Hello and welcome to the unofficial Brian De Palma website.
Here is the latest news:
a la Mod:
De Palma Masterclass, ------------- ------------ ------------
Casualties Of War,
and book signing
June 2 in Paris
ON REMAKES & 'TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE'
"I like to get my hands on films that have already been made, characters already defined, because there is always something you can add, remove, update. My big dream is a version of Treasure of the Sierra Madre by John Huston, with characters not rewarded by a gold mine, but cocaine, the gold of our time. The idea surfaced with Scarface, which was just back in theaters, restored : the remake of Howard Hawks, which I made thirty years ago with star Al Pacino. I was prompted by the prospect of placing myself in the Cuban community in Florida and within that universe of cocaine, which is harvested in the mountains at no cost, but once arrived in the city, is worth millions, and the foolish way the smugglers are unable to abstain."
ON WORKING WITH ORSON WELLES AND BERNARD HERRMANN
"I consider those my two Oscars, of which I've never even received a nomination. At thirty-two years old I made Get To Know Your Rabbit with the great Welles, a terrific actor, a great talker, a brilliant director who in 1940, the year of my birth, made the best movie ever filmed, Citizen Kane. I was excited and worried about him: in debt, discarded by Hollywood, he agreed to shoot for a couple of weeks to collect a bit of money for his next film. My other stroke of luck, the year after, the soundtrack for Sisters was composed by Herrmann, the wizard behind the music from Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest. I never saw his face: he always kept his head down when he spoke. A volcano of sudden rages, his reaction to bad decisions. Much like Welles. The difference? Herrmann maintained his wrath through to the end of the objective, while Welles, after the first outburst, would give in. He was unshakable in the face of the new industry requirement to write at least one ‘successful’ film song - like 'Mrs. Robinson' from The Graduate or 'The Ballad of Easy Rider' - imposed since the sixties because of the dominance of the music industry on film. Herrmann was categorical: 'I do not write songs but film music!' He left the U.S. for London, where he set to music two Truffaut films: Fahrenheit 451 and The Bride Wore Black"
ON BEING AN 'ECONOMIC REFUGEE' FROM HOLLYWOOD
When asked if he considers himself an exile in Hollywood, De Palma replies, "No, rather an economic refugee. I moved there early in my career to raise dollars, now I’m learning the lesson of [Woody] Allen: 'Take the money and run.' Hollywood is a disease that is too contagious: you stay there one more minute and you find yourself shooting the next Schwarzenegger film without even knowing how it happened."
ON 'HAPPY VALLEY'
"It’s inspired by a true story, that shook the United States: that of Joe Paterno, model coach of a university football team overwhelmed by a pedophilia scandal that destroyed his forty year career, leading to his death two years ago. It is the descent into hell of a man whose past was exemplary: a fascinating story, worthy of Ibsen or Arthur Miller. It could breathe fresh air into Hollywood today, which is busy squandering millions on big screen comic books, toys and a new set of Batman. When I finished Mission to Mars, I said to myself: 'You spent a hundred million dollars: pulverized in Space. But what's the point?' This is the question that chases me when, in order to test the absurd, I shove my nose into the blockbuster of the moment: are there really people who buy tickets to see this stuff?"
ON SKYPING WITH DE PALMA
Anders: When you first came on board this project, were you daunted by the idea of doing a remake, or excited by the challenge of what you could do with it?
Peirce: Well, probably all of the above. I mean, I’m not necessarily for or against, you know, reimaginings. I was a literature student, so it’s like, I love rereading Oedipus. I love Shakespeare. I love the original Scarface, I love the new Scarface. I love both Imitations of Life. So, to me, it’s just an opportunity. Then the question is, is it a good opportunity?
And, so when they came to me, you know – the first thing I thought was I adore Brian De Palma. I think he’s a fantastic director. I love his original, and I actually am friends with him. We’ve gone to dinner a number of times in Little Italy, and like a lot of the directors, he was really supportive of me – so I felt I had to talk to him about it.
So I emailed him, and he said let’s Skype – which was great, how progressive he is. And we had a beautiful Skype. I wish I had recorded it. Obviously I would have had to ask him, but I was too engaged in the conversation, and, you know, just me and him on the Skype talking about it. He was really supportive, and he said, I think you should do it, and that was great. So once I really cleared that hurdle and I knew, kind of, professionally it was clear, then I picked up the book, which I had read as a kid – I was a big reader, in a book club. And I was a literature student at the University of Chicago, so I think I had reread it around then.
ON THE FIRST TIME SHE SAW DE PALMA'S 'CARRIE'
Anders: When was the first time you saw the De Palma movie, and what was your initial reaction? And were you comparing the movie to the book when you first saw it? How did that inform your approach to remaking it? It’s such a cult movie, and it’s almost sacred to a lot of people. And a lot of have that feeling about remakes anyway, but how did you handle that?
Peirce: I think, and it’s funny, I’ve been going back to my memory to try to figure out when I first saw it – I believe that I saw it in Japan, because I left the states when I was 18. I was at the University of Chicago, and with my boyfriend. We moved – we just wanted to get out. Interestingly he was Korean, but he had studied Japanese history, and he knew that we could just move there and I could take photographs, we could teach, and we could support ourselves. So we just went. And I spent the first year and half in Japan saying, screw America, like – well not – take that off (joking tone). Not so much screw America as “I need to be independent of this system which is so much about success and a very narrow channel.”
And so, once I freed myself of that, interestingly after a year and half of starting to learn Japanese and photographing all over the place, I had a huge craving to come back to the states and be an American again. But it was like I was able to be an American but with kind of a newfound understanding of my own identity, and in many ways my stories are about identity. So, I love America – I had to reunite with what I loved about America. And when I was overseas, I started going to the American consulate all the time, and I started consuming American culture. I was rereading J.D. Salinger, I saw De Palma’s movie. It was almost like I was looking for the most American pieces of literature and film to kind of reorient myself.
I fell back in love with love with everything that I had loved, but it was almost like I saw it with a new pair of eyes. And particularly with the De Palma thing, very much like seeing 8 ½ and La Dolce Vita, it was just like – I think what it did was it gave me permission to dream, and to dream in terms of cinema, which was “wow you can do anything. You can be free.” So I loved it, I know that I was equating it with the book because I had read that at a different time, but it was really my kind of coming back home to America.
ON TRYING OUT MULTIPLE ENDINGS
Anders: So, I read a rumor on the Internet that you shot five or six different endings to this film that weren't used. Is that true?
Peirce: That is a rumor – there are not 5 or 6 endings. We definitely spent a lot of time thinking about the ending, but there aren’t 5 or 6.
But there are alternate endings?
There’s definitely – we explored different avenues to get the ending right. But not that level of them. But I like rumors.
ON TOMMY GOING TO CARRIE'S HOME TO ASK HER TO PROM
Anders: In a lot of ways, this film is structurally similar to De Palma's film, but then there are some new scenes. Like the scene where Tommy comes to Carrie's home, to ask her to the prom, and she's afraid her mom is going to come home. This is very different than the De Palma version. Can you talk about the things you played with like that, and changing certain scenes?
Peirce: And if you know of any specific ones, you should bring them up, because I had forgotten about that one, but that was a really interesting challenge. So, well first of all, we had the De Palma movie, but even before that we had the Lawrence Cohen script. And Lawrence Cohen had done a beautiful job adapting this novel. So I approached that original script with great delight and respect.
That was a scene where, pretty early on, we started asking, "Well, is it really realistic if the mother were in that house, that she wouldn’t come to the door?" And we were like, "Not really." So then it was like, "Well, the mother shouldn’t be there." But once we took the mother out, it was like, "Well, the mother’s presence should be there." So then I was like, "Well, the only way to have the mother’s presence without her in a house, which is unrealistic that she’s not coming to the door, would be to have her coming home." And since I put her at the dry cleaner, and I have her go to the school – well we already had a basis for her being out of the house. And then it was like, well we identified her with that damn car. So then we were like, oh, well she’s coming home from work, Carrie has been told that she needs to go right home and never talks to strangers, and the car coming could actually be a threat.
So that’s, I mean, I love screenwriting for that reason. Because it’s really about problem-solving. We can’t have her in the house, we have to have her outside the house. Her walking down the street wouldn’t really work, being in the car is much more threatening, as we’ve identified her in the car. You can throw them at me, I can tell you how we’ve problem solved.
UNCREDITED SCREENWRITER DID SOME WORK ON 'CARRIE' REMAKE
Anders: Meanwhile, Carrie's mom is always hurting herself with a seam ripper. Where did that come from?
Peirce: That came from a guy named Scott Silver, who did some writing on the project which was amazing. And that was a whole area – and Julianne and I took it farther. We loved it. What I loved was, from a character standpoint, she said, "I will use corporal punishment on my daughter, but I’d rather use it on myself first." And that was just such a beautiful way of looking at the character, and she’s created her own religion. The religion is very important to the movie, but if you look closely, it’s her religion. Even as the daughter says, “That’s not even in the Bible.” Right? That means she’s been telling Carrie all this scripture that might not actually be in the Bible all these years. And the child might finally be wising up to it, and that’s what’s fueling her adolescence.
Excerpt from the article by Meyer:
Like nothing they've ever seen: Pierce entered the project assuming most people who will see this "Carrie" have not seen the De Palma film. Research screenings bore this out.
But people who have seen the original will pick up Peirce's homages to De Palma via slow-motion shots and the muscle car driven by teen hothead Billy (Alex Russell). The car evokes the one John Travolta drove when he played Billy in the 1976 movie.
Keeping her religion: Fundamentalist religion has risen in visibility in the United States since the first film's release. Presenting Margaret White as a wing-nut, the way she was in the original, would have carried more potential to offend.
"You had to be very careful how you represented Margaret as a religious person in order to show due respect to religion, and to characterize her accurately," Peirce said. "That is why it is so great that King (in his novel) gave us permission to make it very specific. It was a very safe road because (Margaret) has created her own religion. In our film, we added a new line where Carrie says, 'That's not even in the Bible' (to her mother). Margaret has made it up. ... She is in her own world."
ON THE GETTING-READY-FOR-PROM MONTAGE
Bibbiani: One of the more famous scenes in Brian De Palma’s film is the prom montage. You incorporated a prom montage into your version as well. Was there any temptation to try to do it differently, or is that just the best way to try to convey the build-up to a prom?
Peirce: Well, I don’t know. If you want to run some other ideas I’d certainly sample them. I mean, this was me just… I looked at it, and I tried writing different versions and I played with some different ideas, and this to me got us to the prom. You know what I mean? What everybody would be basically doing, what they would be doing in a fantasy story, and… I mean look, I’m very open if there was a better idea but that’s the best idea I came up with and it seemed to work. It seems like you’re with those kids, and you can’t really spend too much time in that area.
I liked the montage. I hope I didn’t sound too critical.
No, you can be critical. I’m always looking for the better idea. I come up with the best idea I can, and make sure that it’s kind of realistic and it’s fun, and if something better comes along I’ll try that.
ON CHANGES TO CHRIS AND SUE
Peirce: I really wanted Chris to be a real person, so I make her a vulnerable girl. You pointed out the relationship with the father. Every time somebody takes care of Carrie, Chris feels like she’s losing ground and it makes her pissed. It makes her want to retaliate, and so that’s why I think [it feels] like Chris is more grounded. And also I wanted it to be when Chris goes to prom… Did you notice I have a shot in there where she’s watching the prom and watching them dance?
Bibbiani: I noticed.
For a moment she’s like, “I should be down there dancing. What am I doing with this guy up in these rafters?” So she’s not only missing out on her prom because she’s a wounded girl that’s thinking, “Did I make a mistake?” But then when he’s laying out the dangers that this could cause, there is a moment where she thinks, “This is a mistake.” And then her true nature takes over which is, at the end of the day, she’s competitive with Carrie. She doesn’t want Carrie to get the power. She wants it back and so she’s going to retaliate.
You also really flesh out Sue’s subplot. I feel like in the De Palma version she’s always a good person.
In your version she’s learning a valuable lesson the hard way and making tougher choices.
Well that’s great. That was the goal from the beginning, because I looked at it and I said, wow, Sue is underdeveloped. We have to develop the fact that she… She starts, if you noticed, she pushes Carrie away because Carrie touches her shirt. She calls Carrie a freak first. She sets everything in motion and that’s why she has so much guilt, because even Chris says, “We’re not going to tell them who started this.” So she’s feeling guilt, she’s searching for the solution. She doesn’t choose the right solution. She should say, “I’m sorry.” She should befriend Carrie. But as a privileged person she couldn’t be bothered. It’s easier to donate her boyfriend. So she’s doing a good thing but she’s not doing the right thing, and of course she sees what she wreaks and then she wants to try to make good on it.
ON DE PALMA'S ENDING
Bibbiani: Brian De Palma’s movie is very famous for its final scare. You have your own version of that. What was the thought process behind the way that you handle the last shot, or moment of the film.
Peirce: De Palma did a brilliant job, you know? He did an amazing job with the ending. I knew that the ending was something that we had to be very careful with. We want to keep the audience inside this story as much as possible. What we found is that people loved our Carrie. I mean, they truly loved her and they wanted to protect her. I think that that’s probably partly because of Chloë Moretz being fifteen years old, surrendering to the role and being in it in the way a child can be in it. People felt very attached to her, so that was a concern of ours, and just how one stays in it with the audience. How long is the audience’s sense of connection to this character they love?
ON THE SONG AT THE END OF THE REMAKE
Bibbiani: I want to talk to you about the soundtrack. That’s something that would always concern me about connecting to a younger generation than me my own. What were your thoughts about the song choices? For example, the song that begins immediately after the closing credits?
Peirce: Not after the credits, but you mean as the credits start?
No, no, it’s fine because there’s a beautiful score song after the end credits. That song in particular was… For me, the rock music gives the sense of… I don’t know if you can tell, but there’s a Carrie yell in there. So for me it was a rebel yell. It was something breaking free. It was fun. It was energetic. It had this wonderful quality to it. You can’t tell if that yell was part of the song. So the song has an energy that was really infectious. That’s what mattered to me.
ON CARRIE SEEKING "OLD-FASHIONED REVENGE"
Peirce: "This movie is being made when there is different violence in our culture, it was very important to me that Carrie was not a wanton murderer. I put in a very strong culprit narrative, that's old-fashioned revenge, American justice, she's just trying to track down the people who hurt her."
"The next year, the summer this photograph was taken, I got in touch and asked if I could come up to Chicago during my break and spend some time on the set of The Fury as an intern. He said yes and so I worked as a production assistant and an extra. I also got an assignment from Cinefantastique magazine to write a journal on the making of the film, which gave me more legitimacy. I could request one-on-one interviews with all the key people, and I was able to sit down with the lead actors Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes, among others. It was a tremendous educational experience, and I got to see the inner workings of film-making."
Baurez then asks De Niro if such improvisation is essential to his natural approach to acting. De Niro replies, "Yes, but I have to have respect for the words of my script! When working from a script by David Mamet, for example, you must follow the rhythm, the beat of the language, otherwise it creates an imbalance. A filmmaker like Michael Mann may have a surgical accuracy. It's not an obsession, but simply a requirement of the script. The structure of Heat was completely chiseled that my character should remain cold. The role required great self-control. No filmmaker is obtuse, a priori, otherwise it would break the spontaneity of the actor. De Palma and Scorsese are supporters of improvisation. If they are quick to rewrite some things during filming, they have the general structure of the film in mind.
This past summer, De Palma told George Stroumboulopoulos his recollections about that first audition with De Niro:
"He came in to an audition. We were in a loft in the Village and we put an ad in the Village Voice and we were just seeing one actor after another then this sort of timid kid came in, the last one in. We had him do a little improvisation and we thought 'Hey, this kid is pretty good' and he said ok, but there's something I've been preparing in my class can I show it to you. The kid had the part, I mean, okay. So he goes outside and we're sititng around and it's like 5, 10 15 [minutes], we figured he had gone home and then he came in a did this incredible scene from 'The Strike', the Clifford Odets play about the taxi strike. He was ranting and raving and [yells] and you think, holy mackerel. That's Bob De Niro."
Go to Vulture to read the rest-- I'll post more highlights later.