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Other big winners included Arrival's Amy Adams for best actress, introduced as a "badass" by Chris Messina; and Silence's Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese for best adapted screenplay, introduced by the film's supporting actors Adam Driver and Liam Neeson. (Adams, Cocks and Scorsese also were feted earlier in the day with a Paramount-hosted, Academy member-packed luncheon high above Manhattan in Rockefeller Center's Rainbow Room; many attendees of that gathering subsequently hustled over to the 21 Club, where Lonergan and Affleck were at the center of a similar event, hosted by Manchester distributors Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions; and later to The Monkey Bar, where The Weinstein Co., which was shut out of the NBR Awards, toasted Lion lead actor Sunny Pawar, supporting actor Dev Patel and supporting actress Nicole Kidman.)
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."