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Friday, November 22, 2013
MORE ARTICLES ABOUT JFK ASSASSINATION & FILM
DE PALMA'S 'GREETINGS' AND 'BLOW OUT' INCLUDED IN DISCUSSION
Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. There has been a proliferation of TV specials, magazines, and online articles looking back and examining that weekend of shocking events and images in November 1963. And tonight, Oliver Stone will present a screening of his director's cut of JFK at the St. Louis International Film Festival.

Following the Globe And Mail's "Art of JFK" article from last weekend, which included Brian De Palma's Blow Out as a film which interpolates "themes and events of JFK’s assassination with Ted Kennedy’s 1969 Golgotha at Chappaquidick," three more articles have appeared this week, mentioning certain De Palma films in similar contexts.

The Telegraph's Anne Billson argues that "in the 50 years since John F Kennedy's assassination, the event has been so endlessly repeated on film that it has almost lost its meaning." Billson includes De Palma along with Andy Warhol and John Waters as "early adopters" of JFK iconography on film:

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The most famous JFK assassination film, of course, is the home movie taken by Abraham Zapruder (played by Paul Giamatti in Parkland), 8mm footage that has been parsed, recreated and referenced so many times it has attained the status of icon. In turn, it has helped shape the event in the public mind; the film itself wasn't broadcast on network TV till 1975, but frames from it were published, by Life magazine, as early as November 29th 1963. It wasn't the first time an assassination had been caught on camera - footage of the death of Inejiro Asanuma, a chairman of the Japan Socialist Party, was broadcast live on Japanese TV in 1960. But it was the first political assassination to be so thoroughly absorbed, reworked and regurgitated by the cinema.

One of the first artists to co-opt JFK iconography was Andy Warhol, whose Sixteen Jackies depicted serial images of the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy; he also cast some of his The Factory regulars in a never-completed film called Since (1966), a stylised recreation of the assassination in which Gerard Malanga shot Mary Woronov with a banana. "It didn't bother me that much that he was dead," Warhol said. "What bothered me was the way the television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad. It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't get away from the thing."

Other early adopters include John Waters, who in 1968 restaged the assassination in his parents' backyard for a 16mm short called Eat Your Makeup, in which Jackie was played by Divine, and Brian De Palma, whose second film, Greetings (1968), satirised JFK conspiracy theorists before most of us were even aware they existed.

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The Wall Street Journal's Richard B. Woodward echoes Billson when he writes, "Countless repetitions of anything can convert even tragedy into farce and rewire our original emotional responses in myriad other ways." His article focuses on how the "photo of Lee Harvey Oswald's killing became primal artistic material." In one section, Woodward looks briefly at the impact the Zapruder film had on other movies, where he notes several film, including Blow Out:
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The impact of the Zapruder film, especially on other movies, was quickly apparent. Its spooky dynamics shaped Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up (1966), in which a photographer in a park may have unintentionally documented a murder. Scenes where he studies his contact sheets with a magnifying glass, looking for bodies in the bushes, anticipate what was soon standard practice for amateur sleuths analyzing the 486 frames in Zapruder's film in hopes of debunking the Warren Commission Report. According to Mark Harris's book Pictures at a Revolution, the sickening frames 313-14 of the president's skull exploding influenced the graphic, slow-motion shootings at the end of Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974) and Brian De Palma's Blow Out (1981) picked up the theme of technology inadvertently detecting a crime. In both cases, a sound recording finds evidence of a murder, actions that, when discovered by the murderer, put a bull's eye on the sound recorder, too.

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The most interesting part of Woodward's article comes when he discusses Coppola's first two Godfather films:
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But perhaps no movie or novel so internalized the twin killings in Dallas as the first two films in The Godfather trilogy. Riddled with allusions to the Kennedys, the films adopted images of that weekend to tell a larger story about American power and corruption. Many Americans suspected then—and believe now—that the Mafia was involved in some unholy fashion in either Kennedy's or Oswald's death, or maybe in both.

The climax of The Godfather (1972), in which Michael Corleone attends the church baptism of his nephew while his enemies are being executed around the country, has striking similarities to images on TV screens during the morning of Nov. 24, 1963. Mr. Coppola's cross-cutting is not unlike what many American families saw that Sunday when religious proceedings were interrupted by the shocking sight of Oswald being gunned down by Ruby.

A classic exchange late in The Godfather: Part II (1974) between Michael and Tom Hagen, the Corleones' lawyer, unmistakably connects Kennedy's death to Oswald's.

As Michael calls for the execution of Hyman Roth, their crafty rival who is being deported back to the U.S., Tom objects that such a plan has no chance of succeeding.

"It's like trying to kill the president," he says. "There's no way we can get to him."

"Tom, you know you surprise me," answers Michael with chilly authority.

"If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it's that you can kill anyone."

Mr. Coppola confirms this cynical truth by directing the assassination of Roth to resemble the shooting of Oswald. As Roth speaks to the press after landing at Miami airport, Corleone henchman Rocco Lampone, posing as a reporter with notebook in hand, pulls out his gun and kills Roth, before being shot himself by police.

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Metro U.S. New York's Matt Prigge provides a very interesting list of movies centered around the JFK tragedy. Here's what Prigge writes about Waters' Eat Your Makeup and De Palma's Greetings:
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Eat Your Makeup (1968)

South Park once claimed it took 22.3 years for terrible things (in their case, AIDS) to be funny. But it only took five years for no-budget filmmaker John Waters to, in his first film, recreate the assassination in his parents’ backyard, complete with Divine as Jacqueline Kennedy.

Greetings (1968)

1968 was also the year it started being funny to mock JFK conspiracy theorists. Brian De Palma’s first of two episodic comedies with a young (and then mustachioed) Robert De Niro features a guy (Gerrit Graham) who bores people with his claims of a massive coverup.

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Posted by Geoff at 12:26 AM CST
Updated: Friday, November 22, 2013 12:29 AM CST
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Thursday, November 14, 2013
TINA HIRSCH TALKS 'GREETINGS'
SHE AND DE PALMA SAT AND WATCHED ACTIVITIES OUTSIDE WINDOW TOGETHER
The Nashville Public Library's "Off The Shelf" blog featured William Chamberlain's interview with film editor Tina Hirsch on its "Legends Of Film" podcast last week. Hirsch appeared in Brian De Palma's Greetings and Hi, Mom!, so of course, Mr. Chamberlain, himself a big fan of De Palma's films, made sure to ask her a couple of related questions:
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William Chamberlain: You had a small role in Brian De Palma’s Greetings that was quite humorous, with Gerrit Graham. Was it improvised?

Tina Hirsch: Yes and no. Brian and Chuck [Charles Hirsch], the producer and co-writer, wrote the scene. As originally written, Gerrit Graham was, you know, he played a Kennedy assassination buff, and he wants me to blow up a picture taken on the grassy knoll to prove that officer Tippet is Oswald’s accomplice. And that he’s hiding behind a tree. I was supposed to answer that if he blew it up, all you’d see is the grain. I mean a funny side story is that that literally was a studio in which I was working as a photographer’s assistant, and I actually blew up those shots that are shown at the end. I told Brian that I couldn’t say that line, that the movie Blow-Up was all about that. I didn’t feel comfortable saying it without crediting the other movie. So my answer became something like, “You’re not going to be able to see anything. I’ve seen Blow-Up, I know how this turns out. You’re not going to see anything but grain the size of golf balls.” Years later, Pauline Kael, the movie critic for the New Yorker, quoted the line as one of Brian’s great citations. [Laughing] But, in fact, I was the one who cited Blow-Up. That’s the way it goes.

Chamberlain: You worked also with Brian De Palma on Hi, Mom! [as well as] Greetings. Was he talking about or thinking about going to the thriller genre? Soon after that, he directed Sisters. And before he was directing sort of these social comedies. Was he discussing, “Well, maybe I should do a thriller," or of that line?

Hirsch: No, not really. I mean, the only thing that touches on that is that, you know, we all lived in New York at the time, and I remember having dinner over at his place at one point. And he and I were both sitting facing the window, where we were watching all of the activities going on in the buildings around us [begins laughing]. And the two other people with us were chatting. I mean, actually having conversation [laughs some more]. And he and I were just staring at windows. So, I think his voyeuristic tendencies might have been what got him into thrillers.

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This is a good, interesting interview, running just under a half hour. Hirsch also talks about Woodstock, More American Graffiti, Mystery Date, Paul Bartel, and more.

Posted by Geoff at 6:12 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, November 14, 2013 6:15 PM CST
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Friday, January 4, 2013
'GREETINGS' & 'HI, MOM' AT FILM FORUM THIS MONTH
"NEW YAWK NEW WAVE" SERIES CONCEIVED BY J HOBERMAN
Brian De Palma's Greetings and its sequel, Hi, Mom!, will play as a double feature on Tuesday, January 15 as part of the series "New Yawk New Wave," which runs from January 11-31 at the Film Forum in New York. The series was conceived by J. Hoberman, and programmed by Bruce Goldstein and Jake Perlin. A New York Times article by Nicolas Rapold states that the series includes more than 50 New York-centered films spanning from 1953 to 1973 (the two De Palma films were released in 1968 and 1970, respectively). Most of the films were independent features filmed on the streets of New York.

"The selection is multifaceted," writes Rapold. "Here are Brian De Palma’s pre-Carrie counterculture trips Hi, Mom! and Greetings, starring a young Robert De Niro; the smart-aleck culture jam Putney Swope of Robert Downey (father of Hollywood’s Iron Man); and the first feature by the avant-garde godfather and exhibitor Jonas Mekas, a founder of the movement called the New American Cinema."

Also included in the series are Jim McBride’s David Holzman’s Diary, John Cassavetes' Shadows, and two early films from Martin Scorsese, Who's That Knocking At My Door and Mean Streets. Hoberman tells Rapold, "One of the ironic things about Mean Streets is that it’s mainly shot in Los Angeles. But the New York stuff is so vivid that he’s really able to make it feel like it’s completely a New York film."

De Niro recently referred to this period of independent filmmaking in an interview with The Wrap's Brent Lang. "There are so many more independent films than there were when I was in my 20s or 30s," De Niro said in response to a question about the state of the movie business. "You had Brian De Palma, Robert Downey and some other people, but the independent films being made then were a different type of thing. They were done on a Super 8, not a feature like they are today, and they didn’t get studio distribution in the same way."


Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, January 5, 2013 12:02 AM CST
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Monday, September 10, 2012
INFLUENTIAL SOUND MIXER BILL DALY DIES
DALY DID UNCREDITED WORK ON 'GREETINGS' & 'HI, MOM!'
Bill Daly, an influential sound mixer who "developed one of the first 'smart' time-code movie slates," according to the Hollywood Reporter, has died at the age of 65. Daly did uncredited work as a sound transferer on Brian De Palma's Greetings, and also went uncredited as a neighbor in that film's sequel, Hi, Mom!. Daly also was the sound mixer for the Dealey Plaza scenes in Oliver Stone's JFK.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Daly was "described by his peers as a 'sound artist' and a 'soundman’s soundman.'" The Hollywood Reporter article explains briefly how Daly developed the time-code movie slates:
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While serving as a location sound coordinator for the filming of the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman 1974 heavyweight boxing match in Zaire known as “The Rumble in the Jungle,” Daly developed one of the first “smart” time-code movie slates (the devices that signal "action!") that would have a huge impact on the business.

The bout was preceded by a three-day concert featuring the likes of B.B. King and James Brown, and the filmmakers wanted to film the concert and fight with multiple cameras -- but not multiple soundmen -- and to be able to sync all the cameras with the multitrack recordings of the music acts onstage. To do this quickly and efficiently, they needed to visually display the time code for the camera, but there were no portable crystal-controlled clocks at the time.

Daly, though, modified a Heuer executive desk clock that had a crystal control and plasma display to DC power and turned it into the first smart slate. He built a series of the devices and used them in Zaire for what would become When We Were Kings, the 1997 Oscar winner for best documentary.

“That clock was probably the most significant impact I’ve had on the business,” Daly said in a 1998 interview with Filmcrew magazine. Daly also used the slates for a Grateful Dead documentary in 1977.


Posted by Geoff at 10:06 PM CDT
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Sunday, May 20, 2012
'GREETINGS' MENTIONED IN KAEL, EBERT BIOS
RUTANYA ALDA: "BRIAN WOULD SAY, 'I'VE ONLY GOT THREE MINUTES OF FILM'"

Rutanya Alda is briefly quoted about working on Brian De Palma's Greetings in Brian Kellow's Pauline Kael: A Life In The Dark, his recent biography of the influential film critic. In the following paragraph from page 119 of Kellow's book, one senses the origins of De Palma's "No Net Productions"...

Although Pauline definitely had her favorites among directors, her New Yorker reviews were, from the beginning, full of surprising reactions. She went out of her way to praise a movie that few saw, Greetings, directed by a twenty-eight-year-old filmmaker named Brian De Palma. Greetings wasn't in the macabre vein of the later films that made De Palma famous but was an off-kilter comedy about three young New Yorkers trying to keep from being drafted, and it had been shot in two weeks for very little money. Rutanya Alda, who played a supporting role in the film, recalled how the tiny budget made it essential to work fast and accurately: "Brian would say, 'I've got only three minutes of film-- we've got to get the scene in three minutes.'" Locations were snapped up wherever they could arrange them cheaply: one sequence in a bookstore was shot at three in the morning without the owner knowing about it. Pauline acknowledged that some of Greetings was a mess, but she also recognized a vibrant, original talent; Greetings went on to win the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, and Pauline noted De Palma as a talent to watch.

44 years later, De Palma is hoping his latest film, Passion, will be accepted for the Berlin fest next February. Nancy Allen is also quoted in Kellow's book, in regards to Kael's enthusiastic response to De Palma's Carrie...

If her elevation of De Palma's "persistent adolescent kinkiness" into some kind of major achievement baffled many of Pauline's friends as well as her enemies, it was her review, in the end, that carried the day for De Palma and his cast. Nancy Allen, who played the movie's chief villainess, remebered vividly the day that Pauline's review appeared. "I think that Brian was just thrilled," she said. "And disgusted at the same time, because the studio wasn't treating it like it was anything better than a slasher picture." De Palma quickly became one of the directors Pauline felt compelled to promote. Allen remembered that she had the reputation for being a bit chilly toward her pet directors' wives and girlfriends, but she found Pauline warm and friendly. "She liked Brian a lot and there I was, the girlfriend. I didn't know if I would be accepted or not. She was very pleasant and said hello and smiled sweetly. I remember thinking, Okay, that was all right. She was possessive. They were her guys."

EBERT BOOK DELVES INTO SOHO LOFT WHERE 'GREETINGS' & 'WOODSTOCK' WERE EDITED
Kael and Greetings are both mentioned within a chapter on Martin Scorsese in Roger Ebert's recent memoir, Life Itself. In this excerpt, Ebert recalls meeting Scorsese for the first time:

That first time we met in New York, he took me to visit his job, as an assistant director and editor on Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock. The footage from Woodstock was being edited by a team headed by Thelma Schoonmaker, later to become the editor of Scorsese's features, and Walter Murch, a tall young man with a mustache who would later reinvent the strategy of sound design. In a top-floor loft in Soho, reached by a freight elevator, a headquarters had been cobbled together with a skylight and a lot of little rooms off the big one. "You know what picture was cut in this loft?" Scorsese asked me. "They made Greetings in this loft." That was the De Palma movie with Robert De Niro in his first role. So much was still ahead. The loft was a crazy, jumbled place, with earnest young editors bending over their Kellers. "The Keller Editing Machine," I was told. "The finest editing machine in the world, and the only one you can use to cut three-screen footage with eight-track synch sound, with thirty-five-millimeter and sixteen-millimeter film on the same machine at the same time."

A couple of paragraphs later, Ebert recalls going out to dinner with Scorsese, Kael, De Palma, De Niro, and Paul Schrader...

Marty mailed me screenplays titled Jerusalem, Jerusalem and Season Of The Witch, which was later to become Mean Streets. One night during the New York Film Festival he and I and Pauline Kael ended up in my hotel room, drinking and talking, and his passion was equaled by hers. Pauline became urgent in her support of those filmmakers she believed deserved it. She sensed something in Scorsese. Her review in the New Yorker of Mean Streets would put him once and for all on the map.

Her connections were crucial. One night we met in the lobby of the Algonquin and went out to eat with Brian De Palma, Robert De Niro, and Paul Schrader. De Palma and De Niro had made two low-budget films. Did Marty, De Palma, De Niro, and Schrader know one another at that time? Certainly. Did anyone guess Raging Bull would result? Pauline must have sensed the mixture was volatile. We went to an Italian restaurant. Pauline was then between her jobs at McCall's and the New Yorker; De Niro and De Palma were unemployed; and Schrader was a hopeful screenwriter. Thinking I was the only person at the table with a paycheck, I picked up the tab. "You dummy," Pauline told me. "Paul just sold The Yakuza for $450,000." She always knew about the deals.


Posted by Geoff at 8:15 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 10:34 PM CDT
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Thursday, September 22, 2011
RICHARD HAMILTON HAS PASSED AWAY
'THE ORIGINAL POP ARTIST,' WHO APPEARED IN 'GREETINGS,' WAS 89


Richard Hamilton, credited as one of the fathers of the "pop art" movement, died September 13th in England at age 89. In 1968, the same year that Hamilton created the iconic sleeve and poster insert for the Beatles "White Album," he appeared in Brian De Palma's Greetings, discussing one of his real-life works, "A Postal Card For Mother" (pictured at left), with the character played by Gerrit Graham (the film scene is pictured above). In "A Postal Card For Mother," a series of blow-ups of a beach scene are folded out accordion-like from the source photograph. The Guardian's Jonathan Jones stated that Hamilton remains "the most influential British artist of the 20th century," adding that "in his long, productive life he created the most important and enduring works of any British modern painter." Hamilton's collage, "Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing," is one of the earliest works of pop art. Mark Hudson at The Arts Desk feels that Hamilton's subversive body of work was, in a good way, "too challenging, too difficult to pin down." Jones notes that Hamilton's work had grown increasingly political in his later years, and provides a photo gallery that glances at some of the artist's key works.

Posted by Geoff at 7:38 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, September 24, 2011 12:09 PM CDT
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Sunday, May 31, 2009
"FAMOUS FIRSTS" - GREETINGS
BLOG REVIEWS EARLY DE PALMA FILM

Roderick Heath at Ferdy On Films takes a long look at Brian De Palma's Greetings, offering a critical essay that takes into account De Palma's later career works, as well as other early low-budget films from the same time period, such as Francis Coppola’s You’re a Big Boy Now, and Arthur Penn's Alice’s Restaurant. Heath writes, in part:

To be fair, Greetings’ budget was rock bottom, even lower than Penn’s and Coppola’s films. It is a counterculture document, but in a ground-level, distracted, self-critical fashion, attentive to the sights and sounds of its era, yet more caught up in analysing new habits in perceiving the world. It’s also a cinephile’s work that bears relation, in a way, to the films of Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers, with its three heroes as screwball foils interacting with a specific environment, surviving, and contending with the forces that assail them. Nonetheless, the film does have a specific political and social idea to communicate. It’s not found in scenes such as when Lloyd encounters a zealous radical magazine seller, or in the draft-dodging hijinks. Lloyd’s paranoia, Jon’s fetishist interest in realising voyeuristic fantasies, and the way these tendencies cross-pollinate in efforts to capture the obscured truth on film reveal the leitmotifs of De Palma’s career. It’s easy, for instance, to point to Lloyd’s constant citation of Blow-Up and his general obsession with assassination and political skulduggery and note that both inspired Blow Out (1981).


Posted by Geoff at 1:03 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, May 31, 2009 1:05 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 31, 2009
GREETINGS & RICHARD HAMILTON
AND NEW ESSAY SAYS FILM CAPTURES THE '60S

Okay, so I promised a couple of additional posts about Greetings for the weekend-- I guess for me, the weekend is still blobbed into this week. Anyway, two Sundays ago, MovieMan0283 posted a very nice essay about Greetings, which he said "presents us with a fully-formed vision, however different from the vision [Brian] De Palma later cultivated." MovieMan0283 feels that De Palma's early film was a different animal than the mumblecore stylings of the average independent film from young directors of recent years. And while De Palma would go on to make films that were more deliberately planned and shot, MovieMan0283 nevertheless sees that "there are signs that the filmmaker behind Scarface and Carrie is also the mind behind Greetings"...

For one thing, despite some intentionally sloppy stagings (De Palma sees Godard's jump cuts and raises him a jump cut in which the background and positions of the characters also changes) there's an obviously gifted eye behind the camera. One sequence is particularly striking: as the tired trio parade in Central Park, trying to keep one potential draftee awake so that he'll flunk his examination the next morning, one of the scruffy group breaks away to chat with a street personality, a photographer displaying his increasingly fuzzy blow-ups of a single photograph, interpreting their aesthetic while simultaneously acknowledging the debt to Antonioni's Blow-Up (a constant reference for De Palma here; particularly in relation to the examination of the Zapruder film). Meanwhile, as the zoom lens moves in closer and closer the two remaining buddies, punch-drunk from a night of staying awake, continue to cavort in the background, De Palma holding them in the increasingly tight shot as the heady dialogue continues in the foreground. Here and elsewhere, he's able to balance multiple elements for a dizzying kinesthetic effect.

ABOUT THAT PHOTOGRAPHER
The artist in the scene mentioned above (and in the Greetings shot above) is Richard Hamilton, who is considered one of the fathers of the "pop art" movement (a movement that is satirized in Greetings when Robert De Niro's Jon labels his voyeuristic project "peep art"). At left is the piece Hamilton is showing to Gerrit Graham's Lloyd, titled "A Postal Card for Mother," in which a series of blow-ups of a beach scene are folded out accordion-like from the source photograph. The same year that Greetings was released, Hamilton designed the famous-iconic cover for the Beatles' "White Album," as well as the poster inserted inside the double-LP package, for which he asked for and was given hundreds of unpublished photos of the band to sort through.

THE '60S IN A NUTSHELL
MovieMan0283 goes on to discuss how Greetings seems to capture a moment from the 1960s when "new" and "old" coexisted:

The movie opens and closes with a television set, clearly situated in some unseen person's kitchen, on which LBJ gives a crowing, preening speech about the war. Greetings' compulsive references extend outside of the cinema (which is already more than most contemporary movies can manage) to the outside world and its frantic, apocalyptic, painfully immediate zeitgeist, something which contemporary Hollywood had more or less walled off (though fissures were beginning to appear in that particular wall). Indeed, Greetings seems to be broadcast from an alternative history: one in which American cinema was as engaged with political and cultural reality as European cinema or American music. The movie hits all the 60s touchstones, which works only because it takes them all for granted: there's the jingle-jangle folk rock of the title track, the cinematic array of Jules et Jim-esque tricks which De Palma employs, frank sexuality and nudity which earned the film an "X" rating (coupled with a sexism often crossing over into misogyny which, joined by constant reference to "fags" and a cavalier attitude towards racial epithets, reminds us that the 60s rebellion was not as PC as preachy leftists, not to mention preachy conservatives, would have us believe).

The 60s - and Greetings - are close enough to the 50s for some macho, un-PC social attitudes to remain (even as the movie's characters mock social conventions and Establishment politics). The film is so close to the clean-cut Camelot of '63 that the Kennedy references seem au courant, yet it is also close enough to the 70s to employ the stylistic range and adult content which that decade would make de rigeur. This, to me, captures the fascination of the 60s in a nutshell: not so much that the era represented the "new" as that it represented the crosshairs of "new" and "old" where World War II was something people in their thirties remembered while schoolchildren would grow up to found dot-com companies, where the traces of classical black-and-white cinema still lingered but the wide-ranging possibilities of the movies' future was just barely over the horizon. The changes happened so fast that for a brief moment, "new" and "old" co-existed - it was modern America's adolescence and Greetings captures that moment beautifully.


Posted by Geoff at 2:29 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, April 2, 2009 11:29 PM CDT
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Friday, March 27, 2009

This is the full cover of the bestseller seen in the woman's apartment (with a bookmark hanging out the top) in Greetings. As a bestseller, the book and its cover were widely known at the time of Greetings' release. The Boston Strangler earned author Gerold Frank the Edgar Allen Poe Award in 1967 for Best Fact Crime Book from the Mystery Writers of America. It can be surmised that the juxtaposition (see the first photo in the post from yesterday) of the naked woman waiting and the cover of this book would have been a jolt to the average viewer in 1968 (even if they had not read the book, being a bestseller, most would have been familiar with the cover all over store shelves everywhere). A bookmark hanging out of the book in the still from Greetings indicates that the woman is reading the book, yet, via a computer date, she trusts a virtual stranger, letting him into her own apartment and allowing him to roam around freely.

Posted by Geoff at 2:32 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, April 2, 2009 11:33 PM CDT
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Thursday, March 26, 2009
GREETINGS LINKED TO STRANGLERS
AND NEW ESSAY COVERS GREETINGS/HI, MOM!/RABBIT

After reading David Greven's terrific new essay on male bonding in Brian De Palma's Greetings, Hi, Mom!, and Get To Know Your Rabbit (published in the current issue of Genders), I noticed that Greven somehow had seemed to overlook a key plot point in Greetings that I would love to see him riff on (more on that later). Curious, I pulled out my DVD of the film to check on said plot point, and discovered something rather astonishing-- namely The Boston Strangler, paperback edition of the Gerold Frank true crime book, dead center in the frame from Greetings as shown above. Astonishing, of course, because De Palma is currently preparing to film Susan Kelly's more recent investigation of the case as presented in her book, The Boston Stranglers, and because I don't recall noticing this title in Greetings before. However, you can bet that De Palma did-- check out the countershot below:

Note some key differences between the two reverse shots, beginning with the way the three books are angled in the second shot, so that the viewer can clearly see the cover of The Boston Strangler. Also notice how in the first shot, there appears to be a long row filled with books behind Strangler, while in the reverse shot, there are only three key books and what looks like a glass jar to the left of those. Keeping in mind that De Palma edited as well as directed Greetings with a decidedly loose, freewheeling style, the lack of proper continuity in the shots echoes the purposely off-kilter jump-cuts used in various scenes throughout the film (Greven's essay delves into one of these scenes, where a patron in a clothing store switches places back-and-forth with the store's proprieter via these sort of surreal jump-cuts). Frank's account of the Boston Strangler case was first published in 1966, two years before Greetings was released. Richard Fleischer's film, based on Frank's book and starring Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda (and featuring plenty of split-screens), was released a mere two months prior to Greetings.

One can guess that the Boston Strangler case was still a fairly frenzied affair in 1968. Placing that book square in the center on the big screen, next to a naked woman who has left her bedroom door open, allowing total access to a man she's only just met through a computer dating service, must have been a howl of a joke in the movie theater in 1968 (especially with the film version about to hit screens). It would have been key to the joke to have the book still noticeable from the front cover in the reverse shot, as Paul (Jonathan Warden) looks in, gazes upon the woman's naked body, smiles and then decides not to bother with her. In the second shot above, De Palma has placed two other key books on the shelf: Naked Came I, which directly comments on the scene at hand, in which the woman, who has just berated Paul for not being prepared for anything other than sex, retreats to her bedroom and humbles (compromises) herself by taking off all of her clothes and lying in wait (the book's title indirectly echoes the Book of Job, which would figure prominently in De Palma's Mission: Impossible when Ethan Hunt pulls the Holy Bible off the book shelf); and, among the many film-themed books and magazines diligently placed throughout Greetings, I Lost It At The Movies, the first collection of film reviews by Pauline Kael (in the shot at right is another key film book placement within Greetings).

 

So on to the plot point that led me to rewatch this sequence in the first place, which appears to have gone overlooked in paragraph #38, below, of Greven's essay (I have emphasized two key phrases in bold):

At one point, Paul goes to the home of a woman with whom he has a computer-dating-arranged assignation. During their conversation, he reveals that he doesn't own a car and that he's already eaten; he makes it clearly obvious that he is only there for sex. Brassy and demanding, she upbraids him for being ill-prepared for their date. Like a general describing the battle-readiness of his troops, she points to specific elements of her romantic-evening-ready attire: "You see these shoes? 'Socialites'!" He wilts visibly under the glare of her scorn. She storms off. Yet when Paul goes to check in on her, she is lying in her bed, silent, naked. He walks off, and away. More than any other, a profound sense of loneliness, of a lack of connection, permeates this scene. This sense of cold isolation also tinges the scene in which Lloyd, feverishly pontificating over the JFK assassination and his multiple conspiracy theories, uses the silent, naked body of the woman he is in bed with as a living canvas, turning her over, and back again, drawing strategic sites of the grassy knoll upon her body. Like a cadaver, her body mutely complies with his feverish demands and doodling. The necrophiliac quality of this scene provides further evidence for the lack of relatedness between men and women, even in a scene that establishes physical intimacy between them. (The necrophilia here is too half-hearted to vie for the status of perversity.)

What Greven seems to have overlooked is that it is the same woman in each scenario he describes above-- Paul leaves the woman lying naked on the bed, and goes outside to call Lloyd from a payphone. Paul tells Lloyd that his computer date did not seem like a good match for him, but that "since you're one of my best friends," maybe she would be a good match for Lloyd. The film then cuts to a shot of another strategically placed piece of literature: the cover of Film Comment...

The camera slowly pulls back to reveal the film magazine, with its cover story about the JFK assassination, covering the pelvis of the woman as Lloyd can be seen manipulating her stiff, motionless, and otherwise naked body. A viewer (especially one watching in 1968) might at first imagine that a Boston Strangler type of situation is in process here as the camera pulls back and sees that the potential strangler has been replaced by Lloyd's JFK obsessions. But instead of a lifeless corpse, we eventually find that the woman is merely sleeping, apparently having already been sexually satisfied (in her slumber, when Lloyd needs her to turn around to put a shirt on her, he kisses her once or twice on the neck until she dozingly complies). What is implicit in this sequence of scenes is that Paul has left the woman in her apartment, and allowed his friend Lloyd to take over (did Lloyd have to knock, or did Paul leave the door unlocked?). What makes it a key point for Greven's highly insightful essay is that it may further complicate his central questions of male bonding and the treatment of women within the homosocial sphere.

I have a couple more things to post about Greetings-- watch for two more posts this weekend...


Posted by Geoff at 3:13 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, March 27, 2009 12:15 PM CDT
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