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Friday, February 20, 2015
As Fifty Shades Of Grey was released in theaters last weekend, several outlets posted articles discussing histories of sex scenes and sex thrillers in movies. Also making the rounds was a MovieMaker article from 2013: Things I’ve Learned: Brian De Palma’s Golden Rules of Shooting a Sex Scene. The article had appeared on the last page of the print edition of MovieMaker's 2014 Complete Guide To Making Movies (which came out in 2013), and was posted online in August of 2013. The article is by Brian De Palma, as interviewed by K.J. Doughton.

In the article, De Palma provides seven key things to think about when creating sex onscreen. Quoting the article here would mean truncating too much to do anything much justice, but some interesting notes include: "In Body Double, I spent a lot of time searching for the right cinematographer. I actually did screen tests for different DPs. I had these incredibly attractive women, and I wanted to make sure they were lensed correctly. That’s when I discovered Steven Burum, and I used him for many films after that."

Item #4 - "Don’t underestimate the power of a kiss. Watching Alfred Hitchcock, the first thing you learn about kissing is that you have to see the actor’s faces. You have to see them reacting to the kiss. Watch Cary Grant kissing Ingrid Bergman in Notorious. A lot of filmmakers think that just showing people kissing each other, and having a very good time, is enough. But so often their eyes are closed, and you can’t see their faces. The audience is completely shut out. In Hitchcock movies, you can see that they are kissing each other on the neck, and talking. They’re kissing lightly on the lips, and you can see their eyes. You see how they’re reacting. That’s what creates the eroticism of the scene."

And item #7 - "Watch Ryan’s Daughter. There’s one great lovemaking scene in Ryan’s Daughter. She finally has a rendezvous with a military man. It’s exquisitely well done. You really feel the sense of nature surrounding the eroticism. Because [director David] Lean had an idea! Take a girl in a field and make love to her. The feel and the sensuality of the nature around them as they’re getting into the lovemaking—it’s quite good." [When De Palma says that Lean had an idea, it's a callback to his point #3 - "You need some kind of conceptual idea."]

Prior to the release of 50 Shades Of Grey, Calum Marsh wrote a piece for the National Post with the headline, "Fifty Shades of Grey’s eroticism won’t deliver the thrill of the genre’s predecessors." That's an interesting statement being projected prior to seeing the actual film, but the point of the article echoes something De Palma states in the MovieMaker article above: "The cultural climate is too permissive, too inured, for people to be shaken by a bit of BDSM," Marsh surmises. In the 2013 MovieMaker article, De Palma had said, "Today, there’s such an incredible amount of lovemaking and nudity on cable television, and in pornography on the Internet. You see bodies photographed from every conceivable angle, doing every conceivable thing, so you really have to think hard to approach eroticism with a fresh idea. Just showing people kissing, people fucking—it’s of no interest to me."

In the National Post article, Marsh runs through a quick, brief history of the increasing permissiveness of mainstream cinema between the '60s and '70s. "Thrumming deep beneath these developments," writes Marsh, "was the bass line of the exploitation film. And it would be this strain, with its extravagant vulgarity and sensationalism, that would eventually bring sex to the popular imagination. Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, released in 1980, was indebted in many conspicuous ways to Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom and especially Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, both from 1960. But unrestrained by the strictures of the period, De Palma was free to adopt the format and amplify the sex and violence — to remake Psycho, in essence, with the lurid panache of a liberated age.

"Dressed To Kill was a hit: it earned nearly $32-million against its slender $6-million budget, suggesting to financiers around Hollywood that this sort of risqué genre film — owing in large part to the scandal it invariably aroused — could be hugely lucrative, so long as they were marketed in such a fashion to exaggerate, rather than downplay, their more disreputable qualities. Thus the erotic thriller was born."

On February 6th, The Toronto Sun's Liz Braun posted a mostly-annoying article looking at "erotic fails on the big screen," featuring a list of "The Top 20 Unsexy Sexy Movies." Paul Schrader's The Canyons topped her list, followed by Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls at #2. Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut was listed at #11. De Palma made her list twice, albeit near the bottom: #17 - Body Double - "The usual: a peeping Tom, the porn industry and construction tools used to ventilate people. Or maybe not. Brian De Palma challenges you to question what you see in this thriller, a challenge made tougher by all the naked breasts in your face. Just sayin'." And then she lists Femme Fatale at #19 - "A diamond thief (Rebecca Romijn) who seduces men and women alike in her line of work swaps identities with a wealthy French woman, takes a bubble bath, meets Antonio Banderas and discovers the whole thing was a dream. What the — ? Funny how often director Brian De Palma's name turns up in detritus like this."

The New Zealand Herald's Dominic Corry posted a similar article on February 11, but his mention of De Palma was positive. Discussing Showgirls, Corry writes, "Verhoeven famously later said that in retrospect, he believes he should've put a serial killer plot into Showgirls to distract the audience from the film's crude commentary on the American dream. Which is about as awesomely cynical a thing as you could imagine a director saying, and I love it. Ahead of seeing the film, I already feel like this kind of thinking may have suited Fifty Shades of Grey. A knife-wielding murderer can justify a lot of lovey-dovey cheese. Hire Verhoeven or Brian De Palma to direct it, and we might actually have something interesting."

And finally, in the wake of the box office results from the opening weekend of Fifty Shades, Entertainment Weekly's Nicole Sperling has posted an article with the headline, "Dirty Money: 11 Highest-Grossing R-rated Erotic Dramas of All Time." She starts off with Dressed To Kill at #11 - "This erotic crime thriller from Brian De Palma stars Michael Caine as both a New York City psychiatrist and a deranged transgender patient and is best known for the brutal elevator murder scene—which DePalma calls the best he’s ever done. The movie generated great reviews and became an inspiration to filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino. The original version was trimmed after the MPAA gave it an X-rating and the film earned $32 million at the box office."

Posted by Geoff at 2:56 AM CST
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Saturday, February 14, 2015
Discussing his lead role in American Sniper with Deadline's Mike Fleming Jr., Bradley Cooper contrasted the "no frills" style that Clint Eastwood was going for (which included the absence of music until the use of an old Morricone piece at the end) with a more theatrical style, and he mentioned Brian De Palma as an example-- a sort of shorthand to describe the type of camera move he wants to suggest. Here's the exchange:
DEADLINE: As you build your production company now with Todd Phillips, how has this philosophy of stripping down to the core influenced how you look at a piece of material?
COOPER: It’s there. But I’ve been very lucky to be brought up by great storytellers, starting with JJ Abrams initially on Alias. I’m from the East Coast and got planted out there in LA and it was like a self-imposed grad school for film. I’d go to the end of the room every day and get everybody’s dailies on videotape and watch them. I learned so much there just about the mechanics of it. Then I learned more on this movie The Midnight Meat Train. With Limitless I really got to work on story, and that brings me to David O. Russell, who is all about that. Where’s the f*cking heart, where’s the f*cking heart, give me the real thing, drop the bullsh*t. He loves to celebrate life and nostalgia and comedy, but there is no bullsh*t. And when you’re working with him, you better not f*cking act.

DEADLINE: He’s not a fan of theatrics?
COOPER: No. He wants to see your soul. I’ve had it jammed in me for so long that by the time I landed on Sniper, I was ready for the way Clint operates. It’s always about, what are we getting at here? There it is, there’s the f*cking mitochondria, this is the sh*t right here, that’s the powerhouse. So, we were on the same page, me and Clint, and that meant no frills, let’s just tell a simple story. We knew that character was charismatic. The guy’s amazing. He’s fucking huge. He’s got this amazing voice. He’s got this levity about him. He has this way of thinking about the world that I’ve never seen on film, quite frankly. When the psychiatrist asks him about himself and how he’s doing, you’re not expecting that answer. I wasn’t. But that’s real to him and you’re looking in his eyes and thinking, what’s going on there? That’s interesting to us, that’s an interesting enough character to fill the frame. You don’t have to come up on a f*cking Brian De Palma thing or come overhead like…no, that’s it, right here.

DEADLINE: Or having the shrink comment that his eyes betray the fact he’s not right?
COOPER: Yeah, well, that’s just Jason Hall making it real, but we were all on the same page. Chris led the way.


Posted by Geoff at 10:41 AM CST
Updated: Saturday, February 14, 2015 3:17 PM CST
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Friday, January 9, 2015

Thanks to Jordi for letting us know about an upcoming Brian De Palma retrospective, not in Brazil this time (see two recent posts here and here), but in Barcelona, Spain. The retrospective, titled "Under the Gaze of Brian De Palma," runs January 14-30, and takes place at a new cinema in Barcelona, Phenomena, which bills itself as "The Ultimate Cinematic Experience." The series kicks off Wednesday with De Palma's Scarface, followed by Carrie (Jan. 16), Dressed To Kill (Jan. 16), The Untouchables (Jan. 18), Phantom Of The Paradise (Jan. 21), Raising Cain (Jan. 23), Obsession (Jan. 23), Mission: Impossible (Jan. 25), Carlito's Way (Jan. 28), Body Double (Jan. 30), and closing with Blow Out (Jan. 30).

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CST
Updated: Friday, January 9, 2015 11:58 PM CST
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Thursday, January 8, 2015
The other day, I posted a belated entry about a Brian De Palma retrospective at Cine Lume in Brazil. That retrospective ended yesterday, but it turns out there has been a separate De Palma series going on at Sala Walter da Silveira. This one started January 2nd, and runs through January 14th-- that last day, there will be a screening of a surprise De Palma film. This series includes many of De Palma films, and sometimes pairs them up with a film that inspired De Palma: Rear Window and Body Double were screened back-to-back on January 5th; Battleship Potemkin and The Untouchables were back-to-back last night; and Fritz Lang's The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse and De Palma's Snake Eyes were back-to-back earlier tonight. Monday, January 12th, Dario Argento's Suspiria will follow a screening of the movie that introduced Jessica Harper, De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise. Back on January 4th, both versions (Hawks' and De Palma's) of Scarface were screened back-to-back, and on Tuesday January 13th, De Palma's Scarface will screen again, this time following a screening of Jean Vigo's Zero For Conduct. I've never seen the latter, so if anyone knows how it may link to Scarface, please feel free to share. Which reminds me, all of these screenings are free.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Friday, January 9, 2015 12:07 AM CST
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Tuesday, January 6, 2015
I'm a little late with this, but Cine Lume in São Luís, Maranhão, in Brazil, has been running a Brian De Palma retrospective since the first of January (2015). It winds down with a screening of Blow Out tonight (Tuesday), and Dressed To Kill tomorrow night (Wednesday). The other films in the retrospective are: The Untouchables, Carlito's Way, Scarface, Greetings, Carrie, and Body Double.

Posted by Geoff at 12:48 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 12:51 AM CST
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Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Taylor was always aware of what she was doing. She invited us to look at her so that she would not be watched. A Rolling Stone cover story interview revealed her obsession with surveillance and paranoia that her private world could be invaded through technology. It was a year when a number of female celebrities had their privacy invaded in a very violent way, and Swift was well aware she was a target. Her paranoid outlook in the Rolling Stone profile — that she might be snapped changing in a dressing room or bathroom by some untrustworthy soul — was justifiable. We all increasingly live in a surveillance state. But Swift lives in a Brian De Palma movie.

"The extremely public Swift is, brilliantly, a cover for the extremely private Swift. It allows her to have publicity and privacy on her own terms. Just like anyone who creates a projected hologram of their meatspace existence through the use of social media, what Taylor is really giving the world is just the appearance of her everything."

--from an essay by Molly Lambert, posted at Grantland

[The "poster" presented here is an altered version of the illustration by Jonathan Bartlett that accompanies Lambert's essay at Grantland.]


Director Mark Romanek has been influenced by Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma, and now, Taylor Swift.

Posted by Geoff at 3:06 AM CST
Updated: Saturday, December 6, 2014 3:10 AM CST
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Sunday, October 19, 2014
Armond White, Out
on Justin Simien's Dear White People

"Turns out it’s passive, late-to-politics Lionel—the black gay dude—who represents Simien’s concerns. His evolution counters the old gay-until-graduation truism. Lionel sports a blooming Afro as significant as Dante DeBlasio’s. He’s awakened politically after his sex and writing life disappoint and once he discovers a Halloween party where the white students dress in blackface (based on those at Dartmouth, Penn State, and other campuses). This has a weak comic payoff (except for Coco’s counterintuitive costume choice), yet it brings out the desperation in Simien’s farce structure. Campus turmoil drives Simien’s suffering main characters a bit mad. Simien doesn’t critique them; his imperfect film shares the ideological confusion that has confounded all comedians during the Obama era—from the partisan satirists on Saturday Night Live to those Obama effigies Key & Peele on Comedy Central.

"Working post-Dave Chappelle, Simien presupposes a general racial awareness. Sam states Simien’s p.o.v. when she says 'Satire is the weapon of reason' and 'The job of the counterculture is to attack the mainstream.' Now that identity humor has become mainstream fodder, with subtle insistence on everyone’s assigned roles, Dear White People continues the assumption that everybody understands what gays, blacks, and women want. (A reality-TV subplot goes nowhere except offering the misinformation that '"re-enactment" is a documentary term.')

"Simien observes a lost generation of gays, blacks and women who forget what their protesting forbears fought for. (To wit: Sam frantically proclaims: 'It wasn’t speeches that turned the tide for civil rights, it was the anarchists that got the press'—a terrible reduction of history.) These 'post-racial' youth are shocked to discover there really is no such thing. This sad truth gives poignance to Dear White People's narrative mess...

"Simien’s satire isn’t as sharp as Joseph Kahn’s audacious Detention and it lacks the radicalism of Brian De Palma’s 1970 classic Hi, Mom! with its unforgettable 'Be Black Baby' mockery of white liberal fantasies. In the Obama era, comics have lost the ability to mock their own prejudices. Simien’s efforts cost him the depth of his four main characters—gay Lionel in particular. But I must admit: By movie’s end, Lionel’s confusion is more affecting than at the beginning."

Posted by Geoff at 1:51 AM CDT
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Monday, October 13, 2014

Garry Marshall
Joe Mantello

Posted by Geoff at 8:46 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, October 13, 2014 8:52 PM CDT
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Friday, October 3, 2014
French superstar actor Mathieu Amalric, who gives a truly great performance in Roman Polanski's latest film, Venus In Fur, co-wrote, co-stars, and directed the psychological thriller The Blue Room, which screened at the New York Film Festival Monday night. The film is based on an early '60s mystery novella of the same name by Georges Simenon. While discussing the film with Showbiz 411's Paula Schwartz on the red carpet at the fest's Monday night screening, Amalric spotted Brian De Palma, who was there to see the film, and the two made plans to meet up later. Here's the passage from Schwartz' article, from which the photo seen here was taken:

[Discussing why he chose to do The Blue Room] “It was I think a sort of love for a genre and to do a small budget film quickly, a police film, with love as a theme. It is about this sexual attraction that we are all capable of falling into and the fact that those moments you are someone else but maybe you are in fact yourself in those moments and you’re not allowed to live that.”

Added the charming actor who looks a bit like an elf, “You have to restrain that inside you in every day life, the fact that the body just talks at your place and you have to listen to it and that’s, I don’t know…Oh God!” Amalric called out. He just spied famed director Brian De Palma on the other side of the barricades where no one else noticed him.

De Palma came racing over to the red carpet and hugged Amalric, who thanked him for coming.

“The film is not long,” Amalric told the “Dressed to Kill” director. They made plans to meet afterwards at a restaurant around the corner.

After De Palma went inside the theater, Amalric– who played the villain in “The Quantum of Solace” — pretended to bite his fingernails in nervousness.


The next day, Schwartz posted a slightly reworded version of this story in her Reel Life With Jane column, adding, "Amalric seemed surprised and touched that De Palma was there to see his film... After De Palma went into the theater, Amalric turned to me and said softly, 'That was Brian De Palma.' Nervously, he pretended to start biting his nails. Then looking a bit like a charming elf, he smiled with those hugely expressive eyes and walked lightly into the theater."

In his Salon review of The Blue Room, Andrew O'Hehir states that Amalric's film "makes a fascinating European companion piece to David Fincher’s Gone Girl.” O'Hehir adds, "I suppose it’s just coincidence that both movies are premiering at the New York Film Festival and then opening in theaters right away, but it feels like fate. In relative terms, almost nobody will see Amalric’s movie, and that’s too bad: Like Gone Girl, it’s a study of a middle-class marriage in terminal decay that contains both a dreamlike, symbolic level and also a more conventional murder mystery, built around the archetype of the 'dangerous woman.' But this film hews an entirely different path to reach essentially the same destination."

Posted by Geoff at 3:35 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, October 3, 2014 7:09 PM CDT
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Stephanie Zacharek is the guest on the latest episode of Peter Labuza's podcast, The Cinephiliacs. Toward the end of their discussion, Labuza asks Zacharek to talk a little bit about why she loves the films of Brian De Palma:

Labuza: Speaking of illusionists, Brian De Palma-- You’re a really big fan of him. Some might say that’s because you’re a Paulinista, to use your phrase. What makes Brian De Palma one of the great film artists for you? Because I certainly know I’ve been a big fan of his work, but what sort of, you know, trickery, brings you under his spell every time?

Zacharek: Well, I think a certain taste for kind of sick stuff. [They both laugh] But beyond that, I really love… I love this classical structure of his films, and the attention to… like so much attention to detail, which I really appreciate. And I love… there’s just a lot of passion in them. You know, particularly, I’m thinking of… I guess my two favorite films of his are probably Blow Out and Carlito’s Way. It’s really hard for me to choose between those two. And now also Casualties Of War. But to me there’s a lot of emotional depth in those movies that I don’t think people really give him credit for. You know, people are always talking about how kind of twisted he is, and what a trickster he is, and all that. And all the visual stuff, which of course, is all there, and I love all that stuff. It’s really fun. There’s also… sometimes I find his movies actually kind of painful to watch. There’s just like a lot of raw feeling in them, that is almost, like, hiding behind the technique. I don’t really know how else to explain it.

Labuza: Yeah. No, I think I see. I mean, I always think of, one of his most belabored movies, but Mission To Mars has that moment where Tim Robbins, sort of floating, he’s about to take off his helmet. And that scene always kills me. I don’t know why.

Zacharek: Oh, boy oh boy. I mean, well, the recurring theme in his movies is the man who is unable to save the woman, like John Travolta not being able to save Nancy Allen in Blow Out. And Michael J. Fox, you know, not being able to save that poor girl who is raped by his comrades. But here you have an instance of the woman not being able to save the man. As a woman, that’s kind of intense. I mean, I’m sure it’s intense if you’re a guy, too, but it’s just interesting to see the tables turned.


Posted by Geoff at 11:53 PM CDT
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