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a la Mod:
Sissy Spacek’s blood-soaked rampage at the end of Carrie is so effective because it takes on the tone of a blackly comic fireworks display. Like the build up to a great, very grim joke, De Palma makes us anticipate Carrie White’s prom humiliation for several stomach-churning minutes: Amy Irving’s fellow pupil at the prom, spotting the rope that leads to the bucket of pig’s blood at the school prom. Nancy Allen licking her lips in expectation as she prepares to send the bucket of blood pouring all over poor Carrie’s head. The girl’s response, of course, is one of pure rage, and De Palma captures every moment of it in slow-motion, split-screen and intense red filters. It’s horrific, for sure, but there’s also a suggestion of slapstick in the electrocutions and fiery deaths. It's the friction between horror and black comedy, I'd suggest, that makes De Palma's work in Carrie and his other great films so effective - just as it did in Hitchcock's thrillers (the 2013 remake, by contrast, makes Carrie’s prom melt-down into a more straightforward horror sequence).
The same fascination with the aesthetic power of comically outré violence is there in abundance in The Fury. A car chase in thick fog ends with a car flying off a jetty on fire. Robin uses his psychic powers to send a fairground ride spinning out of control, with distinctly messy results (for unexplained reasons, the ride is populated almost entirely by what appear to be princes from somewhere in the Middle East).
It’s in these scenes that De Palma’s baroque camera movements, which are largely low-key and understated during the scenes of exposition, suddenly come to the fore. A scene where Gillian demonstrates her supernatural powers on a train set could have been shot with a conventional series of cuts. Instead, De Palma uses a clever split-screen effect, which shows the train whistling by the camera in the lower half of the shot and Gillian’s staring, ice-blue eyes at the top. It’s an instance of De Palma producing a visual set-piece out of almost nowhere.
He pulls a similar feat near the film’s midpoint, where Gillian learns that the Paragon Institute she volunteered to join, and where Robin was also sent for a time, isn’t quite as idyllic as it first appears. While chatting to the seemingly benign Dr Cheever (Charles Durning), Gillian accidentally slips and grabs his hand to steady herself. As in Stephen King’s later The Dead Zone (adapted by David Cronenberg to memorable effect), this physical connection creates a psychic image of the future in Gillian’s mind. She sees Robin running from Dr. Cheever and falling from a window.
Again, De Palma uses a visual effect to put two pieces of action in one image: Amy Irving’s shot in front of a blue screen with the action projected behind her, thus allowing both foreground and background action to appear in focus. It’s only a brief moment, but it’s also a critical moment in the story, and De Palma’s filmmaking cleverly highlights it and underlines it twice.
In that same interview, Yablans told Jackson that he and De Palma would next be "doing a little film called Home Movies, with college students in New York." He said that after that, the two would be working on The Demolished Man. De Palma would indeed make Home Movies as his next film, but Yablans did not end up producing it. And unfortunately, the pair were never able to mount The Demolished Man, as The Fury, which is well-loved now, was not the hit they'd been hoping it would be.
Prior to taking it to 20th Century Fox, Yablans had begun The Demolished Man with De Palma at Paramount, where Yablans had been president from 1971 to 1975, presiding over the studio as it released the first two Godfather movies, The Conversation, Chinatown, The Parallax View, Harold And Maude, Serpico, Paper Moon, and The Day Of The Locust, among many others.
The release was well reviewed, with the restoration and preservation expert Robert A. Harris (who oversaw, among many other projects, a new rendition of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” films) praising “color, shadow detail, resolution.” Mr. Harris, writing on Home Theater Forum, a tech-savvy and often argumentative site, noted, in the argot common in such forums: “The grain structure is totally filmlike. So much so that when we hit a long dupe shot,” viewers “can easily see the difference.”
And there, for some viewers of the Twilight Time “Fury,” was the rub. De Palma is a technical virtuoso and “The Fury” one of his most bravura works. He and the director of photography, Richard H. Kline, pulled out the stops with focus manipulations, cleverly orchestrated effects and rear-projection work. Composite, or dupe, shots are put together in a lab, combining materials shot under different conditions. Merging and rerendering these elements creates an inevitable downgrade from the quality of the original camera work; that’s what experts mean when they say a particular shot looks “dupey.”
In the first half-hour of “The Fury,” there’s a car chase in which Cassavetes’s sinister C.I.A. officer pursues an on-the-run Douglas, who hijacks a police car. It’s a night scene, shot in low light, with a number of composite shots. To top it off, the climax of the scene takes place on a foggy pier. “That scene in particular, and some other night scenes, always looked a bit problematic to me, especially compared to the surrounding day shots,” said James White, a freelance DVD producer who lives and works in Britain. “They really suffered, on account of the ‘pushing’ of the film stock, the heavy noise-to-grain ratio, the process shots. None of it really fit in well with the rest of the picture.”
Mr. White was part of the team at Arrow Video, a British genre and cinephile DVD/Blu-ray label, working on a version of “The Fury” for British distribution. In tandem with the French label Carlotta and the Australian concern Shock, the company financed an entirely new high-definition transfer, using advanced film-scanning technology, and the movie’s original negative (which includes the shots put together from different sources in the lab) for the picture source.
“When people say that the Twilight Time Blu-ray looked the way they remembered it in theaters, well, it probably did,” Mr. White said. “Because, to my eye, the version on that master looked like an inter-negative, the source from which 35-millimeter prints were actually struck for distribution. Using the camera negative, you’re offered so much more in terms of contrast, color and detail.”
And it’s true, the night scenes in the Arrow “Fury” have a smoother, less garish look than those on the nonetheless very watchable Twilight Time release. These two versions of “The Fury” caused some controversy among buffs in the Home Theater Forum thread following Mr. Harris’s review, and elsewhere. Many home theater mavens own region-free Blu-ray players that defeat the blocking technology meant to keep foreign-made DVDs unplayable in the United States and vice versa. For them, comparing the two versions was easy. Mr. White, for his part, said that in the online world of Blu-ray assessment, “people play favorites, and it gets out of hand.”
As it happens, Twilight Time has been subject to a lot of criticism over its limited-edition business model, which the label’s co-founder, Nick Redman, calls a “clean” model that satisfies studios licensing the product and in a sense guarantees the ability to put out more obscure material.
“The critics of our limited-edition model think that we’re somehow artificially depriving all the millions of people that would really want a copy of a given movie from having it,” Mr. Redman said. “In fact, an edition of 3,000 is completely in line with what 99 percent of all catalog releases will sell. The other thing we’re criticized for is our price point, which is $29.95 — completely in line with every other label, including Olive and Criterion, but because we are available at only one retailer (although now there are some copies available at TCM), we can’t participate in the discount deals that other labels that go through Amazon and the big-box retail stores can do.”
These sticking points, Mr. Redman said, might have contributed to the bad blood over “The Fury.” The label’s edition is, even so, a success, as it’s sold out. The Arrow “Fury” remains available, although you need a region-free player to watch it. While Mr. Redman stands by the Twilight Time edition of “The Fury,” he allows that he’s learned something from the kerfuffle: “Had we known that Arrow and Carlotta were planning to create a new master, we might have gone in on it with them. But we didn’t know.”
Mr. Redman said he now believes that better communication between international DVD and Blu-ray producers is essential to the survival of the formats. “As the studios back further and further away — and people are dreaming if they think the studios are not backing further and further away — from physical media,” he said, “it is going to totally default to the independent labels in each territory in the world to synergize and work together as best they can to make those libraries viable for those handful of people left who want them on disc.”
When asked by Dumas whether the scenes involving the song-and-dance couple were ever filmed, Farris tells him, "Donald O'Connor and, I believe, Gloria De Haven were signed to play the song-and-dance couple and construction was underway on their apartment set when they were cut from the script, a few days before we began shooting in Chicago." Dumas further asks whether any test footage might have been shot, and Farris answers, "Test footage on O'Connor and Gray? I don't think anyone tested for The Fury. Brian knew who he wanted and what they could do."
Farris indicated above that he wasn't quite sure about who the female half of the song-and-dance couple was. According to Dumas, Farris had originally stated that the female was Dolores Gray, but just before the booklet went to press, Farris told him he was mistaken, and that it was actually De Haven. However, according to a 2005 article at Classic Images, it was Vivian Blaine. The Classic Images article also suggests that the scene with the couple may have been shot and then left on the cutting room floor.
"The Fury starring Kirk Douglas and made at Fox cast Donald O'Connor and Vivian as a song and dance movie team, similar to Marge and Gower Champion," writes Classic Images' Colin Briggs. "With a very gory horror plot, it was based on the best selling novel of the same name. When the film was previewed it was way too long and as their parts were expendable (they both meet an extremely gory end) their scenes were excised. Vivian's comments: 'My fans were disappointed but have them know, the pay was tops.'” (Thanks to Bill Fentum for sending in this article a while back!)
WILLIAM FINLEY'S DUNWOODIE ASSASSINATION SCENE CUT DURING EDITING
Farris also reveals a couple of cut/altered scenes, saying that the bus ride in the final act was originally written as a ferryboat ride across Lake Michigan (it was cut due to "budget and logistic considerations," according to Farris). "as for locations," Farris tells Dumas, "Brian wanted to do the beach scene in the Chicago Museum of Art. No Chance. As you know, the scene with Dunwoodie shadowing the girls and tuning into Gillian psychically he later adapted to great effect for Dressed To Kill. Dunwoodie's assassination and a nice overhead shot of his sprawled body with beachgoers walking around it were cut in editing." (Note: this sounds very much like the way the death scene of the former Castro confidante killed by Tony Montana in the refugee camp near the beginning of Scarface was staged and shot. The character's physical features suggest that this dying figure could have been played by Finley himself.)
There's a lot more great stuff in this interview. I'll do a second post about it tomorrow.
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