FOR HIS "CRUCIAL" ROLE IN THE MAKING OF 'STAR WARS'
This week's Projection Booth podcast focuses on Star Wars (the film now known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope). Beginning around the 11-minute mark, while discussing Michael Kaminski's book The Secret History Of Star Wars, co-host Mike White says that while the book talks about people coming in and giving advice to George Lucas, "one of the things missing, for me, was some of the people who gave input on the project—especially Brian De Palma, and just how, for me, crucial De Palma was in the history of Star Wars. And he kind of got short-shrifted in that. And really, not too many people talk about the role that De Palma has played in, at least, the first Star Wars film.
"So one of the things that De Palma is kind of infamous for," White continues, "was tearing down one of the first screenings of Star Wars, and, you know, it didn’t work for him, basically. But before that, before he was there as one of the initial audience members, it was him who really kind of helped out the very socially-awkward George Lucas with the auditions."
Another podcast to keep an eye out for: White also just recorded an episode of Geek Juice Radio, as the first part of a director series on De Palma.
BOOK: "HOW STAR WARS CONQUERED THE UNIVERSE" - DE PALMA & COCKS REWRITE THE CRAWL
A more recent book, How Star Wars Conquered The Universe by Chris Taylor, highlights De Palma's role in editing and rewriting the opening crawl of the film. Here's an excerpt:
Star Wars remains one of the best examples of the storytelling dictum that it is best to begin in the middle of things. (Quite literally so, as it would turn out: Lucas's six-episode saga was the first in world history to open at its precise midpoint.) And he did insist that the roll-up remain, in the face of Fox executives who complained that children wouldn't read any kind of scrolling text at the start of a film. About the time they started, Lucas said.
Credit for the words that roll up the screen following the Star Wars logo is only one part Lucas: the other credit goes to the unlikely duo of director Brian De Palma and then Time movie critic, later filmmaker, Jay Cocks. Lucas had screened an unfinished cut for them in spring 1977, along with a house full of other friends. Over dinner afterwards, while Spielberg declared the film was going to be a huge hit, the naturally acerbic De Palma-- who had sat in on most of the Star Wars casting sessions, looking for actors for Carrie at the same time-- openly mocked Lucas: "What's all this Force shit? Where's the blood when they shoot people?" Perhaps urged on by Marcia, who knew George deeply respected De Palma, Brian later made a peace offering: he offered to rewrite the roll-up.
Lucas was crushed but agreed: the opening crawl had been too wordy in each of its four drafts, and he was down to the wire. His pastiche of lengthy, Flash Gordon-style introductions clearly wasn't coming across to viewers. De Palma sat down the next day, with Cocks at the typewriter. The result: an object lesson in the power of editing.
Taylor then presents Lucas' version of the crawl, with his own editorial comments interspersed throughout. "The De Palma and Cocks edit is the crawl that survives to this day," Taylor continues afterward. "It is a spare and simple four sentences, revealing exactly what you need to know, with not a word going to waste."
Lucas himself talked a bit about this screening, De Palma's criticisms, and the rewriting of the crawl during a conversation on stage with Stephen Colbert at the Tribeca Film Festival this past April. You can hear the conversation on YouTube-- the bit about De Palma, etc., begins around the 42-and-a-half-minute mark.
SUPERSNIPE - COMIC BOOK STORE IN 1970s MANHATTAN
Another excerpt of interest from Taylor's book, from an earlier chapter:
Meanwhile on the East Coast, yet another young bearded filmmaker, Edward Summer, had graduated from NYU's film school with dreams of making a science fiction film. He'd made a short film called Item 72-D. Because everyone kept mistaking it for THX 1138, he added the subtitle The Adventures of Spa and Fon. While he waited to get funding for his other science fiction scripts, he opened a comic book store in Manhattan. Called Supersnipe, it soon became a mecca for comic book and film nerds including Brian De Palma, Robert Zemeckis, Martin Scorsese, and their friend George Lucas.
Years later, in 1999, the critic Peter Biskind wrote a boook called Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. His thesis was that the "rock and roll generation" of directors split in two in the 1970s: that Spielberg and Lucas went one way, into space fantasy and other popcorn fare, which changed the course of cinema and pushed out the edgier work of directors such as De Palma and Scorsese. But Biskind completely missed the fact that those edgy directors spent a good portion of the decade just as Lucas did: in comic book stores, reading science fiction, trying to get space movies off the ground.
"The 1970s was a perfect storm for something like Star Wars to happen," Summer says. He remembers Scorsese optioning stories by the great paranoid science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, while De Palma wanted to make a movie out of The Demolished Man, a science fiction classic by Alfred Bester. "Everybody, everybody wanted to make a movie of The Stars My Destination," Bester's other hit novel, Summer remembers. "I was involved with three separate productions of it, and nobody could get it right. The special effects were so difficult."