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Friday, October 19, 2012

The Aero Theatre in Santa Monica has a couple of De Palma-related double features this weekend. Tonight at 7:30 (Friday) is Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, followed by Brian De Palma's Blow Out. Tomorrow night at 7:30 is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, followed by De Palma's Dressed To Kill. In each case, the De Palma film will be screened via DCP, while the Antonioni and Hitchcock films will be screened from 35mm prints.

Meanwhile, our old friend Bill Fentum informs us that Blow Out, which involves the death of a presidential candidate just prior to an election, will have two screenings the night after the upcoming November election at the Magnolia in Dallas. The screening is part of a series at the Magnolia called "The Big Movie," which normally runs on Tuesday nights. However, since November 6 is election day, it appears they moved the screening that week to Wednesday, November 7.
(Thanks Bill!)

Posted by Geoff at 8:21 PM CDT
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Monday, July 16, 2012

Posted by Geoff at 11:23 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, July 16, 2012 11:24 PM CDT
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The Hollywood Reporter's John Gaudiosi posted an interview with Bruce Campbell today in anticipation of the actor's appearance this upcoming weekend at the San Diego Comic-Con, where he will be promoting the new video game, "The Amazing Spider-Man." Gaudiosi asked Campbell to share a fond video game memory...

Watching Sam Raimi beat Brian De Palma at the game Berzerk in New York City around 1981. It was an arcade called Fascination around 42nd Street and Brian De Palma was working on his movie Blow Out and we were working on our movie Evil Dead in the same building, where you do post production sound. It’s a very tedious process so you always have to get out, go have lunch, go somewhere else. Right around the corner was this video arcade where Sam and I would always go to play Berzerk, Asteroids, some Pac-Man – although Pac-Man was always lame to me. Brian De Palma was playing Berzerk and Sam Raimi came up and challenged him. They played a duel match and Sam kicked his ass. That was probably one of the most fulfilling experiences, watching Sam Raimi kick a young Brian De Palma’s ass in Berzerk.

Posted by Geoff at 6:20 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 6:21 PM CDT
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Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Over the past few months, some terrific writing about the films of Brian De Palma have popped up on blogs and elsewhere, and, well, I'd gotten busy and found it difficult to keep up with it all. So here we are in the middle of summer, and my plan is to go movie-by-movie and post links to these pieces, covering the ones that have slipped through the cracks. But before we begin the movie-by-movie bit, I wanted to kick it off with this great piece on Blow Out by Jesse Clark Tucker, which he posted to his Beyond The Pale blog last March. In the piece, Tucker riffs on Criterion's recent Blow Out package, moving from the significance of the cover art before delving into the film's links with the "slasher" genre. "Look inside the exhaustive booklet, however," Tucker writes, "and you’ll find another representation of Blow Out, linking the film to a more subterranean film culture." Tucker's piece is full of insights into Blow Out, as well as other De Palma films. Enjoy it!

Posted by Geoff at 12:28 AM CDT
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Thursday, July 5, 2012
The Hollywood Reporter's Neil Young suggests that Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio was inspired by Michael Powell's Peeping Tom and Brian De Palma's Blow Out. Young viewed Berberian at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it had its world premiere last week. Here is an excerpt from Young's review:

The nightmarish side of moviemaking is imaginatively if unevenly dramatized in writer-director Peter Strickland's sophomore effort Berberian Sound Studio, the most critically lauded of the Edinburgh's 18 world premieres. Starring superlative British character-actor Toby Jones in a rare lead role, this UK/Germany co-production follows the misadventures of a timid sound-mixer working on a grisly shocker in 1970s Italy. But while the plethora of sly references and in-jokes will delight genre aficionados and cinephiles, a third-act spiral from queasy dark comedy into more ambitious David Lynch-ish territory will likely leave more general audiences frustrated. The film therefore looks likely to emulate Strickland's Transylvania-set 2009 debut Katalin Varga and enjoy a lengthy festival run followed by small-scale art-house distribution and small-screen sales.

Evidently inspired by such inside-baseball predecessors as Michael Powell's Peeping Tom and Brian De Palma's Blow Out, Strickland displays intimate knowledge of the lurid Italian 1960s-80s giallo wave of violent thrillers and horrors from the likes of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Sergio Martini. Familiarity with these pictures isn't essential to get the gist of what's going on in Berberian Sound Studio, but it certainly helps.

Taken on its own terms, the film works as a character-study of fortysomething, mild-mannered, workaholic Gilderoy (Jones) - first name or surname? - a fish out of water amid these tempestuous southern-Europeans. The film-within-the-film The Equestrian Vortex - directed by the flamboyant Giancarlo Santini (Antonio Mancino) and seemingly modeled on Argento's masterpiece Suspiria - of which we see only the amusingly ludicrous opening-titles. We watch Gilderoy and company, including bad-tempered producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco), watching the movie - for which the Studio, in accordance with typical practices of the day, provides the entire soundtrack.

Posted by Geoff at 7:20 PM CDT
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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Indiewire's Emma Bernstein begins her review of first-time director Alex Kurtzman's People Like Us by setting up the lineage from Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, to Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, to Brian De Palma's Blow Out. Bernstein writes about how each film used cinematography to get into its main character's mind, adding, "The three films were alike in their genre and premise as well, each a crime thriller centered on a character’s discovery of something hidden within the materials associated with his line of work. Alex Kurtzman’s new film, People Like Us," she continues, "shares the technical prowess of these films, employing supreme sound and visual techniques to create subjectivity. However, an increasingly rote storyline and adherence to syrupy sweet romantic comedy tropes leaves a murky aftertaste: a schmaltzy tearjerker masquerading as a psychological thriller." Bernstein never goes into detail about a possible link with the new film regarding any kind of recordings, photos, or films that the main character might use to try and figure out a puzzle, but perhaps the image above from People Like Us involves a similar sort of link. We may have to wait and find out when the film is released this Friday (June 29).

In her closing paragraph, Bernstein states, "The films from Antonioni, Coppola, and De Palma were groundbreaking both because they were able to build their stories and their characters via technical means as well as written words, and because the techniques used were radical in and of themselves. While People Like Us honors the visual and aural achievements of its predecessors well, it never manages to align its script with its images and sounds as successfully, leaving an audience with pleased eyes but discontented minds." Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy states, "As overcranked as it is -- the film is directed as if it were an action drama, with two or three times more cuts than necessary -- People Like Us has a persuasive emotional pull at its heart that's hard to deny."

Yesterday's edition of the Movie Geeks United podcast featured host Jamey DuVall and critic Tony Macklin discussing Sidney Lumet's The Verdict (including a nice lengthy discussion of screenwriter David Mamet) and De Palma's Blow Out. They discuss, among other things, De Palma's nods to American history in Blow Out's imagery, the contrast between appearance and reality that permeates the film, and the devastatingly ironic ending.

Posted by Geoff at 6:55 PM CDT
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Friday, April 13, 2012
Music video and commercial director Joseph Kahn's second feature film, Detention, opens in select AMC theaters today, before moving on to other cities later on. Kahn financed the high school-set, genre-busting film himself, so that he could call all the shots without argument. Detention is aimed at today's teenagers, who Kahn believes are bored by the movies Hollywood generally gears toward them. The film, which features deliberate references to many many films, is Kahn's call for the death of genres. According to City Arts' Armond White, the film includes a 360-degree pan that is an homage to a similar pan in Brian De Palma's Blow Out:

There’s a continuous 360-degree pan through eleven years of pop song totems and teen fads that sneaks up on you as one of the most fantastically detailed set-pieces in modern movies. It’s also an homage to Brian De Palma’s vertiginous 360-pan in Blow Out. Both De Palma and Kahn use their technical aplomb and social acuity to similarly encircle a moral void. Kahn’s De Palma trickery may obscure his own considerable point about cultural overload (also De Palma’s unconscious panic).

Not sure if this is the scene White is referring to, but Kahn describes his favorite sequence of Detention in an interview with Caliber's Katherine Sziraczky:

I like my teen throwback sequence in the movie, where we go through the eras in detention. Who makes throwbacks for teens? Most people assume that teens haven’t lived long enough to recognize a throwback, but that scene shows you how fast society changes for new young people. Things change so fast, hairstyles, music, that little sequence just throws it in your face, this is a whole new world.

Kahn has been promoting the film relentlessly, and also gave interviews to Complex, io9, Fanbolt, and Collider.

In what is surely a nod to Carrie (both the novel and the film), Kahn, who co-wrote the screenplay for Detention, has a character named Billy Nolan, which was also the name of the character played by John Travolta in De Palma's film adaptation of Stephen King's novel.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, April 14, 2012 12:49 PM CDT
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Friday, November 25, 2011
The November 2011 issue of American Cinematographer has a nice 9-page article about Vilmos Zsigmond's work on Brian De Palma's Blow Out, which seems to have finally arrived after being released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Criterion earlier this year. "Brian is really a stylist, and he's very experimental," Zsigmond tells AC's Jon Silberg. He sticks his neck out on movies that sometimes get bad reviews because the people who write the reviews say he's concentrating too much on the visuals. But that's what I like so much about him: he knows about images. There are so many films that just consist of talking heads, and they feel more like what you think of as 'TV coverage.' Brian always wants to do something that has style."

Zsigmond talks about shooting the night scene on the bridge, and the challenges of lighting the shots properly with the slower film stocks of the day (early 1980s). He also talks about the split diopter shots in the film: "You have to plan these shots ahead of time and find a way to hide the vertical line. That's the most important thing. The actors cannot cross that line, because it would look terrible." He mentions that with the types of lenses available today, such shots could be a little easier to do.

Also discussed is Zsigmond's technique of flashing the film, which he did on Blow Out to create less contrast and more shadow detail. This is a technique Zsigmond had developed on previous film projects in order to compensate for the slower film stocks of the day. "I flashed certain things to get more speed out of the film, more shadow detail," Zsigmond tells Silberg. "If we had a big scene-- like the fireworks at the end of Blow Out, where we had to show a whole city block at the port-- I would flash the film at least 10 percent to get a good exposure and detail in the shadows." The article goes on to explain that this was a risky process, involving the threading of exposed and unprocessed negative onto a printer. If there was any mistake made, or some kind of problem with the negative, a large amount of work could be lost for good. Fortunately (and incredibly), this never seemed to happen.

Also discussed is De Palma's penchant for single-take scenes:

"We would sometimes do shots that lasted four or five minutes," the cinematographer recalls. "Brian is very good at that-- he knows exactly what he wants. It's very easy for me to light those kinds of shots on his movies, because I know exactly where he wants the camera to go. And I know he's going to use it all because he loves using those shots-- abd there's no way to cut away. Sometimes he'd go five, six, eight or even 10 takes, knowing that the scene would play out as one shot on the screen."

Zsigmond finds this approach rewarding: "The fewer cuts you have in a film, the more interesting it is to watch the scene. It's like watching real life-- you get up close to people and to the action and let the scene play out. Lately I've enjoyed working with Woody Allen, because he is really aiming for one shot with no coverage. No close-ups, no over-the-shoulders. He wants to move the camera, and he does it in one continuous shot."

For [cinematographer Jan Kiesser, who was Zsigmond's operator on Blow Out], shots like this meant a significant amount of responsibility. "When we were making Blow Out," he says, "we didn't have video playback. It was really on your shoulders as an operator to critically judge composition throughout the shot. You had the best seat in the house for all the critical decisions, like eyelines and framing, but nobody else was going to see the shot until dailies! We were also shooting wide open, so we needed to be very critical about focus."

Michael Gershman was the first AC on Blow Out and worked frequently with Kiesser. "Michael and I started our careers together in animation," says Kiesser, "and we were on many crews togather. Like all great focus pullers, Michael had an uncanny knack for focus-- it was like a sixth sense. On Blow Out, he really had to multi-task, because some of those shots required zooming, focus-pulling and stop changes all at once."

The article also discusses the 360-degree shot in Jack's sound studio. "The space wasn't big enough to lay down tracks," Kiesser tells Silberg. "We had the camera in the middle of the room, and we kept panning around and zooming to keep up with the action. In those days, the camera didn't have a battery; it was powered from an external source, so we had to twist the power cable around the tripod and then untwist it during the shot."

Also discussed is the use of the Little Big Crane, which was designed by key grip Richard "Dicky" Deats. "The Little Big Crane let us get into places we might not have been able to access with a larer crane," Kiesser tells Silberg. "We had also used it a lot with Vilmos on Heaven's Gate. This was before remote heads, so I would ride the crane and time the camera movement to the crane's position. My strongest memory of [shooting Blow Out] is sitting up there in the cold and wind."

For the fireworks scenes at the end, according to the article, the production used real fireworks for the wider shots. Zsigmond, who notes that the fireworks were more blown out (or overexposed) than he would have liked, recalls to Silberg, "I brought in as many big lights as I could to bring up the darker areas. I never liked the look of some of those shots as much as I did in the Blu-ray that came out recently. I wasn't involved in timing it, but Brian must have been, or somebody who understood what we were going for, because the colors are more intense than we could get them [photochemically]. Today, we would finish with a DI, and we would have more control." The Criterion transfer of Blow Out was, in fact, supervised by De Palma.

Silberg's article also briefly covers the heartbreaking shot of Jack cradling Sally's body as the camera seems to spin around them:

At the end of the chase, Jack cradles Sally in his arms as the camera spins 360 degrees and reveals the fireworks above them. The shot was one of the film's few optical effects. "The production couldn't possibly create real fireworks in the sky as we spun the camera," Zsigmond explains. "We put the actors and their lighting on a turntable in front of a bluescreen, and we positioned the camera on one side of the turntable facing the bluescreen, where it remained static as we turned the actors around 360 degrees. Because the lighting was moving with the actors, it looked as if the camera was circling them. The fireworks were added in post."

The article concludes with Zsigmond expressing, in Silberg's words, "a particular fondness for the unabashedly stylish films he shot with De Palma" (the other films are Obsession, The Bonfire Of The Vanities, and The Black Dahlia). "I've worked on so many films where we aimed to be 'real,' and we would never have done some of the shots I did with Brian," Zsigmond tells Silberg. "But in a movie by Brian De Palma-- or Hitchcock-- it isn't important that what we're watching is 'real.' We're telling a story, and the most important thing is that the audience has fun watching it."

The magazine, as usual, is worth buying not just for the great article, but also for the terrific array of photographs. The cover story interview with Roger Deakins about his work on Andrew Niccol's new sci-fi thriller In Time is also worth checking out. It's a steal at only $5.95.

Posted by Geoff at 7:06 PM CST
Updated: Friday, November 25, 2011 7:08 PM CST
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Edgar Wright has provided his list of his top ten Criterion DVDs, and Brian De Palma's Blow Out is at the top. "I have heard people call themselves Brian De Palma apologists," states Wright. "I am proud to say that I am a huge fan without any caveats." Here is the rest of Wright's entry regarding Blow Out:

There’s a reason that, back in the seventies, fellow movie brats Spielberg, Lucas, and Scorsese would defer to De Palma as “the filmmaker.” When on form, his work is something to behold. Even the lesser works of De Palma contain flashes of genius, while the best of his movies rank as pure cinema. Blow Out is certainly one of De Palma’s finest. There’s not a wasted shot, not even a wasted corner of frame. In the telling of this audiovisual thriller, De Palma uses Steadicam work, split screens, split diopter shots, and complex optical effects to utterly exciting but never overly flashy effect. Some directors are great storytellers without their presence being felt, but De Palma, much like his cinematic hero Alfred Hitchcock, is a master manipulator of both his medium and his audience. He plays us like an instrument, maneuvers us like puppets, and frequently makes us look where we’d rather not. Blow Out begins with De Palma turning the camera on himself and criticisms against him, then ends with one of the crueller, blacker chapters in cinema.

The interview on the disc with De Palma and Noah Baumbach is a must-see too; great to hear him talk about Hitchcock, Antonioni, and Coppola and their influence on this film. Filmmakers and film students will be also fascinated to know that Brian thinks coverage is a dirty word. This is a tremendous piece of work that I am very glad Criterion has given the royal treatment.

(Thanks to Jon!)

Posted by Geoff at 11:51 PM CDT
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Richard "Dicky" Deats, who worked as a key grip on Brian De Palma's Blow Out and The Black Dahlia (both with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond), passed away July 14 at the age of 66, according to Below The Line. Just prior to working on Blow Out in 1981, Deats and Zsigmond built the first portable crane, which Deats called "the Little Big Crane," because it was lightweight and could be disassembled and carried around anywhere. The pair put it to good use on Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1980), and Deats later won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement in 1984 for the Little Big Crane's design and manufacture.

Posted by Geoff at 10:08 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 10:09 PM CDT
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