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Monday, March 9, 2015

The video above, called "The 20 Greatest Slow-Mo Scenes," was posted to Vimeo four days ago by Invenire Films, with the description, "The 20 greatest, or most powerful, uses of slow-motion in film, based solely on my personal opinion." Off the top of my head, I can think of some obvious things that probably should have been included, such as Bonnie and Clyde, The Wild Bunch, and The Godfather, as well as so much more De Palma. But this video is so well-edited, and apparently personal to its maker, it's hard to complain.

Posted by Geoff at 8:09 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, March 9, 2015 8:12 PM CDT
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Monday, February 23, 2015
Thanks to Matthew for letting us know about Monday night's 7:30 screening (February 23) of Brian De Palma's The Untouchables at the ArcLight in Pasadena, California. The screening is part of the ArcLight's Road to Gold Academy Awards series.

A few weeks ago, Daily Herald columnists Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire wrote about Dan Clancy, a production designer who got his start as a production assistant on Brian De Palma's The Untouchables. The column began:
The moment he stepped into the 1920s Chicago, Dan Clancy knew he'd found his life's calling.

"My dad told me that a movie filming in Chicago was looking for production assistants," the Park Ridge resident told us. "I got lucky enough to get on the movie 'The Untouchables.'

"It was amazing to meet Sean Connery, to meet Brian De Palma. That was pretty cool. On a street off Ogden Avenue on the West Side, they transformed the entire neighborhood into the 1920s and it was just mind-boggling! I saw that and said, 'I want to do this for the rest of my life.'"

That was 1986.

Today, Clancy works as a production designer after moving up through the ranks as a production assistant, set dresser, leadman and set decorator.



Meanwhile, Kevin Costner was on the promotion trail last month for Black Or White. The Chicago Tribune's Luis Gomez asked Costner if Chicagoans had showed any resistance to them while filming a movie that included Al Capone as a character.

"No, not at all," replied Costner. "They wanted to see Sean Connery and Robert De Niro. Dallas has a little bit of insecurity about what happened there with Kennedy [Costner filmed the 1991 John F. Kennedy assassination film, JFK in Dallas], but Chicago doesn't apologize for nothing. You don't apologize for Capone. We were here filming for two and a half or three months. I hadn't spent time in a big city before that. I also had never lived 15 floors up where you could look across and see your neighbor. I'd never experienced anyone that close to me in my life. You got to know a person without ever talking to them because you got to see the patterns of their life. You could almost turn into a peeping Tom here."

Posted by Geoff at 12:12 AM CST
Updated: Monday, February 23, 2015 12:16 AM CST
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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Yesterday, The Financial Times posted a conversation between Giorgio Armani and Jessica Chastain. In JC Chandor's A Most Violent Year, Chastain's character has just seen Paul Schrader's American Gigolo (which was the first film Armani designed costumes for), and she "wants to express her status by wearing fashionable clothing," Armani states. "I used archival garments that were representative of my work at the time." At the start of the conversation, Armani explains, "The process of making a costume depends on the type of film and the relationship I have with the director. But the real work takes place around the character and the physicality of the actors. I think firstly of the character, of what she does, and how she moves. I imagine her in real-life situations but I model the clothes on the actress. It’s exciting work, as the clothes are silent protagonists of the story and have an important place in the narrative."

At the conclusion, Armani looks back at two early highlights in his film career: "I’ve now designed the costumes for 225 films. My favourites were those I created for The Untouchables, [directed] by Brian De Palma, because I was able to fully explore my love for the elegance of the 1920s and 1930s. But my first film collaboration happened by chance, like all really exciting adventures, when a young film-maker named Paul Schrader asked me to dress Richard Gere. Schrader was fascinated by the modernity of my style. The film was American Gigolo and the rest, as they say, is history."

In a separate article posted about a year ago at the London Evening Standard, upon the release of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street (for which he also designed the costumes), Armani further discussed designing for the two '80s films:

American Gigolo:
"Richard Gere has a different body type to Leo [DiCaprio]. He has an incredible sensuality and wears every look so naturally, so he was a pleasure to dress. It was 1980 but there was a modernity to the plot, which put a handsome, alluring man at the centre of a psychological thriller.

"At that time, I was motivated by the desire to modernise menswear. In most other areas, new technology was moving forward at a fast pace, but in the field of men’s clothing we were still tied to more or less the same clothes as our fathers and grandfathers wore. I wanted to use softer fabrics and rethink the suit, getting rid of most of the linings and fillings. The unstructured result was a truly new look that preserved its precision while becoming more body-conscious and more comfortable."

The Untouchables
"The time of Prohibition, big gangsters and the first police heroes fighting against the Italian-American Mafia fascinates me. It was a courageous, almost epic, period. It holds major appeal, like all great battles between good and evil: a sheriff and his men fighting against the bad guys, like in the Westerns of the last century, but the fact that it was based on real events made it more fascinating.

"In those years, the volumes were generous and a little bit heavy, with big overcoats completed with the ubiquitous Borsalino hat. The real clothing from that period was quite far removed from my vision as a designer; it was precisely those volumes that, starting in the late 1970s, I wanted to lighten up. So for the film we sought a compromise — credible clothing for the period but more in keeping with my aesthetic.

"I am not sure Kevin Costner changed a great deal between this film and when I dressed him for The Bodyguard in 1992. The Untouchables made him an international star, while The Bodyguard confirmed his status as a sex symbol. What might have happened between the two films is an increase in the public’s estimation of him, but his qualities as an actor remained unchanged."

Posted by Geoff at 2:29 PM CST
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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Leader's Erich Van Dussen begins his review of Ava DuVernay's Selma by linking its approach with that of Brian De Palma's The Untouchables:

"Early in The Untouchables (1987)," writes Van Dussen, "director Brian DePalma constructs a quaintly banal Depression-era scene in which a young girl enters a corner market, carries on an innocent exchange with the shopkeeper – and is horrifyingly struck down with a sudden act of violence. That sequence could be dropped whole into a filmmaker's textbook, both for its narrative skills at establishing the vital stakes for the story that will follow and for its cinematic canniness at riveting our focus to the screen. Pay attention, it tells us, because this is the casually brutal world in which these characters live. If such a textbook exists, director Ava DuVernay has absorbed every page. Her third feature, Selma (rated PG-13), is a stirring account of a crucial few months in the civil rights battles of the 1960s, imbued with all the respectful dignity that such a subject demands."

Toward the end of the review, Van Dussen returns to the Untouchables theme:

"A scene early on echoes DePalma's Untouchables moment in its out-of-nowhere horror," Van Dussen states. "In another sequence, the retaliation of white Alabama troopers against King’s marchers during the first attempted Selma-Montgomery march is filmed as a kind of obscenely violent poetry that recalls the classic Odessa Steps scene in Battleship Potemkin (1925) for its portrayal of human suffering as a civic act."

Posted by Geoff at 3:00 AM CST
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Friday, January 16, 2015
Kevin Costner was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award last night at the 20th annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards, presented by the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Following an introduction by Rene Russo (a longtime friend of Costner's, fighting laryngitis) and Storage Wars auctioneer Dan Dotson, a montage of clips from Costner's films was screened, which included several bits from The Untouchables, highlighted by Costner's "You're not from Chicago" line in the movie. During his acceptance speech, Costner said, "I'd like to thank the directors who took a chance on me early: to Lawrence Kasdan, Brian De Palma, Phil Robinson, and of course, Ron Shelton. There's really not enough words-- you handed me my career."

Posted by Geoff at 12:13 AM CST
Updated: Friday, January 16, 2015 12:14 AM CST
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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Kevin Costner will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, during the BFCA Critics’ Choice Movie Awards on Thursday, January 15th. According to Variety's Malina Saval, the ceremony will be broadcast live on A&E. Saval quotes BFCA president Joey Berlin: "The choice of Kevin Costner to receive the Critics’ Choice Lifetime Achievement Award was inspired by seeing his performance in Mike Binder’s terrific new movie, Black or White. Playing a grieving widower drawn into a custody battle over his adorable granddaughter, Kevin shows depth and range that reminds us of what a wonderful actor he truly is."

Posted by Geoff at 11:44 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 11:45 PM CST
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Sunday, January 11, 2015
Eurogamer's Graeme Virtue posted an article today about Ocean Software's video game adaptation of Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, which he recalls came out a couple of years after the film. "Things only get confusing in the late 1980s and early 1990s," states Virtue, "when Ocean Software were licensing major Hollywood action films willy-nilly, then enthusiastically marketing their game tie-ins to consumers who were often too young to go and see the actual movie. In these cases, the experiences of game and movie sometimes become so entwined that it's impossible to separate the different memories." Here's an excerpt in which he provides details of the Untouchables game:
The Untouchables, which arrived on 8-bit and 16-bit almost two years after Brian De Palma's 1987 movie had been a sizeable critical and commercial hit, felt marvellous at the time: an expansive, polished Prohibition-era shoot-em-up that offered up six relatively distinct mini-games. Thankfully, none of them involved completing a sliding block puzzle of Sean Connery's scowling face as Irish beat cop Malone, although many included the illicit thrill of a bootleg liquor gauge, even if your dogged G-Man was mostly destroying the booze rather than imbibing it. My experience on the Spectrum should have been the most lo-fi of all the home computer versions, but it somehow seemed like the classiest - enviably crisp sprites rendered in a consistent palette of black and cool blue, accompanied by a series of digitised mugshots that kinda, sorta looked like at least some of the actors.

Intentionally or not, The Untouchables was also a system-seller, as the downside of having six completely different levels was having to load almost every single one of them separately. Ownership or access to a disk-drive-enabled Spectrum +3 was absolutely essential for maximum enjoyment. On old-fashioned cassette, the tussle for Chicago supremacy between Eliot Ness and Al Capone became a downtime-punctuated crawl. To exacerbate matters, the first level was actually the worst - a platform scramble round an anonymous warehouse, with you as Kevin Costner's dourly single-minded Ness, tasked with gathering evidence against the notorious crime boss through the time-honoured process of wasting gangsters, hopping between precariously-stacked pallets and picking up violin cases to access a Thompson sub-machine gun.

Even Ocean must have suspected that floaty platforming didn't showcase their game at its best, as they widely released the second level as a demo instead. This turned out to be a masterstroke, because that instalment - based on a bootlegger shoot-out on a bridge at the Canadian border - is the best of the lot. In the spirit of the arcade game Cabal, it's a thrilling shooting gallery where your character is also visible on-screen, rolling across the ground while firing off rifle rounds and destroying hooch barrels. A separate binocular scope nominally shows where you're aiming, but it's pretty easy to gauge from the trail of dustclod ricochets and trenchcoat-wrapped bodies you leave in your trigger-happy wake.

The third level, where you heft a shotgun in a tense alleyway shootout and swap between your four Untouchables to keep the mission-vital ones alive, is almost as good. But it's level four - where the action switches from side-on to top-down - that is especially memorable, as it recreates the most iconic scene in the movie, a haphazard shootout at a railway station that takes place while a baby's pram bumps through the crossfire. It was De Palma's celebrated, agonisingly drawn-out tribute to the Odessa Steps massacre in the silent movie classic Battleship Potemkin.

Just as BDP atomised and expanded what must have been a pretty sparse page of script - there's no dialogue, apart from a mimed scream of "my baby!" from the panicking mother - so the game extends it even further, charging you with managing the health of both Ness and the baby. Admittedly, it's another shooting gallery, albeit one that gives you the morally questionable option to use the pram as a temporary shield, safe in the knowledge that you can subsequently hustle it toward a restorative first-aid kit at the next landing. But 25 years on, another thought occurs: did The Untouchables accidentally invent the dreaded escort mission?

In the movie, the sharp suits for gangsters and G-Men alike were designed by Giorgio Armani. The score was just as lavish and lovingly tailored: a sumptuous, thrilling, Oscar-nominated suite by Ennio Morricone, It's unclear whether Ocean ever had the option to try and recreate the work of the Italian master, although 8-bit sound chips would certainly have struggled to recreate the querulous mouth organ and slightly detuned piano that characterise his soundtrack.

Instead, they opted for a very different but ultimately inspired route. Jonathan Dunn, Ocean's astonishingly talented in-house maestro, adapted the chirpy rags of Scott Joplin, imbuing the game with a bouncy, cheery energy that - while slightly at odds with the demands of mowing down dozens of wise guys - gives it an undeniable vim and vigour. It may have triggered a little cognitive dissonance in historians and cinephiles - ragtime was on its way out by the time Prohibition kicked in, and the syncopated style was also indelibly associated with The Sting, another sharply-tailored period piece - but it undeniably helped synthesise a cohesive identity for a potshot-pourri of a game. Deployed alongside the uniform colour scheme, it helped bind the disparate levels together, and make The Untouchables one of the most aesthetically successful video game movie adaptations of all time.


Posted by Geoff at 7:20 PM CST
Updated: Sunday, January 11, 2015 7:21 PM CST
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My internet has been down the past few days-- my carrier tells me it's a big outage in my area. So with my limited internet time, I haven't been able to post much here the past week. But here are some things:

Page Six's Ian Mohr noted that Brian De Palma was among the guests at a screening of Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild last Thursday (December 4th). The screening was hosted by Ben Stiller and Noah Baumbach at NeueHouse in New York. Laura Dern, who appears in the film, was also in attendance, as was Meg Ryan and Chris Cornell.

Meanwhile, a couple of readers have sent along some very cool links that I have to share, even though I can't transcribe much right now. Rado sends along a link to a recent Vilmos Zsigmond Masterclass, a Higher Learning event which took place on August 8, 2014 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Around the 35-minute mark, an audience member asks Zsigmond to talk about working with De Palma. Zsigmond talks about how De Palma had presented sketches for their first film together, Obsession. However, by the time they worked on The Black Dahlia three decades later, Zsigmond asked, "Brian, where are the sketches?" But De Palma waved him off, saying he didn't need them anymore. Zsigmond goes on to describe the complicated shots in The Black Dahlia and Bonfire Of The Vanities.

Drew sends along a link to the latest I Was There Too podcast, in which host Matt Gourley talks on the phone with Melody Rae, who played the woman with the baby carriage in the famous staircase scene in De Palma's The Untouchables. I can't listen to this one yet, but the podcast description says, "Melody tells us about completely improvising her memorable scene, how she handled the explosions, baby, & squibs, and working with Kevin Costner."

One more link: Cinema Space Tribute, a video montage put together by Max Shishkin that includes, among many others, imagery from De Palma's Mission To Mars.

Posted by Geoff at 6:35 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2014 7:33 PM CST
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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Posted by Geoff at 10:22 PM CST
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014
IndieWire's Thelma Adams spoke with Patricia Clarkson on stage last Friday at the Hamptons Film Festival. Clarkson discussed working with several directors, including Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, and Woody Allen. Here is the section from Adams' article about Clarkson working on her first feature film, The Untouchables:
Fresh out of the Yale School of Drama, the New Orleans native auditioned for the casting director Lynn Stalmaster to play the wife of Eliot Ness in The Untouchables. She was "kind of glamorous," with big 80's Southern hair, which "seriously could just fit in through the door" and a racy fuchsia dress.

The agent clued Clarkson in – and toned her down. Clarkson returned to meet DePalma in a borrowed "goony" gingham dress, dowdy tresses and no make-up. She explained, "I walked in and I made a joke about it with Brian and we just got on immediately. We started laughing about it. He ended up reading with me. He played Eliot Ness and I was cast almost in that room...On the set, the first day I shot, Brian did 30 takes to see where I fell, if I reached it early or reached it late. He learned I was early, and by the 30th take I'm just not here."


The IndieWire article also includes quotes from Clarkson on working with George Clooney and on Lisa Cholodenko's High Art.

Back in May of 2004, an interview article at the Washington Post (no longer available online without subscription) discussed Clarkson's voice, calling it "her most arresting feature." Described by the author as a "throaty" and "husky" voice that harkens back to the screen sirens of the 1930s and 1940s, Clarkson told how she would walk into auditions "blond, pretty, whatever. But then I'd open my voice and they'd say, 'Hmmm.'" The article then mentions De Palma as "one director who wasn't put off," casting Clarkson in The Untouchables. "I think he liked that I looked a certain way and I had this voice," Clarkson told the Post. "Brian is irreverent and brilliant and funny and I think he just kind of liked it."

Posted by Geoff at 12:57 AM CDT
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