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Friday, May 1, 2015
'PASSION' REVIEW - ALFRED EAKER'S FRINGE CINEMA
"WARHOLIAN POP VIBE VIA MOD THRILLER"
An excerpt from Alfred Eaker's review of Brian De Palma's Passion, posted at 366 Weird Movies:

"Whittling down De Palma’s diving board to Hitchcock is also woefully inadequate. When an art critic listed 90 of Picasso’s influences, the artist wrote back: 'You forgot Gauguin.' Sergei Eisenstein, Jean-Luc Godard, Andy Warhol, Orson Welles, Michelangleo Antonioni, Sam Peckinpah, Francis Ford Coppola, Irvin Kirshner, Martin Scorsese and Robert Flaherty have all informed De Palma’s work and are filtered through his pre-existing sensibilities, which include a background in mathematics and avant-garde narrative. This diversity renders De Palma far more eclectic than any of his predecessors or peers.

"Contrary to the claims of populist criticism, an aesthetic path is rarely linear. De Palma’s malleability is evident in his returns to low budget satire (1980’s Home Movies), observational cinema (2007’s Redacted), and the Warholian pop vibe via mod thriller of 2002’s Femme Fatale and 2012’s Passion.

"De Palma once again makes use of a grandly dated split-screen, juxtaposed to Pino Donaggio’s hyper-lush score, dressing and undressing the oozing, ribald, kinky milieu. More than once, De Palma quotes Dressed To Kill, throwing in Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace as the AC/DC couple who go the distance to liven up a potentially dull advertising firm with dark red lipstick, Skype, high-heeled Euro fashion, chic Debussy, explosive sex tapes, provocative primary colors, slow-mo pursuits, and a gleaming stiletto.

"True to form, De Palma milks manipulative bad acting from his two leads, which punctuates the obligatory opulent set piece (an impressionistic ballet) and unfolding illicit crime caper.

"Passion giddily enjoys being a movie for the sake of movies. A few bourgeoisie critics have complained that De Palma is simply stuck on repeat mode, but if you are willing to entertain his inviting disregard for neorealist trends, you may discover a deepening of his art and be transported into a celluloid Canaan."


Posted by Geoff at 12:21 AM CDT
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Saturday, April 4, 2015
FORBES: 'WHY RACHEL NEVER BECAME A MOVIE STAR'
AND 'PASSION' MAKES LIST OF 12 GREATEST ADVERTISING MOVIES EVER MADE
Last week, a trailer for the upcoming Antoine Fuqua film Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, hit the web. "If you saw the trailer," states Forbes' Scott Mendelson, "you probably noticed Rachel McAdams as the 'girl' in the picture. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate, as she gets killed in the first third of the trailer, which in turn sends Gyllenhaal into a downward spiral. There was a moment ten years ago when she seemed primed to be the next big female movie star. But now she gets 'fridged' in male-centric melodramas and gets to be 'the girl cop' in True Detective season 2, which is quickly becoming something of a career rehab home for former movie stars and would-be movie stars who never quite made the sell. I have written so very much about the lack of female-led multiplex releases over the last decade or so, and I have long believed would-be 'It Girl' McAdams to be among its primary victims. You can’t be the next great movie star when Hollywood isn’t making movies for you to star in."

Mendelson's mini-recap of McAdams' career mentions Passion as one of her rare genuine lead or co-starring roles:

"Rachel McAdams had the bad luck to spring to stardom just as the so-called female-centric studio release was becoming something of an endangered species. She of course came to fame in 2004 and 2005 with a flurry of high profile vehicles. She was, in 2004, a defining villain in Mean Girls and the co-lead in the generational romantic drama classic The Notebook. She had three major roles in 2005, including the heroic lead in Wes Craven’s Red Eye, a supporting role in the Sarah Jessica Parker-led ensemble The Family Stone, and the 'prize to be won' romantic interest in New Line Cinema/Time Warner Inc.’s Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn comedy smash The Wedding Crashers. Take one guess which role would come to define the next decade of would-be stardom. She took a break from acting for a couple years and returned in two low-budget independent films. Married Life was a martial fidelity drama starring Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, and McAdams as the would-be temptress. The Lucky Ones (Lions Gate Entertainment) was an underrated and little-seen drama co-starring Tim Robbins and Michael Pena about three Iraq war vets adjusting to life after service.

"She returned to so-called mainstream movies in 2009 and it is at this point the pattern began to emerge. By 2008/2009 we were seeing a real lack of not just female-centric films but movies that required more than one role for a woman matching McAdams’s respective gender and/or age. She is a young blogger journalist in the (terrific) Russell Crowe/Ben Affleck/Helen Mirren/Robin Wright thriller State of Play (Universal) who exists mostly to be schooled on the purity of old-school journalism and she was 'the girl' in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes for Warner Bros. She reprised that role in a glorified cameo for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, because the film didn’t have room for two major female roles and Noomi Rapace taking that slot this time. She was the co-lead in The Time Traveler’s Wife in 2009 (even though for all intents-and-purposes it is Eric Bana’s story) and she co-starred as a memory-impaired young spouse alongside Channing Tatum in The Vow. She did have a genuine lead vehicle in 2010, starring as an ambitious morning show producer trying to work with Harrison Ford’s cantankerous news vet in Morning Glory.

"And aside from Brian De Palma’s blink-and-you-miss it 2013 erotic indie drama with Noomi Rapace entitled Passion, that’s it for lead roles or even arguably co-starring roles for Ms. McAdams. She played the girl-to-be-discarded in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris and one of Ben Affleck’s handful of would-be love interests Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, played 'the girl' in the father/son time-travel drama About Time, and was basically the only woman in an otherwise male-centric ensemble in A Most Wanted Man, which was notable for being Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final starring role. [Editor's note: this description really gives short shrift to that film's other distinguished female turns from Nina Hoss and Robin Wright.] Her output for 2015 involves being the one woman in a sea of dudes (Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, and Billy Crudup) in the 'Boston Globe investigates Catholic Church sex scandals' drama Spotlight, being the married former lover of star Bradley Cooper as he also 'bonds' with Emma Stone in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha for Sony, and the aforementioned 'gets accidentally shot so Jake Gyllenhaal can have a sad' role in Southpaw. Oh, and she’s also in the cast of True Detective season 2 as the lone female cop in a cast that includes Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, and Taylor Kitsch.

"The vast majority of McAdams’s mainstream roles in her post-stardom career have been 'the girl' in an otherwise male-dominated cast. That is arguably because that was becoming even more of the so-called status-quo right as she was becoming a would-be movie star. Her relative lack of mainstream starring vehicles is mostly due to the fact that so few female-centric star vehicles get made in Hollywood anymore. There are few female-centric films that get made in Hollywood, especially the kind of somewhat melodramatic dramas or thrillers that used to give someone like Ashley Judd a career. The kind of mainstream films, be they romantic comedies, family melodramas, and everything in-between, that once starred Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock are all-but-extinct in modern Hollywood. The Hollywood of the 1990′s had room for Meg Ryan vehicles, Sandra Bullock vehicles, and Julia Roberts vehicles with room to spare. They were romantic comedies like French Kiss, family melodramas like Something to Talk About, or even supernatural comedies like Practical Magic. Those films don’t get made anymore, to the point where now even something like a female-driven romantic comedy like Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck is considered a 'big deal.' [Once] you age out of the young-adult literary adaptations and/or the newest live-action adaptation of a Walt Disney animated feature, you’re basically stuck playing 'the girl.' And just as importantly, the male-centric films that do get made usually have room for just one or two major female roles in the cast."

AS 'MAD MEN' WINDS DOWN, CHERNOV SUGGESTS THE 12 GREATEST ADVERTISING MOVIES
At Agency Post, Matthew Chernov (who a couple of weeks ago included Dressed To Kill's Liz Blake on his "12 Hookers with Hearts of Gold" list for Variety), anticipating the final season of AMC's Mad Men, yesterday posted "The 12 Greatest Advertising Movies Ever Made," or "a list of 12 movies that could teach Don Draper a few things about the business." Included on his list is De Palma's Passion. "Brian De Palma’s welcome return to the erotic thriller genre is actually two movies in one" states Chernov. "The first is a stylish black comedy about advertising executives stabbing each other in the back to get ahead. The second is a surreal horror film about a masked psycho slashing necks to get revenge. Swedish sphinx Noomi Rapace plays a mousy copywriter whose conniving boss steals credit for her viral ad campaign, setting in motion a gruesome string of murders. As the body count rises, Passion proves that advertising can be a cut-throat business."

Also included on the list is Robert Downey Sr.'s Putney Swope. Chernov writes, "Robert Downey Sr. wrote and directed this counterculture satire about a lone black man on the executive board of an advertising firm who’s accidentally put in charge by the white members during a secret election. Renaming the agency 'Truth and Soul, Inc.' the new chairman fires his fellow board members and institutes a policy forbidding them to accept business from companies that manufacture alcohol, tobacco and war toys. Eventually, the U.S. Government takes notice and declares the firm a threat to national security. Shot in black and white, the outrageous TV commercials seen throughout the movie appear in color."


Posted by Geoff at 1:47 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, April 4, 2015 2:21 PM CDT
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Monday, February 16, 2015
'PASSION' ON MORE TOP 10 LISTS FROM 2013
CAHIERS DU CINEMA INDIVIDUAL CRITICS' LISTS

I thought I had covered all of the 2013 top ten and best-of lists that included Brian De Palma's Passion with three posts from about a year ago: January 2, 2014, January 8, 2014, and February 6, 2014. However, I should have known to check the individual lists of the critics from Cahiers du Cinéma. Even though Passion did not make the magazine's final top 10 for 2013, De Palma's film did appear on three of the individual lists. Here they are:

Nicolas Azalbert

1.  Educação sentimental
2.  La Vie d'Adèle
3.  L'Inconnu du lac
4.  Spring Breakers
5.  Frances Ha
6.  La fille de nulle part
7.  Passion
8.  La Fille du 14 juillet
9.  Camille Claudel, 1915
10. No  

Jean-Sébastien Chauvin

1.  Lincoln
2.  Shokuzai
3.  La fille de nulle part
4.  Les Rencontres d'après minuit
5.  Passion
6.  L'Inconnu du lac
7.  La jalousie
8.  Cloud Atlas
9.  Gravity
10. La Vie d'Adèle  

Stéphane du Mesnildot

1.  The Immigrant
2.  L'Inconnu du lac
3.  Shokuzai
4.  Passion
5.  The Grandmaster
6.  Les Rencontres d'après minuit
7.  Gravity
8.  La Vie d'Adèle
9.  Django Unchained
10. Le Congrès  

Posted by Geoff at 12:10 AM CST
Updated: Monday, February 16, 2015 12:26 AM CST
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Monday, November 24, 2014
SET DECORATOR TALKS ABOUT MAKING 'PASSION'
INTERVIEW WITH UTE BERGK AT FILM COLOSSUS
Ute Bergk, the set decorator on Brian De Palma's Passion, was interviewed recently by Travis Bean at Film Colossus. Bergk's work on Passion was the main focus of the discussion. Discussing how production on the film was on-and-off for years, Bergk tells Bean, "There was a point where [De Palma] was thinking, 'Oh, we’ll do it all in London.' And then I mentioned all the cars would be driving on the left side, and he didn’t like that at all."

I'm posting a lot of the highlights from the interview below, but you might as well just go read the entire thing at Film Colossus-- it's a very engaging interview, and is almost exclusively about Passion.

DURING THE OFF TIMES, DE PALMA REWORKED HIS STORYBOARDS, HAD EVERYTHING ALL PLANNED OUT

Discussing how she came to be the set decorator on Passion, Bergk tells Bean, "The Production Designer Cornelia Ott, who is a friend of mine, she got the script and got me involved, and we budgeted over and over and over again, because they couldn’t make up their minds where they wanted to shoot, and they had certain actors in mind that didn’t kick in at the right time, at the right point.

"So it was at least over a year before we got storyboards from Brian De Palma. Which were brilliant! He does them all himself. And it’s like a Bible. Because the film took so much time to kick off, he worked them over and over again, so when the filming finally started, it was so straightforward. He had it all planned out. It was fascinating. It was really precise.

"He’s one of these directors that just knows: he’s coming in in the morning, he’s not saying anything, and he’s working with people who he trusts for whatever reasons, and he’s just watching them work for a little while, and then he asks if everybody is ready, and he starts to shoot."

"HE KNOWS EXACTLY HOW THE ROOM WILL BE SET UP BEFORE HE GETS THERE"

A little later in the discussion, Bean asks, "So if Brian (is it OK if I call him Brian?) is coming on set and not talking to many people, is he talking to you? Or is it pre-planned, where he’s talking to you beforehand? Or is it more organic, where you get there and set things up?"

Bergk replies, "It’s very planned. He never arrives anywhere without expectations. He knows exactly how the room will be set up before he gets there. We would present it all in little models or sketches or photos. And for every location he would have a little folder, and we would explain, 'This is the sofa she sits on,' etc. Like in one of the offices, where you see the white arrangement of very sophisticated white leather sofas: 'This is where the Japanese board is going to sit.' Very rarely will he say, 'Oh, I don’t like this at all.' It’s usually the other way around. And because the arrangements are so classic, you kind of go that route and not allow yourself to be off stylistically. You don’t want to go overly pop, or overly sophisticated."

"YOU HAVE TO FIND JUST THE RIGHT STANDING LIGHT TO PLACE NEXT TO ISABEL'S BED"

In one enlightening passage of the interview, Bergk tells Bean about meeting with cinematographer José Luis Alcaine: "I remember that Jose came in, and obviously we did not know each other when we started, and that working relationship came into play very quickly. Because the moment Noomi (Rapace, playing Isabelle) was confirmed for the film, I got a call saying, 'We start prepping ASAP.' Now basically.

"And I said, 'Really? Finally?!'

"And of course, off we went, and Jose came in. José was always trying to discuss things with Brian, which was quite funny, because Brian would always make excuses, like, 'I’ve got to go to the dentist.' Because I think Brian totally trusted him and what he was going to do. So he didn’t want to control him whatsoever. And that was great. That’s why it was so good to work on this movie, because there was freedom.

"And so, I had this long meeting with José and went through all the practicals, which was quite important for the whole film, because, at that point, I wasn’t very knowledgeable of Brian De Palma and unaware of how important all of that is. Because there are sequences, for example, where the entire scene is basically lit by the practicals. And if you see the two different offices (Isabelle and Christine, played by Rachel McAdams), one is white, and one is white-and-black. And if you look closer at what there is in terms of practicals, it’s totally different.

"We had this glass desk in Christine’s office because we wanted to see her legs. And it’s all very sexy and round…and a bit bitchy. Isabelle’s office is the other way around: it’s all very cruel, almost frozen. You see this black, bold standing light in the background, which is pretty much what I thought was her. And it’s a very complicated light fitting because it’s lit in a very complicated way, but José liked it because, for all the dream sequences, he used this black-and-white lighting, which that light fixture naturally gives him.

"And that was a very interesting discussion! I’d never had that before. But obviously that was so important for the whole film. The more time you spend with these guys, the more you get into it. You learn what’s important, that you have to find just the right standing light to place next to Isabel’s bed during her dream sequence. That took me weeks to find!"

"IF YOU WORK WITH BRIAN DE PALMA, YOU KNOW THAT YOU HAVE TO HAVE MIRRORS"

When asked by Bean where she went to find decorations for Passion, Bergk replies, "It depends where you are. Passion was shot in Berlin, and we didn’t shoot many sets in the studio. We built a few additions to existing locations, and we’d incorporate architectural details. But the thing with Berlin is: it’s not such an advanced industry, as it is in London [where Bergk resides]. Berlin does not really have facilities.

"So, for Passion, it was all very contemporary. It’s not like you had to do lots of research into some period details. It was contemporary, it was very classic. If you work with Brian De Palma, you know that you have to have mirrors. You will see the ceiling, which is very unusual, because a lot of directors don’t show the ceiling in movies at all. So that’s a very interesting research subject actually: who is looking up in the film?

"And because the style was contemporary, most of the stuff you see is available in shops. It’s very high-class furnishing. In the first scene you see a sofa in Christine’s apartment, and that’s one I had made, which was possibly the most expensive piece of furnishing in the entire film. But I thought it was worth it—there was something existing and I adopted it, changing its color and shape. This kind of film is not rough. It’s a very delicate film.

"There’s this nice sequence where they’re sitting in front of a huge television and a character gets drunk, and he gets drunk on a Fendi, a luxurious settee—and it is so uncomfortable. I saw it in an exhibition. To sit on it is fine, but to get drunk on it is very uncomfortable. It’s not like a sofa that you fall into. And he was supposed to fall into it, but he couldn’t because it has wooden a frame. So when he does fall into it, he makes this sounds like [insert uncomfortable *oomph* sound effect], which is exactly what was needed for this sequence. So that was a good find."

THE BALLET SEQUENCE

The interview ends with a discussion of the ballet sequence in Passion:

---------------------------------
Travis

I feel obligated to ask about the ballet sequence, just because it makes me giggle with excitement every time I watch it. I know in the actual ballet studio, there isn’t a lot in there, it’s mostly blue and white walls. Did you contribute anything specific to that sequence? Working with the idea that it would be displayed partly on a split-screen? Or that there would be a lot of empty space to deal with?

Ute Bergk

It was actually more of the other way around. I sent you a video, did you get it?

Travis

Yeah yeah, I watched it!

Ute Bergk

That was the original version of the performance. There’s a foundation behind it, and you are very much controlled by this foundation. The choreographer came over from the States and she was very controlling about everything. If you see, in the black and white footage I sent you, in the beginning, the curtain is on a pole and goes up, above the stage, which is where we shot. It was quite difficult to do, because we had this theater setting and everything just goes up, and not up and around. And we had to do it that way. They had to see that pole going up. So we had to build a structure to do that with.

Basically, you have to find the right materials. We had to slim it down because we shot it on a quiet part of the stage, which is in the Renaissance Theater, which is not big at all. So there was a model built that was put into this existing space. And to drape white fabric without having any frills in it is not easy.

The whole ballet sequence—we knew it would be very important, so we shot it for three days in that theater with those two wonderful dancers. And it was crystal clear that the stage design at that point was part of what the story tells. And specifically, in that performance, the audience is the mirror. They dance behind their exercise rails to warm up, and what is behind is basically nothing. It’s like a rehearsel room. And all you see is the door they come in and a window. And that’s all. The rest is up to them. And that was as simple as is. Brian, at that point, was just focused on the dancers.

Travis

Well definitely. They’re looking right into the camera, and effectively looking right at you. I’m fascinated by that aspect of the film. Not only the characters are being watched—he’s looking right at the audience and acknowledging their presence in the movie.

Ute Bergk

It was a very artistic approach, obviously. To have the audience as the third part, see that in certain kinds of artwork, like Manet’s paintings for example. The artist plays with the subject as well. So it’s very interesting to address it in that way—it’s a very De Palma style of filmmaking to address the audience. And then the split screen…I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

---------------------------

Posted by Geoff at 11:23 PM CST
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Friday, October 17, 2014
'PASSION' ANALYSIS AT CLOTHES ON FILM
WITH QUOTES FROM COSTUME DESIGNER KAREN MULLER-SERREAU
Christopher Cole has written a terrifically insightful piece at Clothes On Film about the clothes in Brian De Palma's Passion, with details and quotes from the film's costume designer, Karen Muller-Serreau. Cole is particularly interested in the power dynamics at play in the film. "Ice-blonde Christine is a Grace Kelly lookalike who craves attention," Cole states, "usually wearing the most noticeable colour in the room; the solid colours help her stand out without patterns to get in the way."

Here's an excerpt from the article:
-----------------------------
Muller-Serreau says she wanted to give Rachel a “contemporary Hitchcockian feeling with shapes that have a modern vintage style in bold colours.” Christine begins the film in an ice-blue shirt and palazzo pants combo topped off by a blueberry-vanilla coloured scarf tied artfully around her neck, while Isabelle’s black dress shirt and pants pop against the white walls and light-coloured furniture of Christine’s house. She has to be dominant so she gives the scarf as a gift to Isabelle, wrapping the blueberry-vanilla scarf around Isabelle’s neck; it stands out against her black coat.

The following morning, Christine struts her stuff down the path in her front yard in a double-breasted blood-red overcoat that would scare the bejeezus out of Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964); Christine looks like a spoilt little rich girl about to be chauffeured to private school. If Christine sometimes looks like a child playing dress-up, there’s a scene late in the film where she wears a striking black overcoat worn with a wide-brimmed hat, round sunglasses and teal stiletto sandals. It’s a coat that Muller-Serreau wanted to look like a little girl’s coat, so she based it on a classic child’s coat since Christine’s twin sister died in childhood.

Isabelle, the second-in-command, wears black for most of the film signalling her lack of identity. Since Muller-Serreau didn’t have colour to work with for Isabelle, she gave her shape and texture. There’s a suit jacket with heavy shoulder pads that hint at Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce (1945) and a side-breasted military jacket she wears when she has the upper hand. Her Edith Head hairstyle, fringe and all, helps make her look like she stepped out of an old movie.

One particularly inspiring moment is when an angry, depressed Isabelle at an office reception wears a black dress shirt and pants with a black tie. Underneath the slightly sheer shirt is a black bra. She’s dressed in a stereotypical male outfit, but despite the butch quality of the outfit, she still wants to be desired sexually as a feminine woman. Muller-Serreau says Isabelle’s look was supposed to be a “uniform”, presenting Isabelle as a “soldier” — a soldier who wants to be seen as a sexy woman.

While Isabelle wears only one colour, her assistant Dani wears many colors, and is the only person who threatens Christine’s status as the most colourful person in the room. She often wears animal prints and sometimes pairs it with clashing horizontal stripes. Her costumes are meant to garner attention, like the denim daisy dukes she wears paired with tights and knee-high stiletto boots, and an asymmetrically zipped purple leather motorcycle jacket. However, she also achieves elegance in a violet lace shirt. It’s a look Muller Serreau describes as “feminine and sexy” and that it’s a departure from the “butch lesbian cliché.”

Dirk wears braces with his pinstripe suits and checkered suits; the braces hark back to a much earlier era. His costumes consist of all suits, except for when he wears a tank top in his bedroom post-coital. Lying on a bed, his thin frame is more evident here, making him appear more vulnerable. He confesses secrets while smoking in a cigarette, becoming more feminine in his gestures and voice: he seems to be imitating Christine when he tells Isabelle that the blueberry-vanilla scarf looks better on her. It’s a perfect example of how men are emasculated in this film, and how the characters are much different in private.

--------------------

Posted by Geoff at 3:20 AM CDT
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Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Posted by Geoff at 6:49 PM CDT
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Thursday, March 20, 2014
'PASSION' TIED FOR #42 ON 2013 MURIEL AWARDS LIST
AWARDS ARE VOTED ON BY 'A RAGTAG BAND OF SCATTERED CINEPHILES'
Brian De Palma's Passion has made yet another list of the best films of 2013, this one from a "ragtag band of scattered cinephiles" that strives to "recognize noteworthy achievements from the previous year in cinema, unswayed by awards-season hype." Together, they vote for the Muriel Awards. The 2013 list features several ties, including Passion, tied with Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives at number 42. Each of the films had three votes. The Golden Muriel for 2013 went to Richard Linklater's Before Midnight, with 32 votes.

Posted by Geoff at 12:02 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, March 20, 2014 12:04 AM CDT
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Sunday, March 16, 2014


Posted by Geoff at 11:09 AM CDT
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Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Posted by Geoff at 1:24 AM CST
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Friday, February 28, 2014
'PASSION' IN NEW YORK, TONIGHT & SUNDAY

Posted by Geoff at 6:12 PM CST
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