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Monday, May 14, 2018

Very sad news today... Margot Kidder passed away Sunday at the age of 69. No cause of death has been reported at this time. Kidder was dating Brian De Palma when she starred with her good friend Jennifer Salt in De Palma's Sisters, released in 1973. De Palma had given them each a copy of the screenplay for Christmas. Kidder and Salt were sharing a Nicholas Canyon beach house together in Malibu in the early 1970s, where they held parties and met De Palma, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, John Milius, Paul Schrader, and many many more.

In 1974, Kidder was part of the inaugural class of AFI's Directing Workshop for Women, along with Ellen Burstyn, Lee Grant, and Maya Angelou, among others. Kidder, of course, is most famous for her role as Lois Lane in Richard Donner's 1978 box office smash Superman (and its sequel, Superman II, which was finished by director Richard Lester after Donner was fired). Other notable films include Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974), George Roy Hill's The Great Waldo Pepper (with co-star Robert Redford, 1975), J. Lee Thompson's The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), and The Amityville Horror (1979).

From the New York Times obit today by Neil Genzlinger:

Margaret Ruth Kidder was born on Oct. 17, 1948, in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Her mother, Margaret, was a teacher, and her father, Kendall, was an explosives expert whose job entailed taking the family to whatever remote place ore had been discovered.

“I read books,” she told The Montana Standard in 2016, “and hung out with friends in the woods or at the hockey rink. We’d get Montreal on the shortwave radio once a week. That was about it for entertainment.”

Eventually her parents sent her to boarding school in Toronto, where she started acting in school plays. She later attended the University of British Columbia.

In the late 1960s she landed her first TV roles, in Canadian series like “Wojeck,” “McQueen” and “Corwin.” Her first film was the Norman Jewison comedy “Gaily, Gaily” in 1969.

Among her films in 1975 was “92 in the Shade,” written and directed by the novelist Thomas McGuane, whom she married in 1976; they divorced the next year. Her marriages to the actor John Heard in 1979 and the director Philippe de Broca in 1983 also ended in divorce.

From NPR's Bill Chappell today:
Margaret Ruth Kidder was born in Canada and honed her acting skills on TV shows such as McQueen, Nichols, Banacek and Mod Squad before becoming a movie star.

After landing a lead role in Brian de Palma's Sisters in 1972, Kidder's film career took off. It hit the stratosphere six years later, when she appeared as Lois Lane in the launching of the Superman film franchise. She went on to appear in three sequels over the next nine years.

Famous for her smoky voice and for portraying smart, indomitable characters, Kidder also struggled with addiction and bipolar disorder for much of her life. She suffered from a famous breakdown in 1996, when she disappeared for several days. When police found her in Glendale, Calif., she was hiding in the bushes behind a house.

After Kidder recovered from that incident, she became an advocate for mental health awareness.

"I'm not saying it's all over," Kidder told People magazine after her life derailed in 1996. "I'm saying this is the pattern of my life. In three years I might be having another wig-out. I have no idea. I just have to accept the fact that this is me, or I ain't gonna make it."

Kidder went to take dozens of other acting jobs, from recurring roles on TV's Boston Common in 1997 to 2009's Halloween II.

For decades, Kidder had lived in a log cabin near Livingston. In addition to promoting mental health issues, she spoke publicly as an anti-war and environmental activist.

Posted by Geoff at 3:13 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, May 14, 2018 8:36 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

For intriguing reading about Sisters:
Stefan Sereda - The Sister as Revenant in Brian De Palma’s Sisters
Alberto Libera - The two sisters

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, March 28, 2018 12:45 AM CDT
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Wednesday, June 8, 2016
This is a couple of weeks late, but Richard Brody previewed this month's Brian De Palma retrospective at the Metrograph by writing about Sisters for The New Yorker. "De Palma weaves his own obsession with movies into the dramatic fabric of Sisters," states Brody, "by means of a scene involving a documentary about the twins that Grace views in the offices of Life magazine; this film-within-a-film becomes embedded in her unconscious mind and threatens to warp her consciousness as well. Though De Palma’s own images can’t rival Hitchcock’s in shot-by-shot psychological power, the intricate multiple-perspective split-screen sequences of Sisters offer a dense and elaborate counterpoint that conjures a sense of psychological dislocation and information overload belonging to De Palma’s own generation and times. De Palma’s cinephilic devotion, to the works of Hitchcock and others (such as Stanley Kubrick and Michelangelo Antonioni), is conflicted and cautionary—he sees movies as a source of hidden truths that risk becoming traps and delusions."

Brody wrote another piece on De Palma for The New Yorker last week that I'll link to in a round-up later today.

Posted by Geoff at 1:09 AM CDT
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Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Brian De Palma's Sisters will screen at 8pm Thursday (January 21, 2016) at The Carolina, movie theater six, in Asheville, North Carlina. The screening is free, as part of the weekly Thursday Horror Picture Show, which also featured De Palma's Body Double last April. Thursday's screening will be hosted by Mountain Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.

"Sisters (1973) is by no means the first Brian De Palma film," states Hanke in his Mountain Xpress mini-review, "though it might fairly be called the first De Palma film as we know them. The theme is, in part, voyeurism — so we're right at home from the onset. The tone is set as much by Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) as it is by Hitchcock, which is a pretty heady mix. The most surprising thing about the film, however, is not that it looks forward to future De Palma (he really lays on the split-screen), but that it has a distinct air of David-Cronenberg-to-come about it."

Posted by Geoff at 8:53 PM CST
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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Posted by Geoff at 1:06 AM CST
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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Posted by Geoff at 5:30 PM CDT
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Sunday, April 5, 2015
This is a little old, but two issues ago (from this past December), Fangoria #338 included a new interview with Margot Kidder, in which Lee Gambin asked her about three key horror films she made in the 1970s: Sisters, Black Christmas, and The Amityville Horror. Here is the excerpt regarding Sisters:
FANG: Can you discuss your career during the years leading up to Sisters?
KIDDER: I was very young, and working nonstop. I started acting professionally in Montreal and Toronto, then moved to Hollywood at 18 with a couple of hundred bucks on me and a heart full of hope. I was very young and naive and thought, "Well, of course I'll get roles; I mean, I deserve it!" I landed a part in a Norman Jewison film [Gaily, Gaily], did a lot of low-budget movies and TV and then met Brian De Palma, who was one of those people making interesting independent movies. He loved Alfred Hitchcock-- you can see that in his work-- and he and I started seeing each other romantically.
FANG: What did you initially think of the story of Sisters?
KIDDER: Brian told me he wrote Sisters specifically for me. When he said that, I had to laugh: You thought of me to play this woman who castrates men after making love to them?! Well, ain't that nice! But I loved it. On Christmas morning, Brian came downstairs with the script, handed it to me and said, "There's your Christmas present." Then we went off and made the movie, and it was a lot of fun. It was one of his very early films; the money for it came from his mom, who owned a toy shop, and it was a wonderful time to make movies and a wonderful time to be young.
FANG: What was De Palma like as a director, and what was the most influential advice he ever gave?
KIDDER: Brian being my boyfriend didn't at all influence the way he directed me. I think his main brilliance is his true understanding of actors and what they can bring to a film. It truly is a joy working with him, and it shows in all of his movies; he just has that knack for tapping into something completely honest and real. Some of the younger directors these days agonize over getting those wonderful shots that were mastered by the likes of Brian and his friend Martin Scorsese, but what they don't get is that Brian and Marty are also extremely clued in to the fine art of working with actors, not just telling them where their marks are and whatever.
FANG: Was De Palma precious about his screenplay? Did he let you ad-lib at all?
KIDDER: There is one major secret about Brian that many people just aren't aware of, which is that he is one of the funniest people I know! He loved to inject his scripts with strong humor that played nicely along with the horror or suspense. He was always adament about what he wanted and why he wanted it, and if you thought of changing it or altering the words or whatever, you'd better also have a great reason to back it up. The character in Sisters I played was supposed to be Swedish, but I couldn't do a Swedish accent! I tried learning it, but it was just too hard, so I said, "Brian, can we make her French?" I grew up partly in Quebec so I was always around French-Canadians, and Brian was cool with that. His response was, "Fine. I just want her to be foreign."

In a comment below, the Swan Archives' Principal Archivist writes, "Margot's a little confused about where the Sisters money might have come from, I think. It was (producer) Ed Pressman's family, not De Palma's mom, that owned a toy company ... And it was a much bigger operation than a 'toy shop'!"

Speaking of Kidder's accent, the latest episode of the podcast Junk Food Dinner features discussions on De Palma's Sisters, as well as Dressed To Kill and Blow Out. The De Palma discussion begins at about the 48-minute mark (with The Kinks's "Two Sisters" as a lead-in), and is sometimes interesting, and sometimes frustrating, as the participants, despite enjoying each film overall (the consensus for best of the three is Blow Out), sometimes mention "problems" with things that are questionable as "problems." For instance, regarding Sisters, one of them complains, "How did they fit a guy in the couch?" This idea is presented by the group as a lapse in logic. However, the shot of the characters putting the guy in the couch is clear, without cuts-- they actually do put the body into the retractable bed of the couch.

Another thing several of the podcasters mention is Kidder's "pretty bogus" French accent. Now, I don't consider myself experienced enough to be able to judge a person's French accent (unless it is defiantly wrong, of course), but my understanding is that a French-Canadian accent is different than a Parisian or other French accent. And I would trust Margot Kidder, who actually grew up around French-Canadians, to have a pretty good grip on what the accent should sound like. But then the question here is, when people say about this movie, "Oh, Margot Kidder really struggles with her French accent," are we to assume that the person saying this is some sort of expert in regards to French accents? And are they aware that she is doing a French-Canadian accent, and that it is different from the French accent they are used to hearing? In any case, one of the guys mentions that Sisters felt kind of like it put a Cabin In The Woods-like twist on Hitchcock/suspense films, and that strikes me as a pretty good modern day description of what Sisters perhaps represented back in 1973.

Posted by Geoff at 1:55 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, April 6, 2015 7:29 AM CDT
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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Posted by Geoff at 7:03 PM CDT
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Sound On Sight posted an essay a couple of weeks ago by Guido Pellegrini, with the headline, "Inconstant selves in Brian De Palma’s Sisters." It's a very good read, so be sure to check it out.

"Without Dominique, Danielle has no identity," Pellegrini states in the opening paragraph. "To weave the fiction of her socially acceptable behavior, she must have Dominique bear the burden of her most disturbing desires. Yet the film, oddly enough, is not about Danielle or Dominique, but about the journalist Grace Collier. As Dominique recedes into the background, Danielle and Grace become the main antagonistic pair, a transition that culminates in an intense climax, a hypnosis dream, that imagines them as conjoined twins...

"Significantly, the introduction of Grace coincides with a memorable use of split-screen, which allows viewers to track Danielle and Grace simultaneously during a dramatic juncture. They are also opposed in other ways, not just compositionally. Released in 1973, the film riffs on contemporary sexual politics, contrasting Danielle’s traditional femininity to Grace’s brashness. Independent and self-sufficient, Grace seems indifferent to matrimony and children, and when her mother babbles on about the subject, she pays no attention. Danielle is more conservative. In one of her opening lines, she stresses that she is not one of those 'liberated American women' who spend 'their whole lives hating men,' an example of which might be Grace, notorious for her coverage of police brutality, obviously carried out by men. The joke is that, for all her coyness, Danielle is actually far more dangerous to the opposite sex. Grace constitutes a threat to Danielle, not only as an investigator, since she probes Danielle’s crimes, but also as a woman."

Read the entire essay at Sound On Sight.

Posted by Geoff at 1:35 AM CDT
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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jennifer Salt was the guest last week on Brian Flaherty's The New Hollywood, a podcast that focuses on the films of the 1970s. As you might expect, Salt discussed, among other things, Brian De Palma, Sisters, the Malibu Beach House she shared with Margot Kidder, and much more. Here are some notes from the interview, with direct quotes from Salt in bold:

-She & Jon Voight became a couple on Midnight Cowboy
-Salt & De Palma were pals who'd met at Sarah Lawrence College; they dated for a little while, but mostly stayed close through the years.

“I quite adored him. He was so dark and funny. And… nobody’s like Brian [laughs]. He has the best sense of humor. The darkest sense of humor. It completely lines up with mine. And so in some way I felt like we were soul mates.”

Flaherty: "Did they invent the term, 'Does not suffer fools lightly,' for him? I mean, is he the type, does he have little patience…?"

“Very little patience. Yeah.”

Flaherty: "But it’s kind of charming. He’s so smart and he’s charismatic if he wants to be."

“Well, it’s charming to me, when he’s being… when I’m not the target. I think there are plenty of people who are scared to death of him. But that’s just who he is.”

-Salt and Margo Kidder met during auditions for Fat City (John Huston movie)
-Malibu Beach House – they hosted many new wave of Hollywood directors

“The truth is it all started because Brian came out to visit, because Brian and I were tight. And he began bringing his friends out, and Marty was his friend, Trader was his friend, Harvey Keitel was anywhere Marty was, um, and Spielberg was, you know, a little acolyte.”

Paul Schrader was following De Palma around as a journalist.

“One of the people who came out was a director named Paul Williams, who I had made a movie called The Revolutionary with, and his producing partner was Ed Pressman. They had gone to Harvard together. And they came out and they loved the scene, and became part of it, and Ed Pressman became friendly with Brian. And somehow, Brian convinced Ed to finance the movie Sisters. Now, the thing is, I didn’t know much about it. Because Brian was off doing his thing, I was off doing mine, and whatever, but it was Christmastime, Christmas Day, we were all together and we had a big Christmas tree. Brian was living there. He was dating Margot, and he was living at the house. And so, we all were sitting around the Christmas tree, giving out presents, and he went over to the Christmas tree and took out two presents and handed one to Margie and one to me, and we opened them up, and it was Sisters. The script! And he said, 'Girls, we’re going to New York, we’re gonna make this turkey in April! Pack your bags. Go to the gym.' So, and that’s what we did… Ed was the producer, and Ed financed the movie.”

Flaherty: "That’s amazing. And you shot it all in New York?"

“Mostly Staten Island.”

Flaherty: "It is such a beloved movie. By the way, I own that poster. Print, framed, hanging in my garage, not in the house, but I love it."

“My friend Tim Hunter gave that to me. He found it somewhere.”

Flaherty: "And how was Sisters? You had already worked with Brian. I mean that’s just a crazy… it’s like Hitchcock on acid a little bit, right?"

“I think it’s a fantastic movie. And I mostly think Margie is brilliant. That’s the thing I think more than anything. She’s so amazing that I can’t believe it. And I love... it’s so original, and the way he shot it, when you look at it now, I mean, it’s like, everybody and their mother has been shooting like Brian shot that movie, since then. You know what I mean?”

Flaherty: "He loves Hitchcock so much, you know, you’re like Margo’s looking for the pills, and the cake, and the guy’s starting to write ‘Happy Birthday’ and he’s barely …"

-Salt said they pay homage to De Palma on a daily basis on American Horror Story, for which Salt is a co-producer and screenwriter.

Posted by Geoff at 12:04 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 12:07 AM CDT
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