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De Palma a la Mod


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a la Mod:

Domino is
a "disarmingly
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


Exclusive Passion

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario


AV Club Review
of Dumas book


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De Palma interviewed
in Paris 2002

De Palma discusses
The Black Dahlia 2006


De Palma Community

The Virtuoso
of the 7th Art

The De Palma Touch

The Swan Archives

Carrie...A Fan's Site


No Harm In Charm

Paul Schrader

Alfred Hitchcock
The Master Of Suspense

Alfred Hitchcock Films

Snake Eyes
a la Mod

Mission To Mars
a la Mod

Sergio Leone
and the Infield
Fly Rule

Movie Mags


The Filmmaker Who
Came In From The Cold

Jim Emerson on
Greetings & Hi, Mom!

Scarface: Make Way
For The Bad Guy

The Big Dive
(Blow Out)

Carrie: The Movie

Deborah Shelton
Official Web Site

The Phantom Project

Welcome to the
Offices of Death Records

The Carlito's Way
Fan Page

The House Next Door

Kubrick on the

FilmLand Empire

Astigmia Cinema


Cultural Weekly

A Lonely Place

The Film Doctor


Icebox Movies

Medfly Quarantine

Not Just Movies

Hope Lies at
24 Frames Per Second

Motion Pictures Comics

Diary of a
Country Cinephile

So Why This Movie?

Obsessive Movie Nerd

Nothing Is Written

Ferdy on Films

Cashiers De Cinema

This Recording

Mike's Movie Guide

Every '70s Movie

Dangerous Minds


No Time For
Love, Dr. Jones!

The former
De Palma a la Mod

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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Carlito's Way
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Clarksville 1861
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Genius of Love
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Get To Know Your Rabbit
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Hi, Mom!
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Iraq, etc.
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Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Here are some more interviews and reviews of De Palma from the Venice Film Festival last week:

Owen Williams, interviewing Brian De Palma for EMPIRE
There were not many surprises at this year’s Venice Film Festival, but one film that proved an unexpected joy was De Palma. A simple talking-head documentary, featuring Brian De Palma gassing happily about his entire CV from Murder A La Mod to Carrie to Scarface to Passion, it’s directed by the unlikely team of Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.

“I met Noah at a birthday party for Paul Schrader twenty years ago and Jake at a party about ten years ago,” De Palma told Empire in Venice. “And we just had a rapport and a love for movies”.

“There were so many conversations we had with Brian and things he would talk about that at a certain point we thought we should just ask him to talk about it on camera,” says Paltrow. “It was selfish at first. So we asked and he was up for it.”

The film drew overwhelmingly positive reviews after its first press screening because it’s not just a piece for fans of De Palma, but a thorough, sometimes rather indiscreet, monologue on what it’s like to go from being part of the explosion of young ‘70s filmmakers, alongside Spielberg, Lucas and Scorsese, to becoming part of the Hollywood establishment, to then falling out of favour.

“Well you don’t want people thinking they’ve heard the same anecdote 863 times, because I’ve been asked about certain films rather a lot,” says De Palma. “My relationship with these two directors and my feelings for them and the questions they’re answering, means I’m not going to be stylized and on script”.

“What we were looking for was to get the feeling of those dinners we’ve had where Brian would regale us with these incredible stories,” says Baumbach. “And I think that’s what we got”.

Jonathan Romney, The Observer

Noah Baumbach seems an unlikely director to be making a film about you – his films are very different from yours.
I tend to be attracted to film-makers who are not like me at all. I met Noah almost 20 years ago – I immediately liked him, he’s very bright. Because we approach cinema from different directions, we were fascinated by our different views on how to tell a story. They did their interview with me five years ago, in Jake Paltrow’s living room, shooting on this digital camera, with Noah doing the sound. It was like the old cinema school days – you had three people and that was your crew.

You and your contemporaries, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and George Lucas, were influenced by French directors such as Godard, yet you all ended up becoming American classics.
You’re in the right place at the right time, and you end up getting all these influences from the French New Wave, and the Hollywood system’s breaking down... We were all at Warner Bros at the same time – Francis had done Finian’s Rainbow there, Marty was there, I was there, and I knew Steven [Spielberg] through Margot Kidder, who was my girlfriend at the time, and that’s how we all came together...

You made a film about American involvement in Iraq – Redacted – before The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty made it respectable for US cinema to tackle such issues.
People disliked it in America. You can’t criticise the troops. It was [my Vietnam film] Casualties of War all over again – you put these kids in a situation, old men sending young men to war in places that are completely mysterious to them, and a culture that they don’t understand, driven by a political ideology that makes no sense whatsoever, and they go crazy. You feel so frustrated that your country is involved in something that you’re financing with your taxes, that you have no power to stop. Unlike Vietnam, where there were pictures that finally turned off the country, there are no pictures, there are just drones shooting people out of heaven.

De Palma contains some great stories about difficulties on set – like Orson Welles refusing to learn his lines on your 1972 film Get to Know Your Rabbit.
What does he care? He’s playing a tap-dancing magician in some silly comedy. A lot of actors, when they get older and extremely famous, think learning lines is not really necessary any more, whether it’s Brando or Orson or Bob De Niro, and they come up with excuses like, “It’s gonna be more spontaneous.” When you see them looking around the set, you think they’re taking a dramatic pause – they’re really looking for the line over there or over there.

Jill Lawless, Washington Times

“My movies tend to upset people a lot,” De Palma says in the documentary. Not that it particularly bothers him.

In the documentary - titled simply “De Palma” - the filmmaker turns out to be a funny, perceptive and candid judge of his own work...

De Palma, who received the festival’s Glory to the Filmmaker Award before a Venice screening of the documentary on Wednesday, said “it’s kind of overwhelming, literally, to have your whole life and movies lived in front of you in two hours.”

“But it’s very honest and it’s very much me,” he said. “I have a sense of humor about what I’ve done. How could you live life in this business and not have a sense of humor?”

Posted by Geoff at 2:55 AM CDT
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Monday, September 14, 2015
A couple of Mission To Mars-related items, beginning with John Semley, special to The Globe and Mail:
In past years covering TIFF, I’ve generally avoided the parties. There are a few reasons for this.

First, I am generally contemptuous (or at least wary) of celebrity and everything it connotes, and really don’t care if I am, technically, standing in the same room as George Clooney or Susan Sarandon or Pete Postlethwaite or whoever. Second, as a working journalist, parties have previously served a purely utilitarian function, providing free food and booze that I can suck back, hunched over a tiny cocktail napkin, wearing a knapsack like a cartoon turtle. I also generally try to avoid any social event where I’d have to wear much more than jeans and a t-shirt.

But in the spirit of experiencing new things, pushing myself outside my comfort zone, wearing pants that aren’t stained with mustard, etc., I accepted an invitation to the cocktail party celebrating the premiere of Ridley Scott’s The Martian, starring Matt Damon as a NASA botanist accidentally left behind on the Red Planet.

The movie itself is a fairly hollow crowd-pleaser, workshopped to feel massively appealing — funny enough, tense enough, propelled by Drew Goddard’s glib, Sorkin-lite dialogue. It’s fine. Is it as good as Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars, in which Tim Robbins and Connie Nielsen’s slow dance in Zero Gs to Van Halen’s Dance the Night Away? No. Of course it isn’t. But then, what is?

And last month, Reb MacRath posted a highly entertaining rant on why De Palma is "the Real Deal," under the headline, "Too Wild to Not Be Reviled". I like his description of Passion as "a beautifully calm thriller." Check it out:
No matter what he did, though, two things could be counted on: bubble-headed critics would still call him a clone of Alfred Hitchcock with an obsessive interest in voyeurism and kinky sex,..and the hardest core De Palmians would stand by their man.

Until...Well, every story has one...Until he put out a completely non De Palma movie entitled Mission to Mars. And you'll have to travel far and wide to find a movie this reviled.

I mean, really, imagine a De Palma Movie with just one splashing bloody sequence, no kinky sex and almost no trademark camera work. What is [it] about? Well, it combines, quite wonderfully, elements of Gravity, Interstellar and the upcoming movie, The Martian. We begin, Interstellar-like, with a sequence set on earth, in which we get to know the characters. The 15 minutes are well-spent. The flight to Mars is shown in an interesting compression of time. The astronauts land, explore--and are gruesomely dispatched by--we cannot be certain if it's a force of nature or...maybe an alien presence. A rescue team is sent. Lovely scenes aboard their craft until the rocket springs a leak. Gravity-style repair work. Not entirely successful. Exquisite suspense and a heartbreaking loss as they abandon ship and try to reach the dispatched rescue vehicle. They land...search...find graves, indicating someone's still alive. And then...

Now comes the movie's first big surprise--which I won't reveal. Another, still bigger, is coming. What I will say is that, in a two-hour film, the structure and pacing are both spot-on. The acting and scripting are equally good. ('I didn't travel 100 million miles to stumble in the last ten steps.' Or: when chided because he can't dance, the hero tells his wife: 'Hey, some couples tango and some go to Mars.') The movie's inner Swiss watch ticks as we advance on schedule to the Big Reveal.

As for the last fifteen minutes...Here we come to the great I Don't Know. I didn't like the ending. I'd wanted something different. Many viewers have hated the ending and condemned the entire film because of it. Stand back, though. We can't have it all ways.

We can't have a Real Deal Rebel who's been completely housebroken and repeats all the tricks we love best, at our call. The Real Deal is subversive and loves to thwart expectations. The Real Deal will transform a kinky, borderline sleazy film like Femme Fatale into a dream, onto which he then tacks on a lush, romantic ending. The Real Deal, late in his career, [will] thwart all expectations with a beautifully calm thriller, Passion.

Because he refuses to 'heel' on command, we should never grow too comfortable in the presence of such an artist. The best are loving people--with a streak of junkyard dog.

But relax. They're not out to hurt but delight us as they take us by the throat. Now and then they succeed at that by showing us their hearts.

Posted by Geoff at 10:58 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 14, 2015 11:02 PM CDT
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In the new interview on the Criterion edition of Dressed To Kill (which was released last week), Noah Baumbach talks about how even the dialogue scenes in Dressed To Kill, such as the one between Kate and her son, Peter, are artfully choreographed. Brian De Palma then responds, "When I write scripts like this... you know, I'm working on one now, where I have a very good idea... but then you've got to bring the characters into it, and you've got to bring the emotional story into it to hold the audience."

I know he's always working on ideas and screenplays, but still, nice to hear he has another potential thriller in mind. The Baumbach/De Palma interview for Criterion was filmed this past May.

Posted by Geoff at 7:23 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 14, 2015 11:00 PM CDT
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Saturday, September 12, 2015
Here are some more links to reviews and articles centered around De Palma:

Stephen Mayne, Pop Matters
"The day finished with a screening of De Palma, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s documentary charting Brian De Palma’s career. It’s an incredibly simple set-up – a seated De Palma talks through his career with nothing more than film clips to break up the shots. It’s also addictively entertaining. I’m no De Palma fan – I’m in the camp that finds his stylistic tics irritating – but he has made some undeniably great films, and even better, he’s a wonderful speaker. Dropping in anecdotes from Steven Spielberg’s car phone to the similarity between Cliff Robertson and a mahogany wall, it’s a pleasure to spend a couple of hours in his company. I urge everyone to give it a go."

Nigel Andrews, Financial Times
"The early films have seldom had the scenic thrill of the Italian outdoors. But happily Brian De Palma was here to bless, and be blessed by, a tribute documentary: Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s De Palma. Wow! What other word is there for being avalanched by De Palma imagery for two hours? The bearded, darkly twinkling director talks to the camera — great stories, great thoughts on art, life and cinema — between movie clips so resplendent they run everything else at Venice ragged. Carrie, Dressed to Kill, The Untouchables, Scarface. De Palma did action painting on a movie screen. His images should hang on museum walls. He is, or was, the Jackson Pollock of high-drive narrative cinema."

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
"I found myself wishing that De Palma was twice as long; the movie does touch upon his entire filmography — including obscurities like Get to Know Your Rabbit and Home Movies, as well as the video for Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark — but I would have loved to have heard as much detail about, say, Femme Fatale as there is about Carlito’s Way. You don’t have to love De Palma’s movies to find De Palma a fascinating look at a vital period of American film history, through the eyes of a controversial artist."

Peter Debruge reviews Our Brand Is Crisis for Variety
"In Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s new Brian De Palma documentary, the director tells a story about how Columbia exec Dawn Steel flew to the set in Thailand, took one look and caught the next plane home. That’s the sort of character [Sandra] Bullock seems to be channeling here: She wields the power, but is also susceptible to the elements, hit with altitude sickness and forced to drag around an oxygen tank from the moment she lands in Bolivia."

John Bleasdale, Cine Vue
"Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's unpretentious documentary De Palma (2015) reveals a clear-sighted and fascinating director, who often seems as bemused by the vagaries and inconsistencies in his own career as everyone else. Brian De Palma was initially seen as the most talented of the Young Turks who came to prominence in the seventies. Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg all deferred to him and his fierce intelligence. However, De Palma was to be left struggling in their wake as they all went on to accrue massive commercial and critical success while his own career, despite the occasional peak, suffered from troughs of ever-deeper despond.

"The directors eschew the conventional prologue to such 'Extended Features' fare that would involve a chorus of praise from De Palma's peers, perhaps to forestall those obvious comparisons. It's consistent with his no-frills approach, which has De Palma sitting down for presumably a day-long conversation about his career, interspersed with a little archive footage and clips from his films. De Palma talks about his financially comfortable if emotionally-stunted childhood. He was the son of a famous surgeon who had little time for his children and cheated on his wife. The latter caused the young De Palma to spy on his father and the attraction and guilt of voyeurism seems to have been imprinted."

Posted by Geoff at 5:48 PM CDT
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Friday, September 11, 2015

Armond White, Out

"William Friedkin’s Cruising, another 1980 film, portrayed gay society through a sleazy serial-killer mystery set in New York’s Bondage-Discipline underworld. (Al Pacino played a heterosexual cop tantalized by forbidden behavior, neurotically seeing gayness only as a sex-and-death equation). But in Dressed to Kill, De Palma dramatized cruising as part of social life — the sexual license that even middle-class heterosexuals enjoyed. De Palma’s sophomoric lustiness derived from his earliest film burlesques (The Wedding Party, Greetings, Hi, Mom!, Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise) where counterculture ideas confounded the mainstream.

"For his first, truly adult film about sex, De Palma’s perspective matures in Dressed to Kill. Kate’s manhunt, set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, equaled the jailhouse symbolism of Jean Genet-Jean Cocteau’s Un Chant d’Amour (1950). It also explored the same existential territory seen in a breed of underground New York porn films like Sam Scott’s Non-Stop (where seemingly spontaneous, peripatetic episodes ranged from rendezvous at Manhattan’s West Side piers to street assignations in Greenwich Village). De Palma outclasses porn, but his artistic connection to Surrealist filmmakers from Hitchcock to Cocteau to Bunuel proves he was unafraid to depict subconscious, even outré, desires.

"Kate’s bored gallery browsing is depicted when she stares back at an Alex Katz portrait that mirrors her own impatience. Her sexual frustration is caricatured when she observes a painting of a gorilla whose oversized, hairy, supine nakedness mocks her own, suppressed, animal instincts. She abstractly writes in her memo pad, 'Pick up turkey.' (Come now, Brian!)

"It’s all prelude to her noticing the handsome man wearing sunglasses who invades her space and stirs her curiosity. Their cat-and-mouse politesse (a game of high-class silent flirtation) deepens Kate’s interest which De Palma sensualizes by having the camera follow them in slowly flowing perambulations through museum exhibit space. This silent sequence (except for Pino Donaggio’s tense, teasing music score) is a long, masterful pantomime, delicately acted by Dickinson. The desperation and feints of cruising are clearly presented in details so timeless that the sexual hunt is immortalized (including Kate feeling wanton and exposed as she stands before one of Eric Fischl’s satirical nudes)."

Michael Koresky's essay for the Criterion edition of Dressed To Kill

"De Palma the political filmmaker might seem at odds with De Palma the teasing sex-horror specialist, but these two halves of his split personality have worked in tandem throughout his career, and certainly do so in Dressed to Kill. This film is a minefield of potential offense—with its horrific butchery of a middle-aged woman and its full-frontal images of naked women shot like soft-core pornography—and, especially at a moment when studio output like Kramer vs. Kramer and Looking for Mr. Goodbar was being accused of containing reactionary responses to second-wave feminism (respectively, for demonizing a woman for abandoning her marriage and child and, like Dressed to Kill, depicting the murder of a woman trying to liberate herself through sex), it was bound to incite some anger. Indeed, feminist groups publicly protested Dressed to Kill, creating a perception of it as misogynistic. Yet the film is far more sympathetic to its women than its men, and more important, its recognition of its own voyeur-horror lineage, its ratcheting up of nearly every element—from the nudity to the graphic bloodletting to the extravagant camera work to the often absurdly drawn-out slow motion—to orgiastic heights, places the sadistic impulses of Hitchcock’s work (so, the Movies) explosively at the forefront. It’s both ghastly and erotic, impeccably crafted and dirty-minded, a luxurious wallow in the dream and nightmare that is cinema.

"Kate’s explicit shower reverie at the beginning is our first clue to the way De Palma is playing with Psycho’s indelible imagery in Dressed to Kill. The camera slowly peeks around a corner and flaunts in lewd close-up her naked breasts and genitals (aptly, actually those of a body double: Victoria Lynn Johnson, direct from the pages of Penthouse). What had once been impossible was, in 1980, not only permissible but also marketable; this is the true titillation, the dark heart of Psycho laid literally bare. The fact that the film ends with a second shower scene—also imaginary—underlines its relationship to Hitchcock as a game of surreal one-upmanship.

"In this and all the entries in De Palma’s grand project of showing us Hitchcock’s thrillers stripped of pretense and elegance—so that, for example, Vertigo becomes Obsession (1976), the double of the protagonist’s dead wife revealed to be his daughter; and Body Double (1984) brazenly combines Rear Window and Vertigo into a tawdry peep show, set in the underworld of Los Angeles porn—we can see De Palma the thrill hound and the confrontational artist. Janet Leigh’s cinema-shattering shower seems to be a primal scene for him, something he needs to return to over and over. His oeuvre is soaked with shower scenes, as parody (Phantom of the Paradise, 1974), locker-room fantasy (Carrie), tragedy (Blow Out, 1981), and travesty (Body Double). (Even 1983’s Scarface has one, a chain-saw massacre visited on the protagonist’s male friend—which our antihero is forced to watch.)

"Shower scenes, with their combination of sensuality and danger, are particularly right for a film as fueled by hallucinatory erotic energy as this one. De Palma himself says he was actually more influenced by Luis Buñuel than Hitchcock when making Dressed to Kill (and there’s certainly a touch of Belle de jour in the opening masochistic daydream). Its central murder is an event that occurs at the convergence of two characters’ sexual fantasies: Kate’s and her killer’s."

Posted by Geoff at 1:28 AM CDT
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Thursday, September 10, 2015

In the above video from the Venice Film Festival yesterday, Brian De Palma is asked whether he'd discovered anything new about himself from De Palma, the new documentary from Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow. "Well, I didn't know I was such an amusing raconteur," De Palma replies with good humor. "I mean, since I'm behind the camera all the time, and I was usually the court jester in most situations, but I never saw myself in front of the camera. So to see me telling these anecdotes and finding them amusing was kind of a surprise."


Below are select transcripts culled from the two videos above, which show De Palma speaking from the Venice press conference yesterday:

"If you're in this business, you'd better have a sense of humor. Because when you make a film, the reaction is usually the opposite of what you expect. You know, you think, 'Oh, they're gonna hate it,' 'no, they seem to like this one.' And then, 'Oh, this is my great masterpiece,' 'Ehh, it's terrible!'" [Laughter]

"You know, when I started in this business, I was associated with a group of young filmmakers. And we all used to hang out together, we used to talk about our movies, actors that we thought we’d like to use. We’d review each others’ scripts. And we did that in the seventies, and then suddenly everybody got kind of big and kind of went to different parts of the planet, and I missed that kind of directorial comradery. And I was very fortunate, because we all lived downtown in New York, and I met Noah like twenty years ago, and then Jake about ten years ago, and they're very close to Wes Anderson. So we started a group that basically met every week, and had 'directors talk.' And it's a great thing to have, because we're the only ones that understand what we go through."

"I find that television executives are very intrusive. I've never had so many meetings with so many notes, about a script that I developed for Al Pacino that he wanted to do, that they proceeded to try to influence it in a way that made it unworkable. And I got to a point where I said, 'Guys, I'm done.' So, you gotta understand about television: it's a producer/writer's profession. The producers and the writers run the show. The directors [shakes head no], they bring 'em in... [looks at Paltrow next to him] well, you've actually done this. They bring them in, Director A is over there, Director B does this section, Director C does this section, and if you can tell the difference from one episode to another, God bless you."

Posted by Geoff at 6:42 PM CDT
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Posted by Geoff at 12:40 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, September 10, 2015 12:49 AM CDT
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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Variety's Dave McNary reported early this morning that A24 had acquired distribution rights to Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's De Palma, with an eye toward a release in 2016. As Deadline's Patrick Hipes notes, A24 successfully released the Amy Winehouse documentary Amy earlier this year, as well as Alex Garland's Ex Machina. Both films had decent theatrical runs. A24 will also distribute Lenny Abrahamson's Room this fall, and after that film's world premiere this past Saturday at the Telluride Film Festival, Deadline's Pete Hammond wrote, "Right now, this minute, A24 should get its Oscar campaign rolling because there are multiple possibilities for nominations."

Regarding De Palma, A24 said in a statement, "Noah and Jake have not only created a funny, nuanced and deeply insightful portrait of one of the world’s most masterful and uncompromising filmmakers, but they have made a film which explores the very essence of filmmaking, and presents a unique and enormously entertaining perspective on both the art and the business of movies."

From the press conference in Venice and other interviews, it emerges that for their documentary, Paltrow and Baumbach filmed De Palma for one week in 2010, collecting about 30 hours worth of interview footage. De Palma, sitting in Paltrow's living room and talking about his career, wore the same shirt every day for continuity's sake. If you've seen Baumbach's recent film While We're Young, in which Ben Stiller plays a documentary filmmaker with his own excruciating continuity challenges, you might let out a little chuckle at details such as that.

Variety's Nick Vivarelli posted an interview today with De Palma, Baumbach, and Paltrow. "It really comes out of our friendship," Paltrow says in describing how the documentary came about. "Noah and I have known and admired Brian De Palma as a director since we were very very young. Making this movie comes out of us spending so much time with him, and talking to him about making films, and watching films. I can’t tell you how many films I’ve been introduced to by Brian, and Noah, and our group."

To which De Palma says, "And vice-versa."

More from this interview:

As directors there aren’t that many apparent affinities in your movies except that, in different ways, you all make personal pictures. Was De Palma a big influence?
Noah Baumbach: Yes. I think most of the movies I’ve made have some connection to my childhood, making something that purely comes out of your imagination. Brian’s movies had a major effect on me even before I’d seen them because as a child I would hear about them. I would hear my parents talk about them, I would see the ads in the subways. Even just the Dressed To Kill poster had an effect on me, independently from the movie, which I couldn’t see at the time until I was a little older. When I saw The Untouchables, it was the best thing that could ever happen to me. Now I have a friendship that’s almost twenty years old with Brian, a history, a personal relationship, and now this. The movie brings it all together. A silent narrative of the movie is precisely the personal relationship.

The film grew out of spending time with Brian for over ten years. Over how much time was it actually shot?
Jake Paltrow: five years ago we filmed for one week, and had Brian wear the same clothes every day to keep a continuity.

And then of course you had to weave in the materials, which you did with such directorial flourish.
Jake Paltrow: we wanted to maintain the rhythm of conversation, and let Brian’s storytelling direct us, in a way. The clips were brought in to illustrate things that Brian was talking about. It was often, like, ‘what clip from which movie would go well here?’

Brian, I don’t think you’ve talked that much about yourself before. How come?
Brian De Palma: because I’m basically a recluse. I only really talk about movies when I’m on a publicity tour. I had two French journalists follow me around for about seven or eight years, very bright people [Laurent Vachaud and Samuel Blumenfeld]. I talked to them and they produced a book that’s quite good. But it’s all in French and I’ve never read it.

Noah Baumbach: in terms of us, the friendship was already in place. So it was in some ways a document of it; in other words an extension of it. From when we met Brian the first time, we were peppering him with these kinds of questions anyway. It was really for us like: ‘let’s document this; let’s have it.’ Brian is a singular, unique, amazing filmmmaker; but it’s also kind of universally about filmmaking, only the way that someone as great and as personal as Brian can tell it.

It seems as though with these guys (Jake and Noah) you’ve recreated some of the same spirit there was among the New Hollywood directors in that era.
De Palma: it’s unusual to have a group of directors who are bright, talented – some even genial – who get along with each other, who are not competitive, who are not trying to cut each others’ throats for some job. I have been very fortunate to grow up with a group like that and to find a new group like this more recently. It’s a lonely profession unless you have other directors to talk to.

One thing that emerged from the documentary is that since “Mission to Mars” (in 2000) you have been working in Europe. It’s difficult, I guess impossible, for you to find financing within the U.S. studio system. Why?
De Palma: well, I’m a very troublesome director, because I’m a final cut director and that’s very difficult to obtain in this day and age. I discovered, when I was making Mission to Mars that they were spending a tremendous amount of money, and we didn’t even have enough money to finish the picture the way I would have liked to. I’m saying to myself: ‘we are spending a hundred million dollars on a movie. Yikes! This is crazy! And these days it’s more like three hundred million dollars. You don’t get much satisfaction worrying about what the grosses are the Saturday morning the movie opens; whether you are alive or dead.There is so much pressure on you that has very little to do with the quality of your work. I’ve made big hits, I’ve made big disasters, obviously it feels better to make a hit. And in order to make movies at that level you have to have that kind of success. It’s a terrible road to be on!

According to Michael Roddy's report on the press conference for Reuters, De Palma's advice to young filmmakers is that they must never give up, but that luck and a sense of humor were also needed in order to succeed. "There's no point in teaching film students unless you have this great ability to keep going no matter what they tell you," De Palma told reporters. "You must persist and you must also be lucky. You have to have talent, persistence and luck to survive in this business."

Discussing the documentary, De Palma said, "The genius of it was how they were able to take out their questions and then illustrate the film with all these pieces of other film, and to me its quite amazing."


When asked to name his favorites of his own films, De Palma said that would be like a parent being asked to name a favorite child. Even so, he named three sequences in his films, saying, "All are fascinating experiments that turned out quite well"-- the stairway shootout in The Untouchables, the steady-cam shot at the beginning of Bonfire Of The Vanities, and the museum sequence in Dressed To Kill.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, September 10, 2015 5:12 PM CDT
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Brian De Palma arrived at the Venice Film Festival yesterday and attended a cocktail party held for the jury and fellow director Jonathan Demme, who earlier had received the Persol Tribute to Visionary Talent Award. As the tweeted pic above shows, De Palma, Susan Lehman, Noah Baumbach, and Jake Paltrow also attended a screening of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's stop-motion film Anomalisa. Later today, De Palma will be honored with the festival’s Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker Award. That ceremony will be followed by the world premiere of the documentary De Palma, which is directed by Baumbach and Paltrow. A press screening has already happened, and late last night, the reviews began posting to the web-- and they are highly positive. The film was presented without credits, and, according to The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney, it "has the feel of a rushed edit, with jittery cuts in the interview segments and uneven audio." One imagines the film will be even more complete by the time it makes its North American premiere at the end of this month at the New York Film Festival. Even so, Rooney adds that "the bid to be comprehensive and cover every last movie (right down to the video for Bruce Springsteen's 'Dancing in the Dark,' in which the Boss plucks a then-unknown Courtney Cox out of the audience) makes it feel hurried at times, hurtling over career highlights to touch on minor entries possibly best forgotten. But there's a ton of great material here and a nonstop flow of expertly chosen clips. With further finessing to allow more time to breathe and savor some of the many virtuoso set-pieces that are a De Palma trademark, this could be a definitive study of the director's work."

Here are more review links:

Guy Lodge, Variety

"Acolytes of Brian De Palma’s flavorful, flamboyant filmography hardly need reminding of his acrobatic ability as a visual storyteller; what they’ll learn from De Palma is that in front of the camera, he’s a pretty marvelous raconteur too. The septuagenarian director provides an exhaustive but exuberant film-by-film account of a career spanning nearly half a century in Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s delicious documentary portrait — skimping neither on candid self-effacement or irreverent wit as he recalls such professional triumphs as Carrie, such dispiriting misfires as Mission to Mars, and the wealth of knowledge gained and opportunities lost in between. Elegantly linear in its setup, and reflecting at least one of its name helmers in its overriding mood of buoyant good humor, De Palma reps several Christmases come at once for fans, though it’s playful and perspicacious enough to engage all film-biz aficionados...

"The documentary duly begins with a seductive flurry of excerpts from Vertigo, the narrative of which is described by De Palma as a neat allegory for what filmmakers do: creating romantic illusions only to destroy them soon after. Hitchcock may be a standard point of film-studies reference, but De Palma is at polite pains to point out that he means it more than most: 'People call [him] influential,' he says later, 'but I haven’t seen that many people who actually follow his form except for me.'

"If such words sound conceited in print, he doesn’t project any such airs on camera — he’s equally forthcoming on where he believes he’s misstepped and why. It’s De Palma’s chronological, hindsight-advantaged evaluation of his 28 features (omitting 1970’s filmed stage performance Dionysus in ’69) that gives the doc its meat: His upbringing and Quaker education in Newark and Philadelphia, are covered genially at the outset, as are his years on the film program at Sarah Lawrence, where he began a long-term association with Robert De Niro. But such biographical material, including passing references to his three marriages, is kept to a minimum, as the man’s life is mapped more integrally through his movies...

"De Palma is the first to admit that now is no longer his time, having lost his taste for blockbuster cinema on the unhappy shoot of 2000’s expensive flop Mission to Mars — not coincidentally, his last U.S.-shot project. His four features since then, including the striking, ripe-for-reappraisal The Black Dahlia, were made more on his terms, though given the speed with which Baumbach and Paltrow rifle through them, perhaps he’s less willing to step back and survey his newest work.

"The film is hardly starved for detail by this point, having captured and sustained a lively atmosphere of mutual auteur appreciation usually best conveyed in print — in those landmark Hitchcock-Truffaut conversations, for example. We may never hear the younger helmers’ side of the interview, but De Palma addresses them at several points both with points of agreement and good-natured observation of the differences between their work and his. 'You start with character and work your way outwards,' he says, 'while I start with construction and work my way in.' In this particular portrait, both approaches have combined to most rewarding effect.

De Palma was presented at Venice with no credits, but is otherwise a polished, swift-moving package, bearing intelligent craft even in its well-lit talking-head material."

Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

"One of the many touchpoints mentioned in the course of De Palma, the new film from Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, is Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend, but if they'd gone for the embellishment of a subtitle in the name of their interview-based doc, it could very well have been 'Brian De Palma: Breathless.' Because it is both literally and metaphorically so, a whistle-stop guided tour of De Palma's filmography in which the legendary director talks non-stop, with one anecdote jump-cut against the next so fast that often the breaths in between sentences are snipped out. The effect is almost disconcertingly rapid-fire at first, and initially it suggests Baumbach and Paltrow are going for something avant-garde. Then you think maybe it's an attempt to mimic the giddy headrush pleasures of De Palma's own high-octane style. And then, maybe four minutes in, you realize it's actually just because he has so damn much to say and all of it is utterly delicious -- in the time saved by removing those pesky inhalations, we probably get six or seven more pithy observations stuffed into this breakneck movie. So you settle in and try to hang on for dear life, like Tom Cruise atop that speeding train, as the fastest, funniest and most exhilarating hour and forty-seven minutes of this year's Venice whips by.

"Formally the film is nothing to write home about — while it's liberally interspersed with clips that seem precisely chosen to make you immediately pang to watch the film in question again in its entirety, all of the De Palma footage seems to have been taken from one long interview, with him facing the camera against the same unfussy background. And despite the names behind the camera, there's never a peep out of anyone else, with the occasions on which De Palma addresses a comment or an aside to 'you guys' meaning Paltrow and Baumbach, coming few and far between. But the two directors, who have known De Palma for ten years now, perform a much more valuable service by removing themselves than any onscreen interlocutors could — they make it feel like De Palma, talking to them as unguardedly and frankly as you would to friends of many years, is talking directly to us.

"Despite the astonishing length and breadth of the De Palma oeuvre, De Palma begins and ends with Vertigo, while clips of North by Northwest, Psycho, Strangers on a Train and others recur throughout. As clearsighted about this as everything else, De Palma does not just acknowledge the Hitchcock influence on his work, he embraces it and even, by the film's close, lays claim to owning it, suggesting that for all the talk of Hitchcock's influence it was really only him who took the responsibility for keeping that legacy alive by devouring it whole and transmuting it into something new.

"Really it's just a delight to spend this time in De Palma's company, because for someone who describes directing as 'creating romantic illusions,' he has refreshingly few about his own eclectic, eccentric and highly individual body of work. There are films he feels are better than their receptions suggest: 'I still think Bonfire of the Vanities is fine, it's a good film. Just don't read the book,' he suggests...

"Directors, he opines more than once, make their best work in their 30s 40s and 50s, tacitly acknowledging that his own output this century has not been his finest. But the bright-eyed, genial, sharp-as-a-tack filmmaker who takes us through his life's work so far in De Palma (endearingly peppering his commentary with exclamations of 'Holy Mackerel!') sure seems like one who could buck that trend and turn in at least one more late-career high. It's something that even De Palma apostates might be persuaded to hope for after watching Baumbach and Paltrow's giddy blast of a doc."

Demetrios Matheou, Thompson On Hollywood

"De Palma has been one of the densest and most exhausting two hours spent in Venice, in the best way possible. Whether one likes the American’s films or not, time spent with him is akin to attending a filmmaking masterclass whose every minute demands notation.

"And the film is, literally, focused on him: it doesn’t involve the views of colleagues or friends, narration of any kind, or the presence of Baumbach and Paltrow, other than when De Palma acknowledges their shared profession himself. The camera is fixed on the septuagenarian as he sits and reflects on his career, film by film, touching on his filmmaking process, the parallels between his life and movies, people he’s worked with, successes, failures, controversies...

"He’s a rum interviewee, frank, funny, not afraid to seem arrogant, as when he recounts the pleasure he’s had watching the Carrie sequel and remake, 'seeing other people make all the mistakes you avoided'. He can get away with such moments, because he’s equally forthright about the failures, whether ones that stank because of his own misjudgement (Bonfire of the Vanities) or the more painful sort, like Carlito’s Way, of which he’s very proud. And the way he speaks about writers, production designers and in particular composers suggests a true collaborator.

"There’s a film buff’s delight to be had in hearing his stories about Pacino’s novel way of escaping a demanding night shoot on Carlito’s Way, or Cliff Robertson’s shameless attempts to sabotage his more talented co-star Genevieve Bujold on Obsession, or Sean Penn’s more productive shenanigans to coax a performance out of Michael J Fox on Casualties ('Good old Sean, he’s exciting to work with'). But the greatest value is in listening to what makes the man tick as a director, whether personal history (Keith Gordon’s pursuit of his mother’s killer in Dressed to Kill was inspired by the young De Palma’s shadowing of his adulterous father) or the shooting strategies and technical approaches to his films, always with the aim of making his scenarios play out in new and exciting ways, and which make his style so singular."

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

"Like the recent By Sidney Lumet, which premiered this year in Cannes, the strength of De Palma is that its sole point of view belongs to the subject. It also helps that he's very good company. It's clear at times that he's in conversation with fellow filmmakers, acknowledging that they will have had similar experiences, but Baumbach and Paltrow remain unseen and unheard. De Palma ventures at one point that their movies start with character and work outwards while his do the opposite, but he seems to regard his work as no less personal.

"De Palma is candid about his failures, honest about his disappointments, and doesn't bother with false modesty where his great pictures are concerned. Speaking of the various remakes and subsequent adaptations of Carrie, the film that put him on the commercial map, he chuckles over the amusement of watching other people make mistakes that he avoided. He's sanguine about movies that were attacked upon their original release and then embraced years later, by which time the initial criticism — usually pertaining to his penchant for baroque violence, especially when perpetrated against women — has been forgotten or become irrelevant...

"While the overarching view of De Palma's body of work offered here could be more cohesive, the wealth of detail is compelling stuff. 'Being a director is being a watcher,' he says at one point, and he comes across as attentive to every aspect of the filmmaking process. That explains how something as seemingly routine as sound recording becomes a central plot point in Blow Out. (For those of us who adored that 1981 release from the start, it still hurts to hear of the studio's appalled reaction to it, in particular the fabulously operatic ending with its cynical sting.)

"His love of drawing attention to the director's tricks, and weaving that film craft into the very fabric of the plot is something De Palma acknowledges came directly from Hitchcock, citing Vertigo as a formative influence. (Hitchcock clips are sprinkled throughout.) Without self-aggrandizement, he even lays sole claim to keeping the Hitchcock legacy alive through artistic renewal...

"Hearing De Palma's version of conflicts with screenwriter Robert Towne on Mission: Impossible, and the crafty way he got Tom Cruise on board with his concept for the exhilarating train-top ending makes the director seem the smartest guy in the room. But he's wistful about how rarely in any career all the elements fall into place as they did on that hit and just a small handful of others. He's forthright about the mistakes he made on one of his most clamorous flops, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and seems downright saddened when admitting he was out of his depth on the big-budget, effects-driven Mission to Mars, which killed his appetite to work in Hollywood.

"As someone who has choreographed too many brilliant and memorably complex action sequences to mention — think the Odessa Steps homage from The Untouchables, for example, or the prom scene in Carrie — De Palma has earned the right to sniff at the clichés of so many previsualized Hollywood action scenes today.

"The personal insights are fairly basic in terms of his upbringing and perhaps a shade guarded concerning his marriages and relationships. But this is unapologetically a professional reflection and not a memoir. While De Palma doesn't appear to go in for much talk of thematic threads in his work, he does come close to geeking out when discussing some of his signature devices, like slow-motion, split screen, long takes, complicated tracking shots and that dizzying 360-degree pan around the editing room in Blow Out. That's the stuff that will make this exhaustive survey catnip to the De Palma faithful."

Posted by Geoff at 3:00 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, September 9, 2015 9:47 PM CDT
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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Above is a snapshot from this week's paper edition of Entertainment Weekly (September 11 2015 issue). Criterion today released Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill, with some nice special features (as widely discussed over the past few weeks), and tomorrow is the world premiere of Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's documentary, De Palma, at the Venice Film Festival. De Palma will also be honored in a special event prior to tomorrow's screening in Venice. But today, it's (almost) all about Dressed To Kill. Here are two very nice links from today, with more to come as I have time in the next couple of days:

Wall Street Journal Blog - Nancy Allen interviewed by Michael Calia

"I think what I gleaned from that was it’s one thing when you shoot a movie on a soundstage. It’s very controlled and easy. You have to — and I don’t know if you’ve been on a soundstage before — but there’s just no energy there, and so you’re constantly having to create and recreate some sort of energy to make something come to life. New York is a rather energetic city, so there’s immediately that hum that’s under everything you do that really energizes, particularly when you’re running around and it’s a thriller. The city already has that kind of energy: fast-paced, on the go, running around. It really helped to energize the work, I think, and the intensity of what we were doing."

Nicholas Bell, IONCINEMA

"At the apex of Dressed to Kill is a transsexual serial killer, a dubiously designed villain whose provocative shock value has been drained, replaced by the judgmental disdain inherent in modern conversations concerning politically correct depictions of the Trans community.

"There’s no escaping the archaic depiction of the psychotic Bobbi, even though De Palma clearly took pains to avoid the virulence of homophobia, with macho cop Dennis Franz reduced to the epithet of ‘weirdo’ in his tacky verbalizations. Much like the closing psychologist’s commentary explaining Norman Bates’ mental afflictions in Psycho, we are treated to a similar sequence here as Nancy Allen lays down Transsexuality 101 for Keith Gordon at a fancy restaurant while old biddies listen on in horror directly behind them. But De Palma’s film isn’t aiming for cheap thrills, and Dressed to Kill is actually a much more significantly complex film than the particular Hitchcock title providing nuggets of inspiration.

"De Palma’s tale is an allegory concerning the reconciliation of sexuality with social expectation in a masculine, patriarchal system (reinforced by favored De Palma visual motifs like mirrors, and frequent use of doubling subjects). Clearly, the Bobbi/Dr. Elliott figure is a tortured soul, presented in a rudimentary portrait of battling gender roles a la multiple personality disorder (Bobbi’s voice mail messages eerily resemble those of Dee Wallace’s werewolf stalker in 1981’s The Howling, a similarity of genre tropes equating the notion of gender identity with the ‘trans-species’ underpinning of lycanthropy). But he’s stuck between two much more interesting characters, typified on opposing ends of the feminine spectrum—the mother and the whore.

"Dickinson’s privileged Manhattan housewife, decked out in a puff of blonde hair and completely white wardrobe, is shown pleasuring herself in the shower as her husband ignores her, idly glancing at her in the mirror as he shaves. The neglect of her sexual fulfillment gives way to a fantasy rape sequence, while shortly afterwards we see her husband hunched over her as she overreacts to his inattentive thrusts. Then, there’s Allen’s streetwise prostitute, Liz, arguably the most well-adjusted and well-developed characterization here. Having ownership over her body, clearly using it as a site of commerce on her own terms, she’s comparatively the only sex-positive component. De Palma book-ends the film with Liz’s shower sequence and it suggests something much more insidious. The traumatic experiences of the narrative have tainted her, and her shower sequence ends with the threat of violence previously absent from her sexual dynamic.

"The scenario, and several famous sequences, conveys the navigation of these sexual dynamics within the context of social spaces. Perhaps the most famous instance is a nine minute segment, completely free of dialogue, where Angie Dickinson is shown to be in a museum gazing at the humans passing by her as she continues the banalities of her own existence writing out her grocery list. Of course, she’s interrupted by the dark stranger, and we watch her deliberate her moves in a series of negotiations as complex as chess game. She balks at his initial touch in the museum, leading to a meaningful exchange of her white gloves (what happens with the thrown away glove outside the museum is as important as the one used as bait to get her into a taxi). These ‘pieces’ signifying her white privilege are like symbols from Greek mythology—an aerial shot finds her gliding diagonally down the steps of the museum, a descent bringing her down from the loft of culture into the base, primal desires engaged in within the taxi, one of several contained moving spaces haunted by the specter of sex and violence (the other being a subway sequence with Allen).

"Sexual pleasure and fulfillment outside of one’s assigned role or expectation equals death, and De Palma pumps Dickinson through the shame of venereal disease before providing another clue to her fallen status. Forgetting her ring in the stranger’s bedroom, she takes the elevator back up, only to be greeted by the enraged killer stalking her. The attempt to reclaim her ring, and ascend back into the ranks of her privilege is what seals her fate. Dressed to Kill is about the danger and fear associated in these acts of ‘de-motion.’ De Palma explores this further, not only as the perceived downgrading of the sex-change from male to female but also Caine’s occupational signifiers—as a man he’s a doctor, but a significant sequence finds his female persona donning the uniform of a nurse, hinting at the rippling effect of such a ‘reduction.’"

Posted by Geoff at 10:06 PM CDT
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