Hello and welcome to the unofficial Brian De Palma website.
Here is the latest news:
a la Mod:
BMD: Before I let you go, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about working with Brian De Palma. He’s my favorite filmmaker of all time and you were in one of his absolute masterpieces, Carlito’s Way.
JL: Aw man, I was supposed to be in Mission: Impossible, too, but had a Fox contract that they wouldn’t let me out of. I was so looking forward to being in that movie. It would’ve been the third time I got to do something with Brian. I was so devastated. I loved working with him. I owe my career to him. He creates this environment where anything is possible.
In Carlito’s Way, I found myself as an actor. With my entrance as Benny Blanco, he let me do between twenty and thirty takes. And we’re talking about doing this on film, not digital. This was the era when you usually got three takes and had to beg for more. Not with Brian. Brian would let you play, because he was digging what I was doing; all my flamboyance and improv.
BMD: Do you have any specific recollections about how he directed you on that set?
JL: He loves to tell one actor one thing and another actor another thing and then just watch them go at it. It’s all about conflict with Brian. He just wants to get everyone riled up. He gets off on tension and watching actors cross the line. I’m so glad you brought him up because he’s really one of the geniuses of our time.
BMD: Earlier this year, I got to watch Carlito’s Way on 35mm and took my girlfriend, who had never seen it, and she was completely blown away.
JL: I think it’s due to finally get recognized for what it is. I was so proud of my work in that.
BMD: As you should be. You got to play against peak Pacino and killed it.
What do you think of movies that use the Steadicam as a real-time technique-- the entire film being shot in a continuous take? I think of a movie like Russian Ark.
Of course I enjoyed Russian Ark, and likewise several more recent, less rigorous examples that invisibly devided the operating chore into more manageable hunks. But they are tours de force and inevitably degrade the stoytelling to achieve a continuousness that non-cineastes might not even notice. I love cuts. Moviegoers don't even notice them, and I loved shooting for cuts with Steadicam. At best, such as in the subway sequences of Carlito's Way, they acquire an energy and dynamism and pure bold kinetic energy that would be inevitably diminished by any attempt at a "one-er." I cherish the Western cinema tradition as is... cuts and all!
Earlier this month, No Film School's Emily Buder interviewed Brown, and asked him to name "some of those greatest Steadicam shots which you have not operated yourself"...
Well, I was immediately a fan of the Goodfellas shot. God, there are just tons of them. The one from Boogie Nights I loved. Carlito's Way has some fantastic shots in it. Kill Bill. There's astounding Steadicam in that. And a vast number of foreign films. An inability to think of them as a sign that there are so many that are spectacular. It's like asking somebody, "What are your favorite violin solos in history?" and they flood in on you, the most astonishing ones by this and that artist.
The important thing that I learned—and we've all learned—is Steadicam is a rather crappy invention. By itself, it doesn't do a thing. In the hands of a gifted operator, it is an instrument and is of no more use than the skill of the operator. It just barely allows a gifted human being to do this amazing trick: to run along with their ever-moving corpus. Out the other end comes an astonishing dolly shot smooth as glass.
Not only that, it's a dolly shot that can do stuff a dolly can't. As a fingertip operation, you could put the lens precisely where it wants to be, not just in dolly to the right, but in French curves. It would drive a dolly group crazy. Instinctively putting the lens where you want as boom up and down, and traverse left and right and aim, pan, and tilt. Everywhere your feet can take you and your arms can put this thing, there is the potential path for a lens. But the point isn't to be flashy.
The point is to let these storytelling shots show you what you—the viewer—ideally would love to see; where you would put your eye if you were standing on that set looking. We do this a million times a day. Human beings are fabulous camera operators of our own eyes, and our own eyes are superbly stabilized. When you run, you don't see a jerky shot. You see a very smooth Steadicam shot. We instinctively lean left and right, stand up and move around, to see what we want to see. I think that is a devastating argument against handheld: human beings don't see in the shaky way that handheld presents the world. In fact, it's stupid that your audience would see a shakier vision than your actors would see.
There's a strong argument, I think, for at least being as stable as your own magnificent little internal Steadicam. Your inner ear tells your eye muscles how to move to eliminate the bumps. Look straight across the room and fix your eyes on something and shake your head up and down violently. It just sits there, right? Shake your head side to side. It just sits there. But if that was a camera, you couldn't watch it. Now, watch this: tilt your head to one side. The room does not tilt. Your brain is conditioned to perceive the room as level no matter what angle your eye is. Why? Because evolution didn't find that of any interest for keeping us alive. It's really fundamental stuff. I could be a great bore on this subject, but I'm not a fan of handheld, and that's why the Steadicam exists. I wouldn't have been able to put it in those terms 40 years ago, but it's become quite clear to me.
When you dart your eyes around left or right and fix on something and dart to the other side of the room and look, there are only maybe 30% or 50% of Steadicam operators that can do that with a Steadicam. There's almost nothing else that can do what is called a saccad. A saccad is when you dart your eyes from one side of the room to the other.
Passengers’ director is Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), working from a script by Jon Spaihts, and he vests much of the movie with a buzzing neon glow. (The space-walk scenes, contrasting glo-stick luminescence with inky blackness, are particularly beautiful.) But the movie runs aground in the last third: It’s as if Tyldum and Spaihts know they can’t get too wiggy, so they take a hard right and try to land their ship in more conventional territory.
Along the way they make what appears to be a failed attempt to channel the intense doomed romanticism of Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars (specifically, the sorrowful and glorious scene in which astronaut Connie Nielsen fails to save her fellow astronaut husband, Tim Robbins). By that point, Tyldum has crashed his ship, figuratively speaking—inside this failed picture there’s a sicker, darker, more truthful one crying to get out. But for a while, Passengers is really going for something. The movie it might have been is lost in space, alone, never to be seen by mere mortals. All we can see from Earth are its few brightly burning scraps, but at least it’s something.
Zacharek on The Martian and Mission To Mars
"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."
EACH INCLUDED DE PALMA IN TOP 3 BEST ACTOR CATEGORY FOR 2016 VILLAGE VOICE POLL
As can be seen at left, Peter Labuza included a couple of documentary subjects, including Brian De Palma, in his top three actors list for the Village Voice Film Poll 2016. Simon Abrams placed De Palma as his third best actor. De Palma ranks as the seventh best documentary of 2016 in the poll.
Here is the program description of Raising Cain:
"Brian De Palma’s darkly comic, hall-of-mirrors thriller stars a deliciously deranged John Lithgow in a diabolical double role: as a mild-mannered child psychiatrist and his evil twin brother, who both take to kidnapping and murder in order to procure toddlers for a bizarre psychological study. Out-of-left-field plot twists, electrifying set pieces, and Hitchcockian doubles (and triples and quadruples) abound, while the film’s labyrinthine plot and disorienting, dreamlike tone are enhanced by the intricate, maze-like Steadicam shots."
I'll do a couple more brief posts centered around this fest in the next couple of days.
George Lucas held his auditions for Star Wars in an office on a lot in Hollywood. It was in one of those faux-Spanish cream-colored buildings from the thirties with dark orange-tiled roofs and black-iron-grated windows, lined with sidewalks in turn lined with trees—pine trees, I think they were, the sort that shed their needles generously onto the street below—and interrupted by parched patches of once-green lawns.
Everything was a little worse for the wear, but good things would happen in these buildings. Lives would be led, businesses would prosper, and men would attend meetings—hopeful meetings, meetings where big plans were made and ideas were proposed. But of all the meetings that had ever been held in that particular office, none of them could compare in world impact with the casting calls for the Star Wars movie.
A plaque could be placed on the outside of this building that states, “On this spot the Star Wars films conducted their casting sessions. In this building the actors and actresses entered and exited until only three remained. These three were the actors who ultimately played the lead parts of Han, Luke, and Leia.”
I’ve told the story of getting cast as Princess Leia many times before—in interviews, on horseback, and in cardiac units—so if you’ve previously heard this story before, I apologize for requiring some of your coveted store of patience. I know how closely most of us tend to hold on to whatever cache of patience we’ve managed to amass over a lifetime and I appreciate your squandering some of your cherished stash here.
George gave me the impression of being smaller than he was because he spoke so infrequently. I first encountered his all-but-silent presence at these auditions—the first of which he held with the director Brian De Palma. Brian was casting his horror film Carrie, and they both required an actress between the age of eighteen and twenty-two. I was the right age at the right time, so I read for both George and Brian.
George had directed two other feature films up till then, THX 1138, starring Robert Duvall, and American Graffiti, starring Ron Howard and Cindy Williams. The roles I met with the two directors for that first day were Princess Leia in Star Wars and Carrie in Carrie. I thought that last role would be a funny casting coup if I got it: Carrie as Carrie in Carrie. I doubt that that was why I never made it to the next level with Carrie—but it didn’t help as far as I was concerned that there would have to be a goofy film poster advertising a serious horror film.
I sat down before the two directors behind their respective desks. Mr. Lucas was all but mute. He nodded when I entered the room, and Mr. De Palma took over from there. He was a big man, and not merely because he spoke more— or spoke, period. Brian sat on the left and George on the right, both bearded. As if you had two choices in director sizes. Only I didn’t have the choice—they did. Brian cleared his bigger throat of bigger things and said, “So I see here you’ve been in the film Shampoo?”
I knew this, so I simply nodded, my face in a tight white-toothed smile. Maybe they would ask me something requiring more than a nod.
“Did you enjoy working with Warren?”
“Yes, I did!”
That was easy! I had enjoyed working with him, but Brian’s look told me that wasn’t enough of an answer.
“He was . . .”
What was he? They needed to know! “He helped me work . . . a lot. I mean, he and the other screenwriter . . . they worked with me.” Oh my God, this wasn’t going well. Mr. De Palma waited for more, and when more wasn’t forthcoming, he attempted to help me.
“How did they work with you?”
Oh, that’s what they wanted to know! “They had me do the scene over and over, and with food. There was eating in the scene. I had to offer Warren a baked apple and then I ask him if he’s making it with my mother—sleeping with her—you know.”
George almost smiled; Brian actually did. “Yes, I know what ‘making it’ means.”
I flushed. I considered stopping this interview then and there. But I soldiered on.
“No, no, that’s the dialogue. ‘Are you making it with my mother?’ I asked him that because I hate my mother. Not in real life, I hate my mother in the movie, partly because she is sleeping with Warren who’s the hairdresser. Lee Grant played my mom, but I didn’t really have any scenes with her, which is too bad because she’s a great actress. And Warren is a great actor and he also wrote the movie, with Robert Towne, which is why they both worked with me. With food. It sounded a lot more natural when you talk with food in your mouth. Not that you do that in your movies. Maybe in the scary movie, but I don’t know the food situation in space.” The meeting seemed to be going better.
“What have you done since Shampoo?” George asked.
I repressed the urge to say I had written three symphonies and learned how to perform dental surgery on monkeys, and instead told the truth.
“I went to school in England. Drama school. I went to the Central School of Speech and Drama.” I was breathless with information. “I mean I didn’t just go, I’m still going. I’m home on Christmas vacation.”
I stopped abruptly to breathe. Brian was nodding, his eyebrows headed off to his hair in something like surprise. He asked me politely about my experience at school, and I responded politely as George watched impassively. (I would come to discover that George’s expression wasn’t indifferent or anything like it. It was shy and discerning, among many other things, including intelligent, studious, and— and a word like “darling.” Only not that word, because it’s too young and androgynous, and besides which, and most important, George would hate it.)
“What do you plan on doing if you get one of these jobs you’re meeting on?” continued Brian.
“I mean, it really would depend on the part, but . . . I guess I’d leave. I mean I know I would. Because I mean—”
“I know what you mean,” Brian interrupted. The meeting continued but I was no longer fully present—utterly convinced that I’d screwed up by revealing myself to be so disloyal. Leave my school right in the middle for the first job that came along?
Soon after, we were done. I shook each man’s hand as I moved to the door, leading off to the gallows of obscurity. George’s hand was firm and cool. I returned to the outer office knowing full well that I would be going back to school.
“Miss Fisher,” a casting assistant said.
I froze, or would have, if we weren’t in sunny Los Angeles. “Here are your sides. Two doors down. You’ll read on video.” My heart pounded everywhere a pulse can get to.
The scene from Carrie involved the mother (who would be memorably played by Piper Laurie). A dark scene, where the people are not okay. But the scene in Star Wars—there were no mothers there! There was authority and confidence and command in the weird language that was used. Was I like this? Hopefully George would think so, and I could pretend I thought so, too. I could pretend I was a princess whose life went from chaos to crisis without looking down between chaoses to find, to her relief, that her dress wasn’t torn.