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a la Mod:
Last week in the New York Times DVD column, J. Hoberman discussed Dressed To Kill, and mentioned Chris Dumas' Un-American Psycho in the process. Here's an excerpt:
"Anyone seeking a trick-or-treat outfit that screams the ’80s could do worse than to study Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980), on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion, or Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983), new on Blu-ray from Warner Bros. Blood and bling are part of the décor.
"Both are erotic horror films that flaunt their style and flirt with soft-core pornography. There is nudity, but costumes are de rigueur: Mr. De Palma’s monster is a razor-wielding cross-dresser, while Mr. Scott’s ultra-modish vampire couple (Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie), bloodsuckers who slash rather than bite, are shown several times to good advantage in 18th-century garb.
"Both movies employ lushly saccharine music, unfold in a scarily indifferent Manhattan and are enlivened by aggressively vulgar New York City police detectives. If Dennis Franz in Dressed to Kill is a far funnier embodiment of the reality principle than Dan Hedaya in The Hunger, it is because Mr. De Palma’s movie is a vastly richer, more entertaining movie than The Hunger — and also, for all the accusations leveled at Mr. De Palma of being a Hitchcock copycat, a more original one as well.
"However blatant its Psycho references (or parodies), Dressed to Kill owes as much to Luis Buñuel, another De Palma influence, as to Alfred Hitchcock. (Mr. De Palma borrowed the beyond-the-grave grab in Carrie from Los Olvidados; less obvious points of contact in Dressed to Kill include Belle de Jour and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.) As befits a semi-Surrealist work, Mr. De Palma’s movie is framed by two reveries imagined in the same bed — one a lascivious daydream, the other a scary nightmare — and is fraught with Freudian angles.
"The nominal protagonist, a frustrated suburban housewife (Angie Dickinson), fantasizes about steamy sex, playfully teases her adolescent son (Keith Gordon), complains to her well-to-do psychoanalyst (Michael Caine), and then, in the movie’s most extravagantly orchestrated set piece (an almost silent sequence with the camera in nearly constant motion), allows herself to be picked up by a mysterious stranger at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That the scene ends with a couple having relations in the back seat of a cab heading down Fifth Avenue is the signal for further, darker adventures.
"Full of logical inconsistencies, Dressed to Kill is best appreciated as a series of intersecting fantasies — those of the homemaker, her shrink, her son and the director, who cast his wife at the time (Nancy Allen) as a savvy call girl variously serving as surrogate mom, big sister and dream girlfriend for Mr. Gordon’s quasi-autobiographical character. (De Palma, a documentary portrait of the director, recently shown at the New York Film Festival, suggests that the scene in which, armed with a hidden camera, the boy stakes out the analyst’s office is based on an episode from Mr. De Palma’s past.)
"Mr. De Palma has made more coherent movies than Dressed to Kill (namely Carrie and Blow Out) during his long career, but few have been so technically accomplished, felt more personal or raised more hackles: Dressed to Kill had to be recut to avoid an X rating and, along with William Friedkin’s Cruising, which opened the same summer, was attacked for its stereotyping.
"The movie was also the site of a battle royale between critical factions headed by Pauline Kael (who loved the movie) and her rival Andrew Sarris (who did not). The fracas is well analyzed by Chris Dumas in his book Un-American Psycho, a study of Mr. De Palma’s work, which, because Mr. Dumas also accused cinema studies academics of dismissing his subject, roiled the surface of that particular pond as well.
"If Dressed to Kill is a primal scream, The Hunger is more like a finger snap. Mr. Scott didn’t invent vampire chic, but the movie’s opening few minutes — with Ms. Deneuve and Mr. Bowie resplendent in designer threads and expensive shades, cruising a haute, dungeonlike punk nightclub — seem like a prophetic parody of the ultracool undead in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive.
"The Hunger was Mr. Scott’s sophomore feature, and it established his commercial-honed, MTV-friendly style, at once frenzied and soignée and often risible. Curtains billow, doves cry, the light is filtered and huge close-ups are ladled with a dollop of Schubert. Although the movie ultimately dissolves into a blood-feast zombie-fest, the performances are not without merit. Mr. Bowie’s brittle fury is effective. So is Ms. Deneuve’s practiced hauteur, as well as Susan Sarandon’s capacity to bring warmth as well as heat to a lengthy bedroom scene the actresses share.
"Mr. Scott, who took his own life in 2012, went on to make the most suave example of Reagan-era bellicosity, Top Gun (1986), and many more, increasingly mannered, movies. Although not a critical darling, he did have his defenders. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote a fond appraisal after his death. So did the film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, who passionately praised Mr. Scott as an avant-garde filmmaker. A year after his death, other critics grouped Mr. Scott with several other déclassé genre directors, including Michael Bay and Paul W. S. Anderson, as part of a critical tendency that some called vulgar auteurism.
"Auteurs, according to Mr. Sarris, auteurism’s most influential American advocate, were those studio directors distinguished by a recognizable style, a consistent worldview and a certain je ne sais quoi. John Ford, Howard Hawks and, of course, Hitchcock were deities in the Sarris pantheon. Vulgar auteurism suggests that, with classic directors thus enshrined, a new generation of film critics needed to discover and champion a new of constellation of outré film artists. Back in 1980, Mr. De Palma would have been the prime example."
TWITCH: DE PALMA'S "TRICKSTER SPIRIT UNIFIES EVERYTHING HE TOUCHES"
"Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's documentary, De Palma, begins with its beloved subject discussing the first time he ever saw Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and the profound impact it had on his sense of storytelling and general cinematic philosophy. In discussing Hitchcock, an interesting point is raised; that for all the talk of the Hitchockian influence, Brian De Palma remains his only true disciple. Nowhere else in the cinema of suspense are Hitchcock's expressionistic lessons in anticipation so well heeded and stylistically expanded upon.
"De Palma’s most important advice from my point of view was the value in building a network of fellow filmmakers both as professional comrades-in-arms and as personal friends who can understand the pain and torment most filmmakers will inevitably have to face. The best example of this at play was when De Palma and George Lucas teamed up to use the same casting calls for both Star Wars (1977) and Carrie (1976), a situation that worked to the advantage of both filmmakers. Now as an aging filmmaker, De Palma has thoroughly enjoyed developing relationships with the next generation of directors which is how this documentary eventually came to be made. What I loved most about the movie was De Palma’s brutal honesty about the realities of the film industry. De Palma has made so many movies both in and out of the studio system and each approach has its pitfalls to be avoided. On Phantom of the Paradise (1974), De Palma never bothered to get E&O insurance, consequently the film was hit with four massive lawsuits the moment they tried to distribute the film. While making The Bonfire of the Vanities, a high profile production adapted from Tom Wolfe’s bestselling book, De Palma was inundated with so many notes from studio execs the end result was a movie that appealed to no one, least of all De Palma who had originally believed it had the potential to be the greatest film of his career. Then there are the actors to deal with such as Cliff Robertson deliberately sabotaging takes for other actors on Obsession (1976) or Sean Penn provoking his costar Michael J. Fox by whispering ‘TV actor’ in his ear during a take on Casualties of War (1989). Mission: Impossible turned into an absurd scenario where De Palma had to play referee in a civil war of screenwriters with David Koepp writing drafts in one hotel room and Robert Towne, the studio’s choice, writing in another. Somehow out of the chaos, a hit movie emerged. Dressed to Kill and The Untouchables were two of the rare cases where both the shoot and the reception of the film could not have gone better. If these stories sound bleak, not to worry, De Palma smiles and laughs throughout all of his anecdotes, but there is nothing at all sentimental about De Palma’s frank descriptions of the movie biz. Filmmaking is a tough, brutal industry where nearly every day on the set can break a director, the film, or as he experienced on Mission to Mars (2000), both. De Palma sadly admitted that his filmmaking is pretty much over. He now has trouble walking and as challenging as the creative and political battles in filmmaking can be, the physical demands of being a director can often be the biggest challenge of them all.
"One of the key takeaways from the film is how little control directors have over their own filmography. Contrary to the misconception of successful directors carefully picking their projects at just the right time, De Palma freely admits he often just had to go with projects that had a green light and were ready to go which is how he ended up directing Bruce Springsteen and the then unknown Courteney Cox in the music video ‘Dancing in the Dark’. There were times he would develop a screenplay for over a year like Prince of the City only to see it fall into the hands of another filmmaker like Sidney Lumet, a situation that was reversed when De Palma came on board Scarface, a film originally intended for Lumet. If there is one thing, however, that is consistent in his insanely unpredictable career, it is De Palma’s eye for framing a shot and staging action. One of his chief grievances against many directors is their inability to establish the geography of a scene leading to total confusion as the action begins to unfold. Whether he is filming a high school prank gone wrong in Carrie, his Odessa steps homage in The Untouchables, or the incredible chase through the subway in Carlito’s Way, few directors have ever managed to stage action in such a clear and powerful style quite like De Palma. But enough of my rambling."
"This is De Palma's story and if the details aren't always 100% true, they are the one's that he remembers. I say that because Baumbach in the post film screening at the New York Film Festival inferred that's the case. I haven't fact checked it but I suspect it's probably true because we all get things wrong, that doesn't mean it's not a great story.
"The film itself is a great deal of breezy fun as De Palma talks about the films he's made and the careers he started (say Robert De Niro). The film is full of great stories about how and why films were made and cast-DePalma takes great jot in making fun of Cliff Robertson in Obsession who was unnaturally tan and worked to derail his co-stars. The film is also a kick as primer on why some films work, some don't and why things get made or never see the light of day as De Palma explains why films went as they did.
"The problem with the film is that he's made so many films over the years that there is a great deal left out. Some stories say some of the yelling over Redated is never mentioned and some films are barely mentioned. Passion is only noticed via a film clip (though to be fair the recording was done five years ago according to the Q&A so Passion wasn't made yet). I want to see the unedited material which I suspect has many hours of great-and probably unpublishable stories.
"This is a really good film about a great filmmaker. Its a really fun look at Hollywood via an outsider who is sometimes an insider. Definitely a must see for anyone who loves films."
SHOT OF HANKS REMEMBERING TRAGEDY AS HE GAZES OUT OF SUBWAY WINDOW BRINGS DE PALMA'S FRAMING DEVICE TO MIND
"While Spielberg’s best handling of this kind of heightened airport novel was in the mighty Munich, he achieves a more affecting conclusion than that film. On the subway after having success in the Berlin trade-off, Donovan looks out the window to see kids jumping over a fence, instantly causing him to remember the murdered Germans trying to climb the dividing cement wall during his sojourn there. Spielberg holds on a shot of Hanks staring dumbfounded out the window, recalling the framing device of De Palma’s Casualties Of War where, also on a train, Michael J. Fox saw a vision that brought the dread and terror of overseas malfeasance to our 'safe' shores. Bridge Of Spies is rich and wise, the work of a director gracefully entering his 'Old Master' years. Like Abel’s work, it is a self-portrait of its creator and his engagement with history, humanity and his own elevated art."
"THE MOVIE BRATS WERE LIKE THE CINEMATIC VERSION OF CLASSIC ROCK" -- "DE PALMA IS LED ZEPPELIN"
Grantland's Steven Hyden yesterday posted a piece about Steven Spielberg, and included the following discussion about the Movie Brats:
He’s a gentle poet whose work is imbued with a mix of bracing sweetness and clear-eyed bitterness over the decline of civilization. Hal Ashby is the Kinks.
"Many of those critics — like De Palma’s directors, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow — grew up enthralled by the exploits of the Movie Brats. This childhood affection is now touched with a new sense of mortality. Spielberg turns 69 in December, which makes him the pup of his peer group. Lucas is 71. Scorsese turns 73 in November, and Coppola is 76. (Ashby died in 1988, and Altman died in 2006.) The New Hollywood directors have been entrenched longer than the studio-era legends they swept out nearly 50 years ago. But nothing lasts forever."
IN THE LAST 5 MINUTES, DISCUSSION GOES FROM 'SPARTACUS' TO 'THE FURY', VIA KIRK DOUGLAS ANECDOTE
CLICK IMAGE BELOW TO WATCH FULL HOUR-LONG TALK AT DGA FROM A FEW DAYS AGO
"THERE'S ONE SEQUENCE IN PARTICULAR THAT FEELS LIKE A DE PALMA SCENE ON STEROIDS"
Last Friday, USA Today's Brian Truitt posted an interview with Todd Strauss-Schulson, the director of the horror-comedy The Final Girls. In one part of the interview, Strauss-Schulson discusses some of the film's influences:
"There’s a little bit of Sam Raimi in there in terms of some of the camera work and there’s color swatches like Dario Argento,” he says. “There’s one sequence in particular that feels like a (Brian) De Palma scene on steroids. It’s like a fun drinking game to go through the movie and see what you can catch.”
SAYS EARLY FILMS W/DE PALMA "WERE VERY CREATIVE" - INTERVIEW AT SHOCK TILL YOU DROP
A couple of days ago, Shock Till You Drop's Shade Rupe posted an interview with Rutanya Alda, who recently released a book of memoirs, The Mommie Dearest Diary. Early in the interview, Rupe says to Alda, "You mention relationships with people like Sam Peckinpah, Robert Altman, and Brian De Palma. Peckinpah and Altman have left us though De Palma was just at the New York Film Festival. How does he feel about being mentioned in your book? Are you still in touch?"
Alda replies, "I dont know if Brian has even read my book. We rarely see each other. When we do we have a very warm friendship. I think he comes off well in my book. I loved working with Brian. The early films I worked on with Brian, Greetings and Hi, Mom! were very creative and there was a lot of improvisation which I loved. The Fury was more structured and a studio film."
DE PALMA'S FILM "IS BETTER WHEN IT FOCUSES ON THE SCIENCE, LOSES GRIP WHEN STORY TURNS HOKEY"
"In 2000, two films emerged that were obviously inspired by recent successful NASA missions that uncovered evidence Mars had once borne water (and possibly life). As such, they felt less rooted in that Western spirit—instead, both serve as darker parables on the dangers of exploration. Antony Hoffman’s Red Planet, starring Val Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss, is a grunting techno-thriller with a terrific electronic score but horrible, muddy visuals. In the 2050s, Kilmer’s character and his NASA team discover evidence of giant insect life on Mars, somehow awakened by human exploration. It’s ultimately a grim tale of survival against the odds, with its colorful ensemble (including Terence Stamp and Benjamin Bratt) getting picked off one by one. At the end, Kilmer blasts off the surface with a middle finger raised to it, screaming 'Fuck this planet!' Budgeted at $80 million, Red Planet grossed only $33 million worldwide.
"Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars is a more elegant beast in the hands of a director who happily apes Stanley Kubrick’s greatest hits from 2001. The film is most assured when its crew is in space, en route to Mars to rescue the survivors of an exploration mission gone wrong. It also plays on some of the planet’s most recognizable and strange surface features, like the Cydonia region that features an outcropping that looks, from satellite imagery, like a giant face. But on the whole, Mission to Mars feels like a religious pilgrimage. There are nasty moments, like when a sand tornado rips one astronaut into pieces, but the film dwells on its final realization that the planet once harbored alien life that seeded human existence on Earth. Like its genre-mates, Mission to Mars is best when it focuses on the science, and it loses its grip when the story turns hokey.
"That’s the ultimate achievement of The Martian. When Watney grows his potatoes, the director Ridley Scott makes each sprout feel like an achievement; every effort to cross Mars’s terrain follows weeks of forethought. Though it’s lacking Martians, ancient edifices, or even a threatening algae bloom, it comes closest to Burroughs’s original romantic conception of the world as one so similar, yet so frighteningly different to the one we know. There’s a reason pundits are predicting the film will set off renewed interest in manned exploration of the Solar System. Though Watney clings to survival throughout, the idea of creating life and a home in such an empty new world is as challenging and stirring as the most idyllic visions of the Wild West."