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Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan opens the Venice Film Festival tonight, but a critics preview this morning has created a buzz. Variety's Peter DeBruge is quite taken with the film, calling it "a wicked, sexy and ultimately devastating study of a young dancer's all-consuming ambition" that he feels resembles something closer to Aronofsky's Pi than to Powell & Pressburger's The Red Shoes (the latter being the one most reviews are comparing Black Swan with, along with Aronofsky's The Wrestler). DeBruge also compares the lure of the film to the cinema of Brian De Palma, but finds it closer in execution to David Cronenberg and Roman Polanski:

Already the film has acquired a certain lesbian allure, courtesy of a trailer that somewhat unfairly teases a scandalous [Natalie] Portman-[Mila] Kunis love scene. This footage will no doubt help to entice ballet-averse auds, though "Black Swan" is anything but a Brian De Palma-style erotic escapade (superficial echoes of "Sisters" and "Femme Fatale" notwithstanding).

Aronofsky seems to be operating more in the vein of early Roman Polanski or David Cronenberg at his most operatic. Though the director never immerses us as deeply inside Portman's head as he did Mickey Rourke's in "The Wrestler," the latter third of "Black Swan" depicts a highly subjective view of events that calls to mind the psychological disintegration of both "Repulsion" and "Rosemary's Baby."

MUBI is running a roundup of the reviews as they are posted.

Posted by Geoff at 12:33 PM CDT
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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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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Lisle Wilson, pictured above in his unforgettable Herrmann-scored role as Phillip in Brian De Palma's Sisters, died March 14 at the age of 66, according to Famous Monsters of Filmland. (This sad bit of news comes to us via our old friend, Bill Fentum-- thanks, Bill!)

Posted by Geoff at 12:13 AM CDT
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Robin Wood, author of the influential book Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, died Friday of complications from leukemia. Wood was 78. In the above mentioned book (the title of which can be seen as a direct inspiration to the core of David Greven's new book, Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush) Wood devotes a chapter to Brian De Palma subtitled "The Politics of Castration," in which he states that De Palma's "interesting, problematic, frequently frustrating movies are quite obsessive about castration, either literal or metaphorical." In the chapter, written before Body Double was released, Wood cites Sisters and Blow Out as De Palma's best works. Of the former, Wood wrote, "Simply, one can define the monster of Sisters as women's liberation; adding only that the film follows the time-honored horror film tradition of making the monster emerge as the most sympathetic character and its emotional center." Of Blow Out, Wood concluded that for him, "no film evokes more overwhelmingly the desolation of our culture."

In his 1983 book on De Palma, Michael Bliss interviewed the director, discussing Wood's analyses of De Palma's work:

Bliss: There's a piece on Sisters by Robin Wood that says that Sisters is the first feminist film to come out of Hollywood; it's a psychological and structuralist reading of the film. It talks about the knife as a phallic object.

De Palma: I don't like to get into that kind of reading into things. I remember talking to Robin and asking him questions about this. I finally said, look, that wasn't what I was doing when I made the movie; you may see these things but it's beyond me. But I do feel in a sense that I deal with contemporary feminist characters... Most of my women characters are very active, very strong; they dominate the action for the most part. In Sisters all they do is dominate the action. In Dressed To Kill all of the men are practically like women in normal films. So whether they're prostitutes or girls making money on the side by setting up candidates or actresses or newspaper reporters-- to me they are contemporary women and are aggressively pursuing their goals.

Posted by Geoff at 3:33 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 3:37 AM CST
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Friday, November 13, 2009
...and I don't really see any deliberate nods to De Palma. I loved the film-- I was one who was impressed with Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, which I felt displayed the mark of a brilliant filmmaker, even if it wasn't a complete success. I have never seen Donnie Darko, even though I am aware that by all accounts, that is the one I need to see (several people have told me not to start with the director's cut, as they feel that Kelly didn't know a good thing when he had it). After seeing The Box, I am convinced that Kelly is a major filmmaker, and will see Donnie Darko as soon as possible. But it is kind of interesting that most people seem to be disappointed with Kelly's two most recent films, and are getting ready to write him off after making a film they loved so much, while I have never seen that first film, and have been very impressed with his recent work.

The thing that strikes me as most De Palma-ish about The Box is the Herrmann-esque music that dominates from start-to-finish. This, combined with Kelly's success at making The Box seem in every way like it was actually made in the 1970s, gave me a strong feeling of De Palma's Sisters. Alternately, the music score by Arcade Fire also brought to mind John Williams' work on De Palma's The Fury, and Ennio Morricone's work on De Palma's Mission To Mars, with its serene sense of inevitable mourning. Yet I never felt these were direct homages-- simply that they seemed to share a certain sensibility (although, --SPOILER ALERT--, Mars ultimately plays a huge part in The Box, so who knows). With The Box, Kelly has taken a brief idea and expanded it with his sense of paranoia in creepy and unexpected ways that I found fascinating. Between Southland Tales and this new movie, Kelly seems to be building toward some sort of perfect beast-- something that will carry his apocalyptic, Twilight Zone-tinged sprawls to a level of cinematic beauty and brilliance. Which means that I am very much looking forward to seeing what he does next.

On a side note, the box's red button under the gleaming dome recalls Kubrick's HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and there was one point as characters are going through a library maze where I got a creepy flashback from Kubrick's The Shining.

Posted by Geoff at 6:34 PM CST
Updated: Friday, November 13, 2009 6:48 PM CST
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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jennifer Salt and Margot Kidder, who each starred in Brian De Palma's Sisters (1973), have been making marks in various TV projects of late. Kidder has recently made guest appearances on series such as Brothers & Sisters, Smallville, and The L Word. Kidder's most recent role was as one half of a lesbian couple in the here! TV murder mystery On the Other Hand, Death: A Donald Strachey Mystery, which is now available on DVD. In February, Kidder was interviewed about the film by The Advocate's Harrison Pierce, who asked her about hanging out with De Palma and friends at Kidder and Salt's Malibu beach house in the early 1970s... [Advocate] Early in your career you shared a beach house with actress Jennifer Salt at Nicholas Canyon Beach in Malibu that served as a hangout for not-yet-famous filmmakers like Martin Scorcese, Brian De Palma, and Steven Spielberg. That period has become the stuff of Hollywood legend, hasn’t it?

[Kidder] I guess it has. For us it was just a bunch of broke kids passing the hat for dinner. We didn’t think we were unusual, although we had a great degree of cockiness. We were sure we could change the entertainment business and the world and everything else all at once. It was a wonderful time, and we had a great sense of community. After it all sort of fell apart and everybody got successful and went off to do their own thing, I never got that sense of community again until I moved back to Livingston. I think it’s an essential in the human experience.

[Advocate] Any anecdote you can share from that particular period that gay readers might get a kick out of?

[Kidder] Oh, well, once I dropped mescaline and lost my boyfriend to another man. Oh, no, it wasn’t mescaline, it was the love drug. What the hell was the love drug?

[Advocate] Ecstasy?

[Kidder] MDA. It wasn’t ecstasy because it didn’t have speed in it. In those days, the pre-cocaine days, we took drugs only once in a while. The guy who wrote the book [Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls] makes it seem like we were all loaded all the time, which wasn’t true at all. I mean, pot, maybe. We were very innocent. We were deeply innocent people. So we took the love drug to find love or something, and I remember looking over and there was my boyfriend necking away with another man, so the love drug worked for him [laughs].

In a separate interview last March, Kidder talked to A.V. Club's Nathan Rabin about getting the Sisters script from De Palma...

[Kidder] I was with Brian De Palma at the time, and he said he wrote the role specifically for me. I don’t know what that says about the way he saw me, since the role was of a castrating killer. Brian came one morning to the house that I shared with Jennifer Salt, who is still a good friend and is currently a writer-producer on Nip/Tuck. He said “Here’s your Christmas present.” He wrote the character to have a Swedish accent, but since I couldn’t pull that off, he switched it to French-Canadian. It was such a romantic time in my life. Everyone was young and passionate and convinced they were going to change film forever. Brian and Marty Scorsese and Robert De Niro would come over and hang out, and we’d all work together.

[AVC] That’s a cinematic period that’s been romanticized and documented in books like Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

[Kidder] Yeah, but [Biskind] missed the whole essence of that. He made it seem sordid. I was saying to Paul Schrader that he missed the idealism and the passion of that era in Hollywood, but also in American life, that ’60s sense of optimism and hope. He made it all about drugs, when to most of us, that just meant pot and magic mushrooms. He made it seem like we were all shooting heroin into our eyeballs. But that’s part of the whole ’60s and what it represented: feminism and civil rights and trying to stop the war. Hopefully we’re starting to see some of that optimism again, through the excitement around Obama.

In the interviews, Kidder raves about Richard Donner's original version of Superman II which was released on DVD a couple of years ago. Donner was fired off that picture, which was then finished by Richard Lester.

Aside from writing and producing F/X's Nip/Tuck, Salt is also working on the screenplay for the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, which is being directed by Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy, and will star Julia Roberts and Richard Jenkins. Meanwhile, Variety reports that Salt is pitching a concept for a new series called The Quickening, "about a bipolar LAPD detective who performs better when off her medication."

Posted by Geoff at 1:00 PM CDT
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