FROM DE NIRO PAPERS AT HARRY RANSOM CENTER IN AUSTIN; EARLY 'HOME MOVIES' SCRIPT, TOO
Above is a snapshot taken by scholar Ethan de Seife during his visit to the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, where they have collections donated by Robert De Niro, Paul Schrader, and David Mamet. I've been wanting to visit the Center myself after posting about the De Niro collection here some years ago. Hopefully I'll get out there soon to report in more detail about some of the Brian De Palma-related screenplays in the De Niro collection, with the actor's annotations included, as well as any other interesting items.
But for now, we have these bits and pieces via de Seife, who explains in the post linked to above that he is working on "a book-length re-evaluation of De Palma’s work." He further explains, "To my mind, De Palma is the most talented of the directors of the so-called 'Film School Generation.' He’s also the most misunderstood: critical writing on his work has been stuck in the same ruts (Hitchcock, violence, misogyny) since the 1970s. It’s getting boring. A filmmaker as gifted as he is deserves better."
The photos above show De Niro in some color production photos for The Wedding Party, the first feature film for both De Niro and De Palma. In his post, de Seife also includes a snapshot of the Wedding Party screenplay, featuring some of De Niro's notes.
Here is an excerpt of some of de Seife's other findings:
The film Hi, Mom! is a vicious satire of Vietnam-era politics and liberal empty-headedness; it remains one of the most subversive of all American films. Much of its deserved reputation for challenging satire rests on the infamous “Be Black, Baby” sequence, in which the members of a black radical group stage a work of participatory theater designed to allow white people to “experience” blackness. Patrons are subjected to all manner of abuse… and then rave about the show. It’s a deeply ambiguous and still pretty shocking scene.
De Niro’s own notes for this scene are, in total: “At ‘Be Black, Baby’ play where I play a cop and beat up the white liberals painted black.” The paucity of this description itself speaks to the importance of improvisation to both De Niro’s and De Palma’s art; this, in turn, reveals a great deal about the nature of the film’s production.
The most intriguing of my finds in the De Niro papers pertains to a De Palma film in which De Niro does not even appear. De Palma made Home Movies in 1980 in an unprecedented collaboration with film students at Sarah Lawrence. In the collection was a treatment (a kind of synopsis) of the script dated from 1970; apparently De Niro had been considered for a part in it. The treatment differs in significant ways from the film as it was made a decade later, and those differences themselves may also prove revelatory of De Palma’s evolution as an artist.