3-EPISODE MINI 'THE REPLACEMENT' - FROM CREATOR OF 'ONE WAY OR DE PALMA'
Joe Ahearne discusses One Way Or De Palma
Must-See Video: One Way Or De Palma
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Here in the present, how often does “Some Kind of Wonderful” come up for each of you?
Howard Deutch: Quite a bit, actually. Which is ironic because it wasn’t considered a hit when it came out. But it’s a meaningful movie to people and I met my wife on set so it’s a meaningful movie to me.
Most people talk about it like I talk about a movie I didn’t direct and I don’t think the other person has heard of. They don’t talk about “Some Kind of Wonderful” as completely unknown or an underdog but they cherish it because it hadn’t been this massive hit movie. It’s not like they’re saying, “Have you ever seen this little movie, “Back to the Future?”
Lea Thompson: It wasn’t a bomb, but definitely a disappointment. Yet it seems to have a broad base around the world that are really touched by it and quote it. I just asked on Instagram and Twitter about everyone’s favorite line from the movie and was amazed how many people have so many different memories of it.
I also hear from more men than women who love it, but I can’t tell you why. Maybe because it’s two girls fighting over a guy? Or because it’s about a guy trying to find himself? I also hear from a lot of gay women who love Watts.
You both have worked more or less continuously in films and television since 1987. Where do you see “Some Kind of Wonderful” in the arc of your work?
Deutch: I had only made one other movie up to that point and couldn’t cast the role Eric Stoltz ended up playing. Around that time, I ended up on a plane with (director) Brian De Palma, whom I didn’t really know. He told me, “If you can’t cast it, don’t make it.” I mentioned this to John and suggested I do one of his other scripts and ended up in movie jail. Paramount locked the door of my office.
Martha Coolidge (director of “Valley Girl”) was brought on to replace me. The script was originally a broad comedy and John made rewrites to take it in the direction of Martha’s sensibility, which was darker and more adult. Martha cast Eric. But when she and John had disagreements, I was brought back with a different script, a leading actor. A different movie.
Thompson: I was 26 when I made “Some Kind of Wonderful.” Right before, I had made “Howard the Duck,” which got terrible reviews. I thought my career was over. Eric Stoltz, whom I had become friends with while working together on both “Back to the Future” [Stolz was the original Marty McFly] and “The Wild Life,” acting as a messenger for Howard, delivered the script to my house. Howie saw me as right for Amanda even though I had already turned it down because I thought Watts [the character ultimately played by Mary Stuart Masterson] was the better part. I needed a job. Amanda was my second chance.
Get Out does not rank with America’s notable race comedies — Brian De Palma’s Hi, Mom!, Ossie Davis’s Gone Are the Days! (Purlie Victorious), Robert Downey Sr.’s Putney Swope, Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback, Hal Ashby’s The Landlord, Rusty Cundieff’s Fear of a Black Hat, Skin Game or any of the genre spoofs by the Wayans family, particularly the ingenious Little Man, or the recent Eddie Murphy films (The Klumps, Norbit, Meet Dave, A Thousand Words) that are so personal and ingenious, they transcend racial categorization.
But unlike Eddie Murphy, a masterful actor with a mature sense of humor, Peele fails because has not created credible characters. Chris and his ghetto friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), who works for the TSA, are attitudes, not complex beings. The other blacks Chris encounters as servants on Rose’s family estate are no better than Trayvon Martin–type effigies — zombie-like when not sorrowful and tearful. Exploiting black people’s tears, paranoia, and pain without providing reflex is offensive — whereas the great “Be Black, Baby” sequence of Hi, Mom! caught audiences in their own racial prejudices and forced them to laugh. (Here, LaKeith Stanfield’s impersonation of comic Dave Chappelle’s still-puzzling neurosis is too alarming to laugh at.)
Peele’s self-congratulatory revenge humor has one particularly notable irony: It’s tailored to please the liberal status quo. His pace seems slow largely because the jokes are obvious: Bitch-goddess Rose trolls black sports websites in her bedroom, which is covered with basketball posters, recalling Scatman Crothers’s Afro erotica in The Shining. Chris even gets confined in a symmetrically furnished den with a 1960s TV console, Kubrick-style.
Once again, the 1960s serve as a race hustler’s vengeful reference point. But when the get-whitey genre was initiated in those blaxploitation movies made after the turmoil of that decade, artists from Melvin Van Peebles and Larry Cohen to Bill Gunn and Gordon Parks toyed with various genres to dramatize American social and economic circumstances. Black political consciousness was being realized on screen for the first time. Get Out is the recrudescence of Obama-era unconsciousness. Reducing racial politics to trite horror-comedy, it’s an Obama movie for Tarantino fans.
Film/Style is currently at capacity. To be added to the wait list or receive notifications about our next Courses offering (coming in Spring 2017!), please email Film Streams Education Director Diana Martinez.
Film Streams Courses is a new program of themed, multi-week seminars that will provide adults with an introduction to the tools of film analysis. Every participant will leave better equipped to analyze film aesthetics and examine the tremendously important role film plays in our culture.
Step in the vivid worlds of cinema’s most stylish films.
Instructor: Diana Martinez, Film Streams Education Director
Dates: Sundays, Feb 26 – Mar 26, 2017, 11am – 2pm
There is no art form more capable of provoking our senses than film. It can create fantastic places and expose the stark reality of life. Film/Style is an introduction to the aesthetic techniques employed by some of the most influential and challenging filmmakers in the medium’s history.
Film/Style will explore the complex interplay of mise-en-scène, cinematography, sound, and editing that shapes our viewing experience. An international tour of film aesthetics begins with a classic from Brian De Palma, and will conclude with a film by the great Chinese auteur Wong Kar-Wai, with films in between from Czechoslovakia, France, and Germany.
Frames: Blow Out 1981
Rhythm: Daisies 1968
Sound: Holy Motors 2012
Color: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant 1972
Texture: In the Mood for Love 2000
Cost: $125 General, $75 Film Streams Members, $100 Student/Teacher/Senior/Military Includes Course materials and snacks
Brian De Palma first used the Steadicam, with Mr. Brown as an operator, in “Blow Out” (1981) for the opening sequence, an elaborate horror movie parody in which a slasher attacks coeds. “Choreographing the shot, getting the psychopath to hold his knife up in front of the mirror at the right time — it was a kind of joyful evening,” Mr. De Palma said by telephone. He went on to use the Steadicam in many films, including “Raising Cain” and “Carlito’s Way,” showing in the Film Society series.
For Mr. Brown, who taught himself filmmaking, movies came after a folk-singing career (as part of the duo Brown & Dana) and a stint selling Volkswagens. He found himself working in commercials at a time when the only way to create smooth camera motion was to put the camera on a dolly, in a camera car or on a crane. He was pained by the unwieldy setup of a 12-pound camera on an 800-pound dolly.
“The sight of that pinheaded little camera on that huge dolly and the attendant difficulties of schlepping it around on pickup trucks and laying my paltry rails here and there outdoors really was so absurd,” Mr. Brown said. He wanted to isolate the camera from the motions of the person controlling it — the kind that cause hand-held shots to appear shaky.
The key ingredients were a gimbal, which came from Mr. Brown’s sailing experience; counterweights, to give the camera stability; an articulated arm — an idea he got from a motel desk lamp — attached to a harness that a camera operator could wear; and a way to see through the lens. He originally used a fiber-optic viewer intended for medical examinations.
In a sense, Mr. Brown had realized a dream of filmmakers and theorists who treasured camera motion; it’s hard not to wonder what Max Ophuls or André Bazin would have made of the Steadicam. “Abel Gance — he was fabulous at moving the camera,” Mr. Brown said, referring to the director of “Napoleon,” the 1927 silent classic. “He did extraordinary things, but he didn’t have this tool for stabilizing. I would have loved to have shown up on his set.”
In the earliest Steadicam movies, Mr. Brown operated the apparatus himself, and he continued to do so for three decades. Now, he said, Steadicam operators make expert shots for TV news broadcasts and from the sidelines of sports like football and soccer.
Robert Elswit, the cinematographer on two Paul Thomas Anderson movies in the Film Society series, “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia,” considers the Steadicam essential. “To me, it’s not a specialty item,” he said. “It’s usually there all the time.” The results, he added, are sometimes “not even necessarily recognizable as a Steadicam shot. You just use it to get something done in a simple way.”
Mr. De Palma cautioned that the Steadicam is only a tool, a way of showing the viewer an environment. “You need a lot of sophisticated technicians to pull off a really good Steadicam shot, and that sort of comes with making movies in the studio system in Hollywood,” he said.
Digital cameras make it less complicated to light scenes, he noted, and the equipment weighs less, leading to what he sees as the Steadicam’s overuse. “You see an abundance of Steadicam shots that are completely ridiculous,” Mr. De Palma said. “God knows, in television, they do it all the time. People are always walking and talking and going around corners.”
Resolved: Split screen is an underutilized cinematic device.
That’s how I would have phrased it back in my high-school debating days. Which seems appropriate, because—as was often the case with debate resolutions—I’m not 100 percent certain that I believe it, even though coming up with arguments that support it isn’t terribly difficult. For one thing, split screen is employed so infrequently that I associate it almost exclusively with Brian De Palma, who loves to construct elaborate, suspenseful set pieces that show two or more events unfolding simultaneously. And it’s easy to wonder, after being thrilled by one of De Palma’s dual orchestrations, why he’s long enjoyed a near-monopoly on this approach, which takes such striking advantage of the medium’s intrinsic qualities—that is, of the ability to manipulate time and/or space. I still haven’t seen Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, which I believe is split screen from start to finish… but I have seen Forty Deuce, a 1982 drama directed by Warhol associate Paul Morrissey, in which, throughout the film’s very stagy second half, the frame constantly offers two separate angles of the same action, side by side. It’s mostly a distraction—as I said, I’m not entirely convinced of my own thesis here—but I’ve always sensed untapped potential in the idea.
My favorite recent use of split screen, though, involves the manipulation not of time or space, exactly, but of the protagonist’s consciousness. (500) Days Of Summer is a gimmicky movie in a lot of ways, starting with the parenthesis in its title; it has an omniscient narrator, jumps all over the place chronologically, and at one point sees its hero, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, perform an impromptu musical number, accompanied by dancing extras and animated birds. Most of this quirkiness can be filed under “cutesy,” and will either delight or irritate, according to taste. But the movie does have a more downbeat side, which comes most strongly to the fore during a brief sequence toward the end, when Gordon-Levitt’s Tom shows up at a party being thrown by ex-girlfriend Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber want to show us how what happens at the party deviates from what Tom imagined would happen, and either they or director Marc Webb decided to do so by splitting the frame down the middle, with “Expectations” on the left and “Reality” on the right...
...What finally makes this sequence so effective, though, is how credibly mundane both Expectation(s) and Reality are—a choice that the use of split screen enables. Had the two versions of the party been presented one after the other, it probably would have been necessary to exaggerate them slightly, in order to highlight the differences (especially since that almost surely would have meant discovering that the initial version is Tom’s fantasy only after the fact). Showing them simultaneously lets the viewer’s darting eyes, rather than memory, do all the work, allowing each side of the frame to be unremarkable in and of itself. Tom’s romantic expectation(s) of Summer on the left are entirely consistent with what we’ve seen of their relationship earlier in the movie, and real-life Summer on the right doesn’t ignore or belittle him. What we get is a vision of bland sweetness opposite the sort of friendly awkwardness and moderate avoidance that you’d expect of two people not long out of a failed relationship. Only when Tom sees that Summer has gotten engaged to someone else does the hammer truly fall… at which point the Reality half of the frame pushes the Expectation(s) half (in which Tom and Summer are making out) entirely offscreen. And only one Tom descends the stairs.
The perpetually hard-working Lowe is no stranger to either the small or silver screens (you may remember her from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Hot Fuzz) and has many writing credits in both TV comedy and film, but Prevenge is her directorial debut.
Part of Lowe’s accomplished start in this field comes from her strong grasp of what inspires her, both visually and atmospherically.
“I think there’s a mixture of lots of different influences in Prevenge. There’s a lot of Giallo horror, which is like Dario Argento’s work, and even Brian De Palma was quite inspired by that sort of Italian horror as well, with all the bright colours. Also, Kubrick.
“I wanted to use really bright colours, I didn’t want it to be pastel.”
Lowe is a huge horror movie fan, who is drawn to family-oriented terror tales with female protagonists, like Rosemary’s Baby or Brian De Palma’s 1976 Stephen King adaptation, Carrie, which stars Sissy Spacek as an unpopular high school student who develops telekinetic powers.
“I think everyone identifies with her character,” says the actress. “I really like the idea of an underdog character going through this transformation where they take power. I also think the reason it’s so rewatchable is, every time you watch it, you are hoping there’s a different ending, you’re really hoping that she just kisses the boy, and is the pageant queen, or whatever. It just doesn’t work that way. I think it’s unique. She is the killer but she has our sympathy. She is also a victim to her mother’s insanity. It’s like a female Psycho in some ways. I love Brian De Palma, I love color in film. That was one of the things that I really wanted to do with Prevenge, was make sure it was an assault of the sense, that it’s about color and vividness — rather than the passion at the moment for sort of grey-blue-black horror. That was, for me, the experience of pregnancy, that it’s kind of a vivid experience. It’s not at all about pastel pinks. It’s all about bright, intense experiences, and revulsions, and strange shifts in your emotions.”