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a la Mod:
TOUMARKINE: 'DE PALMA' A REMINDER OF STUDIO MENTALITY & EGO SYSTEMS THAT KEEP HOLLYWOOD ROLLING
Meanwhile, Film Journal International's Doris Toumarkine also posted an anticipatory piece about the fest yesterday:
"NYFF documentaries this year are tantalizing, especially a good many focusing on show-biz subjects. Housed mainly in the “Spotlight on Documentaries” sector but scattered beyond are several new and intimate in-depth close-ups of film personalities. Among these winners, and for unexpected reasons, are Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words, HBO’s Nora Ephron bio-doc Everything Is Copy, and filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s De Palma, a talky, humorless sit-down with their pal Brian De Palma intercut with clips from his films and some he admires (the better part of this doc).
As much as the Bergman and Ephron docs will be a joy to their admirers, the barreling look/listen blast of De Palma provides ammo to his detractors. Unexpectedly, the Bergman work—a trove of home movies (she loved cameras, hers and those of others), clips, and material from her letters and diaries (read by current Swedish-born star Alicia Vikander)—becomes an intimate exposé of what it really takes to be a great, enduring star. The De Palma close-up impresses as a reminder of the studio mentality and ego systems that keep Hollywood factories and their determined filmmakers rolling.
On the other hand, HBO’s portrait of the late writer/director/reporter Ephron is a celebration, not just of its beloved and no-nonsense subject, but of the talent, taste and intelligence that can sometimes bless mainstream product.
Scott orchestrates all of this like a pro. Two of his last three movies (Exodus: Gods and Kings and Prometheus) were so grand in scale that making this one probably wasn't a leap. He's workmanlike in his approach to science, which always trumps magic in The Martian — that's the point. But if we can't feel a sense of wonder at the magnitude and mystery of space, why even bother? In 3-D, at least, The Martian is handsome only in a perfunctory way: As with so many 3-D movies — Hugo and Gravity are exceptions — its hues look somewhat anemic and drained. (Stills from the film look brighter and richer, suggesting it might be best viewed in 2-D.) Even Mars's craggy landscape is less than vivid. Portions of the film were shot in Wadi Rum, in Jordan, but cinematographer Dariusz Wolski fails to make this desert landscape look otherworldly — the Death Valley of so many B westerns looks more mysterious and threatening.
Or, flipping to a more recent reference, what about the satiny red sandscape of Brian De Palma's 2000 Mission to Mars, a half-dreamy, half-plausible effect achieved in part by cinematographer Stephen Burum's use of light reflectors made of copper sheeting? If I have to be stuck on Mars for any length of time, that's the one I want. The most affecting sequence in The Martian comes late, after Damon's Watney has been stranded on this dangerously semi-hospitable planet for such a very long time: His previously robust frame is bony. His face — that of a man who, even in his mid-forties, looks barely old enough to shave — has sprouted a rangy, mountain-man beard. Watney has refashioned himself as a space pirate. Finally, he's gone potty, but only just a little — he'll spring back to normal soon enough.
But for a few moments, he's a spiritual twin to Don Cheadle in Mission to Mars, another left-behind astronaut who managed to make stuff grow. By the time Cheadle's friends and colleagues finally rescue him, he has become the prisoner of a greenhouse that has also saved his life — it's enemy and sustenance at once. And even though he, like Watney, regains his sanity, there's a glimmer of madness in his eyes that will never fully dissipate. Mission to Mars was derided on its release, but there are few movies about space exploration as visually resplendent, or as delicately perched between mournfulness and optimism. And have we really reached the point where advanced special effects count for more than visual imagination? De Palma, himself a high school science fair winner, approached space as a mystery, a problem beautiful in its vast unsolvability. Scott, all about solutions, gives us the most seemingly authentic Mars money can buy. That doesn't make it the best.
Kilday writes that after watching De Palma, Jones was persuaded to revisit sevveral of De Palma's films. "My sons and I looked at them together, and we were all absolutely stunned," Jones said to Kilday. "He was and is a great filmmaker, end of story."
Publicist: Could you talk a little bit about Mr. De Palma as a teacher? I’d describe him as one of the most generous directors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. I was a unit publicist for Carlito’s Way, and he didn’t say a word to me. But I never got kicked out of video village, anything I wanted to see I got to see, and it was the most amazing experience. I didn’t realize until watching this that… he’s a teacher. So could you talk a little bit about that?
Paltrow [nodding rigorously] : I really think that’s where the movie comes from. I think you sort of summed it up. That’s our experience of Brian, too, and that’s, exactly—not getting kicked out of video village… you know, virtually everybody would do that. I mean, that’s such a unique thing. And I bet you it’s not even conscious, he’s not distracted by that sort of thing. But that’s the core, I think, why we even made this in the first place.
Baumbach: Yeah, it’s interesting. I always knew about Home Movies, but in going through the timeline of his career, I guess I never quite thought, until we were doing the interviews and cutting the movie, is that he already had made Carrie and The Fury, and was now going to Sarah Lawrence and making this tiny movie with students and, you know, it’s so idiosyncratic. But as you know, Brian, as you point out, as you get to know him, it doesn’t actually seem out of line with the career—it actually seems very much in line with it. But it’s still… I don’t know any other filmmaker who’s done something like that.
"'The Hollywood system destroys creativity,' Brian De Palma tells us in Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's documentary. That's not the first nor the last of the impassioned statements the director makes throughout the course of the film, which feels less like a retrospective and more like a cinephile confessional. 'It's in the same spirit as having coffee with him,' said Paltrow. That is, if you take your coffee blood red...
"Studio veteran influences aside, one of the most surprising revelations of De Palma is the extent of the director's stalwart low-budget conviction. 'What's the point of film school if kids don't learn how to create low-budget movies?' De Palma asks in the film. Clashes with studios, such as Columbia and Paramount, further highlight his commitment to his vision. But what stands out most is one of the most original films any low-budget guru has ever attempted... [In that last sentence, Buder is referring to Home Movies, as she then segues into the quotes from Baumbach talking about that film.]
"Throughout the film, De Palma speaks candidly of his confrontations with failure. Embedded within every film is a colony of mistakes, regrets and blunders De Palma is quick to detail. 'Your films are like a public record of things you didn't finish,' he says."
"In De Palma, the filmmaker makes no attempt to hide Hitchcock’s influence — in fact, it opens with him describing the formative experience of seeing Vertigo at Radio City Music Hall, something he says he 'will never forget.' If anything, De Palma seems confused that more of his contemporaries weren’t influenced in the same way, situating themselves similarly as 'practitioners' of the vocabulary Hitch perfected.
"The two filmmakers now also share the experience of walking through their careers with younger directors who idolize them, and De Palma has both the scope and specificity of the essential text Hitchcock/Truffaut, covering the entire career (even the movies we don’t really talk about) while pausing for in-depth explanations of the reasoning behind certain iconic shots, or the aesthetics of trademark techniques."
"On the way out of the theatre, I told both of them that I was not the greatest De Palma fan, that I actually despised Passion, and that their documentary made me reconsider and curious to go back and re-watch a number of his films (not Passion, though). 'That's a good reaction to have,' Baumbach responded. Paltrow, when I brought up the great sense of completion due to the fact that they discuss all of his movies, confirmed that for them that was also a very important factor."
"Being a great admirer of Brian De Palma, I found that no film from 2015 was as purely pleasurable as Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow‘s De Palma, a blow-by-blow examination of the director’s massive oeuvre. Its structure is simple — De Palma speaks candidly about his upbringing, early efforts, and subsequent successes (as well as failures); many clips and archival materials are interspersed — but the effect to which their resources are wrung evinces a great deal of attention and care. In Baumbach’s own words, 'This is the only movie, probably, I can safely say, that I’ll be involved with that I can just keep watching over and over again. I find it so interesting.'
"After screening their work for press and industry members at this year’s New York Film Festival, the pair engaged in an Amy Taubin-led Q & A featuring audience questions. It’s hit-and-miss, as these things tend to be — I’ll pat myself on the back a little too strongly by noting that my own question, the very last, is the only one that seems to impress and stump both of these De Palma experts — but good insights are gathered throughout. My favorite part? When Baumbach explains the unexpected influence by saying, 'In a way, Brian, for me, sort of existed as what movies were awaiting me as a I got older. And then, once you start seeing them, they kind of go into your head and they don’t come out. I carry so many of those images over. The way I remember them, when I revisit them, I’m always surprised at how different they might be than the way I remembered them.'”
4. Whedon had trouble writing the script for movie sequel Serenity because of the wildly different genres its leading characters, Mal and River, represented.
"Mal is a Western fellow and River is kind of Noir, so how do I reconcile them?" His mentor, film professor Jeanine Basinger, helped him steer through the block with genre-blurring movies like Brian De Palma's The Fury and Nicholas Ray's classic Western Johnny Guitar.
In honour of TIFF’s 40th anniversary, we look back with wonder, and sometimes frustration, with some of the films that were Closing Night Galas. But first some thoughts on festival dynamics. All film events suffer from ‘End of Festival Malaise’. Many entertainment media have already abandoned TIFF this year, as always. That is exactly what happens in other cities including Cannes, the Grand Pere of filmfests.
Because of this phenomenon, producers, filmmakers and distributors want their prestige pictures to play in Toronto on the opening weekend. More impact, more media hoopla, better chances of coming out of TIFF with new sales or bigger box office or even an Oscar campaign underway.
“You’re right,” TIFF director Piers Handling says. “Every festival is front-loaded. It’s very difficult not to do that. There is too much pressure, because everyone feels that the press is here for the first week of the festival and they tend to kind of go after the Wednesday. But it still is a public festival — and obviously there is a large Toronto public that continues to go to the films. There are Galas and special events involving major names at the end, including our Closing Night Gala. But it does appear somewhat to be an irreversible trend.”
Handling says that TIFF is handling the situation “as best we can,” including offering a free screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 classic Vertigo on Sunday, 3:00 p.m. at Roy Thomson Hall. “It will be extraordinary — with the Bernard Herrmann score played live by the TSO (Toronto Symphony Orchestra) in RTH!”
As for TIFF’s Closing Night Galas, the first Festival of Festivals in 1976 showcased the Soviet film, Queen of the Gypsies (also known as Gypsies are Found in Heaven). Since then, some other fascinating films have taken the slot:
• Divine Madness (1980): My first official Toronto Sun interview was Bette Midler for Michael Ritchie’s wildly entertaining musical and comedy doc. Great interview, great doc, great way to end TIFF 1980!
• Threshold (1981): Richard Pearce’s medical drama, starring Donald Sutherland as a heart surgeon who pioneers artificial heart transplants, has never been given the accolades it deserves.
• Children of a Lesser God (1986): With William Hurt and Marlee Matlin co-starring in Randa Haines’ romantic drama, Mark Medoff’s stage play became a worthy film about a deaf woman intersecting with a speech therapist.
• Twist (1992): Celebrated Toronto documentarian Ron Mann still deserves a shout-out for his post-WWII popular dance doc. It focuses on the Twist — and what ‘60s youth can forget Chubby Checker?
• Rudy (1993): David Anspaugh’s biopic about the runt of the litter who finally realizes his dream to play a few seconds of U.S. college football is a favourite of sports fans. But most forget it launched at the Toronto filmfest.
• That Thing You Do! (1996): Tom Hanks made his feature directorial debut with this hep-cat rock ‘n’ roll drama. It got Toronto dancing in the aisles with Liv Tyler, Charlize Theron, Steve Zahn and Hanks in the ensemble.
• Seven Years in Tibet (1997): I teased my filmmaking friend Jean-Jacques Annaud for casting Brad Pitt in the lead role, but this political film about an Austrian’s unlikely friendship with the young Dalai Lama is still visually striking.
• Femme Fatale (2002): Brian De Palma, a festival habitue, delighted in screening his lurid crime drama at TIFF. Rebecca Romijn co-starred with Antonio Banderas.
• Amazing Grace (2006): Based on reality, Michael Apted’s heart-felt film chronicles the desperate battle to take Britain out of the brutal slave trade late in the 1700s. The hymn’s guilt-ridden, anti-slavery origins story is told here.
• Stone of Destiny (2008): Actor-filmmaker Charles Martin Smith delighted in telling this true-life tale about Scottish rogues who steal back the legendary Stone of Scone in the 1950s. But it missed its mark at the box office.
• The Young Victoria (2008): Jean-Mac Vallee’s masterful Demolition opened this year’s TIFF. His first English-language success — a biopic of the young Queen Victoria with Emily Blunt — propelled his career into the mainstream.