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AV Club Review
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Wednesday, February 2, 2022
VIDEO - SEAN CONNERY 1987 PRESS CONFERENCE
ROLE AS MENTOR IN UNTOUCHABLES, STRENGTH OF MAMET SCRIPT, WORKING WITH HITCHCOCK/DE PALMA, MORE


Thanks to Neil for letting us know about the Sean Connery press conference video (above), which was posted to YouTube by take2markTV this past Sunday. The main thrust of the questions revolve around The Untouchables. Early in the 29-minute video, Connery is asked to compare working with Brian De Palma to having worked with Alfred Hitchcock:
Well, first of all, Hitchcock, in fact, gave very little directorial advice to me as an actor, and yet we got on famously. I know that Brian is a bit of a disciple of Hitchcock. But in this case, with The Untouchables, with Brian, he was, I must say, very very considerate and helpful with the actors. And we had quite a bit of discussion before we started. He very much wanted the Malone character to be the old teacher with the three guys. And this was very much how we worked off-screen and on-screen, and he was very supportive in that way. Keeping them, you know, on their toes all the time. And he had infinite patience, I must say. But then again, I think that if one can make one comment about this script, the film, The Untouchables, I think it was a very good choice for De Palma, because it involved him with very, I think, well-delineated characters that you could feel some sympathy for. I feel in his preceding films, he had a tendency to distance you a bit from the people. But not in the case of The Untouchables. A lot of that’s to do, of course, with the actual writing.

With Connery saying that De Palma "very much wanted the Malone character to be the old teacher with the three guys," and saying that they had "quite a bit of discussion" before filming, one wonders if perhaps De Palma, with this aspect, might have been thinking at least a little about his college days, when he and William Finley and Jared Martin were mentored by Wilford Leach. De Palma and Martin would spend most of their time at Sarah Lawrence College, where, along with Finley, they appeared in Leach's production of Jean Giraudoux's Ondine. According to Justin Humphreys, author of Interviews Too Shocking To Print!, "Finley played an old man, Martin played the lead, a knight, and De Palma played various roles. De Palma's then-girlfriend, Kristina Callahan, played Ondine. Finley, as usual, also designed some of the sets." The show was a "major success," states Humphreys, and they followed it up over the next year with two more: The Italian Straw Hat, and A Soldier's Tale.

Back to the video, when asked to talk about De Palma as a director of action scenes, Connery responds:

Well, I like very much the way De Palma films his scenes. Particularly the point-of-view scenes. He makes the audience very very aware of the geography and what you’re seeing, and you’re inside the action all the time. Some directors use lots of whip-pan and jump cuts and a lot of, like a mosaic – tiny pieces of film. I like his method of… it’s quite epic, the space he uses in getting to what he wants, and then taking you in with it. Really, I mean, his techniques and things really speak for themselves. It’s nothing that I can really embellish on. But I think that sometimes the blood and the violence, he gets carried away with. But technically, he has, I think, a marvelous sense of the cinema.

Posted by Geoff at 7:52 PM CST
Post Comment | View Comments (11) | Permalink | Share This Post

Thursday, February 3, 2022 - 2:48 PM CST

Name: "Chris"

I'm guessing you already know this, but apparently Connery was first offered the Michael Caine part in Dressed to Kill but was unavailable or had scheduling issues. As fine an actor as Connery was, that part would have been a very awkward fit for him for several reasons.

 I've always found it odd that he didn't thank De Palma when winning the Oscar. One of the few acting Oscar wins when the director was not mentioned at all. Not sure if it was nerves or he just forgot or was trying to be rude --- but it sticks out to me. 

Thursday, February 3, 2022 - 7:35 PM CST

Name: "Mustafa"

I am disapponted from that also, that he didnt thank De Palma during his speech, not even a sumple mention of his name. Although, here he says that De Palma directed him more

Probably he held a grudge on him?

 As I know that there was an incidence where some gun powder flew into Connery's eyes, and he went to the hospital. De Palma literlayy went to him and BEGGED him to finish the shot

 De palma has always been ignored by most, but cherished by few, what else is new! 

 

Thursday, February 3, 2022 - 9:46 PM CST

Name: "Geoff"
Home Page: http://https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/blog

This interview above was done way after filming The Untouchables, and he is talking very positively about De Palma, generally, so it seems unlikely he was holding any kind of grudge at the Oscars. Sometimes an oversight is just an oversight...? Imagine how some winners feel when they say they forgot to thank their family member or whoever.

Friday, February 4, 2022 - 12:01 PM CST

Name: "Chris"

Geoff, yes of course it could have been an oversight. Historically, most times winners have forgotten to thank someone, it's been a family member or other associate. Can't think of other acting winners who haven't mentioned the director. But it could certainly happen!

I had a slightly different take on this interview. He's positive but in a somewhat backhanded way. I don't find the characters distanced or aloof in De Palma's earlier films. Personally, I think Connery's filmography in the early to mid 80s is very weak. Him saying this at that point in his career is interesting to me. Anyway, great interview!

  

Saturday, February 5, 2022 - 9:04 AM CST

Name: "Geoff"
Home Page: http://https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/blog

I see what you're saying, but I really think Connery is being honest and sincere, and is actually impressed that De Palma is showing a willingness to grow as a filmmaker.

I think it is helpful to consider that before it was released, nobody had any idea The Untouchables would be the big hit it turned out to be. At this moment in De Palma's career, SCARFACE was still considered a graphically violent and bloody failure, followed by a thriller (BODY DOUBLE) that was criticized in its time as being full of over-the-top sex and violence. Beginning with the overlooked WISE GUYS, De Palma was making a conscious attempt to change his image.

Rolling Stone ran an article about The Untouchables months prior to its release, which included quotes from Connery which I believe were from the set of the film. He said many of these same things regarding the way people (and, he said, he himself) viewed what was thought of at that time as a "Brian De Palma film." Connery was essentially telling the public to expect something different with this film - and in that way, I believe he was being sensitive to the fashion-of-the-day criticisms of De Palma, while also being aware that De Palma was trying to grow as a filmmaker.

Saturday, February 5, 2022 - 1:36 PM CST

Name: "Mustafa"

I think that in The Untouchables, De Palma literally oput Connery back to the scene. As was being forgotten as an excellent actor, living under his Bond shadow.

Forgetting to thank the main purpose behind this, De Palma's vison of the movie and the character, was discouraging to say the least.

It depends on one's point of view of "growth", to me, Femme Fatale is his peak of growth as a visual filmmaker.

Maybe, De Palma wanted to be taken seriously as a "serious filmmaker", rather than a genre director, which is more than I want from him, and what I would like to see from him!

 

Saturday, February 5, 2022 - 1:37 PM CST

Name: "Chris"

Oh believe me, I know that De Palma's reputation at that time was very shaky. However we might feel about the films now, none of his work -- Blow Out, Scarface, Body Double, Wise Guys -- was well received then. I don't think think he needed to "grow" as a filmmaker but he badly needed a hit. Which The Untouchable gave him.

I guess I'm more wary of Connery than you may be. He also hadn't had a well-received film in many, many years and I found the tone of his comments here a little bitchier than you did. I think in some of his interviews over the years he was more blunt or unkind than he needed to be (after all, that famous chat with Barbara Walters was around this very same time). His best side did not come out often in his interviews.

Anyway, it all worked out and I'm glad they made the film together. 

Saturday, February 5, 2022 - 1:52 PM CST

Name: "Geoff"
Home Page: http://https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/blog

Yes, but what I am saying is that it was De Palma himself who felt he needed to grow as a filmmaker. Here's an excerpt from Bruce Weber's NY Times article prior to the release of Casualties Of War, from May 21, 1989:

It is only lately, De Palma says, that he has become interested in character development, and it is no accident that he has worked, in his last two films, with scripts by established playwrights -David Mamet on "The Untouchables" and David Rabe on "Casualties of War" -rather than pen his own, something he did frequently in the past. "I'm good with story ideas and visual ideas," he says. "But I'm not good at writing characters. There are 8,000 quotes of me saying, 'Form is content.' Well, it's true. Form is content. But other stuff is content, too."

A cerebral, pragmatic man, De Palma, figuring blithely out loud, says a film maker can probably expect a four-decade career. Nearing the end of his third decade himself, he says, he should be at his peak, a time when his experience and creative energy are at maximum confluence, and when his work ought to be making use of every element of the medium.

"What a camera does is essential to being a film maker," De Palma says now. "But when you do it all -when you have a great story, a great script, great characters, great actors and a director who has an incredible visual sophistication - that's when you're going to make a truly great movie. I'm at the point in my career where I want to push it as far as I can."

Monday, February 7, 2022 - 12:19 PM CST

Name: "Chris"

I think my comments were more about the Connery interview, responding to what you had posted. I just found it a bit rich that someone coming off a 12-year string of mostly critical and commercial duds (The Next Man, Meteor, Cuba, Outland, Five Days One Summer, Wrong is Right, Highlander, The Name of the Rose) would be a little glib about De Palma's work. That's all!

I'm aware of De Palma's comments in the press at that time. I think he was aware of the need to find a broader audience for his work but I wish he had framed it differently than needing to "grow" as a filmmaker. The man who made masterpieces like Carrie and Dressed to Kill and Blow Out didn't need to "grow" as an artist but he did need to find better projects than Wise Guys (that's for sure) and be less hostile to the press than he was during publicity for Body Double. For what it's worth, I think the characters in The Untouchables are pretty shallow and I don't see "growth" in De Palma's technique but the film was definitely commercial as all hell and very popular, which enabled him to do the very personal Casualties of War.

Monday, February 7, 2022 - 6:04 PM CST

Name: "Geoff"
Home Page: http://https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/blog

I wanted to clarify what I was saying between you and Mustafa, because it was indeed De Palma himself saying those things (this wasn't me putting forth an opinion that "I think De Palma needed to grow as a filmmaker at that point in his career blah blah blah"). I'm really sorry my use of the word "grow" here seems to have bothered you guys, to the point where we keep putting that word in quotes! What I was really getting at is that Connery, talking to the press, seemed sensitive to what De Palma's public reputation was and also sensitive to what De Palma's goals were with The Untouchables.

Thursday, March 24, 2022 - 2:25 AM CDT

Name: "JJ"

"I'm good with story ideas and visual ideas," he says. "But I'm not good at writing characters..."

 This from the writer who created indelible characters for "Blow Out," "Phantom of the Paradise?" Mind boggled. But honestly, I've never gone to De Palma for talky, B'way style, character-driven movies, and I'd be dissapointed if he made one. 

 

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