dreams aren’t constructed like POVs, but that’s the way I perceive my own past or my own future or my own dreams. I’m sure that’s the same for most people, so I decided to leave it that way.

When it comes to the actual visions, I was just inspired by all these accounts of out-of-body experiences, as well as images -- like I said -- from Brian De Palma, and “Zentropa” [the U.S. title of Europa] by Lars von Trier, who had some aerial shots that were really pretty.

Noé also mentioned De Palma while discussing the difficulty of describing in words the visual experience of art:

There are movies that are more cinematic and movies that are more narrative in a literal way. I guess it's easier to talk about "Irreversible" or about "I Stand Alone" than to talk about this one, because maybe the best parts of the movie are some visual aspects that are more difficult to transfer to words. For example, my father is a painter, you see his paintings in the movie. The painter pretends to paint paintings that actually were my father's paintings. Sometimes I read reviews about his exhibitions and think, "How can people describe abstract or expressionist painting?" and yet, this movie had many references. When I started shooting it, I was thinking of course of "2001: A Space Odyssey," of "Videodrome," of "Altered States," some shots in Brian De Palma's movies where the camera is floating above or "I Am Cuba" for the long master shots. But also, I had in mind Kenneth Anger's "Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome" and "Eraserhead," which are dreamy movies that are very hard to describe. You cannot describe colors, not when you have 20 colors, so you just say "it's colorful." I knew this movie should be more visual than the previous ones, but that's also why people are more pissed off, because for some people, it's too visual, too experimental. I got much better reviews than I've ever had in my life with this one, but I also got the worst reviews I've ever had with this one. One (critic) said, "This is the worst piece of sh*t that has ever been shown in the Cannes Film Festival" just because of the flickering effects, the out-of-focus effects, at a point make you feel very stoned. For people who don't like feeling stoned, then they refuse the experience and they feel as if they've been brought somewhere they didn't want to go.

You can see some of the shots being discussed above on a YouTube video put together by BUF, the company that did many of the visual effects in the film.

(Much thanks to Peet!)

Posted by Geoff at 9:20 PM CDT
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010
GQ has posted an incredible oral history of the making of Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas, which was released 20 years ago this week. 60 or so cast and crew members were interviewed for the article, including Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Michael Ballhaus, and Ray Liotta. In the following excerpt, Larry McConkey and others discuss filming the Copacabana shot. Illeana Douglas, who was dating Scorsese in those days, talks about how Scorsese wanted to one-up Brian De Palma by making the shot a minute longer than the long steadicam shot in The Untouchables. Here's the excerpt:


Larry McConkey (Steadicam operator): The impression I had when Marty walked us through the Copacabana shot was that this is going to be the most boring, worst thing I've ever done. We're walking across the street, down the stairs, down a hallway, in the kitchen.... What is this shot about?

Douglas: They didn't know that the Copacabana tracking shot was going to be such a big deal. It wasn't like, "Okay, we're going to do the greatest Steadicam shot in history."

Joseph Reidy (first assistant director): It's probably the hardest orchestrated single shot I've ever been involved in. McConkey: There were 400 or more absolutely precise timing moments. It was totally impossible, mathematically.

Kristi Zea (production designer): This was the mating dance. Henry's arrival into the Copa, the way he came in, and how the whole thing was designed to impress the hell out of Karen. You wanted the audience to be part of her being impressed.

Johnny "Cha Cha" Ciarcia (Batts's crew number one): Marty Scorsese was in trouble for extras, so one of the casting directors called me. I live on Mulberry Street. I know the whole world. I went and I made a deal for $10 a person. We had five busloads of people on Fifth Avenue for the Copa. I set it all up.

Zea: He wanted a long preamble before they get into the space. The Copa didn't have a long enough walk before they actually get into the nightclub. So we had to build a hallway, and we literally took the walls away while the camera was in motion, so that they were gone by the time Ray and Lorraine showed up in the main room. The delivery of the camera into that big space had to be done like a ballet. Henry is saying hi to everyone, everyone knew who he was. And then the table flies across the camera and lands smack dab in front of Henny Youngman, and suddenly there's champagne coming over courtesy of these other guys.

McConkey: Marty watches the first rehearsal, and the only thing he said was, "No, no! When the table comes in, it's got to fly in! I came here as a kid and I saw this!" They'd flip on a tablecloth, the lamp goes on top of it, somebody plugs it in, they put down the plates... It was like a magic act.

Douglas: I believe they only did like seven takes. I've been involved in Steadicam work where you literally work all day to achieve what Marty achieved in that shot.

Liotta: One take was because at the end of it, Henny Youngman forgot his joke.

Zea: "Take my wife..."

Ballhaus: He forgot his line that he had said about 2,000 times!

Douglas: Brian De Palma had just done this incredibly long Steadicam shot in The Untouchables, and Marty said it would be funny to try to do it one minute longer than De Palma's. The world perceives this as "Oh, the Copacabana scene!" But what it really is, is directors behind the scenes having fun fucking with each other.

Posted by Geoff at 7:49 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, September 26, 2010 12:39 PM CDT
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The latest news of the (said to be) new and improved version of the Carrie musical on Broadway comes from '60s pop icon Lesley Gore of all people. No, she's not appearing in the show (at least, not as it stands now), but her brother, Michael Gore, composed the songs for the 1988 stage version of Carrie, and has now reteamed with his original collaborators (lyricist Dean Pitchford, and librettist Lawrence D. Cohen) to revamp the whole thing. Last November an all-star cast was assembled for an industry reading of the revival. Now, Leslie Gore tells Broadway World's Pat Cerasaro that her brother Michael and Pitchford have rewritten the entire second act and are "heading in for, I think, another reading and then I think they are then going to go into production."

Meanwhile, while getting ready to post an essay about De Palma's film version of Carrie, Wonders In The Dark's Troy became obsessed with the screenshots of Sissy Spacek he was looking through, and decided to forgo the essay in favor of "copious" shots of Spacek in the film. Troy writes that, while looking throught the shots, it became apparent that Carrie White could "only be played by one person, Sissy Spacek. Her face and mannerisms allow her to be the perfect sympathetic monster — beautiful, innocent, fragile, and pitiful, yet still managing to be chillingly believable as she exacts an inferno of bloody terror on her tormentors."

Posted by Geoff at 3:00 PM CDT
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Saturday, September 18, 2010
The Toronto International Film Festival winds down this weekend, and Brian De Palma was spotted as recently as yesterday, when Guardian critic David Cox tweeted that De Palma was sitting behind him at a screening for Tsui Hark's Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. Regarding De Palma, Cox tweeted, "Don't think there's time to get him to explain FEMME FATALE." Regarding the film, which is said to have stunning visuals, Cox tweeted that it "was a flamboyant way to bring my festival to a close. It even had fire turtles." On Monday (September 13th), Empire Movies' Liam Cullin tweeted that he saw De Palma waiting in line for a screening of Steven Silver's gonzo journalist film The Bang Bang Club, which Screen Daily's Mark Adams was quite impressed by. Based on true events, The Bang Bang Club follows "a band of freewheeling, hard-partying, daredevil photographers in South Africa of 1994, in the turbulent moments of the final days of apartheid" according to Adams. "The sequences of them photographing the violence around them," writes Adams, "a violence the[y] start to become immune to – is wonderfully staged, and a scene of Ryan stumbling onto a brutal photograph of a killing that will win him a Pulitzer Prize is quite memorable. So too a similar (though very different) scene where Carter travels to the Sudan and take a photo of a starving girl stalked by a menacing vulture, which will eventually win a Pulitzer for him as well."

Meanwhile, De Palma' name keeps popping up in reviews of Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. Empire critic Damon Wide on Monday blogged, after seeing Black Swan in Toronto, that "At the moment, the film, for me, is still too fresh to filter, but I suspect that once it has settled, and I've stopped wondering why it reminded me of films as diverse as Brian De Palma's Sisters, P&P's Black Narcissus and John Cassavetes' Opening Night, it will reveal itself as a film of great power and longevity." Jorge Mourinha calls Aronofsy's film a "smart shocker of the sort Brian de Palma knew how to do so well in his prime, with a strong lead and confident handling making the slightly overwrought plot work." Writing from the Venice fest early this month, TIME's Richard Corliss also mentioned De Palma in his Black Swan review:

I've also heard from folks at Venice who think Black Swan is a junky horror show and [Natalie] Portman way too strident. Me, I'm of two minds about a movie that wants to be a nail-ripping thriller and a statement on an artist's unholy communion with her role. It's reminiscent of older, better movies: the late-'40s backstage dramas A Double Life (Ronald Colman plays Othello, becomes fatally jealous of his actress ex-wife) and the classic ballet melodrama The Red Shoes; and of films about tender, troubled psyches in the films — I won't say which ones — of Roman Polanski, Dario Argento, Brian De Palma, David Cronenberg and David Fincher. Black Swan also takes a view of women that might kindly be described as old-fashioned.

And finally, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir sees a De Palma influence in the Guillermo del Toro-produced Julia's Eyes, a horror film directed by Guillem Morales. O'Hehir writes that Julia's Eyes, "which reassembles much of the creative team that made The Orphanage in 2007," is "altogether a chillier, slicker and colder affair, formal and beautiful in composition and shot through with a sadistic eroticism that strongly suggests Brian De Palma." O'Hehir concludes, "I doubt this project occupied much of del Toro's attention, and it's fundamentally an exercise in genre and style -- but what style! The brooding skies and gray-green trees, the closely packed prewar houses, the naked bodies in a locker room full of blind women, the deepening shadows as Julia's sight gives way and evil comes ever closer. Even the deep, dark crimson when we finally see blood. (Despite this movie's moodiness, it's not without its share of gruesome gore.) In the long arc of Guillermo del Toro's career, Julia's Eyes is a minor side project -- but we can only wish that one in 20 American horror films were this well made."

Posted by Geoff at 11:24 AM CDT
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Monday, September 13, 2010

Eli Roth revealed to Love Film that he prided himself on watching Brian De Palma's Scarface 56 times on VHS in his youth. He talks about how he would consider the plight of the man "with the big nose" in the club who dances to Frank Sinatra's Strangers In The Night and gets machine-gunned to death. Roth says he and his friends would stop the tape and deconstruct the back-stories of minor characters. "Think about this poor guy," says Roth about the big-nosed dancer. "He went to work that day, he was just doing his job. He was just trying to entertain, and then these guys came in and just machine-gunned him. And like, what's his wife gonna say, like, was this guy married? And then, like he doesn't come home from work that night. I would sit and obsessively think of the back-story for every minor character in the film."

Posted by Geoff at 8:56 PM CDT
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Saturday, September 11, 2010
Brian De Palma turns 70 today, and he appears to be celebrating by attending the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, of which he has been a loyal patron for years. On Thursday, Roger Ebert tweeted that he spotted De Palma at the festival ("Brian de Palma, the only big-time director who often attends film festivals on his own dime," wrote Ebert). Grey Goose's Mohit Rajhans also saw De Palma on Thursday. "The bulk of the buzz so far was centered around the press office yesterday while people gathered the necessary passes," wrote Rajhans. "I spotted Brian De Palma chatting just outside the office with friends – word has it Toronto is one of his favourite cities for movie watching." Today, Fernando F. Croce tweeted that he "saw Brian De Palma just outside yesterday's screening of Black Swan," adding that he "should have wished him happy b-day." (Croce is covering the festival for Slant Magazine.) And finally, Swedish journalist Rebekah Åhlund, while attending the premiere yesterday of Kristian Petri's Bad Faith, spotted De Palma in the lounge, prompting her to recall the days when she used to watch De Palma's Carlito's Way once a month. Steve Gravestock's description of Bad Faith at the TIFF website sounds intriguing:

Monia (Sonja Richter), a rather strange young woman who may be in the midst of a nervous breakdown, walks alone through the streets of a Gothenburg. Walking past a sinister alleyway, she sees a badly injured man struggling to breathe. The man’s been dispatched by the Bayonet Killer, a murderer who’s been plaguing the city for the last couple of months. Monia is immediately plunged into a mystery only she and the strangely solicitous and philosophical Frank (Jonas Karlsson) seem to care about. As Monia stumbles on one killing after another, she confronts a shady hoodlum (Kristoffer Joyner) who, rather suspiciously, seems to be at the scene of every crime.

With Bad Faith, Swedish director Kristian Petri intelligently riffs on the history of the suspense film, deftly combining its highs and lows. On one hand, the film offers up a gloss on giallos – the lurid, visually stylized, Italian-thriller form popularized by Mario Bava and later by Dario Argento. At the same time, Petri and his collaborators make reference to the most cerebral and self-conscious mysteries ever made, from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up to Paul Verhoeven’s international breakthrough, The Fourth Man. Like Verhoeven’s underrated classic, Bad Faith is propelled by the characters’ awareness that they’re caught in a narrative they should recognize but refuse to – a conflict which allows for ample amounts of suspense and for a very sly comedy.

Central to the film’s success is our suspicion that Monia isn’t playing with a full deck. As she grows more and more obsessed with the murders and her daily life crumbles around her (she hides in her apartment for weeks on end), we begin to question her sanity and, by extension, the rules and assumptions of the genre which she inhabits. It’s a genuinely postmodern thriller, a sublimely funny movie that questions its characters mental soundness and our own addiction to narrative.

Posted by Geoff at 11:08 PM CDT
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Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Movie Geeks United! tribute this week to "The De Palma Thriller" continued last night with a focus on Dressed To Kill, although several films were included in the discussion, including Home Movies (discussed with guest Keith Gordon and touched on with Nancy Allen), Obsession (discussed with guest George Litto), Mission To Mars, and more. The geeks got deep into De Palma discussion within the show's first hour, with Jamey talking about the merits of Mission To Mars, and Chris suggesting that he did not trust his not-so-thrilled assessment of De Palma's The Black Dahlia, because he knows it's De Palma, and he might look at it somewhere down the line and see that it is actually brilliant. The interviews on the show, including John Kenneth Muir, were terrific. Gordon showed a keen knowledge of De Palma's cinema that fit right at home with the geeks, who will feature a separate part of the interview with Gordon about his own directing career on an upcoming episode. Meanwhile, Nancy Allen mentioned that De Palma had her read books by Nancy Friday as preparation for her character, and in particular for her scene at the doctor's office with Michael Cain. A lot of great stuff on last night's show, which you can listen to on the site's archive. Looking forward to the final two shows: tonight, a look at Blow Out, with Allen, Muir, Litto, and Vilmos Zsigmond. Tomorrow night it's Raising Cain, again with Muir and editor Paul Hirsch.

Posted by Geoff at 12:43 PM CDT
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Tuesday, September 7, 2010
With Armond White set to be one of the guests on tonight's Carrie-related episode of the Movie Geeks United! tribute to the De Palma thriller, it seems a good time to note that about a month and a half ago, White was a guest on a /Film Filmcast episode devoted to Christopher Nolan's Inception. /Film's Adam Quigley was incredulous about White's review of Inception in the New York Press, in which the critic stated that "Christopher Nolan doesn’t have a born filmmaker’s natural gift for detail, composition and movement, but on the evidence of his fussily constructed mind-game movies—Following, Memento, Insomnia and the new Inception—he’s definitely a born con artist." On the /Film filmcast, White said that he goes into each Nolan film hoping to be impressed, but that Nolan always disappoints him. Nolan presents a “depressing, repellent nihillism,” according to White, who went on to note that while Nolan is not a "born filmmaker," Brian De Palma most definitely is:

Adam Quigley: Judging from the Inception review you wrote, Armond, you said that Nolan doesn’t have a born filmmaker’s natural gift for detailed composition and movement. But that’s interesting. I mean, that’s how your review starts. That’s interesting to me, though, because are you assuming it’s a born talent, or… it sounds like, as soon as you started this review that you were judging Nolan, you know, Nolan the person, and perhaps not the movie. Did you have that idea of him before you even saw Inception?

Armond White: Well… well, wait a minute—think about what you’re saying. It’s how I started the review. I don’t write my reviews with no thought in my head. That may be the way I started the review, but it’s not the way I approached the review. Consider this: I approached the review after having seen the movie, and after having thought about it. I write my reviews in a way that I hope can be read enjoyably and with some interest. So I’m starting an argument in that way. It doesn’t mean that that’s my first thought. I’m beginning the construction of an argument that way. And I begin the argument after having seen the film, and after having thought about it. So it’s not that I start with a prejudice. I start with a response. And the review is a response. From the very first word of the review, it’s a response, it’s not a prejudice.

And so you want to know about the idea of a born filmmaker?

Adam: Yes.

Armond: I believe there is such a thing. Just as I believe there are people who are born singers. I’m not one of those. But Prince is. Whitney Houston is. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is a born singer. Singers can be trained, but some people are born with a gift. And it’s easy to find artists who are born with a gift. Bertolucci is a born filmmaker. I would reckon from the first piece of film by Brian De Palma that was ever exhibited in public, you can see that he’s a born filmmaker—he’s got it. He’s doing things in a distinctive way. It’s a gift. And not everybody’s got the gift.

From there, the discussion delved into a comparison between Nolan and Michael Bay, the latter of which, according to White, also has a natural gift for visual filmmaking.

Also on tonight's Carrie-themed episode of Movie Geeks United! will be Nancy Allen and John Kenneth Muir.

Posted by Geoff at 11:35 AM CDT
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Monday, September 6, 2010

The Movie Geeks United! week-long tribute to Brian De Palma got off to a terrific start Monday night with a show dedicated to Sisters, although films such as Mission: Impossible (delved into with guest John Kenneth Muir) and Phantom Of The Paradise were discussed, as well. Regarding the latter, guest Edward R. Pressman, who produced Sisters and Phantom, mentioned that he has been talking "endlessly" with De Palma and songwriter Paul Williams about getting together a stage version of the film, for which Williams has been writing new songs. Of course, we already knew they all were working on this from previous posts here, but it's good to know the project is still being developed. Kudos to Jamey DuVall and Jerry Dennis for a solid kick-off to a promising week of "The De Palma Thriller." If you can't listen to any of the shows live, never fear-- the shows are all available to listen to in the archive.

Posted by Geoff at 8:40 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 10:41 AM CDT
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Sunday, September 5, 2010
At the Venice Film Festival today, Historica Edizioni previewed the inaugural volume in its new series of books on cinema. The book is called The Writing Of The Gaze: The Cinema Of Brian De Palma, and it was unveiled today at the Info Point in front of the Venice Film Festival in the Movie Village. The Writing Of The Gaze is edited by Massimiliano Spanu and Fabio Zanello, who were each scheduled to be on hand at the Info Point today to take part in a video interview for Giuseppe Amodio and Deborah Farina's Italian program Venezia Pulp. Last January, Lankelot's Francesco Giubilei interviewed Zanello, asking him why they chose De Palma as the initial subject for the series, to be followed by a volume on Francis Ford Coppola. Zanello responded:

Yes, the title of this inaugural volume of the Historica Editions planned for April will be "The Writing of the Gaze. The Cinema of Brian De Palma." That one is being taken care of between myself and Professor Massimiliano Spanu at the University of Trieste. Spanu and I have assigned the essays that will make up the volume to a very competent working team: Leonardo Gandini, Massimo Causo, Edvige Liotta, Domenico Monetti, Elisa Grando, M.Deborah Farina, Andrea Fontana, Mario Gerosa, Carlo Griseri, Diego Mondella, Alessandra Montesanto, Davide Taro, Michele Raga, Michele Tosolini, Mario Molinari, Enrico Terrone, Luca Bandirali, Andrea Fontana, Piero Babudro, Fabio Migneco and Corrado Denaro.

The choice fell on Brian De Palma, because, besides being a leading exponent of the new Hollywood, from the outset he has pursued a continuous research and reflection on the image and forms of narrative genres, far from being exhausted themselves. He is a real investigator who has represented and continues to represent a model of artistic coherence, even when dealing with commercial films. Aware that we will not be neither the first nor the last to study the auteur of "Scarface," "Carlito's Way" and "Carrie" Spanu and I think that De Palma as a director is always "forward" and "young." So, because of this, there will never be enough written about him in subsequent years, I'm sure.

I moreover confess that I’d like to stir the consciences of those who have not distributed into the country a masterpiece like "Redacted" that, after winning the Venice Film Festival, was visible only on satellite TV. We'll see!

Asked why they chose Coppola for the second volume, Zanello replied:

Some of the adjectives that I spent on De Palma may also be applied to Francis Ford Coppola. As a notation I would add: bold and reckless. Only he could sign a formal masterpiece of elegance such as "Dracula", after the many film versions of the myth, and producers who taunted him for his idea to bring Bram Stoker’s creature to the screen, before the proliferation of vampire movies in recent years. Other movies like "The Conversation" and "One from the Heart" have foreshadowed issues such as wire tapping and high definition. Today everybody worships these films as they rightly deserve, yet at the time they were notorious flops at the box office. Coppola, therefore, provides another congenital ground on which to develop a 360-degree analysis.

Carlo Griseri posted on his blog today that he had the "privilege/burden" of writing the essay on Mission: Impossible, an image from which graces the sublime cover to The Writing Of The Gaze. Griseri's essay attempts to "rehabilitate" De Palma's film which, according to Griseri, is unanimously considered one of De Palma's minor works, and is "discreetly snubbed by purists and critics." All this despite French critic Luc Lagier's book-length study on De Palma's Mission: Impossible.

Posted by Geoff at 11:47 PM CDT
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