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Adrian Martin (Goethe University)
You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
Martin also compiled the year's "Ten Best Confrontations" for Fandor's Keyframe blog, and again included Passion, writing, "One occasionally reads nonsense on the order of: 'Brian De Palma is not a director of actors.' The wonderful 'kissing confrontation' in Passion between Christine (Rachel McAdams) and her assistant’s assistant Dani (Karoline Herfurth), undoubtedly improved by the actors from what was in the script, proves otherwise: McAdams’ mock outrage as she rips her shirt open and begins to imagine her sexual harassment complaint–having just forced a kiss onto the (at this stage) helpless minion–is an hilarious expression of the power relations elsewhere expressed, in a much darker key, by the film."
Sergio Angelini (British Universities Film & Video Council)
Hyde Park On Hudson
"Brian De Palma refashioned Alain Corneau's Love Crimes into the criminally neglected Passion, a sly and inventive take on narcissism in the PR industry that includes a typically audacious use of split screen."
Matthew Thrift (Critic)
Norte, The End Of History
12 Years A Slave
To The Wonder
It's Such A Beautiful Day
As we transition into the new year, several 2013 year-end lists of best and worst movies have, of course, included Brian De Palma's Passion. Here are some of them:
2. Before Midnight
3. The World’s End
4. Fruitvale Station
5. Frances Ha
6. Spring Breakers
7. Blue is the Warmest Color
"Brian De Palma is back, baby! This remake of a French thriller is sleek, sexy and—of course—bonkers."
9. American Hustle
AFTER READING WAR SCRIPT, DE PALMA THOUGHT AVRECH HAD RIGHT SENSIBILITY FOR WHAT BECAME 'BODY DOUBLE'
OpEdNews' Joan Brunwasser last week posted an interview with Robert Avrech, screenwriter of Brian De Palma's Body Double. Avrech discussed working with De Palma, and the screenplay he wrote about the Yom Kippur War that led to De Palma hiring him for Body Double.
"I was in Israel in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War," Avrech tells Brunwasser, "and I wrote a pretty powerful script about three women whose husbands were on the front lines. The script cut back and forth between fairly brutal scenes of war, and the more mundane, but tortured lives of the waiting wives. The structure was complex, but it read effortlessly, and the characters were quite vivid. I knew that this script was special. It was just a gut feeling that finally I had written something that was professional and entertaining.
"Writing a screenplay based on an idea by someone else, if the idea is solid, is just another corridor in the (futile) search to craft a flawless, air-tight narrative. What happens with me, and I suspect, all professional screenwriters, is a process of of internalization: The story becomes you.
"Brian De Palma came to me with a very general idea for Body Double. I immediately responded to its Hitchcockian theme of an innocent man drawn into a murder by a beautiful woman (Deborah Shelton), who then sets out to solve the mystery with the aid of a beautiful blonde (Melanie Griffith). Both Brian and I were, and are, huge fans of Alfred Hitchcock's movies. Together we screened Rear Window and Vertigo, and discussed the narrative strategies Hitch used in both films. So in a sense, I was working off of De Palma's ideas of Hitchcock's ideas."
Continuing with Brunwasser, Avrech notes, "One must also keep in mind that movies are a collaborative endeavor. The Hollywood screenwriter works alone only when he's at the keyboard. In truth, a professional screenwriter is always working with a studio/network, a line of producers, a director, and of course, when the film goes into production, his words then become the property of the actors. Obviously, the army of technicians who go into the making a multi-million dollar Hollywood production are vital: the cinematographer, the set designer, the costume designer, the prop people, etc.
"Another issue when working from someone else's idea is there are only 36 plots in the universe of narratives. Thus, every story is a reworking of an old myth or legend that we have seen and heard countless times. The trick is to reinvent these 36 stories in a manner that makes them feel new and original. So, in a very real sense, a screenwriter is always working from a classic idea. And in the end, it's really just one idea: because all great stories are... love stories.
"I was hugely intimidated by Brian De Palma... for about ten minutes. And then, as with all Hollywood celebrities with whom I have worked, he became just another homo sapiens, with all the virtues and flaws one finds in our species."
SEVERAL ESSAYS IN VARIOUS LANGUAGES NOW UP AT LA FURIA UMANA
Several essays about Brian De Palma's Passion are now available to read online at La Furia Umana . I haven't yet read them all, but I am quite taken with Sara Freeman's essay, Kisses and Dress-Up: Cinematic Cruelty in Brian De Palma's Passion . Freeman links the power struggles in Passion to the cruel and tragic high school situations in De Palma's Carrie. "Besides possibly hinting at [Passion's] very own dual identity," Freeman writes, "what at first appears to be a fun, catty back and forth between Christine and Isabel frequently turns into blatant abuse, almost like a contemporary version of Nancy Allen’s merciless treatment of Sissy Spacek’s Carrie."
Although Freeman gets the timeline of Passion wrong when she discusses three things that happen in the film back-to-back "at almost precisely the halfway point" (all three happen well before the halfway point), she does a nice job of explicating how the characters in Passion seem to exist in virtual worlds of their own individual participation. "As women who work in the advertising industry," writes Freeman, "both Christine and Isabel live for the thrill of social media acceptance and technological ingenuity. Their livelihood depends on their ability to create faces for different companies and brands and they themselves have adapted to that methodology as well. From the very first shot of Christine and Isabel sitting in front of the cold metallic screen of a Mac Book and the many computer monitor reflections and Skype video chats that follow, it’s clear that the presentation of image, realistic or not, is the most important element of the character’s lives.
"This air of virtual reality lends the film an odd sense of miscommunication because it’s almost as if each character is living inside her very own Facebook profile or twitter account. Like dress-up for grown-ups. Resembling the two other movies released this year that comment on the high school and college era’s use of social media, Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring, Passion examines how this capability has affected adult participants. Rather than take selfies of themselves smoking crack or wearing Paris Hilton’s high heels, the women in Passion remove their personalities from the equation to present their own version of the ideal contemporary career woman. They’re simply cipher cunts hiding behind the safe-guarded guise of technology, even when they appear to be talking face to face."
Earlier in the essay, Freeman discusses the importance of the clothing worn by the two main characters. "This movie is really about the clothes," states Freeman. "Clothing, the most important part of anyone's appearance, can be precisely tuned to project much in the same way a Facebook page or an Instagram feed can. Women in particular know the power clothing can have over the imaginations of their peers. In essence, Passion is a costume drama disguised as a flick about female competition and crime solving. Like any fierce cinematic bitch with a large bank account, Christine is dressed to the nine’s in designer duds and fancy make-up. She favors bold colors, sexy necklines and the most crimson and fuchsia of lipsticks. Isabel, on the other hand, is almost completely void of color and sex appeal. She wears boxy black collared shirts paired with loose slacks, blunt, Edith Head-esque bangs and a thin swish of brown eyeliner.
"Christine’s attire matches her persona perfectly – she oozes confidence, easy charm and store bought charisma. The clothes she wears are as beautiful as she is, but something’s not quite right with the whole package. Like a vulnerable little girl little girl playing dress-up to escape her abusive parents, Christine wears just a tad too much make-up, colors her hair a shade too blonde and her silky clothes just aren’t the right color or shape for her body. She’s a cheap imitation of a powerful career woman as well as an imitation of past De Palma heroines. Utilizing almost exact replicas of costumes worn by Margot Kidder in Sisters (large black hat and black circular sunglasses) and Scarlett Johansson in The Black Dahlia (‘40s style turquoise slacks and sweater), Christine treads upon the familiar territory of feminine identity in De Palma’s filmography. In those two movies, the question of individuality and the battle for uniqueness are at the center of these character’s stories – the conjoined 'twins' in Sisters fought for separate lives yet Danielle stills feels responsible for Dominique’s misdeeds and Johansson’s boring Kay struggles to be noticed by both of her police beaus after a dead girl and her lookalike steal the limelight.
"Isabel by contrast, is meek and mousy in demeanor and appearance. She is the true puppet master of the duo. With an alarmingly sincere and affected way of carrying herself, she weaves her way into and out of Christine's strange power plays with none of the reservations or lack of conviction that eventually sink Christine and her schemes... Maybe. Or maybe not. What we're left to sift through in the end is enough for a whole other essay. Perhaps the most important question lies with Isabel - When did her dual identity begin? Was it present all along? Was it constructed just to compete with Christine? To the film's credit, these questions are never answered.
"Christine and Isabel brawl for leadership and distinctiveness by using their costumes like boxing gloves. In one of the first scenes of the movie, Christine gives Isabel a chic periwinkle scarf to liven up her wardrobe. She wears it occasionally and, as I mentioned earlier, it becomes a key piece of evidence in the murder mystery. As the more obvious of the two, Christine is trying to bring Isabel down by modeling her in her image – in one scene she dresses Isabel in whore-red high heels and lipstick for a networking event knowing full-well that it would embarrass her. She also frequently kisses Isabel in an attempt to dominate her completely. Even Christine’s lipstick is venomous. It’s fascinating to watch these two characters interact with one another on screen because they move through space so differently. Isabel is seemingly the wallflower who envies Christine for her confidence and secretly wants to be her. Christine envies Isabel for her brilliance and overcompensates by being the biggest bitch possible."
WEDNESDAYS, JANUARY 8 THROUGH MARCH 12
The University of Chicago's Doc Films will host a Brian De Palma retrospective on Wednesdays, beginning January 8 with Scarface, and concluding on March 12 with Femme Fatale. Most of the films will be screened from 35mm prints, but Phantom Of The Paradise and Body Double will each be screened in DCP. The series includes an intriguing choice at its halfway point: on February 12th, it will screen Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura.
Dan Wang, who programmed the retrospective, writes in its introduction, "When Brian De Palma was to give a Q&A at Lincoln Center in Manhattan this summer (on the occasion of the wider release of his latest film, Passion), I asked the guy at the ticket office if he expected a long line. He doubted it. 'De Palma isn't really relevant anymore,' he said. I ended up sitting on the floor at the back of the hall behind a concrete pillar, despite showing up an hour and a half early; half the line was turned away.
"One can see what he means. De Palma's favorite themes--dangerously erotic women, voyeurism, psychological horror--seem like the titillations of faded era. Compounding these obsessions is his insistence on an extremely smooth, controlled and virtuosic style that's hopelessly far from current anti-formalist vogues. Recent hits like Aronofsky's Black Swan (2010 ) and Soderbergh's Side Effects (2014 ) tell De Palmian stories but dress them up in camera and video production styles currently in fashion (i.e. on YouTube ) ;hence the rejection of De Palma's importance is also the rejection of a particular, classical way of making films.
"De Palma is still relevant because his films remind us of the exhuberant joy of intelligent filmmaking--of an attitude to film worlds that Godard called, in reference to Hitchcock, the 'control of the universe.' Even his worst films have moments that leave one gasping at their beauty; his best ones feel like a confirmation of everything movies ought to be. In this partial retrospective (De Palma has an output that sprawls in genre and ambition of some thirty films ), we feature a mix of De Palmas: movies of psychological horror (Sisters, Raising Cain), gangster films (Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito's Way), a musical (Phantom of the Paradise) and, of course, classic, pervy, Hitchcockian, joyous De Palma (Hi, Mom!, Body Double, Femme Fatale)."
And here is the retrospective's description of the L'Avventura screening: "Before Blow-Up moved De Palma, L'Avventura won a prize at Cannes. People saw something new: framing a shot like composing a painting; objects as well as characters telling a story and provoking a mood; spontaneous, even random, dialogue. One can be impatient. One can also let go of expectations of quick excitement and tidy plot resolution, absorb the imagery and the sadness of the characters, turn inward, and reflect on a different movie experience."
The Village Voice's Stephanie Zacharek states, "There are hints of greatness" in The Wolf Of Wall Street, "one or two artfully constructed scenes that remind you why you look forward to new Scorsese films in the first place. But as a highly detailed portrait of true-life corruption and bad behavior in the financial sector, Wolf is pushy and hollow, too much of a bad thing, like a three-hour cold call from the boiler room that leaves you wondering, 'What have I just been sold?'"
In the concluding paragraph of her review, Zacharek compares Wolf unfavorably to Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, and brings Scorsese to task, writing, "Scorsese is one of the few great old-guard filmmakers with the clout to make movies on this scale, and this picture — dreary, self-evident, too repetitive to be much fun even as satire — is what he comes up with? Some have already favorably compared this with Brian De Palma's Scarface, in that it invites us to revel in its characters' amorality from a safe distance, and at epic length. But that's a slippery, surface-level comparison. Scarface is violent as hell, and operatically blunt, but, oddly enough, it's not an aggressive picture. It rolls forward in crazy, melodramatic waves, without pushing its points about the horrors human beings are willing to commit in the name of capitalism. It doesn't have to, when there's a chain saw to do the talking. Scorsese, on the other hand, belabors every angle of this lukewarm morality tale. It's self-conscious and devoid of passion, and there's no radiant star at its center. Who would choose DiCaprio's depraved, squeaky Jordan Belfort over Al Pacino's twisted, basso profundo Tony Montana? The Wolf of Wall Street has everything money can buy, and still, it comes up empty."
Those listing De Palma as one of their twelve favotite filmmakers are Hamid Shams Javi, Kamyar Kordestani, Adrian Martin, Michael Koresky, and David Del Valle. Check out the lists here.
(Thanks to Chris!)