SAN FRANCISCO THEATER HAS 'PASSION' SEPT. 4 & 5, PAIRED WITH DE PALMA CLASSICS
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a la Mod:
Michael Koresky, Reverse Shot
"If it’s difficult to tell what’s business and what’s personal in the film’s intricate set-up, it’s even harder to separate reality from fantasy as the film slithers along to its boffo third act. Here is where De Palma breaks most drastically from Corneau’s film, plummeting down a rabbit hole of delirium that proves he was just using the original narrative as a basic skeleton to indulge in the ridiculous sublime. Whereas Corneau set his narrative up in a clinical and cold-blooded manner (perfectly acceptable for the sleek austerity of the setting), De Palma plunges into excess, positing the characters’ actions as dreams within dreams, and using nightmarishly canted frames and elegant split-screens to toy with both the audience’s perspective and his characters’ subjectivity (Pino Donaggio’s driving, tango-ish score begins to have an identity crisis of its own, starting to sample bits from Debussy’s 'Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune,' foreshadowing a thrillingly staged ballet scene). There’s an audacity to this that elevates it far above matters of style: De Palma is making pliable a rigidly established film that had clear emotional in and out points, reconfiguring its emotional makeup in a way that confuses, or even rejects, easy identification—with both character and reality."
Glenn Heath Jr., San Diego City Beat
"Brian De Palma's lustrous thriller Passion is one nasty parlor game. It constructs a sleek 21st-century world where fantasy is as pervasive as technology or sex. The desire to fulfill such urges drives us to befriend and betray, compete and consume.
"Hints of primary color populate the crisp modern architecture and décor, giving reality a dreamlike glow and infusing delusions with a scary sense of contorted normalcy. Sometimes, even hallucinations have hallucinations."
Sean Burns, Philadelphia Weekly
"Such are the vagaries of arthouse distribution these days that works by the masters now premiere on your cable box. Following in the footsteps of Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder and Paul Schrader’s The Canyons, Brian De Palma’s Passion opens this weekend in a scant few cinemas, but is already available via Video on Demand. I wish it were possible to see Passion on a big screen locally because it’s a kinky corker, the most gloriously lurid and downright De Palma-est Brian De Palma movie since 2002’s Femme Fatale, which I may have once watched twice in a row just to soak in all the sleazy, giddy abandon. (I might have done the same with Passion, but I’m not ready to admit as much in public just yet.)"
Marshall Fine, Hollywood and Fine
"Passion isn’t Brian De Palma’s first remake, but it may be his worst: an over-inflated, melodramatically hot-blooded version of what was a cool French thriller."
Drew C. Taylor, U.K. Film News
"A significant, and powerful change made by De Palma was in making the lead characters closer in age. The competitiveness has a more natural feel, like the kind that might arise between siblings. This shift in the interpersonal dynamic between Christine and Isabelle helps the film focus on the occasionally poisonous dynamic between women in the workplace without also bringing in the psychological baggage of age.
"With Rachel McAdams, De Palma attempts to give us a femme fatale we ultimately hate ourselves for desiring. So selfish, so self serving, so morally thin and sadistic, McAdams presents a Christine who fears – at any moment – she could be interchanged with any colleague, especially Isabelle. So hungry for power and recognition, Christine is the embodiment of everything a person could come to fear in a co-worker."
De Palma: Well, it’s indeed a tragic story, and it’s a part Al wants to play. I mean, that’s how it all started. You know, and it’s a great honor to direct Al. He’s, you know, one of the greatest actors of his generation. So, in order to tell it in a fair way, I mean, it’s sort of like Lawrence Of Arabia. Everybody has a different view on what happened. So the idea of the script is to try and represent each view equally, and let the audience try to figure out what exactly happened and who’s culpable.
On August 29, Vanity Fair posted an interview with De Palma by Jason Guerrasio, who also asked De Palma about Happy Valley, and about working with Pacino again. "It’s a fantastic part for him," De Palma told Guerrasio. "It’s almost like a King Lear–type of part. When you look at something like Scarface you see the incredible performance he gives. It’s always exciting for a director to work with someone like that." Guerrasio then asked if he and Pacino had talked yet about how he's going to play Paterno. "Oh yeah," De Palma replied, "we've exchanged extensive e-mails. It has begun."
Throughout the article, Knight keeps a running focus on autobiographical elements in De Palma's films, citing, for instance, Jason Zinoman's profile of De Palma for the book Shock Value in his entry on Dressed To Kill (#4). Knight's top three De Palma films are (#1) Blow Out ("the ending... solidifies Blow Out as De Palma’s bonafide masterwork"); (#2) Phantom Of The Paradise ("a careening bullet of pop art"); and (#3) Body Double (a "cinematic explosion meant to intoxicate those who are as in love with form as its director").
Also in Knight's top ten are a couple of surprises: Snake Eyes at number six, Mission: Impossible at number eight, and The Black Dahlia at number nine. De Palma's latest film, Passion, ranks at number 17. Of the latter, Knight writes, "There’s something to be said about De Palma’s choice of setting for the Berlin ad office — a towering building made entirely of glass. Not only does it feel like an on-the-nose visual representation of the 'ceiling' all female employees face as they navigate the current corporate climate, but also a metaphor for the lack of transparency all of these characters share. While we the audience can see through the walls of this crystal shrine to capitalism, each character holds up a shield of deception to stop the other from seeing their next move. It’s a brilliant bit of location scouting, as De Palma yet again finds a perfect way to convey an idea without using a single word."
At the bottom of Knight's list is Raising Cain, which Knight feels is hurt by De Palma's seeming lack of interest in that type of thriller at that point in time. And he has The Untouchables at number five, writing of the latter, "This is pulp on an epic, exciting level that takes both balls and chops in equal quantity to pull off."
'RAISING CAIN' RECUT BY SOME YOUNG DIRECTOR NAMED PEET GELDERBLOM
De Palma brings up the Raising Cain Recut once again in response to DeSalvo's question about any films he would like to go back and change. "In Raising Cain," De Palma says, "I initially had thought to tell the story with the wife's story. But because John Lithgow was so fascinating playing these multiple characters, I started the movie with his story. Then some young director recut it and put the wife's story first. I looked at it and said, 'You're right. That's the way it should have been done.' So, yes, my initial instinct was correct."
A YOUNG AL CAPONE ON SCREEN
DeSalvo asks whether De Palma would like to see any of his characters come back for a sequel. De Palma responds, "We were working on the prequel for The Untouchables, so a young Al Capone. But I guess they are doing that on television now [on Boardwalk Empire]. We were working on the prequel for many years, but it was under the former administration at Paramount."
DE PALMA LIKES 'KISS KISS, BANG BANG'
DeSalvo asks De Palma, "What is a guilty-pleasure movie that you love that everyone else seemed to hate?"
"A movie I really liked that didn't do well was Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," replies De Palma. "It didn't do well at the box office, but I thought Shane Black did a fantastic job."
My favorite part of the interview is when DeSalvo says that "Passion is probably the first movie to feature someone using their toe to send a text." That leads into a discussion about how technology has changed the way we communicate with each other. When asked what is the "craziest criticism" he's ever read about him, De Palma replies, "That I'm a misogynist. I love women. I love working with women. I love to photograph them. I like stories where they are the principle characters. I'm interested in beauty and sensuality. That would be hard for someone who is supposed to be a hater of women."
NON-RETIREMENT & 'HAPPY VALLEY'
The interview concludes with these two exchanges:
De Palma: No, I would never make an announcement about that. I mean, who the hell cares?
Fandango: What movie would you like to make after Passion?
De Palma: I got interested about a year ago in the Joe Paterno case, and we're developing a screenplay for Al Pacino to play Joe Paterno. This is very distressing material, but I think we can make a really terrific movie from it. We're working on it now.
SPOILERS - ROUNDTABLE FROM LAST YEAR'S TIFF
Slant's Fernando F. Croce yesterday posted his edition of a roundtable interview De Palma did at last year's Toronto International Film Festival. In discussing the viral ad in Passion's narrative, De Palma said, "I originally had thought of an incredibly more complicated commercial, all these dreams on top of one another. It got a bit too much like Inception. I showed it to a few director friends of mine, and they all said, 'What are you, crazy? Simplify!' [Laughs]"
At one point, De Palma is asked what his intention was with the split screen in Passion. He responds, "My intention? Now, what could that be? One interpretation is quite simple: Noomi is at the ballet. We're showing her watching the ballet at the same time somebody is stalking Rachel at her house. On the half of the screen where you see the ballet, we cut to a close-up of Noomi's eyes. [Mock-excited] Aha! Well, she must be at the ballet! She couldn't possibly be at the house, now could she? Meanwhile you see all these things going on back at the house, and when the POV shots start we don't see any more close-ups of Noomi's eyes. Viewers have become conditioned to expect A to lead to B, and accept it without question. The juxtaposition of the images on the screen seals a destination on viewers' minds, but do we go there or do we undermine it? Again, the important thing is to look actively at what's unfolding before us."
Asked how the screenplay influences him as a director, De Palma replies, "I tend to start with the camera. Some directors start with the characters and then proceed from that. Paul Thomas Anderson is a good example of somebody who builds his stories from the people on screen. Same thing with Noah Baumbach. They're very different from the way I do it, but that's why I like their movies. When I think of a scene, the people in it and what they're saying are just one element in a visual frame. And I like to use the entire frame instead of cutting from shot to over-the-shoulder shot, which I find very boring and TV-ish. I love when actors can play the scene continuously, the way you see in many films from the '40s or '50s. Maybe I'm becoming a bit anti-close-up in my old age. [Laughs]"
In discussing movie studios, De Palma mentions that Mission To Mars was affected by too many producer meetings. "As much as I want to think of myself as an outsider," De Palma says, "I've been able to work within the studio system for years. If your budget gets big, producers start to have too many meetings and chip away at the movie, which was the case with Mission to Mars. I guess it was around the time of Bonfire of the Vanities, the early '90s, when I started getting piles of notes, suggestions from the producers. In the beginning, in the 'day of the director' which is now long and far gone, you could make your movie and then preview it, say, in a theater in Texas and then be handed reports on audience reaction. You could still say, 'Sorry, that's it. I'm not changing a thing,' and get away with it. That's become harder and harder, and the directors of my generation just no longer have the stamina to deal with it. Hence our crotchetiness. [Laughs]"
When asked if he has any comments on Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, De Palma pauses, then chuckles before saying, "There's something very interesting about books like that. Here's my question: 'Who's talking to the writer?' Is it the unhappy ex-girlfriend? The bitter producer? The partner who got screwed out of some deal? They sure do a whole lot of talking, don't they? But the people who were actually making movies during that time period? They don't talk. Like me, for instance. You don't see me participating much in these books, which strikes me as very gossipy and reductive. You know, feeding into the whole sex, drugs, and rock n' roll myth."
PODCAST INTERVIEW FROM LAST YEAR
And finally, yesterday Rooftop Films posted a "Filmwax Radio" podcast in which De Palma is interviewed by Adam Schartoff. The interview appears to be from about a year ago, when Passion was still playing film festivals and prior to having a U.S. distributor. There's discussion of Passion, as well as Redacted, and more.
After discussing Passion, Taykor turns the discussion to Redacted. "It's of course very similar to Causalities of War," De Palma tells Taylor, "and I was well aware that the film was not going to be well-liked in America because in America you can never criticize the troops. Of course that wasn't the case in the rest of the world." Asked if he was ultimately happy with the attention that film received, De Palma replies, "Of course. That's why I made it. I felt that our involvement in Iraq was criminal and we had invaded this country and destroyed it and then left and now we wonder why it's a chaotic mess. It just reminded me of the whole Vietnam thing and I was extremely incensed and I tried to put it in a movie."
'THE DEMOLISHED MAN', 'MINORITY REPORT', 'HAPPY VALLEY', NO DESIRE TO RETIRE
Here is the final stretch of the interview (you can read the entire thing at moviephone):
I saw Minority Report and told him how good I thought it was.
Was it similar to what you were going to do with Demolished Man?
Well. Sort of. The Demolished Man is a great piece of material that's owned by Paramount, if I recall. There were many screenplays that were written that I'm sure are over there in a vault, just millions of dollars against the material. It would have been a very big movie to do and probably not going to be done by me.
How are things going with Happy Valley?
We have a very good script and we're in the process of boarding and budgeting it now.
Do you want to return to bigger studio material afterwards?
I have a couple of projects I'm working on and people send me stuff all the time, like how this project came to me. Some of them I think are good ideas and some of them I don't. At my age, I'm trying to enjoy my life. Because what we don't have is a lot of time. [Laughs]
Do you ever think about retiring?
No I have no desire to retire. I just want to enjoy my time. Every day above ground is a good day.