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Friday, October 28, 2016

From Marc Edward Heuck's program notes for the New Bev's screenings of Phantom Of The Paradise this past week:
Recently, one of the New Beverly’s favorite working directors, Edgar Wright, hosted a screening of Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise at the Picturehouse Central cinema in Picadilly, London. Most of the audience consisted of first-time viewers, unfamiliar with the film or its star and librettist Paul Williams, drawn to the event by their appreciation of Wright and their trust in his cinematic taste. The post-show reactions yielded the kind of rapture that modern film promoters can only dream of:

It is merely serendipitous timing that Wright’s UK screening took place mere weeks before the New Beverly’s upcoming shows on October 26th and 27th, but it provides excellent preamble. Moreover, it continues the film’s reputation as possibly the single greatest cult horror rock musical that is still criminally underseen by a wide audience. Or, to apply Wright’s welcoming and positive spin, it is the single greatest cult horror rock musical that millions still have the wonderful opportunity to experience for the first time.

Later in the essay, Heuck notes, "Eagle-eyed grindhouse movie lovers should pay close attention during the scene in Swan’s boudoir. Among the beautiful groupies clamoring for Swan’s affections are Jennifer Ashley from The Centerfold Girls, Robin Mattson of Bonnie’s Kids, Janus Blythe from The Hills Have Eyes, Patrice Rohmer from Revenge of the Cheerleaders, Janit Baldwin from the would-be Carrie ripoff Ruby, and Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith from Lemora, Swinging Cheerleaders, Caged Heat and many more."

Posted by Geoff at 12:41 AM CDT
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Thursday, October 27, 2016
Den Of Geek's Tony Sokol interviews Lara Parker, who appeared in Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom! in 1970, along with her real-life children. At that time, Parker was in the midst of her regular job, portraying the witch Angelique on ABC-TV's serialized drama Dark Shadows. "Lara Parker created one of the strongest woman characters on TV at the same time as what was called Women’s Lib was growing," Sokol states in his introduction. Early in the interview, this leads Sokol to ask Parker if she sees characters such as Angelique and Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha on Bewitched as historic symbols of Women's Lib...
I've been asked that so many times because the women's movement had begun. Looking back historically, Angelique was one of the earliest strong women characters portrayed on television. She was really the first “Bitch Witch” that became so popular later. But at the time I wasn't aware of being any kind of social figure. I just felt that I had a good part and I was happy to have a job and go to work and be an actress. It's a gift. But I certainly didn't see myself in the larger sense of being any kind of a social influence.

I think it's rare to pick up on that in the moment. I think only looking back I see that I was actually fortunate to be, in a small sense, one of the movers and shakers in the women's movement.

I see you as more than that. I happen to be a big Brian De Palma fan and you were also part of the New York City independent film revolution. At the time, were you aware of how different Hi Mom! was from the Hollywood machine?

Well again, no. Brian De Palma cast me and they actually put in my two children. He was doing improvised theater. We were improvising on film, without lines, without a character to play. It was a whole different thing and I actually was not very good at it. But, yeah, I was aware that there was an experimental film movement, very much so, yes. It was actually very politically focused.

Hi Mom! has some kind of show [in] it called Be Black Baby where the people were all dressed up in black face. I was very young and I wasn't really very aware of what Brian De Palma was trying to do. He was young too. He was experimenting but he went on to do some wonderful films.

Posted by Geoff at 12:58 AM CDT
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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Thanks to Alex for sending along the link to the above video, which shows the on-stage discussion that took place following the 40th anniversary screening of Carrie two weeks ago. The Q&A was moderated by Bryan Fuller, on stage with Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen, P.J. Soles, Doug Cox, Terry Bolo, and Paul Hirsch. Below are some transcripted moments from the video:


Hirsch: Honestly, Brian would bring me his storyboards that he had drawn himself. They’re not like storyboards as we know them today. So then he would show me these drawings he’d made, and I couldn’t make head or tail of them. [laughter] And I said [nodding], “That looks great, Brian. That looks great.” [more laughter] And then, I would just react to the footage. But, you know, watching the film tonight, the first time I’ve seen it in 40 years [“wow” reaction from the audience]… ‘cause, you know, when you get to the end of a film, and you’ve seen it so many times, you never want to see it again [laughter], which is the Faustian bargain that editors make. But watching it tonight, I was struck by how interestingly every scene was shot: the angles, the lighting. And nothing was done conventionally. Every choice was very interesting, with a point, and an attitude. And I thought the scenes between Nancy and John were so rich in chemistry, and you could really feel the feeling between them—the dance of the eyes, as they say. And then the scenes between Piper and Sissy were like operatic duets. They were just fabulous. I just had a great time watching the picture tonight.


Fuller: Speaking of Nancy and John Travolta, you have such a strange relationship with him in this film, as in other films, and it has this BDSM sort of quality to it. So, you were kind of John Travolta’s first cinematic dom.

Allen: And I’m proud of it. [laughter]

Fuller: Can you talk a little bit about filming that scene? Because it’s interesting to watch it with a modern audience, where he’s slapping you, you slap him, you have this very physically-abusive relationship, and on screen, then you look at your chemistry in Blow Out, which is so dynamic… What was it like, doing those two different [audience applauding] – Blow Out, people, I mean, let’s come on. [applause] Also edited by Paul Hirsch.

Allen: Well, first of all, John and I had a ball in the movie, and we really did have tremendous chemistry together. He’s a lot of fun to work with. He’s a very funny guy. But, the scene in the car, as you know, I was slapped earlier by Betty Buckley, and she was really slapping me, a lot, and John was so sweet. I mean, he would [touching her hand to her face repeatedly] barely touch me with his hands. And the fact that I was so bitchy with him—in the original storyboards, when Brian showed me, before we shot the film, he was supposed to rip my shirt off in the scene in the car. And he said, [waving her hand] “Yeah, that would not work with her. We’re not going to shoot that. She’ll kill him if he does that.” So, you know, we also thought that we were the comic relief in the movie. We had no idea everyone was going to hate us, because the crew laughed at us so much. So, we had a great time on that, and when we came together in Blow Out, it was so very different. He had had tremendous success in Saturday Night Fever and Grease, and I hadn’t seen him in a long time, and I had no idea if he had changed, or what he was going to be like. But when he walked in for rehearsals, he said, “Hey, let’s order a pizza.” We ordered pizza, we started working, and started to do some improvisation together to make the script work for us, because it was very, very different. And to me it was always magical working with him, because you never knew what he was going to do.


Fuller: Now, Mr. Hirsch, in the middle of that tuxedo shop scene, you just fast-forwarded for a while. Were you just like, “Let’s get this moving along,” or… what sort of choice was that?

Hirsch: Well, it was an interesting problem, because the scene was constructed on jump cuts, and the middle segment was too long. And I didn’t want to throw in another jump cut, because the jump cuts were… I was saving them for more significant moments.

Fuller: Like when you blow up a car…

Hirsch: No, no, no, I mean like in that scene, there were two very definite time cuts. I didn’t want to throw another one in the middle of one of the scenes. The three little scenes. So I had seen this film directed by Agnès Varda, and edited by a friend of mine, Robert Dalva. [note: Dalva also later worked on editing De Palma’s Raising Cain, as did Hirsch.] And he had done that. They had this long scene, I remember two characters on the bed, and they just sped-up—like the boring parts—they just sped-up. And I thought, well, that’s a great way to shorten the scene, so I thought I’d try it. And then, I think Pauline Kael called it “a stupid editor trick,” or something, you know. [laughter]

Fuller: Oh, Pauline.

Hirsch: You win some, you lose some. But it worked to preserve the pace of the scene, and not have to throw in a jump cut where I didn’t want one.


Later on, P.J. Soles asks Hirsch how the split screen was decided on for Carrie’s rage at the prom. Hirsch explains that split screen is “a passion of Brian’s,” and how he had used it initially for Dionysus In ’69. “And he was always fascinated by split screen,” Hirsch explains, “because he thought, well, it expands your perception of what’s going on.”

Hirsch then continues, “There are certain situations where it works very well. It’s not ideally suited for an action sequence because the fact that you’re looking at a split screen is a distancing device that keeps you from identifying with the characters the way you would when the image is full screen. It’s an intellectual fascination as opposed to an emotional connection.”

Posted by Geoff at 7:53 PM CDT
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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Another 40th anniversary screening of Brian De Palma's Carrie will take place November 9th at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills, California. Critic Stephen Farber will host a panel discussion after the screening, with Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen, William Katt, P.J.Soles, and Paul Hirsch.

In his review of Carrie for New West magazine, Farber wrote, "Carrie has the same diabolical power as Psycho, and the same unsettling black humor."

(Thanks to Chuck!)

Posted by Geoff at 6:43 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016 6:49 PM CDT
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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In the video above, from last weekend's 40th anniversary screening of Brian De Palma's Carrie, hosted by Scream Factory, the enthusuastic audience applauds when the red lights are turned up to match the film, as Carrie begins to unleash her powers. According to Dread Central's Staci Layne Wilson, there was a Q&A after the screening, moderated by Bryan Fuller. On hand to talk about the film on stage afterward was Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen, P.J. Soles (who wore the exact same cap she had on in the movie), Doug Cox, Terry Bolo, and Paul Hirsch. William Katt also provided a video hello for the event.

Wilson was able to ask Laurie, Allen, and Soles some additional questions (and the picture of the three actresses also comes from the Dread Central post)-- here are some excerpted quotes:

Piper Laurie: I think I’ve been blessed. I feel fortunate I was invited to be in the movie. It’s amazing and big surprise it’s remained so popular.

Brian De Palma’s energy and imagination and the music and cinematography – the DP, Mario Tosi, made us look beautiful even when we’re not supposed to be, And it’s fun. Brian didn’t take it all that seriously, which I think that was a smart move. I did everything I could to play against everything that was in the original story, because it would have been dangerous to take my character that seriously. It works for the movie.

Nancy Allen: Brian De Palma brought a lot to the story that no other director could have. One thing he did was cast well and find really good chemistry with the actors, and he rehearsed us all – so by the time we got to set we felt like we’d known each other for years. Except Sissy – she wanted to stay apart, and that was good too. Then, on a small budget, cinematically, he shot it beautifully. He really brought out the sense of humor in the characters. It could have been humorless, which wouldn’t have been the same. And course, Sissy and Piper at the core of the film, that relationship is [great] – and they were both nominated for Oscars. Also, Brian changed the ending of the movie and that was much better.

P.J. Soles: The most obvious thing that still resonates today would be the bullying aspect, but to us then, it was more of a horror and sci-fi thing, obviously, with the telekinetic thing. In today’s climate it may be a little strange, with us picking on her like that and it being [entertaining] but back then it was a horror movie and a fantasy film. It’s a time capsule of movies from the 70s. So this is based on Stephen King’s book, this is what he wrote about – and so, without the telekinetic powers, I don’t know how the movie would have ended.

There is a loyal original fan bases, but there are new fans to Carrie. I do a lot of horror conventions and I meet them all the time. Having worked with Brian De Palma on Carrie and John Carpenter on Halloween, I’m often asked what it was like to work with two masters of horror at the time. Neither one of them was really on the map at the time, but the staying power is incredible. I have young fans, even 20-year-old guys, come and weep at my table [at conventions] saying, ‘I loved you in Carrie! You were so bad!’ So as long as people know it’s entertainment, it will live on forever. Because, it’s the performances – I mean, both Sissy and Laurie were nominated for Academy Awards. For that genre, it’s unheard of. It really speaks highly of the film.

Posted by Geoff at 1:03 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, October 23, 2016 2:20 PM CDT
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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Below The Line's Mark London Williams reports that, at a recent Los Angeles press conference for the release of his new film The Handmaiden, Korean director Park Chan-wook was asked about the directors who had inspired him:
He mentioned Hitchcock’s Vertigo as the film that made him want to be a filmmaker. He also talked about other “visualists,” as he called them — a list ranging from Fellini to Renoir to the also Hitchcock-inspired Brian DePalma, and more — and surmised, through a translator, that among the reasons we don’t have more such “visualists” among today’s directors might be multifold: For one, “young people don’t watch a lot of classic films,” he said. Or perhaps, even if they do, “they’re watching on a small screen. I’m not sure.”

Though he was surer about his next point, which was, “to make ‘visualist’ cinema, you need money.”

Posted by Geoff at 12:46 AM CDT
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Monday, October 17, 2016
The New York Times ran a Sunday feature yesterday written by Gilbert Cruz, with the headline, "‘Carrie’ Is Back. Like a Bloody Hand From the Grave." The article includes quotes from Brian De Palma, Stephen King, and Lawrence D. Cohen.

"I never really approached it as a horror movie," De Palma tells Cruz. "It’s more of a character piece. She does go berserk after she gets hit with the bucket of blood, but until then, not really. What made this really good — both the book and the film — is that it capsulized everyone’s high school experience of being an outsider."

Later, De Palma is quoted about Sissy Spacek: "The studio didn’t even want me to test Sissy. It’s probably the part she’ll be best remembered for even though she won an Oscar for another role."

Here are a couple of other passages from Cruz' article:

“It’s really a simple story,” Mr. King said. “And people saw Carrie as an extreme case of what they went through in high school.” Fresh out of college when he started the book, teaching high school English by day, Mr. King said he understood “it from both sides of the desk. There was a visceral sense that I was writing about something that I understood and felt deeply at the time.”

In the mid-1970s, few had heard of Mr. King, a teacher who had mainly published short stories in men’s magazines. Lawrence D. Cohen, then working for a movie producer in New York, had certainly never heard of him when he plucked “Carrie” from a slush pile. He eventually wrote the screenplay. “I understood why critics were perplexed as to what genre ‘Carrie’ belonged to,” Mr. Cohen said. “Was it a high school movie, a sci-fi novel, a horror piece, a psychological thriller?”


United Artists considered marketing it as a B-movie. “They wanted to change the title to ‘Pray for Carrie,’ which is a very exploitation-movie title,” Mr. Cohen said. “And they ended up taking out an ad that was a poster of Carrie covered in blood, which was a spoiler before that word was used, but a clear way of selling the movie. I remember looking at it going, ‘They’ve lost their minds; they’re giving away the whole movie.’” In retrospect, the poster is a superb example of Alfred Hitchcock’s explanation of the difference between suspense and surprise — knowing a bomb will explode and tensing for it, versus having it blow up with no warning. Bloody Carrie is the bomb the audience saw before the movie even started.

One reason “Carrie” is considered such an effective horror movie is its final two minutes, in which Ms. Irving’s good girl, Sue Snell, visits a grave and a hand shoots from the ground, sending audiences from the theater with one more scare. It was the last thing they remembered about the movie and the first thing they told friends.

“What the ending did was establish Stephen King as a brand name for horror,” said Mr. Cohen, who also wrote a “Carrie” stage musical and the screenplay for the 2013 movie remake. The success of the original film boosted sales for the novel, and Mr. King’s next novel after the movie, “The Shining,” became his first hardcover best seller, and he was off.

But Mr. King has never lost his view of high school as a place like the island in “Lord of the Flies.” Those locker-filled hallways are the true dark corridors, and you don’t need to add too much to make it scarier than it already is. “I tell people, ‘If you look back on high school as the high point of your life,’” you’re one messed-up American, Mr. King said, using rougher language. “Most of us look at high school as something we escaped.”


Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com

"Then there is De Palma, who conducts the proceedings with the kind of self-confidence in his artistic gifts that few filmmakers manage to achieve in their entire careers. Over the years, he has proven to be one of the most divisive of American filmmakers but this is perhaps the one film of his that everyone, regardless of where they stand on his career as a whole, seems to admire. Even though he obviously didn’t come up with the story himself, he has such a handle on what he wants to say with it and how to say it that Carrie feels just as personal as any of his self-generated projects. He effortlessly taps into our collective memories of the actual high school experience—oftentimes far removed from the version put forth in the kind of dumb movies that he definitively rebukes here—and uses them to both inform the story and help us embrace Carrie in a way that not even King was able to completely pull off in the book. At the same time, he again demonstrates his mastery of audience manipulation by first getting viewers completely on Carrie’s side and then eventually putting them in the discomfiting positions of A.) anticipating the sight of her prom night humiliation and B.) watching the person they have grown to like slaughtering all her classmates afterwards, even though many of them have themselves done nothing to deserve such retribution. (In fact, the grisliest death in the sequence is the one suffered by the gym teacher, who had done nothing except try to help Carrie out, even though her actions would play an inadvertent part in the horrors to come.) He is so much at the top of his game here that even if you have seen the film a number of times before, he still manages to suck you into the story to such a degree that you can still be caught off-guard by the proceedings. Then, just when you think that it is over, he comes up with one final shock (one not in the book) that not only supplies one of the great jump scares in film history but brilliantly subverts the hoary cliche that everything can go back to normal once the monster is defeated—here, even if you manage to survive everything, you still don’t get out of it completely unscarred."

Donald A. Guarisco, Schlockmania

"That said, an effective tale of supernatural revenge needs a master manipulator at its helm – and DePalma does a brilliant, thoroughly inspired job here. There’s a long time before the big horrors kick in so the film relies on his ability to stylize the melodrama in a way that makes it feel suspenseful and laden with atmosphere. He pulls this off, using sleek photography by Mario Tosi and a melodic, emotionally charged score from Pino Donaggio to comment on the big emotional stakes of Carrie emerging from her shell as she is plotted against. DePalma’s underrated skill for directing actors gets a great venue during this section of the film.

"Once it’s time for the prom, the director gets to dig deep into his bag of tricks and the resulting display of cinematic pyrotechnics is awe-inspiring: he gets to deploy slow motion, split-diopter shots, elaborate tracking shots and what might be the finest use of split screen in any movie. From there to the coda, he finds an ideal balance between the visceral and the stylistically graceful that few filmmakers are capable of achieving. Without giving too much away, he also summons up a shock coda for the ages.

"In short, Carrie ranks with The Dead Zone and Stand By Me as the best films to emerge from the ever-growing ranks of Stephen King adaptations. It’s also a must-see for anyone interested in DePalma’s career or great horror films from the ’70s. Commercial horror fare doesn’t get better or more artful than this."

Bruce Westbrook, Tripping the Light

"Yet Carrie was a tough sell to studios, only getting greenlit when a new female exec championed its female-focused story (and wasn’t put off by an early scene involving Carrie’s horrified first menstruation in the girl’s locker room at school, leading to abuse from her classmates).

"Cohen also notes the film’s 'illusion of fidelity' to its source. He notes the many new scenes which were written strictly for the screen — a different medium which needs different approaches — and says King was grateful for the changes."

Jeremy Carr, cutprintfilm

"Pop culture may have worn away some of Carrie’s concluding shock, but the realization of its stylized, tragic, and destructive final sequence remains effectively engaging. Once Carrie steps foot in that school, the viewer is overcome with a visceral frustration and anger, knowing what awaits this temporarily joyous young girl. Carrie is a teenager after all, so there is an appropriately glamorous depiction of the star-spangled dance, courtesy art direction by Jack Fisk (Spacek’s husband). The vivid set-piece, as with those idyllic moments mentioned earlier, has a blissful, romanticized sheen, one that will similarly get undercut by blossoming horror. Once soaked in pig’s blood, Carrie drifts through the carnage as a woman possessed, a rigid red figure moving against the fiery blaze, enacting a murderous rampage that, at this point, seems beyond her control. Choreographed like a musical number, De Palma’s virtuoso integration of elaborate camera movement, traumatic slow-motion, and piercing split-screen (a tools-of-the-trade mastery for which he is now finally lauded) results in a visually and emotionally powerful finale, culminating with the fantastically evocative death of Carrie’s mother."

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, October 18, 2016 8:55 PM CDT
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Sunday, October 16, 2016
On Friday, The Hollywood Reporter's Lesley Goldberg and Kate Stanhope reported an exclusive that Chuck Lorre is developing an 8-part event mini-series adaptation of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire Of The Vanities. Lorre is "under a rich overall deal" with Warner Bros. Television, according to Goldberg and Stanhope, where the project stems from. It had been shopped to cable and streaming outlets, and has now been picked up for development by Amazon.

According to the report, which attempts to attach the buzzword "reboot" to the project, "Margaret Nagle (Boardwalk Empire, Red Band Society) is set to pen the script and exec produce alongside Lorre. Author and political reporter David Corn will serve as a consultant. Amazon Studios, WBTV and Chuck Lorre Productions are the producers on it."

Meanwhile, according to Showbiz 411's Roger Friedman, Wolfe himself knew nothing of the new project until Friedman called him up to ask him about it. "I guess he’s calling his agents on Monday," Friedman surmises.


Last month, The Film Stage's Jonah Jeng wrote an essay in defense of Brian De Palma's 1990 feature adaptation of Wolfe's book. "De Palma’s confident, hilarious polemic is a formidable achievement, hitting places that hurt in 1990 and, sadly, continue to hurt today," Jeng states. "That the film feels like it was made for the 2016 moment is a depressing testament to the state of race relations in America, but it is also precisely this continued relevancy that makes Bonfire necessary viewing."

A bit later in the essay, Jeng discusses how De Palma's style fits with the absurdity on display in the film:

"Some satire is subtle in its magnifications of reality. The Bonfire of the Vanities takes a different, more boisterous route, fitting De Palma’s florid directorial tendencies like a glove. Scenes turn to farce to convey the moral absurdity of the characters’ actions, whether in Abe’s wild gesticulations or in the way we are introduced to the Reverend via a very Spike Lee-esque, low-angle shot that imparts onto him the exaggeratedly looming presence of a cartoon villain. De Palma’s cinematographic stylizations, so generative of suspense in Sisters and operatic in Scarface, here serve a different but no less meaningful purpose. The camerawork is sometimes highly precise in its satirical function, such as when a dolly zoom is used to parody the experience of white fear. At other points, the cinematography creates the more abstract impression that the camera is emulating this film’s plot-level zaniness. Often, De Palma appears to be channeling the story’s ludicrous energy by way of his trademark visual acrobatics — weird camera angles, split diopter shots, long takes, etc. — which, in turn, intensify the energy that gave rise to them."

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, October 17, 2016 8:05 AM CDT
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