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Saturday, July 25, 2009

John Kenneth Muir, author of Horror Films Of The 1970s and Horror Films Of The 1980s, has posted an in-depth look at Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill, which opened in theaters on this day in 1980. Muir considers Dressed To Kill "a filmed 'dare' of sorts; one that nastily, brazenly, grotesquely 'creeps up' to the edge of social responsibility and acceptability, but then — finally — backs away with a tease and a knowing wink." Muir breaks down the themes running through Dressed To Kill, and in the following excerpt, also delves into its intertextual associations (although he does not mention the film's allusions to Bunuel):

Again, De Palma finds ways to honor his cherished source material. The film opens in a shower (since Psycho’s most famous sequence occurred there…) but then builds to a fever pitch in another distinctive enclosure: an elevator. By starting with Angie Dickinson in the shower, however, Dressed to Kill essentially states that it is beginning where Psycho left off. It’s the next step. (And Fincher’s Fight Club [1999] is the next iteration of the schizoid, but that’s a post for another day…)

Dressed to Kill not only quotes from Psycho, but also the Italian giallo tradition. Here we have a film with a mystery component, an operatic score, excessive blood letting, and flamboyant camera movements. Where have you seen that alchemical equation before, Bava or Argento fans? Hitchcock wasn’t able to produce Psycho in color, but De Palma makes the most of this advance in movie technology. He uses garish, bright colors in symbolic, effective fashion here. In the elevator death scene, for instance, Angie Dickinson is garbed head-to-toe in immaculate white, a color which is soon spoiled by her spilled blood during the razor attack. The red-against-white image is powerful in almost a primal way, and it works thematically (as in giallo tradition); suggesting the loss of Kate Miller’s “purity” after the marriage-wrecking affair.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, July 27, 2009 1:22 PM CDT
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Saturday, June 13, 2009
Billy at Tower Farm Reviews has posted a highly entertaining review of Dressed To Kill. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

Few Hollywood directors in the 70s and 80s were doing things on film as sleazy as Brian De Palma was. Take Dressed To Kill, for example, which is a charming tale involving rape fantasy, adultery, venereal disease, murderous transsexuals, high-priced hookers and Dennis Franz. Now, in the hands of anyone else, this would look like exactly what it is: Tinto Brass-level, grade-Z Eurotrash. Hell, set it in Nazi Germany and you’ve got something like Salon Kitty. But, in the split-screened, slow-motioned hands of Brian De Palma, it somehow becomes a respectable American thriller that is often viewed as the 1980s answer to Psycho.

How is this possible? This is a movie that involves female masturbation in the opening shot! Is Brian De Palma a magician? Are all those fancy crane shots actually just ways to hypnotize the audience into thinking that Angie Dickinson’s nether-regions are artistic statements?

Nope. I’d have to say that in 1980, Brian De Palma was just that good.

Posted by Geoff at 10:27 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, June 13, 2009 10:28 PM CDT
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Thursday, April 2, 2009
Michael Caine discussed some of his film roles in an article published yesterday in the Los Angeles Times. Here's what he said about working on Dressed To Kill:

That was my only foray into transvestism. It was a very scary movie. I was a great fan of Brian De Palma. He came to me because every American actor turned him down. I'm sure because it was transvestism. But I wasn't afraid of that. I had never done it. But I must say that women's clothes are very uncomfortable. I hated them. Also, I had padded knickers because you have to put on hips. Fortunately for me, there was a real girl who did a lot of [the scenes]. She was 6 feet 2, the same as me and when we got made up, we looked very, very much alike.

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, April 2, 2009 11:59 PM CDT
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Thursday, February 19, 2009
Armond White reviewed Tom Tykwer's The International last week in the New York Press. White found the film "simplistic," noting that "emotion and politics are not director Tom Tykwer’s things." White highlights Tykwer's ambitious Guggenheim Museum set piece, and mentions three Brian De Palma films throughout the review. Here is an excerpt:

A credible emotional point of view is rare in action movies; problem is, emotion and politics are not director Tom Tykwer’s things. Despite the clear outline of worldwide greed in Eric Warren Singer’s screenplay, The International is terribly simplistic. Using the IBBC as a metaphor for Capitalism, Singer assesses the self-interest that makes the world turn. But except for Owen and Watt’s empathetic portrayals this is essentially a cloak-and-dagger programmer pumped-up De Palma-style.

Tykwer sends Owen and Watts through a series of show-off set pieces. None express psychic turmoil like De Palma’s extravaganzas: A sequence at Berlin’s National Gallery featuring Arnold Bocklin’s Isle of the Dead salutes the great museum scene in Dressed to Kill without defining Salinger’s disposition through the art work...

Of the many climaxes in this climax-stuffed cautionary tale, it is the clash at the Guggenheim Museum—where Salinger has trailed an assassin—that get Tykwer’s most flamboyant. It’s allegory for global anarchy and destruction. Salinger and the assassin recognize their common humanity, then their tension and obstacles escalate. This sequence is an ambitious combination of moral conflict and bravura aesthetics. Configured to match the sloping, slanting, continually changing perspectives of the Guggenheim’s rotunda, the scene attempts to out-do the visceral curlicues of Tykwer’s first hit, Run Lola Run. It visualizes Salinger’s dizzying, uphill struggle and 360-degree paranoia. Tykwer daringly intercuts video installations (actually from the Hamburger Bahnhof by Julian Rosenfeldt). As Salinger’s targets shift and danger boomerangs, capitalism itself becomes an Abstract Expressionist version of the Disasters of War. This tour de force is more accomplished than any of the set pieces in Children of Men—or Zodiac for that matter—yet it fails to drive home the sadness in Salinger’s eyes, unlike the astonishing photo-realist mural in Femme Fatale that summarized its heroine’s life journey.

Instead, as Tykwer goes on to other tricky chases and sensational killings, The International becomes more routine and shallow—even as it pretends to uncover the intricacies of small-arms trading, Middle East subterfuge, collateral damage and varieties of ethnic revenge. Although audiences chuckle when Armin Mueller-Stahl’s jaded banker explains to Salinger, “Life is stranger than fiction, fiction has to make sense,” the unfunny joke is on the way contemporary political fiction (in movies) rarely makes sense of our moral alarm. One reason lies in Tywker’s fanciful/serious approach. Though stylish, it lacks the aesthetic-moral force of such political thrillers as Francesco Rosi’s Exquisite Corpses, Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite, Spielberg’s Munich or DePalma’s Blow Out.

When we’re told that “We’re all slaves to debt” or that war comes from “banks committing so much of its resources sale of weapons” and that cynical news is matched with cleverly staged assassination scenes in anonymous crowded cities, it means that The International isn’t any better than Children of Men. Although war and financial crises are distressing, today’s moviegoing generation doesn’t know the culture shock of assassination and disillusionment that informed Rosi, Peckinpah, Spielberg and De Palma that movies like this merely exploit. Owen pantomimes feeling, but through political snark and snazzy technique, we’ve lost the beauty of art with feeling.

Posted by Geoff at 4:55 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, February 19, 2009 4:56 PM CST
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Monday, October 27, 2008

Above is a video of Lars Nilsen providing a wonderful introduction to Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill last Wednesday at the Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Austin, Texas. The screening was part of Nilsen's "Weird Wednesday" series, which happens every Wednesday night, and is free of charge thanks to local sponsor I Luv Video. When you go to Nilsen's blog posting about Dressed To Kill, be sure to read the comments section, where a guy named Jay complains that Nilsen was so uptight about the "slightest snicker" that he went into "full-on Geek police mode" to keep people from distracting from the film (in the intro above, Nilsen tells the audience it is especially important not to talk during Dressed To Kill). Nilsen's reply to Jay's post indicates what kind of atmosphere to expect when attending "Weird Wednesday":

Sorry, we don't allow people to carry on conversations during the movie. It's an unpopular policy with people who like to carry on conversations at movie screenings.

You'll also note that Nilsen is wearing a De Palma T-shirt as he introduces the film. I've seen this shirt before, and was turned off by the design that resembles the Def Leppard logo. But now I may just have to get one as a tribute to Nilsen's enthusiastic introduction.

Thanks to Drew!

Posted by Geoff at 10:25 AM CDT
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