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Friday, August 13, 2010
Jennifer Salt is the co-screenwriter on the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, which opens in theaters today. Salt wrote the screenplay with the film's director, Ryan Murphy, the creator of the TV series Nip/Tuck and Glee. Salt was a regular writer and co-producer for Nip/Tuck.

Salt, of course, is a staple of the early films of Brian De Palma, having appeared in his first feature length project, The Wedding Party, in 1963 (released in 1969), which was made while both attended Sarah Lawrence College (according to Brooks Barnes at the New York Times, De Palma and Salt briefly dated during this time). In 1964, De Palma made a short film about her called Jennifer, and Salt subsequently appeared in De Palma's Murder a la Mod, Hi, Mom!, and Sisters, the latter having been imagined by De Palma specifically with her and Margot Kidder in mind to play the leads. She also appeared in a film written by her late father, Waldo Salt, 1969's Midnight Cowboy, which costarred her then-boyfriend Jon Voight (Salt would appear in one more film with Voight, Paul Williams' The Revolutionary, released the same year as the similarly-themed Hi, Mom!). Salt told Backstage's Jenelle Riley that her father had originally thought of a small role for her in Midnight Cowboy, but that role became bigger when she met with director John Schlesinger. Barnes' New York Times article, which features quotes from De Palma, briefly discusses this early part of Salt's career:

The early 1970s found [Salt] living (and partying) in Malibu, Calif., with Margot Kidder, who would go on to play Lois Lane in three “Superman” films. Drawn by Ms. Salt’s cooking and both women’s tendency to sunbathe topless were some dudes: Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Steven Spielberg. (“To see those pale city boys running around on the beach with no clothes on was so charming,” Ms. Salt recalled. Said Mr. De Palma, “She cooked so well she could get us to do almost anything.”)

Salt went into television, acting for a long time on the TV series Soap before becoming disillusioned with it all, and eventually realizing that she never really wanted to be an actress after all. Here is how she told it to Riley at Backstage:

"I was doing nice guest shots on TV, but it just wasn't happening in a creative and fulfilling way," she says. "The roles I was up for—mostly mom roles—were dreary. And my enthusiasm for working on them and for auditions was very low." She had an epiphany. "Over the course of your life, you realize more and more who you are and how you want to spend your time," she reflects. "And it became clearer and clearer that I was very unhappy as an actress and didn't feel comfortable in my own skin. When I was younger I thought it was because I wasn't successful enough. But as I got older I realized it had more to do with the fact that I just didn't love it."

The two interview articles linked to above are great, and for another really great interview in which Salt discusses working with De Palma in depth, check out Cult Film Freak. The undated interview appears to be from around the late 2000's (maybe even 2009). When asked which of the directors she worked with provided the most freedom for an actor, Salt replies:

Without a doubt, Brian De Palma. Back in the late 60's and early 70's there was much more freedom in filmmaking. Brian was always experimenting with new ideas and wanted equal input from everyone. He was willing to hear and try nearly anything you could think of that might help. But I also worked on more than one film with him, so we trusted each other very much and over time we created a formula that worked between us. There was chemistry there by the time production began on Sisters. John [Schlesinger] was also equally open to ideas and he was focused on getting naturalness out of the performances of his actors. But during the duration of the shooting of Midnight Cowboy John was also battling some personal issues that often hampered the flow of the film's progress. Some of the best directors I have ever had the chance to work with were those in television. Many of them are now making theatrical films. There was at least back then much more room for improvisation in television than there is now.

When asked which of her roles she likes best, Salt replied:

I loved playing “Judy Bishop” [in Brian De Palma’s Hi Mom!]. Of course who wouldn't want to work with Bobby De Niro? Naturally back then he was pretty much an unknown, but I still can't believe I shared the screen at one time with him. Of course I still say “Grace Collier” [Sisters] is up there at the top of my short list as well.

Posted by Geoff at 1:07 PM CDT
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010
While talking to The Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, director Edgar Wright mentioned that he is working on an original script that delves into the "purely visual" in a way a Brian De Palma film frequently does. According to Jagernauth, the script is called Baby Driver, and here is how Wright described it to him:

Well, it’s something I’ve been meaning to write for ages. I really planned to recharge my batteries and get back into writing. I’m excited about doing something that’s almost purely visual, because I’ve done three films—and even though Scott Pilgrim is very visual, it’s very dialogue heavy as well, which is great. And music heavy. Yeah. I think I’d like to try something—I’m a big Brian De Palma fan, and I’ll sit and look at something like "Carrie," and I like the fact that it starts to play out like a silent movie. There’s a point in "Carrie" in the last half hour where there’s no need for any more dialogue because the plot is in motion. Or something like [Jean-Pierre Melville's] "Le Samourai," I look at something like that and think, wow, there’s hardly any dialogue in this film. Something like that can be enjoyed around the world. I’d really like the challenge of doing something where the dialogue is really stripped back and it’s all about the cinema.

Elsewhere in the interview, Wright tells Jagernauth how he was originally not going to use much music at all in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, "because we saw that most fictional bands in films suck, and we thought we’d do a running joke on it." But as the music began coming in (from Beck and others), Wright started to see things differently:

I found out that once I had the songs, I allowed myself more time to let them breathe. So I think the first Sex Bob-Omb song, "Garbage Truck," maybe originally I thought they’d play the first verse and just before it kicked into the forest, [Matthew] Patel would interrupt, but then it was like, "no fuck it, let’s just listen to it." And when the songs started to expand, I thought, "wow, I’m really starting to get that vibe more like a sixties or seventies film." Some of those films like "Phantom of the Paradise" or "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," I would love it when they would go, "And now, the Strawberry Alarm Clock will play" or "Now The Carrie Nations will play" and it’d be like 10 minutes of the film. That was something that definitely developed once we had the material. I think in an early cut of the film, I think we played the whole of [Metric's] "Black Sheep." That’d be on the DVD, one version. In fact, when we shot the songs, we shot the full songs with all the artists, so we have different versions of them which we’ll put on the DVD.

In a separate interview with the Daily Comet's Dave Itzkoff, Wright again called out Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle and De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise as the "true antecedents" [Itzkoff's words] of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but said he was wary of citing those films in meetings with executives, because "you don’t want to reference things that are way too obscure.”

Meanwhile, the reviews for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World are coming in as the film is released this Friday. Armond White at the New York Press loves the film, contrasting it with the work of one of his favorite targets, Quentin Tarantino. The latter's films, according to White, are "pop-referencing movies" that "extract all social and political contexts," while Wright's pop-referencing is done as "a social satirist."

At The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Ed Symkus writes in his review that "Wright keeps the film sprinting along, throwing in a split-screen segment here and an exciting rock performance there — with another super-stylized fight right around the corner. There turns out to be as much talk as there is action, and by the time we’re introduced to the (sorta) villainous Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman), the film has slickly turned into a diatribe against the cold, heartless record business. If you want to see anything remotely like it, check out Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise — a film that was as far ahead of its time for 1974 as Scott Pilgrim is for today."

Posted by Geoff at 3:09 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, August 15, 2010 6:20 PM CDT
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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ving Rhames visited Lopez Tonight last week to promote his chainsaw-bearing role in the upcoming Piranha 3D, and mentioned a couple of things about the Mission: Impossible franchise. On the show, Rhames revealed that his character in the M:I films, Luther Stickell, was originally written to be one of the team members killed off in "the first six minutes" of the first film. "Now, I called Tom Cruise and Brian De Palma," Rhames told Lopez, "and I said, 'Why is it the black man dies in every action movie in the first six minutes?' Well, I'm about to do Mission: Impossible 4, so, uh, cha-ching and God bless." Since the Stickell character is a computer tech wiz, it seems likely he would have been essentially the one to die in the elevator shaft (that role ended up being played by Cruise's pal Emilio Estevez as an uncredited, and unadvertised, extended cameo-- people were surprised when the film began and the first real face they saw in color close-up on the big screen was Estevez'). Rhames had previously worked with De Palma when he portrayed Lt. Reilly in De Palma's Casualties Of War in 1989 (Mission: Impossible was released in 1996). If all goes as planned with the fourth installment, Rhames' Stickell will be the only character besides Cruise's Ethan Hunt to appear in all four M:I movies.

Meanwhile, a couple of months ago, Snarky's Machine watched Mission: Impossible and provided a terrifically entertaining running commentary. Here's a sample:

11:09 – I much prefer Cruise in one of those rubber face masks. I find his acting much more satisfying. Nothing too De Palma-y going on right now. Though the scenery looks an awful lot like the scenery in Phantom of the Paradise. Though like Emilio, I question Cruise’s decision to go with a Foghorn Leghorn accent. Very curious.

Posted by Geoff at 9:24 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, August 8, 2010 9:24 PM CDT
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Friday, August 6, 2010
The New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles is screening a Brian De Palma/Robert De Niro double bill this weekend, featuring The Untouchables and Hi, Mom!. It seems a good time to note that these two films have at least one interesting connection beyond the De Palma/De Niro one: in each film, De Palma presents a contrast between a man on a mission and a wife who is preoccupied with the color of her kitchen. As Eliot Ness says in The Untouchables, "Some part of the world still cares what color their kitchen is.” Although it should also be noted that Hi, Mom!'s Jon Rubin hardly seems to agree with the notion put forward in The Untouchables that "it's good to be married."

UPDATE 8-7-10 Come to think of it, there is another interesting link between the films-- an almost literal bumper sort of link involving the final two scenes of Hi, Mom! and the first two scenes of The Untouchables. After De Niro as Jon blows up the apartment building in the second-to-last scene in Hi, Mom!, he comes back and meets the press as a just-returning war veteran from Vietnam deploring the violence he has to come home to, and that he has, in fact, knowingly caused (he actually had returned at the beginning of the film). The Untouchables opens with De Niro as Al Capone meeting the press in a barber chair, followed by a scene in which a bomb explodes in a little girl's hands-- and we are, of course, led to believe that Capone is the one in control of the organization that has delivered this bomb, despite Capone's insistence to the press in the previous scene that neither he nor anybody he employs has anything to do with such violence. The Untouchables was the next film De Niro made with De Palma, 17 years after Hi, Mom!, and this thematic link seems so well planned out, one would almost think that it was, indeed, planned out...

Posted by Geoff at 1:15 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, August 8, 2010 12:11 PM CDT
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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Posted by Geoff at 7:11 PM CDT
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Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Last week, Dennis Pellegrom at Star Wars Interviews posted an interview with Paul Hirsch, who, along with fellow editors Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew, won an Oscar for his work on George Lucas' Star Wars. In the first section of the interview, Hirsch explains the series of events that led to his working on Star Wars:

My brother Charles produced Greetings, a comedy directed by Brian De Palma, and came to me for the trailer. [De Palma] and I hit it off, and he hired me (at my brother's urging), to cut the sequel, Hi, Mom!. I then cut his next four films, and came to the attention of Brian's friends, who included Marty Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Marcia Lucas was cutting Taxi Driver for Scorsese, and when they needed help, called me to work on it, but the studio nixed it. Then, the following year, they again needed help, this time on Star Wars, and called me in. The studio went along and the rest is history.

Later, Pellegrom asks Hirsch what he thought of the film while working on it, and whether he ever might have guessed that the film would be such a success and that he would win an Oscar for it. "I loved it," replies Hirsch, "but never dreamed it would go on to be the cultural phenomenon it grew into. Brian De Palma was the first person to suggest I would win an Oscar for it. Before that, it had never crossed my mind."

Posted by Geoff at 4:21 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 4:24 PM CDT
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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hot on the heels of yesterday's post about the collage interpretation of the climax of Brian De Palma's The Fury, reader Peder Pedersen sent in the link to the above ad he directed for Toshiba "a while back." Pedersen says it was inspired by the end of The Fury. In addition, he claims, the entire thing was done in camera-- "no CGI." I think you'll agree with me when I say it is quite extraordinary.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, July 30, 2010 12:07 AM CDT
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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The mixed media collage above is titled John Cassavetes in The Fury. It was created by Ina D. Archer in 2008. Archer included the piece in a post on the Continuum blog a couple of days ago, writing that the climactic moment "seems metaphorical of [John Cassavetes]'s relationship to Hollywood." Archer further continues in the post, "What a fabulous set piece--crazy, operatic--I even like John Williams here! The snow white carpeting, the mod lamp falling in slo mo, the multiple camera angles, the repeated explosion, the flying head and the musical crescendo punctuated with cymbal crashes! A Big Finish!"

Posted by Geoff at 2:11 PM CDT
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Saturday, July 24, 2010
Matt Zoller Seitz and company at Salon invited 15 writers and filmmakers to recall "the movie experience I can't forget." Odienator (aka Odie Henderson) recalls his "lenient" aunt taking him and his two cousins to see Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill when he was just ten years old. They were all expecting a typical horror movie by the guy who did Carrie and The Fury. "It was supposed to be an innocent time at the movies, full of violence we knew wasn't real and scares we could tolerate," writes Odienator. "It all started at the beginning," he continues a bit later...

The movie came on, and we were treated to a dream sequence with the Policewoman taking a shower in ways they wouldn't have allowed on ABC. "What the hell?!" I heard my aunt mutter. Then, Policewoman woke up, and she was being lousily hammered by her husband.

"Jesus Christ!" said my aunt, a little louder than before.

The movie went on, and by my aunt's silence, I deduced there was nothing objectionable occurring. What also wasn't occurring was the violence one would find in a horror movie. After a seemingly interminable silent pursuit sequence in a museum, which seemed creepy but had no scary payoff, Policewoman entered a New York City cab and proceeded to engage with her co-star from the museum sequence. I had no idea what they were doing (I was 10), but it sure looked interesting. Suddenly, I felt my aunt grabbing my arm. She dragged me and my two cousins out of the theater, an angry look on her reddened face. "Come on, we're going!" she yelled.

"What's wrong, Mom?!" my cousin asked.

"There is too much fucking fucking in this movie!" she explained. "Y'all can't watch this!"

(See the slide show at Salon for Odienator's full write-up.)

There are more moments being shared in the article's comments section. "NHBill" wrote about seeing Scarface on opening night:

My wife and I, two of the Whitest people you will ever meet, Conan O'Brien White, decided to head Downtown for Dinner and a movie. It was a date night for my wife but for me it was the chance to see the new Brian De Palma film "Scarface" on opening night. I am an enormous De Palma fan. Even his failures are fascinating to me. The audience for this screening to my everlasting gratitude was predominately Black. They loved Scarface. Particularity finding all of the humor and irony in Al Pacino's performance. We screamed in laughter when Pacino dove head first into a mountain of cocaine and moments later when he invited us to "Say hello to my little friend." We were all shocked and thrilled at the violence. But I was surprised how many reviewers did not find "Scarface" the least bit amusing! Every one of us leaving that theater knew we has [sic] seen an instant classic, the ultimate roller coaster ride laughing one minute shocked in horror the next. Scarface is not my favorite film. It's not even my favorite De Palma film but it was the best film going experience of my life thanks to that fantastic audience!

A letter to Salon from Robbins Read delves into several theater experiences, including this one regarding De Palma's Carrie:

Carrie”: The first time I saw it, there was a collective gasp from the theater audience and maybe a scream or two when the hand comes out of the gravesite. I remember that I gripped my armrests tightly. When I saw it a week or two later with my cousin, the same collective gasp occurred, and he was holding my wrist tightly. And even though I knew what was coming, I was scared again!

(Thanks to Rado!)

Posted by Geoff at 10:21 PM CDT
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Friday, July 23, 2010

Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was premiered at Comic-Con last night, and there seems to be a unanimous awe from those who attended. "There's not one moment in the entire movie that isn't shot or edited from a 'never quite seen that before' perspective," states UGO's Jordan Hoffman in his review of the film. "Scenes smash together with split-screens, sound effects and thoughts are graphologized, lighting, even sets, change to express emotion - seriously, when Brian De Palma sees this movie he's either going to get very inspired or slit his wrists." The Huffington Post's Bryan Young writes that "the crowd was so into the film by the end that I wondered if they were going to explode into candy."

However, Kirk Honeycuty at the Hollywood Reporter, who calls the film's style "juvenile," wonders whether anybody outside the Comic-Con and youth crowd will care. "The movie does everything its makers can dream up to imitate a manga," writes Honeycutt. "Screens split in half and then in half again. Action speeds up or slows down. Comic-book word sounds — “whoosh,” “r-i-i-i-i-n-g,” “thud” and the like — pepper the screen. Backstories about exes are told in rudimentary sketches. The movie frame becomes a graffiti zone where the filmmakers can insert all sorts of written commentary including the fact that a character has to pee. How edifying is that?" Variety's Peter DeBruge echoes Honeycutt's view. "An example of attention-deficit filmmaking at both its finest and its most frustrating," writes DeBruge, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World blends the styles of videogames, sitcoms and comicbooks for a mostly hollow, high-energy riff on the insecurities of young love. With Michael Cera in the title role, twentysomethings and under will swiftly embrace this original romancer, which treats the subject as if there were nothing more important in all the universe, though anyone over 25 is likely to find director Edgar Wright's adaptation of the cult graphic novel exhausting, like playing chaperone at a party full of oversexed college kids." Despite this, DeBruge concedes that the film is "a feat of economical storytelling, rendered in the vernacular of small talk and text messages." And on the subject of the film's many many characters, DeBruge writes, "The fact that we can keep all these characters straight while intuitively following the movie's unique vidgame logic is a testament to Wright's never-dull directorial skills."

Techland's Lev Grossman, acknowledging the hype that goes with being "pampered" at a surprise screening, calls the film "beautiful," saying that the film's real star is the director. "Practically every frame has a visual or auditory gag in it," writes Grossman, "goofing on eight-bit games and rock cliches and action movies. (The characters are always trying to do snappy banters in fight scenes, then getting confused and having to explain the joke.) Nothing ever comes at you straight. Some of this stuff is lifted from the book, but some are Wright's own riffs -- at one point, when Scott and Wallace are hanging out in their apartment, Wright starts dropping in Seinfeld music and a laugh track behind the actors, and the scene turns into a dead-on parody of a sitcom. For maybe 20 seconds. How Wright keeps this stuff coming for an entire movie is beyond me."

Cinematical's Todd Gilchrist sees the film as a cultural benchmark that will divide critics, although he himself is quite taken with it. "As far as deadpan hipster comedies are concerned," writes Gilchrist, "Scott Pilgrim is the Godfather of the genre – a massive, sprawling epic that builds and builds while offering just enough ironic asides to make fully sure that no one involved is taking themselves too seriously." Gilchrist adds that, "Cinematically, director Edgar Wright continues to grow by leaps and bounds with each film, and here his mastery of technique pioneered by others finally and firmly becomes its own style." However, Gilchrist feels that Wright's rapid pacing may rub some the wrong way. "Wright's breakneck editing and pacing makes Michael Bay look positively pastoral by comparison, and it's probably here where Scott Pilgrim may suffer from many of its most passionate criticisms. I was certainly never lost in the filmmaking flourishes, even when Wright would cut breezily through several locations over the course of a single conversation, or chop up the action into bits so fine they looked almost like the ones and zeroes that provided the animators with their raw materials. But this is resolutely a film for a generation of moviegoers that is acclimated to music video-era storytelling, one less interested in formalism (much less classicism) than the sum total of a scene's emotional weight or energy, and it may turn off folks who want something that's subtler, more reflective, or even just a little slower."

Posted by Geoff at 1:03 PM CDT
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