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Tuesday, January 24, 2017
With M. Night Shyamalan's Split released last week, there have been a lot of articles and reviews mentioning Brian De Palma and especially Raising Cain. JoBlo.com's Cody Hamman posted a "Face-Off" column pitting Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho opposite De Palma's Dressed To Kill, with disappointing remarks such as De Palma's main character, Kate Miller, not coming off as "very likeable, so her death doesn't have much emotional impact despite the fact that we've just spent more than 30 minutes watching her." (I am always flummoxed by criticisms that this or that character is not very likeable.) There's also this, regarding Dressed To Kill: "It's an interesting story of a psycho with multiple personalities, but the way the film mishandles the concept of gender reassignment surgery, treating it as a joke at times, can be rather cringeworthy when you look at it 37 years later."

And then Hamman completely lost me with this short-sighted gem: "De Palma takes wordless sequences to an extreme in DRESSED TO KILL. In the first 35 minutes of the film, the characters exchange maybe around 7 minutes of dialogue. The silent seduction at the museum takes up 10 minutes, and as the film goes on there will be several more lengthy stretches without dialogue. Composer Pino Donaggio plays some good music over these sequences, but that doesn't stop them from coming off as being painfully dull to me. Unable to connect with the characters, I don't care what they're doing when they're not speaking, so as these sequences drag on and on I struggle to keep my attention on the film."

Posted by Geoff at 8:10 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, January 26, 2017 12:08 AM CST
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Monday, August 22, 2016
Intrada announced today a newly re-dressed, re-mastered, and re-worked version of Pino Donaggio's Dressed To Kill soundtrack. Intrada previously released a Special Collection limited version of this title in 2013.

Here is how Intrada describes this new edition: "Re-dressing a popular Intrada title! As needs to re-press Dressed To Kill arose, Intrada elected to return to original source mixes and remaster entire CD, making new enhancements to audio as well as judicious changes to original track assembly. Additionally, slightly re-worked packaging design by Kay Marshall enhances this new remastered edition."

The changes to the track assembly involve more separation of cues, including "Mike Arrives" (which had previously been included in the track "Marino And Elliot"), "Policewoman Follows Liz" (which had previously been part of "Peter Sets Camera"), "After Flight" (previously part of "Liz Chased By Hoods"), "Elliot And Levy" (previously part of "Liz And Peter Watch Film"), and "Romantic Interlude" (previously part of the track now called, simply, "Liz And Peter").

(Thanks to Bill!)

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 12:12 AM CDT
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Friday, July 1, 2016

Posted by Geoff at 7:55 AM CDT
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Tuesday, January 26, 2016
A Podcast titled Illusion Travels By Streetcar posted a commentary track yesterday for Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill. The informed discussion/commentary is designed to run while you watch the film with the sound not-too-loud, and is actually pretty good. Near the beginning, Tom Sutpen shares the De Palma quote from early in his career about wanting to be the American Godard, and asks Jeremiah McNeil what he thinks of the idea that later De Palma films such as Dressed To Kill are seen "as an abandonment of that early intention."

"There is a critical misunderstanding in that assumption," McNeil replies. When asked to elaborate, he says, "There is no De Palma film that bears the mark of his authorship that is not in some way a comment on the film itself. And the fact that the person watching is committing an act of voyeurism, and is engaging with an art object. That kind of self-reflexivity is Godardian in its intention, or even Brechtian in some cases." And then the podcast is off to the races after that.

Posted by Geoff at 1:22 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, January 26, 2016 1:22 AM CST
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Tuesday, January 12, 2016
David Margulies, who played Bobbi's psychiatrist Dr. Levy in Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill, passed away Monday afternoon, according to Deadline (and thanks to Ryan for the early word). He was 78. A New York character actor of the stage and screen, Margulies played the Mayor of New York in the Ghostbusters movies, and worked with Woody Allen on more than one occasion, including in Martin Ritt's The Front and Allen's own Celebrity. According to the Deadline article, he had "recently finished filming his role as Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel in the upcoming ABC miniseries Madoff with Richard Dreyfuss, scheduled to air February 3."

Margulies' psychiatrist in Dressed To Kill has an intense scene in a stairwell with Michael Caine's Dr. Elliott-- a scene that is perhaps even more intense, verging on the surreal and comic, upon repeat viewings when the viewer knows who's who and what's what. Margulies' other big scene in the film also plays with a subtle comic tension lying underneath, as his Dr. Levy explains to our characters, who are gathered in the police station, exactly how Bobbi's psychosis brings him to murder. The scene, of course, echoes and parodies the psychiatric explanation scene near the end of Hitchcock's Psycho, released twenty years earlier.

Posted by Geoff at 10:34 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, January 12, 2016 10:39 PM CST
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Friday, November 6, 2015
Tonight (Friday), The Castro Theatre in San Francisco screens a double feature of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho at 7pm, followed by Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill at 9:05. Both will screen in 35mm. "Upon its release back in 1960, critics did not know what to make of Alfred Hitchcock’s macabre masterpiece," reads the Castro's description of Psycho. "Now, revisit (or see for the first time) the film that broke all the rules of horror films and set new ones for the next generation. A bloodcurdling Anthony Perkins stars with Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and Bernard Herrmann’s dissonant score.

For Dressed To Kill, the Castro description reads, "Twenty years after Psycho, Brian De Palma applied his dazzling technique to Hitchcock’s psychological cinemascape with a hefty dose of eroticism, split-screen and well-placed dabs of black humor."
(Thanks to Chris!)

Posted by Geoff at 2:45 AM CST
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Monday, October 26, 2015



Last week in the New York Times DVD column, J. Hoberman discussed Dressed To Kill, and mentioned Chris Dumas' Un-American Psycho in the process. Here's an excerpt: 


"Anyone seeking a trick-or-treat outfit that screams the ’80s could do worse than to study Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980), on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion, or Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983), new on Blu-ray from Warner Bros. Blood and bling are part of the décor.

"Both are erotic horror films that flaunt their style and flirt with soft-core pornography. There is nudity, but costumes are de rigueur: Mr. De Palma’s monster is a razor-wielding cross-dresser, while Mr. Scott’s ultra-modish vampire couple (Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie), bloodsuckers who slash rather than bite, are shown several times to good advantage in 18th-century garb.

"Both movies employ lushly saccharine music, unfold in a scarily indifferent Manhattan and are enlivened by aggressively vulgar New York City police detectives. If Dennis Franz in Dressed to Kill is a far funnier embodiment of the reality principle than Dan Hedaya in The Hunger, it is because Mr. De Palma’s movie is a vastly richer, more entertaining movie than The Hunger — and also, for all the accusations leveled at Mr. De Palma of being a Hitchcock copycat, a more original one as well.

"However blatant its Psycho references (or parodies), Dressed to Kill owes as much to Luis Buñuel, another De Palma influence, as to Alfred Hitchcock. (Mr. De Palma borrowed the beyond-the-grave grab in Carrie from Los Olvidados; less obvious points of contact in Dressed to Kill include Belle de Jour and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.) As befits a semi-Surrealist work, Mr. De Palma’s movie is framed by two reveries imagined in the same bed — one a lascivious daydream, the other a scary nightmare — and is fraught with Freudian angles.

"The nominal protagonist, a frustrated suburban housewife (Angie Dickinson), fantasizes about steamy sex, playfully teases her adolescent son (Keith Gordon), complains to her well-to-do psychoanalyst (Michael Caine), and then, in the movie’s most extravagantly orchestrated set piece (an almost silent sequence with the camera in nearly constant motion), allows herself to be picked up by a mysterious stranger at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That the scene ends with a couple having relations in the back seat of a cab heading down Fifth Avenue is the signal for further, darker adventures.

"Full of logical inconsistencies, Dressed to Kill is best appreciated as a series of intersecting fantasies — those of the homemaker, her shrink, her son and the director, who cast his wife at the time (Nancy Allen) as a savvy call girl variously serving as surrogate mom, big sister and dream girlfriend for Mr. Gordon’s quasi-autobiographical character. (De Palma, a documentary portrait of the director, recently shown at the New York Film Festival, suggests that the scene in which, armed with a hidden camera, the boy stakes out the analyst’s office is based on an episode from Mr. De Palma’s past.)

"Mr. De Palma has made more coherent movies than Dressed to Kill (namely Carrie and Blow Out) during his long career, but few have been so technically accomplished, felt more personal or raised more hackles: Dressed to Kill had to be recut to avoid an X rating and, along with William Friedkin’s Cruising, which opened the same summer, was attacked for its stereotyping.

"The movie was also the site of a battle royale between critical factions headed by Pauline Kael (who loved the movie) and her rival Andrew Sarris (who did not). The fracas is well analyzed by Chris Dumas in his book Un-American Psycho, a study of Mr. De Palma’s work, which, because Mr. Dumas also accused cinema studies academics of dismissing his subject, roiled the surface of that particular pond as well.

"If Dressed to Kill is a primal scream, The Hunger is more like a finger snap. Mr. Scott didn’t invent vampire chic, but the movie’s opening few minutes — with Ms. Deneuve and Mr. Bowie resplendent in designer threads and expensive shades, cruising a haute, dungeonlike punk nightclub — seem like a prophetic parody of the ultracool undead in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive.

"The Hunger was Mr. Scott’s sophomore feature, and it established his commercial-honed, MTV-friendly style, at once frenzied and soignée and often risible. Curtains billow, doves cry, the light is filtered and huge close-ups are ladled with a dollop of Schubert. Although the movie ultimately dissolves into a blood-feast zombie-fest, the performances are not without merit. Mr. Bowie’s brittle fury is effective. So is Ms. Deneuve’s practiced hauteur, as well as Susan Sarandon’s capacity to bring warmth as well as heat to a lengthy bedroom scene the actresses share.

"Mr. Scott, who took his own life in 2012, went on to make the most suave example of Reagan-era bellicosity, Top Gun (1986), and many more, increasingly mannered, movies. Although not a critical darling, he did have his defenders. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote a fond appraisal after his death. So did the film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, who passionately praised Mr. Scott as an avant-garde filmmaker. A year after his death, other critics grouped Mr. Scott with several other déclassé genre directors, including Michael Bay and Paul W. S. Anderson, as part of a critical tendency that some called vulgar auteurism.

"Auteurs, according to Mr. Sarris, auteurism’s most influential American advocate, were those studio directors distinguished by a recognizable style, a consistent worldview and a certain je ne sais quoi. John Ford, Howard Hawks and, of course, Hitchcock were deities in the Sarris pantheon. Vulgar auteurism suggests that, with classic directors thus enshrined, a new generation of film critics needed to discover and champion a new of constellation of outré film artists. Back in 1980, Mr. De Palma would have been the prime example."

Posted by Geoff at 12:55 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, October 26, 2015 1:02 AM CDT
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Friday, October 9, 2015


Posted by Geoff at 5:26 PM CDT
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Monday, September 14, 2015
In the new interview on the Criterion edition of Dressed To Kill (which was released last week), Noah Baumbach talks about how even the dialogue scenes in Dressed To Kill, such as the one between Kate and her son, Peter, are artfully choreographed. Brian De Palma then responds, "When I write scripts like this... you know, I'm working on one now, where I have a very good idea... but then you've got to bring the characters into it, and you've got to bring the emotional story into it to hold the audience."

I know he's always working on ideas and screenplays, but still, nice to hear he has another potential thriller in mind. The Baumbach/De Palma interview for Criterion was filmed this past May.

Posted by Geoff at 7:23 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 14, 2015 11:00 PM CDT
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Friday, September 11, 2015

Armond White, Out

"William Friedkin’s Cruising, another 1980 film, portrayed gay society through a sleazy serial-killer mystery set in New York’s Bondage-Discipline underworld. (Al Pacino played a heterosexual cop tantalized by forbidden behavior, neurotically seeing gayness only as a sex-and-death equation). But in Dressed to Kill, De Palma dramatized cruising as part of social life — the sexual license that even middle-class heterosexuals enjoyed. De Palma’s sophomoric lustiness derived from his earliest film burlesques (The Wedding Party, Greetings, Hi, Mom!, Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise) where counterculture ideas confounded the mainstream.

"For his first, truly adult film about sex, De Palma’s perspective matures in Dressed to Kill. Kate’s manhunt, set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, equaled the jailhouse symbolism of Jean Genet-Jean Cocteau’s Un Chant d’Amour (1950). It also explored the same existential territory seen in a breed of underground New York porn films like Sam Scott’s Non-Stop (where seemingly spontaneous, peripatetic episodes ranged from rendezvous at Manhattan’s West Side piers to street assignations in Greenwich Village). De Palma outclasses porn, but his artistic connection to Surrealist filmmakers from Hitchcock to Cocteau to Bunuel proves he was unafraid to depict subconscious, even outré, desires.

"Kate’s bored gallery browsing is depicted when she stares back at an Alex Katz portrait that mirrors her own impatience. Her sexual frustration is caricatured when she observes a painting of a gorilla whose oversized, hairy, supine nakedness mocks her own, suppressed, animal instincts. She abstractly writes in her memo pad, 'Pick up turkey.' (Come now, Brian!)

"It’s all prelude to her noticing the handsome man wearing sunglasses who invades her space and stirs her curiosity. Their cat-and-mouse politesse (a game of high-class silent flirtation) deepens Kate’s interest which De Palma sensualizes by having the camera follow them in slowly flowing perambulations through museum exhibit space. This silent sequence (except for Pino Donaggio’s tense, teasing music score) is a long, masterful pantomime, delicately acted by Dickinson. The desperation and feints of cruising are clearly presented in details so timeless that the sexual hunt is immortalized (including Kate feeling wanton and exposed as she stands before one of Eric Fischl’s satirical nudes)."

Michael Koresky's essay for the Criterion edition of Dressed To Kill

"De Palma the political filmmaker might seem at odds with De Palma the teasing sex-horror specialist, but these two halves of his split personality have worked in tandem throughout his career, and certainly do so in Dressed to Kill. This film is a minefield of potential offense—with its horrific butchery of a middle-aged woman and its full-frontal images of naked women shot like soft-core pornography—and, especially at a moment when studio output like Kramer vs. Kramer and Looking for Mr. Goodbar was being accused of containing reactionary responses to second-wave feminism (respectively, for demonizing a woman for abandoning her marriage and child and, like Dressed to Kill, depicting the murder of a woman trying to liberate herself through sex), it was bound to incite some anger. Indeed, feminist groups publicly protested Dressed to Kill, creating a perception of it as misogynistic. Yet the film is far more sympathetic to its women than its men, and more important, its recognition of its own voyeur-horror lineage, its ratcheting up of nearly every element—from the nudity to the graphic bloodletting to the extravagant camera work to the often absurdly drawn-out slow motion—to orgiastic heights, places the sadistic impulses of Hitchcock’s work (so, the Movies) explosively at the forefront. It’s both ghastly and erotic, impeccably crafted and dirty-minded, a luxurious wallow in the dream and nightmare that is cinema.

"Kate’s explicit shower reverie at the beginning is our first clue to the way De Palma is playing with Psycho’s indelible imagery in Dressed to Kill. The camera slowly peeks around a corner and flaunts in lewd close-up her naked breasts and genitals (aptly, actually those of a body double: Victoria Lynn Johnson, direct from the pages of Penthouse). What had once been impossible was, in 1980, not only permissible but also marketable; this is the true titillation, the dark heart of Psycho laid literally bare. The fact that the film ends with a second shower scene—also imaginary—underlines its relationship to Hitchcock as a game of surreal one-upmanship.

"In this and all the entries in De Palma’s grand project of showing us Hitchcock’s thrillers stripped of pretense and elegance—so that, for example, Vertigo becomes Obsession (1976), the double of the protagonist’s dead wife revealed to be his daughter; and Body Double (1984) brazenly combines Rear Window and Vertigo into a tawdry peep show, set in the underworld of Los Angeles porn—we can see De Palma the thrill hound and the confrontational artist. Janet Leigh’s cinema-shattering shower seems to be a primal scene for him, something he needs to return to over and over. His oeuvre is soaked with shower scenes, as parody (Phantom of the Paradise, 1974), locker-room fantasy (Carrie), tragedy (Blow Out, 1981), and travesty (Body Double). (Even 1983’s Scarface has one, a chain-saw massacre visited on the protagonist’s male friend—which our antihero is forced to watch.)

"Shower scenes, with their combination of sensuality and danger, are particularly right for a film as fueled by hallucinatory erotic energy as this one. De Palma himself says he was actually more influenced by Luis Buñuel than Hitchcock when making Dressed to Kill (and there’s certainly a touch of Belle de jour in the opening masochistic daydream). Its central murder is an event that occurs at the convergence of two characters’ sexual fantasies: Kate’s and her killer’s."

Posted by Geoff at 1:28 AM CDT
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