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Sunday, May 3, 2009
A.O. SCOTT'S MEMO TO SPIELBERG, SCORSESE

"THINK SMALL AGAIN," LIKE DE PALMA & COPPOLA

The New York Times' film critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott have written several Memos to Hollywood, published in today's edition. The format of the article echoes a recent running bit on Saturday Night Live, where "Weekend Update" co-anchors Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler would trade tirades in a segment called "Really?!?" In one of the memos, Scott suggests that Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese follow the lead of their fellow "movie brat" buddies Francis Ford Coppola and Brian De Palma by making smaller films:

To: Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese

From: A.O.S.

Think small again! Your buddy Francis Ford Coppola has made his last couple of movies on a relative shoestring in Romania and Argentina. Brian De Palma shot Redacted on video with an unknown cast. You are fortunate to be able to do just about anything you want, and you’ve certainly earned the right to work on a large scale. But it’s also sad to think that your days of small, scrappy, personal movies are behind you. Well, maybe they aren’t. Maybe you could go scout a location or two. Work with available light, a skeleton crew and unsung actors. Fly by the seat of your pants. Just for old times’ sake.


Posted by Geoff at 11:16 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, May 3, 2009 11:19 AM CDT
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Monday, March 16, 2009
LETTERS DEBATE SINISE
AND HIS CRITICISM OF DE PALMA & REDACTED
Today's Chicago Tribune featured letters to the editor debating the newspaper's interview last week with Gary Sinise, in which Sinise criticized Brian De Palma as having been "out to get the troops" by making 2007's Redacted. All three letters printed today expressed support for Sinise's general backing of U.S. soldiers, but the first one, written by Chicago's Roger Shiels, took a dismissive swipe at De Palma, linking him and his film to Jane Fonda's controversial protests of the Vietnam war in the early 1970s:

Hats off to Mr. Sinise. As for director Brian De Palma, no wonder he had no comment. He was probably sequestered in his basement watching Jane Fonda workout videos.

The third and final letter, from Terry Green, president of Strata Productions, suggested that Sinise was hurting his own cause by "bashing Hollywood war films":

If Mr. Sinise had seen Redacted, he would know that it's a reminder of the cost of war and that its director, Brian De Palma, doesn't "hate the American military," but is highly critical of the system of government that created the situation that is the subject of his film.

And while I think almost all war movies today are anti-war propaganda films and many of them exploitative, they're essential because they create a dialogue, which hopefully leads to solutions.

I don't want Mr. Sinise to stop using his celebrity to shed light on the heroic efforts of our soldiers, but bashing Hollywood war films only hurts his cause.

The story is the death and destruction of war.

Anything less is a distortion of the truth.


Posted by Geoff at 5:12 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009
SINISE INFURIATED BY REDACTED
SAYS "BRIAN DE PALMA HATES THE AMERICAN MILITARY"
Exactly nine years ago today, Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars was released in theaters. It was the second time De Palma worked with actor Gary Sinise, who had appeared in De Palma's Snake Eyes just two years earlier. It doesn't look like the pair will be making any films together anytime soon.

Sinise, who has been performing with his band, the Lt. Dan Band, for troops in Iraq through USO tours since 2003, is executive producer of a new documentary about the current Iraq conflict, Brothers At War. The film is directed by Jake Rademacher, who took his camera to Iraq to follow around his two younger brothers, who are U.S. soldiers. Sinise is interviewed about the film in today's Chicago Tribune by Robert K. Elder, who mentions that Sinise has also made a documentary covering his own time in Iraq for Fox News. Sinise, who told Elder that he has "a profound respect for people who serve," also said that Brothers At War "is not going to be your typical blood-and-guts, negative, depressing thing about Iraq. What's great about this film is there's a personal investment, because the filmmaker is making it about his family."

However, Sinise was fuming to Elder about De Palma, saying that with Redacted (which, shades of Fox News, Sinise has not even seen!) the director "was out to get the troops, to depict them as child rapists. That's the truth he wanted to tell. That's one particular, horrible episode that happened by, clearly, some criminals who happen to be in the American military." Sinise continued...

"There are 150,000 people serving honorably, but Brian De Palma didn't care to show those stories," Sinise says.

His venom catches me off guard, not only because De Palma directed Sinise in both Mission to Mars and Snake Eyes, but also because Sinise says he never saw Redacted.

"I wouldn't see that film. I knew he had a very political agenda with making that film to make the American military look really, really horrible," he says.

"Brian De Palma hates the American military."

[De Palma a la Mod editor's note: Sinise may or may not be drawing some insight here from working on De Palma's Snake Eyes, in which Sinise's Navy Commander character is in charge of a conspiracy to assassinate the Secretary of Defense over the impending cancellation of a missile project that Sinise's character is deeply in favor of, as he feels the project is important to the protection of his fellow soldiers.]

Elder's article continues... 

A call to the office of De Palma's agent for a response elicits this: "Mr. De Palma has no comment. Thanks."

Sinise says he has never discussed Redacted with the filmmaker, but it doesn't appear the two will be working together any time soon.

Sinise's criticism didn't stop there. Brothers at War, he says, is "not a journalist going out there looking for the story he's trying to tell. There are many, many points of view and many sides. Unfortunately, you have to dig deep to find a balanced perspective."

I suggest that the military may have credibility problems, especially after it twisted the otherwise heroic stories of former prisoner of war Pvt. Jessica Lynch and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who was shot and killed by fellow soldiers. The military lied to the country and their families for public-relations purposes. "I don't think the truth wins out in either case," I say.

After a pause, Sinise says, "You're right," then counters: "And for every one of those, you have 50 other [positive] stories. Unfortunately, bad news sells. If two houses are standing there, and one of them is on fire, the reporter is going to write about the one that's on fire—not the peaceful house that's nicely painted."

"Because that's not news," I offer. The news, in part, provides cautionary tales, such as how to keep your house from burning.

But we're in a war where people are serving honorably, Sinise says. "Those stories need to be told."

In the article, Elder describes Redacted as "an award-winning but divisive drama about soldiers who raped a young Iraqi girl." Of course, the idea that De Palma was "out to get the troops" is utter nonsense. In Redacted, De Palma makes no bones about the idea that the soldiers who performed these criminal acts had no business being in the military in the first place. He places an individual soldier of integrity at the heart of the movie who attempts to stop the crimes from being committed, and is wracked with guilt over the incident, which comes to represent for him the senselessness of the killing all over Iraq. De Palma's stated purpose with the film was to end the war, plain and simple. While I respect Sinise and what he does for the troops, his criticism of this film he refuses to see is blind and hollow.


Posted by Geoff at 10:35 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, March 12, 2009 1:00 PM CDT
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Thursday, March 5, 2009
TRIPLE DE PALMA
ESSAYS ON REDACTED - BLOW OUT - FEMME FATALE
PLUS SPECIAL ADDED BONUS: DIONYSUS IN '69

It's been a great week for writing about specific Brian De Palma films. First up, a most insightful piece about De Palma's latest, Redacted, from The Celluloid Liberation Front, courtesy Vertigo Magazine:

Departing from the contemporary paradigm of technological convergence, whereby every observer is at the same time an observed subject, De Palma illustrates the spread of a culture of exhibitionism as the potential telematic evolution of cinematographic voyeurism. Terrorism is, occidentally rather than accidentally, gaudy and voyeuristic...

Redacted is a film that we could (and perhaps should) have made ourselves in front of a computer. In the You Tube era we are the editors of our own ongoing works, that we constantly assemble through the potentially meaningful intersections offered by the net whenever we connect to it. As Baudrillard had provocatively warned us during the first Gulf War, the practice of warfare is indivisible from its narrative and representational strategies, with the latter indeed retroacting with the actual forms of war according to the given cultural situation.

That is why Redacted is a masterpiece of congruency between form and content. For De Palma, Redacted represents a sort of return to the subversive insolence characterising his early films such as Greetings or Hi, Mom, where he would mix super-8 family footage and the fleeting lightness of underground comics with the anarchic structure of the freest ‘nouvelle vague’, always stimulating The Responsive Eye (the title of one of his early shorts about an optical art exhibition) that needs to know what is happening (in Iraq).

MCWEENY ON BLOW OUT
Next up, Drew McWeeny posted an essay Tuesday about De Palma's Blow Out as part of his Motion/Captured Must-See series:

The film opens with a truly hilarious movie-within-the-movie called "Coed Frenzy." Oh, god, how I wish De Palma had really made "Coed Frenzy," because it looks like the sleaziest film ever made. And at the end of this five minutes of uber-slasher footage, De Palma pops the balloon with a joke. But that joke has two punchlines, and the other one's not delivered until the closing frames of the film, where it's finally deployed to devastating effect...

Obviously, this film draws on influences like the Chappaquidick tragedy involving Ted Kennedy and the JFK assassination and the French '60s hit Blow-Up, but De Palma mixes all of these elements into a paranoid thriller that feels original, and not just like a bunch of pieces jammed together. Setting it in Philadelphia during "Liberty Day," a patriotic holiday that bathes the whole world in red, white, and blue, De Palma uses this simple thriller plot to peel back the entire subtext of the post-Watergate '70s. There were any number of "don't trust the government" thrillers made after Richard Nixon and his army of clowns bungled the break-in and shattered America's trust in its leaders permanently, but this film raises the stakes by suggesting that absolutely no one is to be trusted.

TOBIAS ON FEMME FATALE
And just today, Scott Tobias posted a wonderful essay about De Palma's Femme Fatale as part of his weekly A.V. Club series, "The New Cult Canon":

Every year at the Toronto Film Festival—and quite possibly at other festivals around the world, major or minor—director Brian De Palma can be spotted shuffling around with the rest of the press and industry folks, slipping inconspicuously into one screening after another. If he weren’t a semi-celebrity (at least among nerdy cineastes like me), he’d fit the prototypical profile of a festival critic: Bearded and schlubby, outfitted in comfy jeans and old running shoes, bleary-eyed from dragging himself through four to six screenings a day. Point being, he remains a voracious cinephile, and what’s more, he as much as any filmmaker alive sees the world through the prism of other movies. Detractors like to tar him as a vulgarian and a hack, someone who cribs ideas from masters like Hitchcock and updates them through modern-day explicitness and empty formalism. But he’s really more like his badge-wearing brethren at the film festival, a critic who happens to work behind the camera, commenting on the medium’s history, devices, and tropes while taking a jaundiced view of the world at large. If there’s such a thing as a “wonky” director, De Palma fits the bill better than anybody.

Even by De Palma standards, Femme Fatale is about as wonky as it gets, and if that isn’t apparent enough in its movie-movie title, there’s also the opening shot of De Palma’s femme fatale, an icy blonde played by Rebecca Romijn (while she was still Stamos-ed), watching the noir classic Double Indemnity on television, perhaps to pick up pointers from Barbara Stanwyck, cinema’s reigning double-crosser. And this is before the curtains open on a magnificent setpiece at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, the same festival where Femme Fatale itself would première a year later. It hurts the brain to consider the many layers of artifice De Palma is piling on just in the first few minutes, but for what’s essentially an academic exercise, the film is an awful lot of fun...

At the moment that Laure/Lily seems to meet her maker in the Seine, we’re suddenly thrust back in time seven years ago, when Laure met Lily, and Lily’s suicide set her fate on the track we’ve followed. Suddenly, the movie itself has a doppelgänger, except now Lily can take Laure’s path, and the world can change in the minor but crucial ways that will set everything right. It seems crazy for De Palma to cast Laure’s adventures as an extended dream of what might have been (“I’m your fucking fairy godmother,” she tells Lily. “I just dreamt your future, and mine too”), but he’s been preparing you for it the whole time, from little details like the “Deju Vue” posters rolled out on the Paris streets to the general feeling that you’re watching a movie about movies. And as you know, in movies, anything can happen.

DIONYSUS IN '69 ON THE WEB
Also of note, courtesy of the Atlantic Film Festival Association's Ron Foley Macdonald: Dionysus In '69, the film of the Performance Group theatre production that De Palma made with Robert Fiore and Bruce Rubin, can now be watched on the web (but not downloaded) for educational purposes via the NYU HIDVL website. To see the video, you have to go to the main page first, and then do a search for Dionysus In '69. Macdonald provides some interesting information about the film, including the following tidbit:

Dionysus In 69’s bracketing orgy scenes, however, are still pretty shocking to watch. They were originally done with the actors completely naked; for De Palma’s filming the men donned black jockstraps while the women wore flimsy and torn--but still skimpy--short tops and bottoms.


Posted by Geoff at 10:53 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, March 5, 2009 10:56 PM CST
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Friday, February 20, 2009
PILGER: HOLLYWOOD CENSORS BY OMISSION

SAYS DE PALMA'S REDACTED SHOWS AN IRAQ RARELY REPORTED
Investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger had a column in the New Statesman yesterday in which he blasts Hollywood filmmakers for consistently overlooking the oppressed victims of invasions, and lays into film critics for playing into the politics of omission by hiding behind sheens of "safe snipes and sneers." Pilger cites one critic's dismissive prose in describing Brian De Palma as "divisive" as an example of how a film like Redacted (which, according to Pilger, "shows an Iraq the media do not report") effectively buries the film from proper consideration. Here is an excerpt from Pilger's editorial:

As Robbie Graham and Matthew Alford pointed out in the New Statesman (2 February), in 167 minutes of Steven Spielberg's Munich, the Palestinian cause is restricted to just two and a half minutes. "Far from being an 'even-handed cry for peace', as one critic claimed," they wrote, "Munich is more easily interpreted as a corporate-backed endorsement of Israeli policy."

With honourable exceptions, film critics rarely question this, or identify the true power behind the screen. Obsessed with celebrity actors and vacuous narratives, they are the cinema's lobby correspondents. Emitting safe snipes and sneers, they promote a deeply political system that dominates most of what we pay to see, knowing not what we are denied. Brian De Palma's 2007 film Redacted shows an Iraq the media do not report. He depicts the homicides and gang rapes that are never prosecuted and are the essence of any colonial conquest. In the New York Village Voice, the critic Anthony Kaufman, in abusing the "divisive" De Palma for his "perverse tales of voyeurism and violence", did his best to taint the film as a kind of heresy and to bury it.

In this way, the "war on terror" - the conquest and subversion of resource-rich regions of the world, whose ramifications and oppressions touch all our lives - is virtually excluded from the popular cinema. Michael Moore's outstanding Fahrenheit 9/11 was a freak; the notoriety of its distribution ban by the Walt Disney Company helped it to force its way into cinemas. My own 2007 film The War on Democracy, which inverted the "war on terror" in Latin America, was distributed in Britain, Australia and other countries but not in the United States. "You will need to make structural and political changes," said a major New York distributor. "Maybe get a star like Sean Penn to host it - he likes liberal causes - and tame those anti-Bush sequences."

TELL ME NO LIES
Writing that "censorship by omission is virulent," Pilger's editorial calls for "another Wall Street, another Last Hurrah, another Dr Strangelove."

Incidentally, in 2005, Pilger edited a book titled Tell Me No Lies, which is also the title of Angel Salazar's documentary within the fiction of De Palma's Redacted.


Posted by Geoff at 3:08 AM CST
Updated: Friday, February 20, 2009 3:09 AM CST
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Sunday, February 15, 2009
ZACHAREK MOVED BY THE MESSENGER

"MARKS A NEW BEGINNING" FOR IRAQ WAR IN CINEMA
Salon's Stephanie Zacharek caught I'm Not There screenwriter Oren Moverman's directorial debut, The Messenger, at the Berlin Film Festival. Zacharek, who mentions Brian De Palma's Redacted as the only standout Iraq war-themed film up to now, calls The Messenger a new beginning in the cycle. Here is an excerpt:

One of the strongest, most resonant pictures I've seen here in Berlin is Oren Moverman's directorial debut The Messenger, which played at Sundance and, after its well-received appearance here in Berlin, will probably start getting the attention it deserves. Ben Foster stars as a wounded Iraq war veteran recently returned to the States. In his new assignment, he's teamed with Woody Harrelson -- a veteran of the "cushier" Gulf War -- and entrusted with the difficult job of notifying the next of kin (or NOK, for short) that their loved ones have been killed in the line of duty.

In the autumn of 2007, when we saw the first rush of war-related pictures like In the Valley of Elah and Rendition, writers across the land (including me) were asked by their editors to grapple with the significance and meaning of these movies. The problem was that, with the exception of Brian De Palma's passionate and disturbing Redacted, most of them were mediocre at best and gutless at worst. In terms of filmmaking, The Messenger marks a new beginning for the real work of dealing with the Iraq war mess. Moverman co-wrote Todd Haynes' extraordinary Bob Dylan un-biopic I'm Not There; he also co-wrote Ira Sachs' wry (if a bit too mannered) Married Life. Although Moverman doesn't have a particularly strong visual sense, The Messenger is still a confident and effective directorial debut, partly because Moverman has good narrative instincts, but also because he shows a graceful touch with his actors. Maybe that's no surprise with an actress like Samantha Morton, who plays a widow befriended by Foster. I've never seen Morton give a bad, or even a merely adequate, performance -- she's the only contemporary actress who can break my heart with nothing but the curve of her smile. But Foster, whom I found distressingly hammy in 3:10 to Yuma, dials it way down here: He doesn't show suffering on his face; he carries it in his bones, as if he realizes that the suffering after the fighting is the greater part of his duty. Moverman has made a tough, compassionate little picture -- with some great and necessary dashes of black humor -- that opens a new door into the world of damage, at home and everywhere, that we now need to face squarely.


Posted by Geoff at 11:50 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 12:01 AM CST
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Wednesday, February 4, 2009
BASHIR COMPARED TO REDACTED
AS BOTH FILMS CONCLUDE WITH REAL IMAGES
Filmbo at Filmbo's Chick Magnet has posted a comparison between Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir and Brian De Palma's Redacted. Filmbo had a problem with Folman's use of real video at the end of his mostly animated film (the film was drawn and animated after using actors to stage scenes for reference). Filmbo writes:Though more egregiously, the videos at the end of Waltz with Bashir attempt to garner support for the film's political agenda by appealing to the emotions of the spectator. The film actually uses pictures of dead, Palestinian babies to manipulate the opinions of its audience. It's quite a decision by the filmmakers, who up until this point resembled Alain Resnais and Richard Linklater.

It reminded me of the end of Brian De Palma's Redacted and the film's near-decision to commit the exact same manipulation. But Redacted is a smarter film. I'm not sure whether it is important to credit Magnolia with this and believe the Hi Mom!-esque controversy over their decision to redact De Palma's images, or whether you should credit De Palma and see the controversy as a scripted "Be Black, Baby" stunt meant to emphasize the film's satire over its politics. The impact of the film's ending carries the same treasure trove of meaning either way. The redaction of the "dead baby" images are the final punchline to Redacted, for it says that even De Palma's film can not exist without some form of censorship. And like the youtube clips that run throughout the film, Redacted's finale is yet another jab at the empty means and empty language with which some people express their politics.

Actually, it's final punchline is Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir, a film Redacted prophetically satirized more than a year in advance.


Posted by Geoff at 1:23 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 1:24 PM CST
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Thursday, January 22, 2009
CAHIERS CHOOSES REDACTED
AS BEST FILM OF 2008
The editors at Cahiers du cinéma have chosen Brian De Palma's Redacted as the best film of 2008. Number three on their list is Matt Reeves' Cloverfield, a film that shares a similar technological theme with Redacted. Joel & Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men was number four on the Cahiers list. You can see the entire top 10 list by clicking here-- if you go down the page a bit, there are several links to articles about Redacted stemming from the magazine's cover story last February.

OTHER TOP 10 LISTS
Redacted, which was released in the U.S. in 2007, had made at least six critics' top 10 lists for that year: Glen Schaefer (#6 on his list), Mick LaSalle (#5), Scott Foundas (#10, tied with No End in Sight and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Stephanie Zacharek (#10, tied with No End in Sight), Christoph Huber (#6), and Bill Krohn (#10). Now for 2008, there are at least two more French critics who have placed Redacted on their top 10 lists. According to the January-February issue of Film Comment, French film critic and radio personality Frédéric Bonnaud has placed Redacted at number 10 on his list. Bonnaud's number one film was James Gray's Two Lovers, which was number five on the Cahiers editors' list, and which seems to have made the top 10 lists of many in France-- Gray's film opens in the U.S. on February 13th. Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited was number three on Bonnaud's list.

Fiches du cinéma critic Pierre-Simon Gutman listed his top 10 in no particular order-- it includes Redacted, Appaloosa, Grace is Gone, and, listed first (although there is "no order" intended), Two Lovers. The latter film was also chosen as best of the year by the Fiches editors. Sean Penn's Into The Wild topped the Fiches readers' poll of best films of 2008.


Posted by Geoff at 12:33 AM CST
Updated: Monday, January 26, 2009 12:43 PM CST
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Sunday, October 26, 2008
REDACTED OPENS IN JAPAN

AND AT CARTHAGE FILM FEST IN TUNISIA
Brian De Palma's Redacted opened yesterday in Japan. The Japan Times ran a review of the film by Giovanni Fazio, who discussed the effect of De Palma's juggling of forms within the film:

The effect is a little jarring: Some 10 minutes into the film, the tone shifts so wildly — from a shakily shot barracks video to a stately documentary, complete with voice-over and classical soundtrack — that I thought the wrong film had been dubbed onto the DVD preview copy.

This jumble of perspectives seems intentional: half a prosecutor's assemblage of evidence of a crime, half a reminder that the war's big picture remains on the fringes and can only be glimpsed by sifting the miasma of Web videos. The media, De Palma is quite clear in pointing out, are not doing their job of showing us the reality on the ground in Iraq.

Redacted will also screen this Friday (October 31st) as part of the 22nd Carthage Film Festival in Tunisia. The fest began October 25th, and runs through November 1st.


Posted by Geoff at 12:45 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, October 27, 2008 9:55 AM CDT
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Wednesday, September 10, 2008
REDACTED AT OLDENBURG FEST
DE PALMA'S LATEST WILL SCREEN SATURDAY & SUNDAY
While Brian De Palma continues his birthday tradition of checking out new films at the Toronto International Film Festival (where he was one of many fest-goers who arrived too late to make it into a packed screening of Bruce McDonald's Pontypool, according to this report from Marguerite Pigott), the director's latest experiment, Redacted, will screen at this weekend's 15th Oldenburg International Film Festival in Germany. This festival, which has been called "the German Sundance," specializes in innovative films and prides itself on gathering the often forgotten mavericks of the past (such as Jim McBride and Michael Wadleigh) together with the young filmmakers of the present. Redacted is scheduled to screen at the fest Saturday (September 13) and Sunday (September 14).

Posted by Geoff at 12:17 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 12:19 PM CDT
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