WITH "THE 10 MOST OBSESSION-WORTHY SHOTS OF BRIAN DE PALMA'S CAREER", BY ANNA SWANSON
"To say Brian De Palma is a master of obsession is an understatement," states Anna Swanson at the start of the introduction to her article, "The 10 Most Obsession-Worthy Shots of Brian De Palma's Career," posted today at Film School Rejects (complete with the image montage shown above). "For more than fifty years," Swanson continues, "he’s demonstrated his skill as one of the best American filmmakers by creating works steeped in paranoia and abound with suspenseful sequences that would have made Hitchcock sweat. His films, while often revolving around characters driven by their own obsessions, have a unique ability to worm their way into viewers’ minds through technical achievement and thematic resonance.
"From early masterworks such as Phantom of the Paradise to the overlooked and incendiary Domino, De Palma is gifted at crafting moments that don’t just linger, they burrow. Whether it’s a mind-bending split diopter, a startlingly vibrant color palette, or an assaultive act of violence, his films are unforgettable. This made selecting only ten shots a near-impossible task. One could select one-hundred shots from any given De Palma film and it still wouldn’t be a complete catalog of his skill. But the following ten shots are the ones that immediately come to mind when thinking about what makes De Palma the director he is."
I'll leave it to you to go to Film School Rejects to discover which shots she has chosen (with gifs included), and what she has to say about them... but, well, when you read the first one here, I think you'll see that you're in for a treat:
Hi, Mom! (1970)
The Shot: A woman tests out her new camera by locating Robert De Niro‘s Jon Robin in her field of vision and zooming in on him.
The Obsession: One of De Palma’s signature components is voyeurism. In Hi, Mom!, a film very much about both active and passive forms of looking and observation, this moment highlights an intrinsic curiosity that is found across De Palma’s filmography. While aspiring pornographer Jon looks at his own equipment, this woman turns her attention to him in order to test out the zoom feature. She decides to zoom in on a stranger across the room. She remarks that he becomes blurrier the closer she zooms in, while the focus eventually adjusts as Jon turns his own camera on her.
It’s a rather insignificant moment, one that has very little bearing on the film’s narrative, but it captures some of the most prominent themes in the film. Here, the camera is a novelty, and the prospect of using it to capture footage of a stranger is a bit of lighthearted fun to the female patron, while to Jon it is a tool for invasive voyeurism. There’s a duality to the tool, one that contradicts and complicates any attempt to classify an inherent quality of the camera.
There are also contractions in its very mechanism. As the woman remarks, the closer she gets to Jon, the more the image becomes blurry. While she remains on the other side of the room, she gets a sense of proximity but loses clarity. This shot is also a remarkable comment on the impulses of both De Palma and his characters — when anyone has a camera in hand, they can’t help but aim it at another person. Sure, De Palma is a voyeur. Who isn’t?