AND OKLAHOMA FILM SOCIETY AFTER DARK PODCAST EPISODE ON 'GREETINGS' & HI, MOM!'
Several reviews of Arrow Video's box set, De Niro & De Palma: The Early Films, have popped up in the past couple of weeks. Here are some links:
Given how these films are a bit long, paced oddly at times, and can lose your interest it’s actually quite impressive how good the cinematography and editing is in these movies. DePalma plays around with speeding up films, jump-cutting mid-conversation, and playing around with perspective. The opening of Greetings is a good example of this showing a skyscraper with different apartments and then cutting in footage of different rooms over the windows. It’s an effect that I’m sure at the time was painstaking and difficult, but it looks seamless. The use of light and contrast works wonderfully in The Wedding Party thanks to it being in black and white.
Story-wise each film has its merits. The Wedding Party has the feel of something modern, post-2000, but was made so long ago it’s a marvel. It’s a conversational film not unlike Clerks although it’s far less controversial. Greetings tackles the Vietnam War in ways nobody was doing at the time. Its comedy can sometimes hit the mark, and it’s certainly controversial in how it uses language. It’s a black comedy that works in bits. Hi, Mom!, which serves as a sequel to Greetings, has an excellent first act involving DeNiro’s character selling a porno businessman on voyeurism films. Unfortunately for him he falls for one of the girls he’s peeping on. The film devolves a bit after this into a film within a film, but it’s compelling here and there.
One of the most shocking elements in watching all three of these films is how raw they are. DeNiro has yet to discover the psychotic in Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle or the gangster that defined his career. He’s generally speaking playing a normal guy in his 20s. In fact, The Wedding Party was shot when he was 20 years, if my math adds up, and is his first on film work. He’s not bad in the role-playing an average guy and it makes you wonder if he carried on doing comedies or standard dramas if he’d be as popular today.
DePalma’s directing is incredible considering this is where he started. There are definite signs he’s playing around and learning as he went, but much of these films hold up and are watchable.
Thomas H Green, The Arts Desk
Greetings, from 1968, established De Palma as a rising star of Greenwich Village’s alternative film scene and is known for its anti-Vietnam draft stance. Viewed cold in 2019, its lo-fi, sub-Jean-Luc Godard narrative jumble soon becomes tiresome as we follow three pals chatting about Vietnam avoidance techniques, wandering around New York, and “computer dating”. It’s a dated mash-up of counterculture and titillation, half arthouse, half grindhouse, summed up by a sequence where one of the protagonists, obsessed with Kennedy assassination conspiracies, uses a nude woman to illustrate where the bullets hit.
What Greetings did give us, however, is De Niro’s creepy character, Jon Rubin, a peeping Tom who’s the only one to end up in Vietnam (where he’s given the film’s best lines). Rubin was resurrected for 1970’s Hi, Mom!, a fascinating film in a different class from the other two. It’s still very much in thrall to Godard but with a dynamic energy and originality all De Palma’s own.
Rubin is now a filmmaker who touts to a porn producer the idea of voyeuristic footage shot through apartment windows. The first half of the film is concerned with that and De Niro’s wooing Jennifer Salt’s Judy to comic effect, but the second half expands dramatically on a sub-plot, shot in black and white with a raw funky soundtrack, wherein an Afro-American theatre troupe offers an encompassing theatrical experience for white people called Be Black Baby. These sequences are superbly conceived, gripping, visceral and shocking, and alone worth watching the film for; brilliant satirical film-making.
The other aspect that makes Hi, Mom! vital viewing is that Jon Rubin is essentially Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, right down to the way he dresses, a disturbed Vietnam vet with a porn habit who’s psychologically/psychotically confused by the counterculture’s values. There are Be Black Baby sequences in which De Niro plays a cop that are a direct dry run for some of Taxi Driver’s most famous scenes (“You talkin’ to me?”). Martin Scorcese simply took Rubin from Hi, Mom!, distilled him, and wiped away all the satirical comedy
Roger Carpenter, We are Movie Geeks
De Palma is well-known for his use of split screen and though there is no actual use of the technique present in Hi, Mom!, there is a terrific scene when De Niro, as Rubin, describes his idea of filming ordinary lives through his window to a woman he wants to be a part of the film. They are standing in the street to the left of the screen. As De Niro describes a fictional woman coming into her apartment, on the right side of the screen, a light is switched on and viewers see a young woman enter a room and watch as she mirrors the action described by De Niro. It’s a simple yet brilliant way to use split screen without resorting to expensive opticals yet subtle enough that it took a second viewing for my brain to realize just what De Palma had done and how well-planned the scene was.
All three films, The Wedding Party, Greetings, and Hi, Mom!, represent De Palma’s earliest work and allows film historians to understand De Palma’s influences much earlier than his more famous films like Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise, Obsession, Carrie, Blow Out, and Dressed to Kill. For viewers who only know De Palma as a horror director, these films also allow one to view De Palma doing some high quality comedy. Viewing De Niro as a 20-year-old, first-time actor is also fairly amazing. Already confident in his abilities, one can see from these films that he was obviously going places.
OKC Film Society After Dark
"In this episode, the gang is joined by filmmaker Mickey Reece to discuss Greetings and Hi, Mom!, Brian De Palma’s two early, revolutionary comedies and other sundry items."