ADRIAN MARTIN & CRISTINA ALVAREZ LOPEZ, ABSORBED IN 'PASSION'
THAT & 3 OTHER ESSAYS ON DE PALMA IN NEW ISSUE OF LOLA
The new issue of the cinema journal L O L A went live yesterday, and it includes a dossier of four essays on the films of Brian De Palma, leading with a beautiful take on Passion (titled "To the Passion") by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin. Here's the inro to that article:
At least since The Fury (1978), commentators on the films of Brian De Palma have been keen to catch him in the act of mannerist frenzy: self-quotation, self-summation, self-anthologisation – upon material that is itself, of course, already borrowed as a handy template from previous masters and masterpieces. De Palma’s cinema today, in this view, can only be the end result of an ever-more baroque plunge into spirals of citation and reworking: an intriguing, post-postmodern business to some, mere self-exhaustion and diminishing returns for others.
As with all the best De Palma films, watching Passion (2012) should remind us of a contrary truth: when it comes to the exhilarating thrill, the wallop of cinema that his work gives us, it’s always the first time. Of course, there are broadly similar games with devious plots, POVs, split-screens, identity switches/disguises – play with the five senses and with every kind of media screen – in at least a dozen of his previous movies. But we were not thinking of Dressed to Kill (1980) or Raising Cain (1992) or Femme Fatale (2002) while we were absorbed in Passion: that type of unravelling always comes later. Nor were we trying to construct a hyper-intellectual contraption (in the manner of a recent woeful book) to ‘account for’ or explain away the intense, complicated, visceral pleasure we derive from his films.
When one of the main characters dies at the precise mid-way point, when the dreams and the dreams-within-dreams begin to unfold, when the camera tilts calamitously in a room or tracks in slowly to a face, when the plot lines pile up and converge on a single, catastrophic point … when these events, great and small, happen, we are not immediately flipping through the De Palma back catalogue; we are in the moment, the screen moment. Something that shakes us, that resonates, is happening there – we definitely know this by the final frames – and it is our task as critics to figure out what forces are involved, what has been deftly drawn into the fray. This task has nothing to do with taking the old Pauline Kael line that De Palma’s cinema is all about (and only about) energy, ‘pop vitalism’ and all-American vulgarity: such so-called ‘defence of trash’ too often clogs up the response-pores of even De Palma’s most public devotees.
Passion is not (as we are hearing a lot at the moment) a wilfully ‘ridiculous’ film (it is especially depressing to hear this said as praise!) or a self-consciously trashy one: these kinds of responses always tell more about the person uttering it than about the filmmaker in question. De Palma has gotten to a position in his career that is a little reminiscent of Samuel Fuller in his early-to-mid 1960s prime: his films mix vigorous, generic structures with sincere samplings of culture high and low (from viral YouTube videos to Jerome Robbins’ ballet choreography of Afternoon of a Faun); they meld expressionistic and melodramatic aesthetic patterns with a cold, hard edge of social criticism. And none of his films are so stringently, steely cold as Passion.
ADRIAN MARTIN ON 'CARLITO'S WAY'
Also in the issue is Martin's "A Walk Through Carlito's Way", an "edited and lightly recast transcript of a talk/demonstration given as part of a day-long master class on film style, organised by the Department of Media at Macquarie University and the Australian Screen Directors’ Association, at the Museum of Sydney in April 2006." Martin looks at De Palma's schema of the pool hall scene in Carlito's Way with expert attention to detail.
ALAIN BERGALA ON 'OBSESSION'
In "Time Denied: An Apotheosis of the Imaginary", Alain Bergala looks at the assumption of the image in De Palma's Obsession. "The major difference between Scottie in Vertigo and Michael in Obsession, states Bergala, "is that Michael is in a deeper sleep than Scottie. He wants to believe in the reality of his waking dream with a deep and naïve conviction. The whole film is an obstinate refusal to wake up, to leave the bliss of the imaginary. He rushes like a bull towards the first illusion that is offered to him – this woman who is the reincarnation of his dead wife."
In one section of the essay, Bergala discusses how De Palma's camera movements in Obsession follow the slowness of Stanley Kubrick's in Barry Lyndon: "A slow zoom-in draws the viewer into the bottomless pit of the imaginary. In Samuel Blumenfeld and Laurent Vachaud’s book of interviews, De Palma talks about the Kubrick of Barry Lyndon (1975), of the slowness of that film, of ‘the impression that everything was happening in slow motion: the movements of the camera and the actors. You really got the feeling of perceiving time in a different way, as if we had actually returned to the 18th century’. In the same interview, he claims, regarding the zooms that are used systematically in that film, that he would be bored, personally, to repeat the same technique throughout an entire film. And yet this is what he does tirelessly in Obsession, where he multiplies the long, fluid shots of the undulating imaginary."
"RESPONSIVE EYES AND CROSSING LINES"
In the fourth essay, "Responsive Eyes and Crossing Lines: Forty Years of Looking and Reading", Helen Grace presents an episodic look at her experience within the landscape of feminism over the years. In episode 3, she recalls the protests against De Palma's Dressed To Kill while in London in 1980:
"We saw Dressed to Kill, fearing that we would be shocked and horrified, and that we might come out convinced that screen terrorism was necessary. Instead, we watched a film which seemed to say more about masculine anxiety than about the fears that women were expressing in relation to the film. We kept waiting for the horror – and when it came, we enjoyed it. We wondered if we had seen the same film that people had been complaining about, so we went to one of the street meetings to discuss our problems. We found out that, in fact, none of the women had seen the film at all, and they did not want to hear our opinions about it.
"And this turned out to be a general feature in every situation in which a ‘citizen censorship’ movement called for the boycott of a film to which one group or another took offence, whether it was feminists and gays objecting to a Brian De Palma film, or Christians protesting the screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s Hail Mary (1985) five or six years later. It was exactly this period of the ‘80s when some strands of feminism seemed indistinguishable from right-wing Christian extremism in the anti-democratic gestures of, for example the Dworkin-MacKinnon Anti-Pornography Civil Rights Ordinance (1983) – which, fortunately, did not succeed. In any case, it was anti-pornography activism that first drew my attention to Dressed to Kill. And that is how I came to be a De Palma fan."