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Recent Headlines
a la Mod:

Domino is
a "disarmingly
straight-forward"
work that "pushes
us to reexamine our
relationship to images
and their consumption,
not only ethically
but metaphysically"
-Collin Brinkman

De Palma on Domino
"It was not recut.
I was not involved
in the ADR, the
musical recording
sessions, the final
mix or the color
timing of the
final print."

Listen to
Donaggio's full score
for Domino online

De Palma/Lehman
rapport at work
in Snakes

De Palma/Lehman
next novel is Terry

De Palma developing
Catch And Kill,
"a horror movie
based on real things
that have happened
in the news"

Supercut video
of De Palma's films
edited by Carl Rodrigue

Washington Post
review of Keesey book

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Exclusive Passion
Interviews:

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario

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AV Club Review
of Dumas book

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Entries by Topic
A note about topics: Some blog posts have more than one topic, in which case only one main topic can be chosen to represent that post. This means that some topics may have been discussed in posts labeled otherwise. For instance, a post that discusses both The Boston Stranglers and The Demolished Man may only be labeled one or the other. Please keep this in mind as you navigate this list.
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Saturday, January 10, 2015
OSCARS TO HOST 'PHANTOM' SCREENING JAN 23
DOUBLE FEATURE WITH 'ALL THAT JAZZ' PART OF CONTEMPORARY COSTUMING THEME
On January 23rd, the Oscars will host a double feature with the title "Street Clothes: Contemporary Costuming in New Hollywood." The two movies that will make up the double feature are Bob Fosse's All That Jazz (at 7:30 pm, from DCP) and Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise (at 9:50 pm, in 35mm). The screenings will take place at the Bing Theater at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Oscars web page description of Phantom includes a sentence about the costumes:

"Writer-director Brian De Palma remade Gaston Leroux’s classic novel The Phantom of the Opera as a horror-rock musical that has remained one of his most visually dazzling movies. Winslow Leach (De Palma regular William Finley) is a talented but naïve songwriter whose ambitious rock version of Faust is stolen by Machiavellian music mogul Swan (Paul Williams, who also wrote the Oscar-nominated song score). Driven mad by a disfiguring accident, Winslow faces off against Swan for the love of beautiful young singer Phoenix (Jessica Harper), culminating in a thrilling finale that shows off De Palma’s pictorial and editorial mastery. A box office disappointment at the time of its release (except in Winnipeg), Phantom has been elevated to cult status, and Rosanna Norton’s imaginative and eye-popping costumes – a direct influence on Daft Punk’s leather-bound, helmet-clad aesthetic – help bridge the film’s wildly disparate genres."

Posted by Geoff at 11:36 AM CST
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Friday, January 9, 2015
DE PALMA RETROSPECTIVE IN BARCELONA
RUNS JANUARY 14-30 AT PHENOMENA, "THE ULTIMATE CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE"


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
ANOTHER DE PALMA FILM SERIES IN BRAZIL
FEATURES DE PALMA FILMS, SOMETIMES PAIRED WITH FILMS THAT INSPIRED THEM
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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Wednesday, January 7, 2015
TWO VIEWS ON THE 'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE' FILMS
COMPARING/CONTRASTING THE FOUR FILMS, AND AN ALL-OUT DEFENSE OF WOO'S ENTRY



Den of Geek's Tim George posted an article yesterday examining the unique ways in which each film in Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible franchise has been "clearly delineated by the vision and preoccupations of its particular director." For the first film, George focuses on the ways in which Brian De Palma utilizes suspense techniques learned from watching the films of Alfred Hitchcock:
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It is a testament to De Palma’s technique that Mission: Impossible’s most memorable sequence involves Tom Cruise hanging from a wire, and is not dependant on more traditional set pieces. The midnarrative set piece would become a tradition in the sequels, with De Palma’s successors putting their own spin on an IMF mission. The most important aspect of Hitchcock’s style that De Palma has made his own is his use of an omniscient point-of-view. De Palma’s camera may appear to approximate the subjective view of the characters, but his directorial control dictates what the viewer can see.

An early example of this is the early sequence where Ethan Hunt witnesses his boss’s death by an unseen assailant via a camera in his glasses. All that Hunt (and by extension, the viewer) can see is a hand firing a gun directly at the camera. Later, when this scene is revealed to be staged, De Palma shows the action from a long shot to reveal what is really going on.

De Palma’s focus on suspense allows for other homages to Hitchcock, which are more decorative. Following his showdown with the villains, Ethan Hunt watches helplessly as a helicopter’s rotor blade spins toward him. This bit of action is reminiscent of a key moment from the climax of Strangers On A Train, where a technician sneaks under an out-of-control ferris wheel to switch off the mechanism, while the ride spins at high speed only a few inches above his head.

The introduction of the villain in the third act resembles the extended shot which identifies the twitching eyes of the killer in Hitchcock’s Young And Innocent. Starting from a long shot of a train, the camera pulls into a close-up of the killer’s hands through a window. This sequence also shows the influence of the Italian giallo, in De Palma’s use of mise-en-scene to conceal the villain’s identity. De Palma frames the character through a train compartment window, with his identity concealed by a half-closed blind. By framing the shot in this way, De Palma emphasises the character’s black gloves (a motif familiar from both the giallo genre and De Palma’s own Dressed To Kill) as he assembles a gun from the parts of a boombox.

De Palma is famous for his use of split screen to convey and build tension, and he integrates this technique into the opening action with a rather ingenious and subtle variation of the trope. As Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) directs his team, he watches their progress via cameras on their glasses. The respective point of views of these characters appear as a series of windows on his computer screen. In this way, De Palma renders his use of split screen as part of the mise-en-scene.

Sequences like this exemplify the degree to which De Palma is able to blend his style with the conventions of the genre he is working in.

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George is not impressed by John Woo's follow-up to De Palma's film. "Indeed, aside from Newton’s role," states George, "everything in Woo’s film appears to be a pale re-hash of its predecessor, with the focus on action lacking the melodramatic heft of Woo’s best work. Mission: Impossible’s most memorable set piece - Hunt being lowered by a wire - is re-worked as the prelude to an extended shoot-out. This sequence, intentionally or otherwise, exemplifies the divergence between De Palma and Woo when it comes to the material and their respective styles."

With JJ Abrams making his feature film directorial debut on the third film in the series, George notes "a shift in the franchise away from visual stylists to filmmakers with a background in screen writing." George appreciates that the third film brings a deeper emphasis on characterization than the second film had done. "Dramatically, Mission: Impossible III is far more substantial and enjoyable experience than its predecessor," states George. "However, there is no disguising a certain cynicism to the focus on character development. Some of these arcs work, but help make Mission: Impossible 3 feel like the season of a TV show collapsed into two-and-a-bit hours." For George, the most recent film in the franchise, Ghost Protocol, is a more comedic, physical, and ironic entry that positively reflects director Brad Bird's background in animated film. He also likes that Bird's film solidifies the team aspect of the franchise. "By the end of Ghost Protocol," writes George, "Brad Bird has delivered the first instalment since Brian De Palma’s original that manages to include all of the elements of the original concept while playing to the strengths of the filmmaker orchestrating the action."

AN IMPASSIONED DEFENSE OF JOHN WOO'S 'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2'

Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly columnist Darren Franich responded to a reader who asked, "In what universe is John Woo’s flaming mess of a Mission: Impossible 2 better than JJ Abrams’ totally and completely acceptable Mission: Impossible 3?"

Franich responded, "This is an important thing that we need to talk about. Because I have heard some variation of this argument constantly for going on nine years now. The conventional wisdom, in a nutshell: Mission 2 is an incoherent action film with a ludicrous plot and bad acting; Mission 3 is a solid Bourne-era shaky-cam spy movie with a good plot and a great villain. Some people even go so far as to say that Mission: Impossible 3 is their favorite of the franchise.

"Let’s throw out that chestnut right here. Ghost Protocol is the best Mission: Impossible movie. It’s arguably the least Tom Cruise-y of the bunch: By the fourth movie, Ethan Hunt is a semi-emotionless action-bot. But as directed by Brad Bird, Ghost Protocol is a film made out of one great setpiece after another. Bird has an animator’s gift for beautiful geometry: Cruise fighting his way down a corridor in the prison sequence, Cruise fighting his way through every level of a parking garage in the climax. But Ghost Protocol is also the only film in the franchise where the whole Mission squad matters; Cruise’s low-key performance leaves plenty of room for Simon Pegg as the comedy relief, Paula Patton as the badass, and Jeremy Renner as the Cruise-in-training.

"Nobody loves or hates the first Mission: Impossible, and nobody really talks about it anymore. Which is too bad. The first film deserves more credit for starting off with such a fakeout. You think you’re watching a movie about a squad of jocular superspies on a mission that requires cool makeup and subterfuge. And then by the half-hour mark, the whole squad’s dead. (They didn’t just kill Kristin Scott Thomas; they killed Emilio Estevez.) Director Brian De Palma always loved the first-act Psycho twist—see Sisters, see Dressed To Kill—and so the first Mission: Impossible has one of the great left-turns in any vanilla-blockbuster. As a bonus, Mission: Impossible turns one of the franchise’s most iconic characters into a bad guy—the kind of bold storytelling choice that franchises used to make before everyone got too scared of fanboy freakouts.

"Thus, Mission: Impossible 2. This is the movie where Tom Cruise has beautiful flowing long hair and climbs a mountain with his bare hands (just like Shatner in Final Frontier.) This is the movie where Tom Cruise falls in love with Thandie Newton, but then sends her undercover to spy on her ex-boyfriend, charisma vacuum Dougray Scott. This is the movie where the bad guy’s plot focuses on stock options, and the movie where Cruise defeats the bad guy by driving a motorcycle really fast.

"Or something: The plot doesn’t really matter, because the plot never really matters in Mission: Impossible movies, because honestly 'plot' is maybe the eighth most important part of a movie. (Things it’s behind, in no order: Characters, Casting, Dialogue, Cinematography, Music, Lighting, THEMES.)

"The Mission movies give good directors big budgets and let them explore their peculiar fascinations in the context of a boring spy thriller, and Mission is the last great gasp of John Woo in the John Woo Era: The period of time when the Hong Kong director was everyone’s favorite cult-action obsession. All of Woo’s movies are bonkers if you read the plot summaries, but Woo’s style is still sui generis even after everyone ripped off The Matrix ripping off John Woo. Woo is dude who loves dudes with guns, but he’s also a hopeless romantic who loves soft-focus shots of lovers in love, and he has a ludicrously precise aesthetic but he was making movies pre-digital so his precision isn’t antiseptic (like the Wachowskis.)

"So Mission 2 is ludicrous, and wonderfully so. Cruise and Newton flirt via car chase, and nothing isn’t in slow motion. There’s a central weirdness to the Cruise-Newton-Scott triangle: Scott is sort of an Evil Cruise, and sometimes he even puts on Cruise’s face, and there’s a weird sense that Scott and Cruise are both just using Newton as neutral territory where they can fight. (As played by Richard Roxburgh, Hugh is one of the great vaguely-homoerotic henchmen in action-movie history.) There are a couple of Meth Woo scenes, like when Cruise emerges from an explosion flanked by a dove because Catholicism. The final action sequence is a motorcycle chase that turns into a martial arts fight, except it’s 'martial arts' being fought by two identical-looking white dudes. Mission 2 was written by Robert Towne, and Towne basically just took Notorious and deleted half the dialogue." [A La Mod note: Woo has cited To Catch A Thief as his biggest inspiration for MI2.] "It’s not good but it’s completely unfiltered, and it’s a prime expression of Cruisedom at its peak: When Cruise dies eighty years from now, every obituary will mention Cruise climbing the Mission 2 mountain by the end of the second paragraph.

"Everything about Mission 3 makes more sense, and nothing about Mission 3 is remotely as fun. After a high-tension flashforward opening, the movie flashes back to an interminable first act. Cruise is getting married! To a boring nurse played boringly by Michelle Monaghan! Cruise has a boring squad—pre-Nikita Maggie Q looking great and pre-Tudors Jonathan Rhys Meyers looking angry—and they set off on a mission to rescue the only cool character in the movie, a pre-Americans Keri Russell. Russell dies immediately, but not before Abrams films a helicopter chase through a bunch of windmills that is one of the most incoherent action scenes not filmed by Michael Bay.

"This was Abrams’ first movie, and he hadn’t quite developed his style for the big screen. So there are a lot of visual choices in Mission 3 that feel TV-like in the worst way—close-ups and shaky cameras, the weird bluescale mid-00s monochrome that made every big-budget action movie looks like the Michael Douglas scenes from Traffic. The movie often suggests an episode of 24 with more explosions and zero moral ambiguity. The exception is the Vatican City scene, an excellent setpiece that also features the genuinely strange vision of Tom Cruise’s face being molded into Philip Seymour Hoffman’s face."

Franich concludes with his ranking of the films:

1. Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol
2. Mission: Impossible
3. Mission: Impossible 2
4. Joe Carnahan’s unfilmed Mission: Impossible 3, which would’ve co-starred Kenneth Branagh, post-Matrix Carrie-Anne Moss, pre-Match Point Scarlett Johansson, and would’ve apparently been the “punk-rock” version of Mission: Impossible. 5. JJ Abrams’ filmed Mission: Impossible 3, a.k.a. pop-punk version of Mission: Impossible.

Posted by Geoff at 3:13 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 3:21 AM CST
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Tuesday, January 6, 2015
DE PALMA RETROSPECTIVE IN BRAZIL
WINDING DOWN WITH 'BLOW OUT' (TONIGHT) & 'DRESSED TO KILL' (TOMORROW)
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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Monday, December 22, 2014
R.I.P. JOE COCKER 1944-2014

Posted by Geoff at 7:53 PM CST
Updated: Monday, December 22, 2014 7:00 PM CST
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Friday, December 19, 2014
BORDWELL ON DE PALMA'S 'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE'
VISUAL STORYTELLING & THE IMPORTANCE OF SOUND (AND LACK THEREOF)
Thanks to Peter for sending in this link to a David Bordwell essay about Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible, which was posted almost two weeks ago. Bordwell begins by stating, "The phrase 'visual storytelling' is a very modern invention." And yet, Bordwell points out, "Visual storytelling is seldom purely visual. In film, it needs concepts and music and noises and even dialogue to work most fully. We can learn a lot, I think, by starting with 'purely visual' passages and see how they’re reinforced by other inputs."

Bordwell briefly discusses Alfred Hitchcock as "the most vociferous defender of visual storytelling," before moving on to De Palma, defender of "the purity of the pictures in motion pictures." (Bordwell then lists four quotes from De Palma, including one from my own interview with the director from 2002.) This all leads up to Bordwell's discussion of the invasion sequence in De Palma's Mission: Impossible, which "runs an astonishing eighteen minutes and, as typical of a film’s Development section, constitutes almost pure delay. You can imagine doing it in a couple of minutes, or a lot more," states Bordwell.

Screenwriter David Koepp provided Bordwell with information about the production, and is quoted in the essay: "[De Palma] had another great idea, which was a reaction to the current state of summer movies at the time. He was tired of all the noise, of the bigger bigger bigger noisier noisier noisier setpieces, and desperately wanted to come up with one that used silence instead. He cackled at the idea of a big summer movie set piece that was predicated on silence."

"The result," Bordwell points out, "is nice case study in visual storytelling. It also indicates how even a pure instance needs non-visual elements to be understood."

Perhaps even more interesting is the next section of the essay, in which Bordwell analyzes the opening sequence of Mission: Impossible, focusing on the visual and audio information happening behind Emilio Estevez as Jack:

"Once the official Kasimov has given the name Ethan needs, the team’s goal is achieved and Jack can search it on his computer. In the meantime, Kasimov needs to be dragged off without fuss, and so must be given a drugged drink. That, we now understand, is the task of the woman hovering in the background of Jack’s shots. We’ve also been primed by the tray with bottle and glasses in the first shot.

"One option would be to pan or cut to the woman behind Jack and show her doping the drink. (This is what the shooting script seems to call for.) We might even see the woman’s face as she does it, but even if we don’t, a shot emphasizing her would give us a lot of other inessential information about the room.

"De Palma makes another choice. This woman is important only in terms of what she does. Panning to her, or supplying a separate shot, and showing her face might make her seem as important a character as Jack, Ethan, or Claire. She’s not. So De Palma reduces her to her function: doping the drink. And for economy, she does it in the same setup previously devoted to Jack’s reaction. She’s kept in the background."

As always, Bordwell illustrates his essay generously with many stills from the film.


Posted by Geoff at 1:15 AM CST
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Wednesday, December 17, 2014
UPDATE: 'SCARFACE REDUX' SUNDAY NIGHT
COLLAB-REMAKE TO PREMIERE AT CLOSE OF BORSCHT FILM FEST IN MIAMI


Back in July I posted that The Borscht Corp., an open-source collaborative dedicated to telling Miami stories, had started a project called Scarface Redux. The project was described as "a global collaborative effort to remake Brian De Palma’s Scarface." The web site (pictured above) lays out three steps: "First, Brian De Palma's Scarface is cut up into 15-second chunks"; "Then, you pick a scene, shoot and remake it however you like"; "Finally, we put it all together into a completely new version of Scarface."

"Scarface Redux" will be unveiled this Sunday (December 21st) at 8pm in Miami Beach, according to the Miami Herald's Debra K. Leibowitz. The screening will be one of the final events of this year's Borscht Film Festival, which began December 17th, and ends on the 21st. The Herald article states that Scarface Redux will play from 8-10pm, but it doesn't explain why that is about 45-minutes shorter than De Palma's film (perhaps they did not receive submissions for each of the 15-second clips). Leibowitz reports in the Herald: "A contest was held for the best scene submitted. Top prize included hotel and airfare for two to Miami, plus VIP tickets to all screenings and parties. Turns out the winner was local: Miami-based filmmaker Martell Harding, a 25-year old Florida International University graduate for his redux of Scene 94: The Shoot Up. Contest judges included Miami Herald film critic Rene Rodriguez, Rakontur Film’s Billy Corben and NBC-6 anchor Adam Kuperstein. Scarface Redux party fee is a $10 donation; free to those who submitted a clip."

Also screening at the fest this year is The Voice Thief, a new short film from Adan Jodorowsky, son of Alejandro Jodorowsky, starring Asia Argento. Borscht executive-produced the short, according to Miami New Times' Hans Morgenstern.


Posted by Geoff at 10:05 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, December 18, 2014 7:29 PM CST
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Tuesday, December 16, 2014
'LOST HIGHWAY' MEETS 'BODY DOUBLE'
IN NAOMI CAMPBELL FASHION CAMPAIGN FOR AGENT PROVOCATEUR, SHOT BY ELLEN VON UNWERTH


Naomi Campbell (above) stars in Agent Provocateur's new campaign for spring/summer 2015, shot by Ellen von Unwerth. According to Fashion One's Stephanie Park, Agent Provocateur's creative director, Sarah Shotton, "was inspired by girl gangs and 1960s pulp fiction novels. She became fascinated with the idea of the 'perfect crime,' and cast Campbell to get away with it." Several articles, apparently sourcing from the same press release, highlight that the campaign is inspired by David Lynch's Lost Highway and Brian De Palma's Body Double. "Shotton became inspired by the different identities that women are portrayed as possessing," writes Park, "facets that have been described by the brand as 'coy, duplicitous, siren, [and] saint.'” Park quotes Shotton as saying, "Naomi and Ellen were perfect for this as they both have such strong, individual personalities that work well together. We chose Ellen as her aesthetic mirrors the sensual, mysterious undertones of the campaign concept impeccably."

Posted by Geoff at 11:08 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, December 16, 2014 11:30 PM CST
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014
ZSIGMOND MASTER CLASS, AND OTHER LINKS
MELODY RAE TALKS ABOUT HER ROLE IN 'THE UNTOUCHABLES' ON PODCAST


My internet has been down the past few days-- my carrier tells me it's a big outage in my area. So with my limited internet time, I haven't been able to post much here the past week. But here are some things:

Page Six's Ian Mohr noted that Brian De Palma was among the guests at a screening of Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild last Thursday (December 4th). The screening was hosted by Ben Stiller and Noah Baumbach at NeueHouse in New York. Laura Dern, who appears in the film, was also in attendance, as was Meg Ryan and Chris Cornell.

Meanwhile, a couple of readers have sent along some very cool links that I have to share, even though I can't transcribe much right now. Rado sends along a link to a recent Vilmos Zsigmond Masterclass, a Higher Learning event which took place on August 8, 2014 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Around the 35-minute mark, an audience member asks Zsigmond to talk about working with De Palma. Zsigmond talks about how De Palma had presented sketches for their first film together, Obsession. However, by the time they worked on The Black Dahlia three decades later, Zsigmond asked, "Brian, where are the sketches?" But De Palma waved him off, saying he didn't need them anymore. Zsigmond goes on to describe the complicated shots in The Black Dahlia and Bonfire Of The Vanities.

Drew sends along a link to the latest I Was There Too podcast, in which host Matt Gourley talks on the phone with Melody Rae, who played the woman with the baby carriage in the famous staircase scene in De Palma's The Untouchables. I can't listen to this one yet, but the podcast description says, "Melody tells us about completely improvising her memorable scene, how she handled the explosions, baby, & squibs, and working with Kevin Costner."

One more link: Cinema Space Tribute, a video montage put together by Max Shishkin that includes, among many others, imagery from De Palma's Mission To Mars.


Posted by Geoff at 6:35 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2014 7:33 PM CST
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