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Tuesday, February 1, 2011
BUSCEMI RECALLS 1987 UNTOUCHABLES AUDITION
WHILE ACCEPTING SAG AWARD FOR HIS WORK IN BOARDWALK EMPIRE
At the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday (January 30th), Steve Buscemi was awarded outstanding male actor for a drama series for his work on HBO's Boardwalk Empire. According to the New York Daily News' Soraya Roberts, during his acceptance speech, Buscemi recalled auditioning for Brian De Palma in 1987. According to the article, Buscemi "thanked casting director Ellen Lewis 'for having faith after my awful audition 20-something years ago when she brought me in to see Brian De Palma.'" The Swan Archives' Ari caught Buscemi's acceptance speech, and describes what the actor said after bringing up his Untouchables audition: "What he said was that at his audition, he went 'yabbada yabbada yabbada... thank you...,' the implication being that he was so nervous (presumably from being in De Palma's presence) that he couldn't make his words come out straight." While at the podium, Buscemi also begged Martin Scorsese to come back and direct another episode of Boardwalk Empire. Scorsese is a producer and creator of the show, and directed the pilot episode.

Posted by Geoff at 2:15 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 6:13 PM CST
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Sunday, November 28, 2010
R.I.P. THE UNTOUCHABLE LESLIE NIELSEN

Posted by Geoff at 9:51 PM CST
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Wednesday, September 29, 2010
SCORSESE ON STEADICAM SHOT IN UNTOUCHABLES
(AN ADDENDUM TO LAST WEEK'S POST)

Since last week's post about the steadicam shot in Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas, and how he had wanted to try to make it one minute longer than the elaborate steadicam shot in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, I've located a bit from a Cahiers du Cinéma interview in which Scorsese discusses that Untouchables scene. In 1996, Cahiers du Cinéma celebrated its 500th issue by inviting Scorsese to guest-edit the issue, and devoting it to Scorsese's "passion for cinema." The translated interviews/essays were published in Projections 7, edited by John Boorman and Walter Donohue, in 1997. In the issue, Scorsese refers to De Palma as his "pal," and a member of his own extended family, which also includes, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Joe Pesci, Francis Ford Coppola, and Jay Cocks, among others. Here is what Scorsese had to say in 1996 about De Palma as a filmmaker:

Brian is a great director. Nobody can interpret things visually like he does: telling a story through a lens. Take the scene in The Untouchables where Charles Martin Smith is shot in the elevator. Look at that steadycam shot; he's not just moving the camera to show you that we can go longer because we have the steadycam. Francis used to tell me, "Marty, we can start a shot and go up to the Empire State Building and come back down. Anybody can do it. You have to know how to move a camera a little bit, that's all." A lot of people use the steadycam and don't know what they're doing. What Brian does with it is tell the story, progressing the story within the shot. That's just one example. Then in Carlito's Way there's a scene entering a night-club and the camera tracks up. It's extraordinary, his visual interpretation. He deals with stories that enable him to do that sort of thing. So when you get a real De Palma picture like Raising Cain or Body Double, you're getting something really unique. He's provocative. He goes, "I'm going to do this again. Hitchcock did it - so what? Who cares? I'm doing it this way." Brian knows. We always talk about that together.


Posted by Geoff at 2:01 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 2:05 PM CDT
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010
WISE GUYS: SCORSESE WANTED TO ONE-UP DE PALMA
BY GOING ONE-MINUTE LONGER WITH STEADICAM SHOT IN GOODFELLAS
GQ has posted an incredible oral history of the making of Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas, which was released 20 years ago this week. 60 or so cast and crew members were interviewed for the article, including Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Michael Ballhaus, and Ray Liotta. In the following excerpt, Larry McConkey and others discuss filming the Copacabana shot. Illeana Douglas, who was dating Scorsese in those days, talks about how Scorsese wanted to one-up Brian De Palma by making the shot a minute longer than the long steadicam shot in The Untouchables. Here's the excerpt:

THE GREATEST, STEADIEST SHOT OF ALL TIME

Larry McConkey (Steadicam operator): The impression I had when Marty walked us through the Copacabana shot was that this is going to be the most boring, worst thing I've ever done. We're walking across the street, down the stairs, down a hallway, in the kitchen.... What is this shot about?

Douglas: They didn't know that the Copacabana tracking shot was going to be such a big deal. It wasn't like, "Okay, we're going to do the greatest Steadicam shot in history."

Joseph Reidy (first assistant director): It's probably the hardest orchestrated single shot I've ever been involved in. McConkey: There were 400 or more absolutely precise timing moments. It was totally impossible, mathematically.

Kristi Zea (production designer): This was the mating dance. Henry's arrival into the Copa, the way he came in, and how the whole thing was designed to impress the hell out of Karen. You wanted the audience to be part of her being impressed.

Johnny "Cha Cha" Ciarcia (Batts's crew number one): Marty Scorsese was in trouble for extras, so one of the casting directors called me. I live on Mulberry Street. I know the whole world. I went and I made a deal for $10 a person. We had five busloads of people on Fifth Avenue for the Copa. I set it all up.

Zea: He wanted a long preamble before they get into the space. The Copa didn't have a long enough walk before they actually get into the nightclub. So we had to build a hallway, and we literally took the walls away while the camera was in motion, so that they were gone by the time Ray and Lorraine showed up in the main room. The delivery of the camera into that big space had to be done like a ballet. Henry is saying hi to everyone, everyone knew who he was. And then the table flies across the camera and lands smack dab in front of Henny Youngman, and suddenly there's champagne coming over courtesy of these other guys.

McConkey: Marty watches the first rehearsal, and the only thing he said was, "No, no! When the table comes in, it's got to fly in! I came here as a kid and I saw this!" They'd flip on a tablecloth, the lamp goes on top of it, somebody plugs it in, they put down the plates... It was like a magic act.

Douglas: I believe they only did like seven takes. I've been involved in Steadicam work where you literally work all day to achieve what Marty achieved in that shot.

Liotta: One take was because at the end of it, Henny Youngman forgot his joke.

Zea: "Take my wife..."

Ballhaus: He forgot his line that he had said about 2,000 times!

Douglas: Brian De Palma had just done this incredibly long Steadicam shot in The Untouchables, and Marty said it would be funny to try to do it one minute longer than De Palma's. The world perceives this as "Oh, the Copacabana scene!" But what it really is, is directors behind the scenes having fun fucking with each other.


Posted by Geoff at 7:49 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, September 26, 2010 12:39 PM CDT
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Tuesday, August 31, 2010
MORRICONE RECEIVES POLAR MUSIC PRIZE
EVENT IN STOCKHOLM CLOSES WITH SCREENING OF THE UNTOUCHABLES
Ennio Morricone was awarded the 2010 Polar Music Prize (also referred to as the "Nobel Prize for Music") by the King of Sweden in a ceremony Monday at the Skandia Theater in Stockholm. The award is traditionally given to a composer and a pop musician every year, and this year's pop honor went to Bjork. According to Lupin The 4th, the evening concluded with a screening of Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, the film for which Morricone was nominated for an Oscar for composing the score. Morricone has also scored De Palma's Casualties Of War and Mission To Mars.

Posted by Geoff at 1:19 PM CDT
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Monday, May 24, 2010
GARCIA ON HIS "JAMES COBURN" SCENE
AND HOW DE PALMA TOLD HIM TO "FIGURE IT OUT"
A couple of months ago, Aint It Cool's Capone interviewed Andy Garcia and asked him about his experience making Brian De Palma's The Untouchables. Garcia shared some interesting tidbits about his character's introduction within the film...

Garcia: Well, I remember my introduction scene in the movie where they come and recruit me was the last scene we shot in the film, if I remember correctly. And we started here like at the end of the summer, so by the time we got to that scene, it was snowing that day in Chicago, so it was like the beginning of Fall with early snow. It was very cold, and I always remember that scene, because it’s a scene, when I was a young man going to the cinema in the '60s I loved the movie THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and THE UNTOUCHABLES is sort of a take on THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN in a way, which is a take off of THE SEVEN SAMURAI. So structurally, one guy going out to recruit a bunch of people to achieve this objective…I remember seeing THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and when James Coburn was introduced, who was the knife thrower remember?

Capone: Yeah.

Garcia: I said “Wow, what an entrance in the movie.” I think that’s the movie that made James Coburn and got him known as an actor. I remember as a child being so impressed by that scene and saying “I want to be that guy!” Being lost in that concept that was engrained in my mind, and my scene in THE UNTOUCHABLES is basically the James Coburn scene, there’s a gun and whatever and the sharp shooter instead of a knife, but it’s basically that scene.

IT "HADN'T FOUND ITS WAY INTO THE SCRIPT YET"
Garcia also told Capone about his reaction when he found out he would be riding a horse in the film. It is interesting that De Palma already had storyboards for this sequence prior to it being added to the script...

Garcia: For some reason, I also remember the conceit I had… When we were in Montana. We went to Montana to shoot this horseback-riding thing.

Capone: The bootlegging sequence right on the Canadian border, right?

Garcia: Right, but when it got to Chicago, Brian [De Palma] took me into a room and had this whole thing storyboarded, but with stick figures. Those were his storyboards, like “Here’s the three shot…” And he says, “Well, I’m going to have you guys on horses,” and in the script there was nothing to do with horses, so I was like “Brian, my character has never been on a horse… This guy’s from the Southside of Chicago…” He looked at me and he said, “No, no, he’s an expert horseman” and I go “How is he an expert horseman?” He goes “Fuckin' figure it out.” I said “Oh, thanks." The guy’s from the Southside of Chicago, now he’s going to be an expert horseman.” [laughs]

It was something that he conceived that he wanted to have us on horses, and it’s something that he adapted in the script, but hadn’t found its way into the script yet, and so me as an actor was like “Oh God… First of all, I’ve got to get on a horse.” So I started taking lessons at this equestrian center here somewhere in town or nearby where it had like a ring, so I got on the horse and I told the costumers “Find me a tie pin or a lapel pin, something that has a horses head just so I can have some sort of connection to…” So I concocted this idea and did some research, there were some stables in a Chicago park here in the inner city that my father or my grandfather as an immigrant, he was like a stable boy and he took care of the stables. When I was a little kid, I would go visit him and I was helping him in the stables, and that's how I knew how to ride. So I had to concoct this whole backstory just to justify “How does this kid from Southside Chicago become an expert horseman?” Then I had two weeks to be an expert horseman.

Capone: There you go.

Garcia: [Laughs] So that’s my UNTOUCHABLES story. Then I just had to concentrate on not falling off when the horses were going 40 miles an hour.

"SUMMER SCENES WE LOVE" AT CINEMATICAL
Meanwhile, earlier today, Scott Weinberg at Cinematical posted a "Summer Scenes We Love" featuring, out of all the great scenes in the film, the opening credits for The Untouchables, which are, of course, simply the best.


Posted by Geoff at 8:59 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, May 24, 2010 11:02 PM CDT
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010
MAMET TO PRESENT THE UNTOUCHABLES
70mm PRINT, TAX DAY IN SANTA MONICA

David Mamet, who wrote the screenplay for Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, will be on hand to discuss the film April 15, as the American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica presents the film in 70mm. The event begins at 7:30pm.
(Thanks to Chuck!)

Posted by Geoff at 9:35 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 9:36 PM CDT
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Saturday, February 6, 2010
COP OUT TRAILER'S UNTOUCHABLES JOKE
AND TV AD'S SCARFACE JOKE

The above trailer for Kevin Smith's Cop Out (originally titled A Couple Of Dicks) features a nasty joke involving Robert De Niro and Kevin Costner in The Untouchables. Meanwhile, an ad for the film that ran on NBC Thursday night had Tracy Morgan, whose character in the film has a habit of using lines from movies to interrogate suspects, quotes a line from Scarface, and then hilariously mouths the word "Scarface" to his partner, played by Bruce Willis. (No word yet on a Bonfire Of The Vanities joke.) On a side note, De Palma's most recent film, Redacted, quotes a line from Kevin Smith's Clerks, when Rush, who has just found out that his unit will be forced to extend its tour of duty, exclaims, "I'm not even supposed to be here today!" Reno then replies, "None of us is supposed to be here," before Rush goes on a tirade about how they keep telling them they're going home tomorrow, but then telling them they have to stay.

Posted by Geoff at 1:21 AM CST
Updated: Saturday, February 6, 2010 7:29 AM CST
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Saturday, November 14, 2009
DEEP INTO THE UNTOUCHABLES
BLOGGER LOOKS AT TRAIN SEQUENCE; 2 BRITS DISCUSS FILM
At H i M i P o V, Randy Aitken has written a monster of an essay analyzing the train station sequence in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables with the good-humored belief that “the devil is in the details”—rhythms, numbers, shapes, and symbols. Randy’s essay is generously illustrated with screen grabs such as the one shown here at left. Below is an example in which Randy is riffing on the use of numbers and teamwork:

Regarding Stone and Ness in The Untouchables train station steps sequence, they are a team who start out together, split up and come together again to fight and triumph over adversity while standing at the threshold of a diagonal staircase in the climax of the train station sequence. In the final moments of this sequence, as the Bowtie Killer's right arm acts as a stranglehold while the left arm has a gun to the bookkeeper's head, he threatens to kill the bookkeeper unless they are both released from the standoff. He begins a count off starting at "one" with a pregnant pause. Ness commands Stone to "take him!" and he kills Bowtie and reduces that Capone pairing down to one. Stone finishes Bowtie's counting sentence by saying "two." The visual storytelling has shown architectural space being developed and explored and through editing, framing, and dialog we have been shown changes in shapes and the proximity of these elements and forms to communicate growth and advance the story.

The establishment of a deadly horizontal relationship of the bookkeeper's head caught in between an arm and a gun has changed into a new deadly horizontal relationship between Stone's gun and Bowtie's head.

The angle of the straight line has moved counterclockwise 90 degrees.

And at the end of the straight line is a circle that has become divided into life and death.

As Bowtie's head slips out of frame downwards, an artistic modern abstraction of bloody red color is in evidence. De Palma the artist has thrown some paint upon the canvas for the audience and the characters to admire and comprehend. Bowtie has been zeroed out and we have to decide if Mr. Average, middle-American bookkeeper likes being an art critic, and we wonder if we see ourselves or the character in the canvas that he is standing too close to.

This idea of a making a connection between a straight line and a circle attached to it literally or through implication can be seen in the climax of the basement in Psycho, as well as Burke's activities in Blow Out.

PODCAST DISCUSSION
Meanwhile, at Chin Stroker VS Punter, the two British men of the title discuss The Untouchables in-depth in a podcast that runs about 90 minutes.


Posted by Geoff at 1:18 PM CST
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Saturday, August 1, 2009
MAINSTREAM MASTERPIECE
JOHN KENNETH MUIR ON THE UNTOUCHABLES
John Kenneth Muir continues his weekly look at select Brian De Palma films with a wonderful analysis of The Untouchables, which he calls "De Palma's mainstream masterpiece," it being "a visual exercise in mythbuilding." Muir characterizes The Untouchables as a war film, stating, "On the surface, the brutal struggle in The Untouchables appears to be one regarding law enforcement, but the movie's tone and visuals make it plain that this is not entirely the case. On the contrary," Muir continues, "this is total war, a fact De Palma makes plain via cross-cutting. Early in the film, he cross-cuts between Capone decrying violence as 'not good business' and then a scene involving a little girl murdered in what, essentially, is a terrorist bombing of a local Chicago saloon."

"ODESSA STEPS" HOMAGE MUCH MORE THAN A "STUNT"
Muir is perhaps most inspired in his analysis of De Palma's improvised train station set piece:

Again, this sequence is likely the demarcation point where some people will "get" and appreciate De Palma, and others will simply insist that he is a particularly gifted "thief." For in concept and execution, the staircase scene of The Untouchables is an intricate homage to Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 propaganda classic, The Battleship Potemkin.

In that film, the famous "Odessa Steps" sequence dramatized a massacre conducted by the Tsarist Regime, set atop a wide staircase. Civilians were brutally murdered in this bloody sequence, as Cossacks killed men, women and children. Famously, a baby carriage was depicted rolling down the staircase.

In original context, the Odessa Steps sequence was meant to demonize the Imperial Regime, to expose the fact that there was no depth to which it would not sink to hold onto to power in Russia. The scene is so famous in cinema history that some people have apparently believed that there was a massacre on the Odessa Steps even though the incident was a fictional one concocted for the film.

Those who accuse De Palma of lifting the Odessa Steps sequence from The Battleship Potemkin should take one extra step -- beyond that of accusation -- and ask themselves why? What purpose does it serve to feature a similar sequence here, in this movie?

On one hand, we can certainly point to the deliberate homage and intertextuality we see throughout De Palma's canon. But furthermore, there's a reflexive quality to this reference in The Untouchables. To wit: the battle for capitalist control of Chicago is occurring, roughly, in the same time period that The Battleship Potemkin was made and distributed (circa 1925 - 1930). In other words, by cutting and shooting a sequence just like the Odessa Steps, De Palma is actually reflecting something that the characters of the time might have themselves conceivably understood or known about.

Much more importantly, however, De Palma has created a thematic relative of Potemkin; a kind of "pop" form of propaganda; a heroic myth elevating the G-Men in stature and deriding a corrupt system and the criminals -- like Capone -- who exploited it (the capitalist equivalent of the Tsarists).

De Palma's point -- captured beautifully in the slow-motion shoot-out -- is that Capone's Regime (like that of the Cossacks...) boasts no moral compunction about the murder of the innocent. It will hold onto control any way it can, as we have seen in the corner saloon bombing and now with the imperiled baby carriage. Ness's task is much more difficult: he must eliminate the entrenched, powerful bad guys (the hench-men of Capone) and defend the innocent simultaneously. Remember how that grieving mother told Ness to get Capone? Well, here Ness lands in an even more urgent variation of that scene: finally in the position to prevent the death of an innocent at the same time that he takes down the guilty.

So, yes, De Palma pays tribute to Eisenstein's shock cutting in the famous staircase battle, but he has done two other important things as well. First, he has raised audience "ire" over Capone's actions in the self-same manner as Eisenstein did in regards to the Tsarists;" exposing" a corrupt regime in the process. And secondly, he has re-purposed the "lifted" sequence so as to make a point about the nature of the all-out battle Ness is fighting.

Amazingly, De Palma crafts an action sequence in the very film language appropriate to the era of his film, the 1920s-1930s. In his review, critic Hal Hinson called the staircase shoot-out scene De Palma's "greatest stunt," only-half impressed, but I suggest that given the context, given the reflexivity, given the re-purposing of a classic sequence for a like thematic purpose, it is much more than a stunt. This is De Palma conceiving and deploying brilliant visuals to chart for audiences the epic nature of the Capone/Ness conflict.


Posted by Geoff at 11:51 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, August 1, 2009 11:52 PM CDT
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