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Thursday, January 6, 2011
LITHGOW: DE PALMA LED TO FIRST SCREEN ROLE
PAUL WILLIAMS' DEALING: "BRIAN GOT ME THAT JUST BY RECOMMENDING ME"
CORRECTION: DIRECTOR WILLIAMS DID INDEED COLLABORATE WITH DE PALMA ON PHANTOM

Thanks to the fine folk at the Swan Archives for sending in a correction to my original post, in which I stated that the Paul Williams who directed Lithgow in Dealing was not the Paul Williams who collaborated with De Palma on Phantom Of The Paradise. It turns out that both Paul Williams' worked on Phantom-- the one who directed Dealing, Out Of It, and The Revolutionary also co-produced Phantom Of The Paradise with Edward Pressman ("A Pressman/Williams Production"). The text has been corrected below-- I apologize for the error.

In an interview with Back Stage's Jenelle Riley, John Lithgow reveals that Brian De Palma led to his first screen role in Paul Williams' Dealing: Or The Berkeley-To-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues, which was released in 1972. Williams, not to be confused with the Paul Williams who played Swan in De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise, actually did co-produce De Palma's Phantom along with Edward Pressman, the latter of which produced Dealing. Williams had previously made two films starring Jon Voight: Out Of It and The Revolutionary, the latter of which also featured De Palma's friend Jennifer Salt. Lithgow told Riley that it was while he was at Columbia that De Palma noticed him and recommended him to Williams for the film:

My first screen role was a movie called "Dealing," and, actually, Brian was involved. I had known him briefly when I was in college; he was in Columbia and we met each other. He saw me act and he recommended me to another filmmaker, and that was "Dealing." Brian got me that just by recommending me. And my second film, "Obsession," was directed by Brian; that was the first of three. He's wonderful. He just loves actors. He's responsible for so many great actors starting out; DeNiro was one of his first, and so many others.

Dealing was based on a book co-written by Michael Crichton and his brother Douglas Crichton under the pseudonym "Michael Douglas." It also featured De Palma regular Charles Durning, as well as Barbara Hershey.


Posted by Geoff at 8:11 PM CST
Updated: Friday, January 7, 2011 7:58 PM CST
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Tuesday, January 4, 2011
DE PALMA IN THE 2000S
SUMMARIES OF DECADE LISTS COMING THIS WEEK


The first decade of the 2000s have been over for a year now, and while it seems a long delay at this time to discuss Brian De Palma’s cinema of that decade, the truth is that, as film lovers have contemplated and gone over their favorites, decade lists have continued to be posted on the internet all year long. Each of De Palma’s four films from the 2000s has made someone’s decade list, and over the next week, I will be posting summary links to these lists with a post for each film.

After De Palma signed on to direct Disney’s Mission To Mars, he immediately asserted to his team of creators that the mysterious spherical artifact on Mars should be the Face on Mars, as it had become a part of popular culture. He told the design team he wanted it to look like a “sleeping goddess.” As can be seen in the montage of stills above, variations on the sleeping goddess would turn out to be the key visual motif of De Palma’s cinema for the decade.

As the decade began, the figure was an intimidating wonder, inspiring hope amidst its alluring aura of danger. By the end of the decade, she came to represent the tragic soul of the repressed, the redacted—her dead eyes open as if to remind us that our own eyes have been wide shut. In each film, the sleeping goddess silently calls out like a spiritual siren. The astronauts in Mission To Mars are initially and fatefully drawn to her anomalous mystery before learning how to communicate with her, ultimately to find that she has been lying in wait for them to arrive. In Femme Fatale, her sleep becomes a premonition to the dreamer, herself the sleeping goddess of her own dream, taking on the angelic form of the drowned, sleeping Ophelia to help guide the waking femme fatale to a less fateful moral decision. She appears again as Bucky sleeps during a stakeout in The Black Dahlia, the camera making a dreamlike move over the building he and Lee are watching to reveal that off in the distance, the dead, mutilated, posed-in-the-grass figure of Betty Short seems to summon Bucky’s subconscious. The shock of the sleeping Dahlia’s return at the end of that film was turned up to eleven one year later in Redacted, which powerfully concludes with a staged photo of the violated figure, her tortured sleep exacting a furious plea to the conscience of the mind’s eye. The film ends, the music quietly fades away, and De Palma leaves us with the terrible silence of death—a death that had been covered up. With its staged photo representing (imagining?) an image that might only exist in the mind’s eye of someone who was there, Redacted demonstrates that nothing stays buried forever…


Posted by Geoff at 2:18 AM CST
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010
FULL PHOTO FROM GEORGE LUCAS' 50TH?
SPOT THE FAKE...


A couple of weeks ago, as part of its "Legends" issue, the Hollywood Reporter published a familiar photo from George Lucas' 50th birthday party, except this time, while the poses of Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Brian De Palma, Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola are exactly the same as previous versions of the photo that have been circulating for years (see photo to the left), two other big directors have suddenly popped up in the photo: Ron Howard, sitting to the left of Spielberg, and Robert Zemeckis, who appears to have been inserted in between Lucas and Coppola. The version of the photo seen below the other one shows Coppola right next to Lucas at that moment in time. I had assumed that the new Hollywood Reporter photo was the real one, because I did not even consider that a publication such as the Hollywood Reporter would run a faked photo, and in an article that includes the following passage:

At one point, someone — no one now can quite remember who — called for a group shot. And with a click, a moment in time was frozen with seven of the era’s most prominent directors caught, for a second, in midcareer.

But then in a comment below, Greg pointed out that neither Howard nor Zemeckis is looking directly into the camera the way the rest of the table is. Greg also noted that the tablecloth in the top photo looks photoshopped. Perhaps this is a minor experiment by Lucas, who, according to Mel Smith (talking to the Daily Mail), is said to be "buying up the film rights to dead movie stars in the hope of using computer trickery to put them all together in a movie, so you’d have Orson Welles and Barbara Stanwyck appear alongside today’s stars." (And, of course, Zemeckis' films are filled with similar trickery.)

The photo was taken on May 14, 1994, at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch, where he had invited his friends to come celebrate his 50th birthday. Incidentally, Zemeckis had worked with De Palma and Bob Gale circa 1986 on a screenplay for an idea De Palma had called Carpool, in which a murder is witnessed from a car's rearview mirror (shades of a scene in Body Double, made two years prior). De Palma has referred to this potential project as "Rear Window on wheels."


Posted by Geoff at 7:15 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, December 30, 2010 3:41 PM CST
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Thursday, December 23, 2010
CRISTOFER ON BONFIRE, 20 YEARS LATER
SAYS WB COMPLETELY UNDERMINED DE PALMA'S CASTING OF THE PICTURE

Michael Cristofer talked to Movieline's Mike Ryan this week as Brian De Palma's film of The Bonfire Of The Vanities turns 20. Cristofer, who tells Ryan that he managed to stay away from Julie Salamon's book about the making of the film, The Devil's Candy, cited two simple reasons for the film's demise: Warner Brothers' undermining of De Palma's casting, and the sudden demand two or three weeks prior to shooting that the great, detailed script he and De Palma had worked on had to be cut down from 180 pages (a three-hour film) to around 110 pages (a two-hour film). Here is what Cristofer had to say to Movieline regarding what went wrong with Bonfire Of The Vanities:

AS PROJECT BEGAN, WB AGREED ON THREE-HOUR FILM
Oh, it’s a very simple answer: When Brian De Palma and I were working on the script, Warner Brothers agreed that we would do a three-hour film. It was going to be a three-hour epic version of that book. I wrote a script that everyone around Hollywood and New York who read the script said that not only was it the best script that I had ever written, but it was one of the best screenplays ever written. And I say that humbly because it was Brian who really helped me a lot. I mean, we really worked closely on making that script. You know, he’s a genius. His IQ is like 160 or something. Really, it was a tough job and I had done a version of it and then Brian came on and then we really, really worked closely together. And he was storyboarding the whole script as we were writing it. I learned more about directing on that film then probably on any other film where I worked as a writer.

“And what happened was two things: Number one, Warner Brothers completely undermined Brian’s casting of the picture. I don’t remember who all of the people were meant to be. Tom [Hanks] was in, that was OK. But, you know, Bruce Willis, that part was supposed to be played by Michael Caine. There were other casting choices that Warner Brothers totally interfered with, and [the studio] threatened to throw Brian off of the picture if he didn’t comply.

And then, finally, like three weeks or two weeks before we started shooting, they gave us the news that the film had to be two hours. It had to be under two hours. So, what was a really terrific script, and what would have made probably a very good movie, ended up being edited down in the space of 48 hours. I mean, we just cut the sh*t out of the script. And, what happened, because of that, was it took on a kind of broader, cartoon sort of feel that just didn’t work. It just didn’t work. Because, you know, when you’ve got something that’s filled with detail and you take out all of the detail and make it shorter, it just got broader, broader, broader and broader.

“I think that’s what did it: It was 180 pages of script that we had to cut down to like 110. And we didn’t have the time to do it. There was no time do it. You know, we didn’t have four or five weeks, we had to do it overnight. I’ve actually never read the book that Salamon wrote, The Devil’s Candy. I’ve actually never read it because I manged to avoid her during the entire shoot. [Laughs] So I know a lot of other stuff went on, but the basic problem, that was it, as far as I was concerned. I look at it now and I realize the script is ruined, so the movie is ruined.”

Meanwhile, the blogger at MovieShlep thinks Bonfire Of The Vanities deserves a second look.


Posted by Geoff at 12:44 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, December 23, 2010 12:46 AM CST
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Monday, December 20, 2010
DE PALMA UPDATE
THE TOYER STILL IN CASTING, PHANTOM LOOKING FOR BACKERS
In a brief update for De Palma a la Mod, Brian De Palma says that he is still looking for a cast for The Toyer. You may be thinking, "What's that? Why are you putting a 'The' in front of 'Toyer'?" Well, it looks like that is the official title, according to a Production Weekly listing from last August. Not only that, but I have seen the screenplay, in which after a prolonged prologue, a title comes up on the screen that reads "The Toyer." This screenplay has about five main characters, but one character in particular requires a deft bit of casting along the lines of someone like Rie Rasmussen from Femme Fatale. And of course the two main characters have to be strong presences. It will be interesting to see who eventually fills in these roles.

De Palma also said that he and Edward Pressman and Paul Williams are currently looking for financial backers to get the stage version of Phantom Of The Paradise off the ground.

Posted by Geoff at 3:40 PM CST
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010
DEL TORO LOVES PHANTOM, TOO
DIRECTOR HAS REPORTEDLY DREAMT OF REMAKING DE PALMA CLASSIC
Something that seems to have slipped by underneath my radar is the fact that Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise is one of Guillermo Del Toro's very favorite films. In 2002, he told the Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov that the film changed his life when he was young. Earlier this year, Ain't It Cool News' Harry Knowles mentioned Del Toro's dream of remaking Phantom Of The Paradise:

One night Guillermo Del Toro and I agreed that nobody that didn’t like PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE could be cool. And then we spent many hours as he told me why he wanted to remake it as I spent hours convincing him that it would never be as brilliant as the original. Then Guillermo cried in my arms and suckled upon my thumb. At least. That’s how I remember the conversation. I’ll never forget BNAT 1. Guillermo screened his 35mm print of this as we sat together, annoyingly singing out loud every lyric from memory.

Last week, Criterion released Del Toro's feature debut, Cronos, on DVD and Blu-Ray. One of the bonus features is called "Welcome to Bleak House, a video tour by del Toro of his office." According to Manekikoneko, the tour includes several mentions of Phantom Of The Paradise, with "models and everything." (Manekikoneko thinks Del Toro may have mentioned Phantom during the Cronos commentary track, as well, but does not remember for sure.) In any case, about a month ago, Del Toro moderated a discussion with fellow Phantom fan Edgar Wright, along with the cast and creator of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World at Los Angeles' Egyptian Theatre. At one point, Del Toro and Wright agree that they share at least two very favorite films: De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise, and Mike Hodges's Flash Gordon, both of which were among the cinematic influences on Wright's Scott Pilgrim adaptation.


Posted by Geoff at 11:24 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 11:28 PM CST
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010
PHANTOM SCENE-BY-SCENE
SWAN ARCHIVES UNVEILS INVALUABLE NEW SECTION

The Swan Archives has dug itself into the control room of Swan's Video Surveillance Center and opened up a new section that looks at Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise scene-by-scene. As can be seen from the snapshot above, frames from the film are used to explore each scene from a variety of angles, including an enormously entertaining amount of behind-the-scenes notes. Two of my favorites: the Archive notes that the whole idea of removing the prisoners' teeth is a direct reference to Nathanael West's 1934 novel, A Cool Million; and the Archive also points out that the incidental music arranged by George Aliceson Tipton for a scene in Phoenix's dressing room is really an arrangement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 1. Each of these is highlighted with links to, respectively, the text of the appropriate page from West's novel, and audio clips of Beethoven and the Tipton arrangement. Put together with love and wit, these pages will keep any fan reading for hours. Bravo!

Posted by Geoff at 10:05 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 10:07 PM CST
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Monday, December 6, 2010
BLACK SWAN REVIEWS
ARONOFSKY FILM REMINDS EVERYBODY AND THEIR MOTHERS OF DE PALMA
Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan opened in select North American theaters this past weekend, and the reviews comparing the film to the work of Brian De Palma and Roman Polanski are piling up. The initial Variety review compared Black Swan superficially to De Palma's Sisters and Femme Fatale, and a couple of the recent reviews add De Palma's Carrie into the mix, apparently due in large part to the mother role played by Barbara Hershey. Here's a rundown:

Ray Pride, New City
"Simultaneously pretentious and lurid, ripe with mirrors, doubles, mirrorings, dopplegangers, Black Swan‘s temper is pitched at the level of a Brian De Palma adaptation of Polanski’s Repulsion that’s convinced it’s being directed by Stanley Kubrick."

Scott Weinberg, FearNet
"Perhaps it's just because I naturally look for these sorts of things, but throughout the whole of Aronofsky's piece I caught glimpses of the early thrillers from Nicolas Roeg, Roman Polanski, Brian De Palma, Dario Argento, and (yes) even some quick dashes of David Cronenberg."

Richard Brody, The New Yorker
"Black Swan calls to mind, more dramatically and more deeply than anything since the heyday of Brian De Palma, the work—and the life—of Alfred Hitchcock, all the more so since Aronofsky brings Natalie Portman’s naturally cold performance style to bear on the character of Nina in precisely the way that Hitchcock brilliantly employed Tippi Hedren, in The Birds and Marnie, to embody a porcelain perfection that was essentially the subject of both films. All three films are stories of possessive mothers and absent fathers."

Richard von Busack, Mr. MovieTimes
"The wildness of Black Swan’s color is a treat in a cinematic world where we’re putting up with the worst color since 1932, thanks to endless computerized twiddling. Some of the awed reception of Black Swan seems to reflect the need for a great movie this time of year—or is it mindfulness of Michael Powell’s broken-hearted ghost, grieving at those who couldn’t succumb to The Red Shoes? Black Swan is less like Powell and much more like a Brian De Palma film, anyway—it’s a film of technical virtuosity, shock and voyeurism, but without De Palma’s sense of play or wit."

J. Hoberman. The Village Voice
"Not body but ballet horror, Black Swan is a Red Shoes/Repulsion/Carrie mash-up, slathered with Dario Argento cheese."

Richard Corliss, TIME
"It's reminiscent of older, better movies: the late-'40s backstage dramas A Double Life (Ronald Colman plays Othello and becomes fatally jealous of his actress ex-wife) and the classic ballet melodrama The Red Shoes; and of films about tender, troubled psyches — I won't say which ones — by 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."

Dann Gire, Daily Herald
"Black Swan effortlessly escorts us into Nina’s paranoia with living daydreams and nightmares, some violent, some overtly sexual. Aronofsky dabbles in the sort of hallucinatory sleight-of-narrative perfected by Brian De Palma, but never crosses into the realm of exploitation or cheap shock value."

Jeannette Catsoulis, npr
"Gorgeous and glacial, ecstatically photographed and wonderfully acted — Cassel's wordless play of expressions when Nina finally kisses him in character as the Black Swan is remarkable — Black Swan feels frustratingly incomplete. Obsession and repression are powerful themes, but you have to take them somewhere. It's not enough simply to emulate Dario Argento's glam-goth palette, David Cronenberg's bodily invasions, Adrian Lyne's softcore menace (a nightclub scene is right out of Jacob's Ladder) and Brian De Palma's demented sensibility. For all the influences on display, the one filmmaker who might have taken Black Swan from the lurid to the lyrical is Polanski: Take a look at Catherine Deneuve cowering in her apartment in Repulsion and tell me I'm wrong."

Al Kratina, The Montreal Gazette
"Darren Aronofsky's latest film is nothing if not filmic insanity, with all the showy formalism of a Brian De Palma film mixed with the delirium of Oliver Stone and a rotten batch of mescaline. But there's something so captivating about it's swirling, deliberate psychosis."

Jordan Hoffman, UGO
"Dario Argento's Showgirls goes Lincoln Center? Sure, why not? Argento is just one beloved auteur who may come to mind. This tale of a young ballerina descending into a self-designed madness as she strives for artistic perfection had me flashing on the Brian De Palma of Sisters and Carrie and the Polanski of Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. One could also describe it as a feminine Fight Club. All of these analogies are valid (and all are comparisons to worthy films - even Showgirls) but what's most important (and what I hope doesn't get diluted amidst all the name-dropping) is that Black Swan is very much its own movie. Its balance of horror tropes and formidable performances against a high culture milieu is innovative and fresh and very, very watchable."

Lou Lumenick, New York Post
"This eye-popping, inspired and often-demented (in a good way) cross between The Red Shoes and All About Eve channels horror maestros David Cronenberg, Brian De Palma and Dario Argento. It’s also something of a companion piece to Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (the unsettling ending is very similar) but far surpasses the earlier film."

Benjamin Sutton, The L Magazine
"As for Hershey playing the mother of all mothering mothers, Brian De Palma’s Carrie repeatedly came to mind."

Damon Wise, Virtual Neon
"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."

Greg Christie, twitch
"Essentially, Black Swan is Repulsion & Perfect Blue by way of Showgirls with heavy influences of Brian De Palma & Kenneth Anger thrown in for good measure. In fact, I think I could easily liken this to the work of the Kuchar Brothers as well. With a combination like that, this should play like gangbusters for the cult set. The problem is that this isn't nearly as intelligent of a mindfuck as Repulsion or Perfect Blue. It tries to be a slow burn but comes across as just plain dull for the first hour. Until Natalie Portman starts to turn into a fucking Swan at the end of Act 2, nearly every line of dialogue and every character is about as cliché as they come. And for all of the hokey dialogue and sleazy sex, it lacks the guilty pleasure thrills of Showgirls or the full on psychedelic imagery of Mr. Anger."

Jesse Hawken, via Twitter
"Black Swan is Brian De Palma's first film since Redacted."


Posted by Geoff at 6:11 PM CST
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010
ANGIE'S VOICE WAS DRESSED UP...
RUTANYA ALDA SUPPLIED ORGASMIC DUB IN TAXI CAB SCENE


It is well known that Brian De Palma used a body double for Angie Dickinson's opening shower scene in his 1980 film Dressed To Kill. Now old school De Palma regular Rutanya Alda has revealed that she provided the orgasmic vocals for Dickinson's character, Kate Miller, as she is ravished by a stranger in a taxi cab. Alda, who appeared in several early De Palma films (Greetings, Hi, Mom!, and The Fury), was the guest of honor November 19th at the New York Film Academy Screening Room, where she took part in a Q&A hosted by New York filmmakers Bryan Norton and Joe Zaso. The video above, featuring clips from several of Alda's films, was played at the start of the evening. The video concludes with the aforementioned scene from Dressed To Kill, with a note of trivia superimposed that reads, "As favor to Brian De Palma, Rutanya dubbed Angie Dickinson's hilarious moans of pleasure in this scene from DRESSED TO KILL." Jed Central has a brief account of the evening.

There have been other known or rumored instances of voice dubs in De Palma films. Dressed To Kill features another familiar voice as "Bobbi," the alter ego of Michael Cain's Dr. Elliott, voiced by William Finley, and heard within the diegesis of the film only on an answering machine. It is rumored that Helen Shaver dubbed the voice of Deborah Shelton in De Palma's Body Double (which would mean, perhaps, that Shaver's is the voice of passion in that film's "yes/no" make-out scene just outside the tunnel). Charles Durning provided a voiceover dub for the opening interrogation scene in Scarface. And finally, Amy Irving provided a favor to De Palma by dubbing the voice of the young Vietnamese-American woman played by Thuy Thu Le in the final scene of Casualties Of War. After all this dubbing, it is interesting to watch Shelton show off her lip-synching abilities in this commercial (circa early 1990s) below: 


Posted by Geoff at 11:39 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 7:19 AM CST
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Sunday, November 28, 2010
R.I.P. THE UNTOUCHABLE LESLIE NIELSEN

Posted by Geoff at 9:51 PM CST
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