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Recent Headlines
a la Mod:

Domino is
a "disarmingly
straight-forward"
work that "pushes
us to reexamine our
relationship to images
and their consumption,
not only ethically
but metaphysically"
-Collin Brinkman

De Palma on Domino
"It was not recut.
I was not involved
in the ADR, the
musical recording
sessions, the final
mix or the color
timing of the
final print."

Listen to
Donaggio's full score
for Domino online

De Palma/Lehman
rapport at work
in Snakes

De Palma/Lehman
next novel is Terry

De Palma developing
Catch And Kill,
"a horror movie
based on real things
that have happened
in the news"

Supercut video
of De Palma's films
edited by Carl Rodrigue

Washington Post
review of Keesey book

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Exclusive Passion
Interviews:

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario

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AV Club Review
of Dumas book

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A note about topics: Some blog posts have more than one topic, in which case only one main topic can be chosen to represent that post. This means that some topics may have been discussed in posts labeled otherwise. For instance, a post that discusses both The Boston Stranglers and The Demolished Man may only be labeled one or the other. Please keep this in mind as you navigate this list.
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Thursday, June 15, 2017
AD - CASTING EXTRAS IN ALMERIA FOR 'DOMINO'
AND MORE DETAILS ABOUT THE SWITCH FROM MALAGA TO ALMERIA
The lack of availability of the bullring (Plaza de toros de La Malagueta) in Málaga was the key reason the Domino production decided to film in Almería next month instead of Málaga, according to an article posted yesterday by Francisco Griñán at Diario Sur. The article mentions Kevin Bacon as part of the cast, but I have confirmation that Bacon is not actually involved in Domino. Here is an excerpt from Griñán's article, with the help of Google Translate:
It was going to be the film shoot of the summer. A couple of weeks of filming in Málaga with a Hollywood legend like filmmaker Brian De Palma and one of the actors of the moment, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, the blond 'Lannister' of the TV series, 'Game of Thrones'. A traveling production that passed through Belgium, Copenhagen and ended in Spain. And ever since the 'Domino' project was first discussed two years ago, Málaga was already listed as one of the main locations for this 'thriller' about the pursuit of a terrorist. The entrance of the director of 'The Untouchables of Eliot Ness' and 'Dressed To Kill' reactivated last May this production that was soon in search of its settings in the capital of the Costa del Sol. For script requirements, the main scene to film in Málaga was developed in the bullring of the Malagueta, but the lack of availability of the arena has caused the film to move to Almería.

"Until today - or yesterday - we have been pending to use other locations we had planned such as the Málaga Airport, but finally decided to centralize filming in Almería," said the Sevillian producer Antonio Pérez, who participates in this film which is also funded by Denmark and Belgium. The film will be shot in mid-July in Spain, which coincides with the concerts contracted in La Malagueta - among them the start of the tour in our country of Franco Battiato on the 13th - and that was finally the cause of the cancellation. The biggest impediment has been the impossibility of removing the stage installed in the arena so that a bullfight could be held in which the cop protagonists of the film pursue a terrorist.

Despite this coincidence in the agenda of the concerts and the film, producer Antonio Pérez highlights the absolute availability of the City Council of the capital and Málaga Film Office to facilitate filming, which was also to shoot scenes in the port. "We had all the support from the port authority and Málaga gave us a lot more play, because Almería has a lot of people and boats in July," said the producer, who also said that the airport was intended To be used for scenes set in the different European airfields in which the film is set. Finally, none of these plans will come true and the cast... will travel to the neighboring land of 'spaguetti- western'.

'Domino' narrates the hunt for a terrorist from the Islamic State by a couple of policemen who chase him across Europe to avenge the death of a comrade. Precisely, this police and action plot concludes in Spanish lands and has one of its scenes in the bullring, which is why production has decided to count on the Almerían coast where they had full freedom of use.


Posted by Geoff at 3:10 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, June 15, 2017 7:47 AM CDT
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Wednesday, June 14, 2017
'DOMINO' WILL FILM IN ALMERIA, SPAIN
KEY SCENE TO BE SET AT PLAZA DE TOROS BULLRING; DE PALMA VISITED CITY ON SUNDAY
Ideal reported yesterday that Brian De Palma will bring the Domino production to Almería, Spain, this summer, shortly after filming in Antwerp. "Although Málaga was initially chosen as a location for this international thriller," states the article, "Brian De Palma decided to place one of the key scenes of the film in Almería's centenary bullring, which also led to many of the film's scenes taking place in the capital of Almería. In fact, the American filmmaker landed at Almería airport on Sunday June 11 to start work and meet the rest of the team."

Posted by Geoff at 1:48 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 1:50 AM CDT
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LITHGOW ADMIRES THAT DE PALMA 'WENT THERE'
"HE HAD THE COURAGE OF HIS COMPULSIONS"
Collider's Brian Formo interviews John Lithgow on the occasion of Lithgow's new movie, Beatriz at Dinner, and also talks with the actor about working with Brian De Palma:
Shifting gears, a little, I am a big Brian De Palma fan.

LITHGOW: Ah, great!

Actually, you’re in my favorite of his: Blow Out.

LITHGOW: Oh yeah, that’s correct.

I feel like I’m the resident De Palma blurb writer for lists on our website, but sometimes I have to spent extra time explaining why I don’t think we should be offended by some of his films. I’m wondering, considering gender and gender identity, how so much has changed since he made his films in the 80s does it feel difficult to go back and watch now? I love watching De Palma, but I feel like I can’t really recommend a number my favorite films of his—like Body Double, Dressed to Kill—to too many people, and to a lesser extent Blow Out too because there are so many caveats to put with it, because I know people would get upset by things that happen in it, how groups of people are treated, how lovingly deaths are filmed. I’m just wondering, with a bloated lead in, if you have any thoughts on that triggered nature when we go back and watch these very psychological and interesting films?

LITHGOW: It’s funny, I haven’t been back to see them. It’s pretty rare that I see a film that I did a long, long time ago. I remember being unsettled by Brian’s vision, for want of a better word, even when I was doing many films with him. But I really admired the fact that he went there. For example, in Blow Out his version of women getting carved up in that was very different and much more warped than even a standard slasher movie. You know, I played the Liberty Bell killer, and I murdered women with an ice pick. I [laughs hesitantly] basically drew a Liberty Bell on their torsos with an ice pick; several women, several prostitutes, as I recall, to make it look like I was a psychopathic killer—when in fact, all I was trying to do was rub somebody out, without any motivation. This was not Jack the Ripper. There was no gross statement. Just pure desire to kill and knowing it would be accepted more if there appeared to be some crazy person with a trademark etch behind it. A ghastly premise. Absolutely ghastly. And I think maybe time has moved on to the point where that kind of thing is completely unacceptable. It was appalling, then, don’t get me wrong. It was a nightmarish idea, even then. But Brian is an old friend. He told me the stories of his own life—you must know this if you know a lot about Brian—which so completely connect with his obsessions on film. And I had a real respect for that and I think he was very adventurous in the 80s and it would be hard to find funding to be that adventurous into dark areas now. To me, of all the movie directors I’ve ever worked with, he was the most—this will sound like a crazy thing to say—he was the most like a director like Ingmar Bergman, who takes his own obsessions and puts them on film.

I can definitely see that. If you had that response to the script, what was it like to work on it?

LITHGOW: Oh, I would do anything for Brian. And yes, it’s lurid, it’s psychological thriller in the mode of Hitchcock for mass entertainment. It was gleefully gory stuff. Truly horrific films, but they came out of such a need to make art that critiqued our glee at such sights. Really, it sounds pretentious, but I really had to admire Brian for that. He had the courage of his own compulsions, really.

His horror and erotic thriller films are so extremely icky that if we’re worried about misogyny and misogynistic depictions, his films are so extreme that way that it doesn’t make it look appealing, it’s perfectly ugly for something ugly that exists in the world, stares it right down and wants you to look away but we don’t. And I think that that’s why they’re still fantastic movies and deserve to be looked at in how he shoots misogyny not just dismissing as misogynistic. I was just curious about that because I re-watched a number of his films recently.

LITHGOW: I haven’t seen the documentary on Brian yet.

Oh, it’s great.

LITHGOW: I will catch up with that.


Posted by Geoff at 12:47 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 12:49 AM CDT
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Tuesday, June 13, 2017
GAZET REPORTS FROM 1ST DAY FILMING 'DOMINO'
ACTION IN THE CLOSED-OFF STREET, FIGHT IN AN ELEVATOR, ETC.


Rebecca Van Remoortere at the Gazet Van Antwerpen posted a report early this morning on the first day of filming in the area on Brian De Palma's Domino. According to her, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was definitely there for the filming, but no one seemed to have spotted Christina Hendricks yet. The image above appears to be from lunchtime, in which De Palma and company were blocked from being seen entering/exiting vehicles by the tarp near the crew's trailers on the street. Here is a Google-assisted translated excerpt of her article:
The Antwerp filming for the movie Domino of Hollywood director Brian De Palma started yesterday in the Eikenstraat, a side street of the Meir. [Note: Meir is the major shopping area in Antwerp.] For the new film production, De Palma works together with actress Christina Hendricks, especially known for the Mad Men series, and actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, or Jaimie Lannister from Game of Thrones. Of the latter we are sure that he was already in Antwerp for the scene in the Eikenstraat yesterday. Also today, in the walkway of the authentic building with rental apartments, more filming took place.

Wednesday the film team moves to Borgerhout. A scene is to be filmed in the loft complex at the Kattenberg 122. The loft complex also has a courtyard. Where the filming will take place exactly in the building is not clear. But it will not be in the loft of Petra De Pauw and her husband Herman Verbruggen, residents of the complex.

"A long time ago, all residents of the loft complex received a letter in the mailbox that stated that this location would be suitable for filming and whether we wanted to cooperate with them. We did not really pay much attention to that letter and also did not know what film production it would be. We were about to go to South Africa to film for a long time, and were more involved with that," says Petra. "We recently wondered what it actually meant with those filmings, because we know a lot of F.C. De Kampioenen is not over. This week a crane was installed on the inner courtyard. We first thought that there was work on the roof, but apparently it would be for the filming. We also know that it's a movie by Brian De Palma. But nothing more."

...

The scene that was filmed yesterday in the Eikenstraat was a fight scene. To this end, the hall of the building in the Eikenstraat had to be emptied, said owner Guido Vandamme. "I could follow the shots what the purpose of the scene was. One of the actors had to fall through a window and in the elevator a combat scene was filmed. Graffiti was sprayed on the walls, but I was promised that they would be painted."

Parking on the Sint-Jaconstraat and the Lange Klarenstraat were prohibited yesterday. There had to be space for the dozens of crew trailers and caravans. Director Brian De Palma drove to the trailers for his lunch. It was only a few hundred meters further, but he was hidden by a tinted car. On leaving, a large cloth was tensioned between the building and the carriage so that the press could not catch any glimpse of the director.

The filming will continue in Antwerp in the Bleekhofstraat in Borgerhout, on the Kiel, on the Left Bank and in the district house of Deurne.



Posted by Geoff at 7:47 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 12:58 AM CDT
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Sunday, June 11, 2017
OTT & ALCAINE RETEAM w/DE PALMA FOR 'DOMINO'
PRODUCTION DESIGNER & CINEMATOGRAPHER BOTH WORKED ON 'PASSION'
Thanks to Lear for pointing us to the listings for Brian De Palma's Domino at the IMDB, which was just updated again today to the status of "filming." The page lists two taglines for Domino: "The best weapon against an enemy is another enemy." And, "Revenge doesn't stop." But the real news here is that José Luis Alcaine is listed as the cinematographer, and Cornelia Ott is listed as the production designer. Both had worked in the same respective roles on De Palma's most recent film, Passion. Listed as first assistant director on Domino is Nick Shuttleworth, who has worked on many of Paul Greengrass's tense thrillers.

Below is an excerpt from a December 2015 interview with Alcaine conducted by Gorka Díez at Las Noticias de Cuenca, with Google-assisted translation:
You’ve spent 50 years as director of photography. How do you keep up with it?

It's quite simple: it's about tackling everyday problems that you may have and trying to solve them as best as possible, not try to do the same thing you've done, but always look forward. That is the way to keep up, and it happens with all professions. Somehow it is also about being at ease in the profession you have, something important over the years: it makes you come up with new things and solutions every time and allows you to bring a seemingly young spirit to all the films for which they call you.

Is there a single label of José Luis Alcaine in the films on which you’ve worked? Or is it more complicated because there have been so many?

It's difficult but it's about always making a movie whose photography is not too powerful, mine, but one that fits the needs of the film. I want to be in second term, in the service of the film. And I run from the genres. If they offer me a horror movie I do not try to make a horror movie, but a photograph that is quite recognizable and everyday so that terror can enter people's lives saying, "Damn, this could happen to me!". An example is ‘Se puede matar a un niño', Chicho Ibáñez Serrador, which is about absolute terror and occurs in August on an island that could be Ibiza. Chicho wanted a film of great shadows on the walls, which frightened the public, and I said no, I had to make a daily film, where things happen that shake and suddenly shake and hope that that does not happen to you. In 'The Skin I Live In', a thriller, I tried not to create the picture of a normal thriller, but a recognizable environment for the viewer with small details of terror or threat, which surprises more…

…How is the relationship with the directors? Because it can be complicated ...

I do not influence them at all. I simply try to listen to what they propose and try to be as practical as possible, without getting in the way because directors should not be moved too much away from the way they’ve plotted. The only thing that has to be preserved is that it is a living movie. John Ford said at the end of his life that what he was most proud of in his films were the things that were not expected to happen and changed the meaning of the film. Because that, normally, is the life that bursts into the movie.

Being called back by the same director must be a satisfaction ...

It is always a good sign. It means that they had a good time on the set, first of all, and they liked the job I did. And to repeat with really creative directors is always important. But it's also important to be suddenly called by a director you've never worked with and who tells you that he wants to work with you because he likes what he has seen of you. That was the case with Brian De Palma, who called me and told me that he thought that I was one of the best cinematographers at illuminating the actresses of the world. It's something that impresses a lot.


Posted by Geoff at 12:17 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, June 11, 2017 7:18 PM CDT
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Saturday, June 10, 2017
'DOMINO' FILMING THIS MONTH IN ANTWERP
DE PALMA & CREW LANDED YESTERDAY FOR 12 PLANNED DAYS OF FILMING THROUGH JUNE 30
Gazet Van Antwerpen's Jan Stassijns reported yesterday that Brian De Palma and his crew had landed in Antwerp for shooting on his new thriller, Domino. An announcement had been made by the Antwerp city government, according to a similar article by De Redactie's Joris Truyts, who added that De Palma will shoot scenes for the film within the cities along the Scheldt.

"In total there are twelve filming days in Antwerp," Stassijns reports. "Shooting will take place between June 9 and 30 in, among others, the Town Hall of Deurne, on the Kattenberg in Borgerhout, in the center of Antwerp, in the Kiel district, and in the Left Bank."

Earlier this week, Suzanne (SuusCineChat) tweeted that Domino filming was to take place partly on her street ("like 20 steps from my front door") beginning this Monday and Tuesday.


Posted by Geoff at 3:38 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, June 10, 2017 4:04 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 7, 2017
DUTCH FILM LOVER FINDS 'DOMINO' AROUND CORNER
FILMING BEGINS ON HER STREET "NEXT MONDAY & TUESDAY"



Posted by Geoff at 4:36 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, June 8, 2017 7:58 AM CDT
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Monday, June 5, 2017
DE NIRO, CONNERY, COSTNER ON 'UNTOUCHABLES'
COSTNER FELT "IN SYNC" w/DE PALMA; CONNERY: "BRIAN WAS SO OPEN FOR IDEAS & SUGGESTIONS"


Entertainment Weekly's Mary Sollosi posted an article today with the headline, "The stars of The Untouchables look back, 30 years later." The article pulls together new interviews with Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and Robert De Niro. Check out the full article at the link above-- here's an excerpt:
Signing on to make the movie “was the easy part,” De Niro says. Then came the hard part. There’s a certain level of pressure that comes with playing a historical character, especially one who has achieved such mythic stature in the collective imagination as Capone. Researching the part, the Oscar winner read a book (likely My Years With Capone: Jack Woodford and Al Capone) that gave him crucial insight about the legendary gangster. “It was supposedly written by a young kid, a piano-player, a prep school-type kid,” De Niro recalls. “Capone would take him around as kind of, I felt, maybe as a chronicler of his exploits, and he played at one of his speakeasies.”

To physically recreate Capone, De Niro says he watched footage of the gangster and “tried to gain as much weight as I could and shave my head more so I could look as round as I could in the time that I had to prepare for it.”

As for Ness, “I remember checking on him and his life — and it wasn’t as rosy as people might want to think,” Costner admits. “But the truth is, you’re stuck inside the lines of something that’s written… I understood history of him, but I really was having to play this character.” From there, “what we were trying to do was get the clothes right, because we had a really good script.”

And such clothes! The cast’s sharp Prohibition-era suits are credited to Armani (though costume designer Marilyn Vance reportedly took issue with the designer’s credit). “I wasn’t even familiar with Armani, that shows you what a country bumpkin I was,” Costner says. De Niro remembers another piece of the mise-en-scene fondly: “There was a barber’s chair that I wish I had held onto. I think they paid $5,000 for it at the time,” he recalls. (He spends the film’s opening scene in it). “It was a great chair. I’m sorry I didn’t get it.”

Behind the Scenes

A $5,000 mosaic-covered barber chair is the least of it when you look more closely at Capone’s opulent surroundings, which provide stark contrast to the grimy streets and modest apartments occupied by the Ness’ Untouchables throughout the film. Capone is mostly kept in such lavish settings as the Lexington Hotel, where he lived, or the opera, and only comes face-to-face with Ness in two scenes: First in the lobby of the Lexington, and then again at the very end, in the courtroom where he is found guilty of tax evasion.

“I had trouble with some of the scenes with [De Niro], because my character was very straight-arrow, and Robert was able to jump off the page,” Costner remembers. “I was trying to survive with my straight-arrow language against someone who was throwing a level of street language at me that had a level of improv to it. So it was hard for me to survive in some of those scenes, and Sean talked to me a little bit about it.”

Malone and Ness’ mentor-mentee relationship “was very real” between the actors playing them, Costner says, and the dynamic among all the Untouchables “couldn’t have been better,” according to Connery. “All the actors were very experienced and professional. Everybody played an important element in the film.” (Costars on Ness’ team included Charles Martin Smith and Andy Garcia.)

Costner also says he felt “in sync” with De Palma, whose Scarface had come out four years prior. “Brian was so open for ideas and suggestions,” Connery added. “Working with him was everything that I expected.”

De Niro had worked with the filmmaker years before, when both were at the very beginning of their careers, on 1968’s Greetings, 1969’s The Wedding Party, and 1970’s Hi, Mom! “This was a different type of thing altogether than [what] we did when we were young,” he says of The Untouchables, adding that, “Brian’s style of shooting was helpful. He’s a good director with actors.”

“Violent, Violent Men”

“I’ve always not appreciated when [violence] wasn’t handled right in movies,” Costner says. “Violence is vulgar, and a lot of times there’s not a lot of ballet to it. The Untouchables was about a violent time and violent, violent men.”

It certainly was. “The essence of the movie [was] about street violence,” Connery writes — and his character understood that better than anyone. The actor counts an early scene between Malone and Ness — “not in particular because I suggested it” — among his favorites. Hiding in a church, the old cop gives the naïve G-man a master class in justice, Chicago-style.

“You want to get Capone? Here’s how you get him,” Malone instructs Ness. “He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone.”

Later, after intercepting a booze shipment at the Canadian border with some Mountie assistance, Malone savagely murders an already-dead body to scare one of Capone’s men, oblivious that the victim was already a corpse, into talking. “I do not approve of your methods!” the horrified Mountie captain exclaims. “Yeah? Well, you’re not from Chicago,” Ness replies. And so, the student has become the master.

“It was all about expectancy,” Connery says of the shocking moment. “The scene was very realistic and quite vicious if I must say. Very creative to say the least.”

Another memorable demonstration of brutality comes from De Niro’s Capone after Ness’ first successful alcohol raid. Gathering all of his top cronies for an extravagant meal, he delivers a speech about the importance of teamwork, likening his crew to a baseball team — and one unnamed member to a showboating player.

“Sunny day, the stands are full of fans,” he muses. “What does he have to say? ‘I’m goin’ out there for myself. But I get nowhere, unless the team wins.’”

As his cigar-chomping cohorts murmur their agreement, he takes a baseball bat to the head of the guy who let him down.

“It’s a touching scene,” De Niro says when asked about the horrific sequence. “I’m joking.”

“The baseball [scene] is a memorable one — whether good or bad, but it was memorable,” he says, more seriously. “The rhythm of the dialogue in that one especially is so specific that you really have to know it so that it will work.”

However, The Untouchables’ biggest showstopping “ballet of death,” as Costner calls it, might be the Battleship Potemkin-inspired train station gunfight in which Ness and George Stone (Garcia) engage in a shootout with some of Capone’s men across a wide staircase — as a baby carriage rolls down the steps the whole time.

Costner remembers pestering De Palma with constant questions about the rest of the players in the complicated sequence. “Constantly, when the camera would fall on me, I would say, ‘Now, is that guy still alive to my left or to my right?’” he recalls. “And he was like, ‘Which guy? I’m on you right now.’ I said, ‘I understand, but I’ve got to know: Has that guy already been shot? Or is there another one coming? Or is there somebody over here?’ Brian would look at me and I said, ‘I need to act that. If [Ness is] going to survive, that means he has to have a sixth sense about where people are.’”

He also made a point of never shooting his gun more times than it would realistically have had bullets, and then reloading after he did. “It drove Brian a little crazy, but then he actually came to love it,” Costner says. “He was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’ve already shot [all my bullets]. Why don’t you make sure that you tie some drama up in this boring part that you call reloading?’”


Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 12:17 AM CDT
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Sunday, June 4, 2017
'THE UNTOUCHABLES' 30 YEARS LATER
DE PALMA'S GANGSTER EPIC OPENED THIS WEEKEND IN 1987


At least a handful of posts around the internet have popped up recently to mark the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, which was released on June 3, 1987. Here are some links:

The Untouchables, At 30, Has Only Improved With Age
by Larry Taylor at Monkeys Fighting Robots

If you come into Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables expecting a history lesson, well, that’s your fault. In no way is this an accurate portrayal of treasury officer Eliot Ness and his showdown with the volcanic, tax-evading sociopath mobster Al Capone; what it is is a magnificent cops and robbers fable whose romanticism has only grown more endearing over the last thirty years.

With the razor-sharp, melodramatic score from the incomparable maestro Ennio Morricone, tapping into a certain urgency when needed, the prickly screenplay from the master, David Mamet, the slick cinematography, terrific suspense, and a cast who seemed to be born for their respective roles at the time, The Untouchables whisks along on its substantial merits, leaving all historical accuracy behind in lieu of a rich bit of pulp storytelling that makes it one of the best of all gangster films. And in 1987, this sort of story felt alien.

The mid 80s was a bit of a void for the gangster genre. Save for De Palma’s other gangster opus, Scarface in 1983, the genre had seen a significant ebb in the midst of Reagan’s “Morning in America” hedonism. A look back at the crooks and thieves of America’s past wasn’t in vogue, and The Untouchables represented a distant era of the country that hadn’t been explored during the decade. But De Palma delivered the goods, and his film was noticed; and as the decades tick away, the idiosyncratic style De Palma employs here has become both a relic and a flashpoint of a certain type of crime drama we may never see again...

...For all its pomp and circumstance at the time, The Untouchables has managed to sing even louder and sharper in this, it’s thirtieth year. It has all the familiar De Palma style flourishes, but remains a classic tale of cops and crooks, told less as a true story and more as a fable of pulp fiction, handed down through generations of kids who remember Eliot Ness wiping the streets clean of crime during the prohibition. De Palma captures the mysticism of these unflappable lawmen, dedicated to justice and unflinching in the face of danger. The purity of this story feels wholly unfamiliar when compared to the De Palma catalogue, full of rogues and murderers. But he manages to hit all the right beats to romanticize a bygone era in both cinema and American history.

De Palma’s action set pieces still work beautifully, for all their flaws. The shootout at the Canada border, the showdown between Ness and Frank Nitti (Billy Drago) on the rooftop, the Battleship Potemkin homage on the staircase in Grand Central and, most tragically, Nitti’s visit to Malone’s apartment… they all sing with the terrific choreography of a master at the top of his craft.

The immediate play would be to compare The Untouchables to the classic gangster films. How does it stack up against the likes of White Heat? The Godfather? Goodfellas? Maybe it isn’t as seamless or classic as some of the best of the genre – and for my money Carlito’s Way is the better De Palma entry into this field – but something about The Untouchables feels more timeless than just about any of the greats. Perhaps it’s the effervescent approach to the story, or Mamet’s killer words, or the impeccable casting that give the film a timeless quality. Whatever the case, the story has only gotten more potent and more captivating over the last thirty years.


Retouched: How Inaccuracy Improves De Palma’s Untouchables
by Brian Salisbury at Film School Rejects

It’s often the case that biopic films are judged by their adherence to the facts of the actual stories on which they are based. It would then stand to reason that the more accurate the filmic depiction, the better the movie. Right? Not necessarily. While creative license is often met with resistance, sometimes biopics benefit tremendously from veering heavily away from historical veracity.

Case in point, Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables.

One would presume that the story of a legendarily irreproachable squad of law enforcement officers taking on one of the most notorious villains in American history would warrant no creative tinkering to sell to audiences. However, the 1987 movie takes a Tommy gun to the facts of Elliott Ness’ crusading squadron and the adversarial nature of his relationship with Capone. And thank goodness it does.

The actual story of The Untouchables is, cinematically speaking, as interesting as reading the language of the Volstead Act itself. There were no violent acts of retribution perpetrated by Capone against Ness’ men. Capone never went after Ness’ family, and in fact, Ness had no children during the years he pursued Capone. This would completely negate the scenes of Nitti outside Ness’ home as well as the moment wherein the mother of the little girl killed in the prologue instills confidence in Ness with her teary-eyed affirmation, “it’s because I know that you have children too.” In fact, the scene wherein Ness expels from his office a Capone agent attempting to bribe him represents the entirety of Capone’s nefarious tactics for dealing with the troublesome lawman.

Drama requires conflict; the more heated and personal that conflict, the more compelling the drama. Robert De Niro and Kevin Costner screaming at each other in a courtroom while Capone’s goons hold the mobster back from starting a full-on brawl, that’s dramatically viable. Less so is the fact that historically Capone and Ness were never actually in the same room with one another at any point in their lives. Frank Nitti being thrown off a roof by a vengeful Elliott Ness, incredibly dramatic! The real Frank Nitti killing himself on a railroad track–missing with the first shot to his own head–is more sad than dramatic.

Most importantly, The Untouchables crafts a bonafide boy scout out of Elliott Ness, aforementioned roof-tossing of Nitti aside. In reality, Ness was a troubled individual whose crusades beyond bootlegging included prosecuting anyone who had contracted a venereal disease. He had several failed marriages and ended up drinking himself penniless with several visits to brothels along the way. This suggests a man far more morally conflicted than the spit-polished hero of the film. Although we watch him wrestle with crossing the line in multiple scenes, there is always the sense of a greater good being pursued. Almost as a nod to his real-life, morally gray personal life, the last line of The Untouchables is Ness answering a question as to what he would do if Prohibition were repealed with, “I think I’ll have a drink.”

There are valid reasons to deride factual revision for the sake of entertainment, but when a filmmaker is concerned with the legend of a historical figure more than the textbook facts, it creates multiple perspectives by which to evaluate that figure’s worth. It also has the potential, as in the case of The Untouchables, to make for a far more thrilling cinematic experience.


30 Years Ago, Ennio Morricone Proved He Was Untouchable
by Michael Roffman at Consequence of Sound

All joking aside, there’s no denying how vital Morricone is to De Palma’s gangster epic. From the thudding main titles to the sweeping end credits, his Grammy Award-winning score rarely leaves a frame of the picture, glossing over the historical Chicago scenery, beefing up the undulating tension, and making every onscreen relationship feel palpable. That latter notion is by far the most important facet to his score, as the story’s success is paramount to whether or not you love the characters. If you do, you’re likely on the edge of your seat, hoping and praying that heroes like Malone and Stone make it out alive. If you don’t, well, De Palma’s blatant homage to Old Hollywood may come off a little too schmaltzy and cartoonish for your tastes. That’s how Ebert felt.

“De Palma’s Untouchables, like the TV series that inspired it, depends more on clichés than on artistic invention,” the late critic argued three decades ago for the Chicago Sun-Times. To his credit, he’s not wrong. The film leans heavily on clichés, but that’s kind of the point, as De Palma takes these familiar tropes to prey upon your emotions. Ness isn’t anything but The Good Cop out to “do some good” just as Capone isn’t anything but the big baddie who wants to see everyone “DEAD!” Arguably, the only face with any actual nuance is Connery, who, alongside De Niro, was the only true veteran of the bunch and had the chops to rise above David Mamet’s surprisingly mild screenplay. Though, unlike De Niro, he wasn’t fulfilling the hype of a major historical figure and wasn’t required to be a larger-than-life caricature, so he had a little more agency in front of the camera.

Morricone factored into all of this by carving out a score that gave a heart and muscle to De Palma and Mamet’s familiar archetypes. His compositions for The Untouchables are large and vibrant, gushing with all sorts of angst, swagger, and gusto. Take Capone’s theme, for instance, which thunders along with ragtime piano, boozy brass, and velveteen strings. It’s boisterous and over the top, but so is De Niro’s performance, and the ebbs and flows of Morricone’s instrumentation paint the scenery with broad strokes that actually wind up doing a lot of the heavy lifting for Scorsese’s prizefighter. The same treatment occurs for Costner’s Ness, namely his lonely plight as an unpopular Prohibition agent. Morricone’s “Death Theme”, which is without a doubt one of the composer’s most beautiful works to date, adds an unshakable weight to the officer’s violent quest. His ironclad determination in fighting for truth and justice is signified by the lone saxophone that pines at the solitude and loss that comes with such a fate.

As the film burns through its 119-minute runtime, Morricone’s themes quickly become signifiers, and that extends not only to the characters but their heroics and villainy. Maudlin flute watches over the Ness family, bass and drums belong to the mob, and brass lifts our four Untouchables far above the skylines of Chicago. These signifiers elevate a number of key scenes — the entire shootout on the Canadian border; Malone’s heart-wrenching, gory demise; and Ness’ cat-and-mouse rooftop chase with Frank Nitti — making Morricone more or less responsible for the strongest feelings one might draw from the film, whether it’s awe and wonder or suspense and remorse. The greatest example of this is at the very end, when Ness returns to his office to clean out his desk and finds a photo of his colleagues, two of whom are now deceased. Almost instantly, Morricone swoops in to catch us, tearfully uncorking all of those feelings we’ve been reserving for the film’s four untouchable heroes.

Even when he strays, Morricone never stumbles, and that much is obvious during the film’s climactic shootout at Union Station, aka The Baby Carriage Scene. Dubbed “Machine Gun Lullaby”, his composition for this sequence welds the sounds of a baby mobile to his more traditional brass and strings. It’s an unorthodox move that some may consider too on the nose, especially given how many shots De Palma supplies of the goddamn carriage. But, and this may be a reach (just roll with it), this juxtaposition is a brilliant subversion. Because in addition to turning the whole situation into a hazy nightmare, it also adds a certain gravitas to Ness’ psyche. If you recall, his whole charade against Capone truly started, at least narratively speaking, following an emotional run-in with the grieving mother of the little girl who died in the film’s opening. It was she who lit the fire under his shoes — Ness is also a parent, mind you — so it’s rather poetic the film would come full circle and place the life of another child in Ness’ hands.


The Untouchables: The Sacrifice of the Righteous, Prams, a Lot of Talk and a Badge in the Cult of De Palma
by Giuseppe Grossi at MoviePlayer

It's thirty years old, but seems even older. Reviewing The Untouchables today could make you think of a "badly-aged" movie, but that is not the case. Because the film already had a classic aftertaste at the end of the 1980s, impregnated as it was with rhythms, images, words and characters referring to a bygone movie era. Deliberately close to the imagination of the old noir, De Palma draws a city often emptied, desolate, dominated by the shadows of its characters. It seems like a purgatory in Chicago, full of silhouette in the darkness, inhabited by men of action and women waiting for the return of their hero home. In clear opposition, immediate, absolutely Manichaean struggle between good and bad, then we find the epic tale of the western, a genre also available from the retro soundtrack by Ennio Morricone and some shots as tight close-ups, directing the gaze of the characters. If the American cinema of those years exalted the hypertrophic power of the lonely, individualist hero capable of sufficing for himself (Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are the two highest representatives), De Palma rediscovers the pleasure of the group alchemy between complementary characters and men joined in risking everything in order to respond to their moral integrity. Men of other times, like their movie.

'The Untouchables': THR's 1987 Review
by Duane Byrge at The Hollywood Reporter

Four police chiefs, three district attorneys, a wad of grand juries couldn't bring Al Capone down. It took a green government graysuit named Eliot Ness to put him away. That irony buttresses this old-fashioned, well-crafted black hats vs. white hats shootout.

Paramount's going to have to hire more armored cars to transport The Untouchables' considerable box-office booty to its already teeming [Beverly Hills] Cop [2] vaults.

Straightforward and crisp, The Untouchables is a classically structured good-guy/bad-guy epic, pitting the square, wet-behind-the-ears Treasury agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) vs. America's most notorious, ruthless and powerful Prohibition-time gangster, Al Capone (Robert De Niro).

While overtly melodramatic, The Untouchables is a perceptive and hard-driven actioner. It's an intriguing character confrontation, loaded with ironies, both personal and social — on one side, the flamboyantly powerful gangster whose booze smuggling made him a popular hero amid a Prohibition-weary public; on the other side, a faceless outsider whose straitlaced, insistent dedication threatened to overturn the town's well-oiled troughs.

As Eliot Ness, Kevin Costner plays it tight to the vest. Those who recall Robert Stack's superbly confident portrayal and hail-hearty voice in the TV series may be initially turned off by this interpretation. But to Costner's considerable credit, he defers to the staid traits of character throughout; ultimately, it is these small, relentlessly Sunday School qualities that make his ultimate victory against the seemingly invincible Capone believable — the tortoise vs. the hare.

Throughout, the scrupulous Ness is nevertheless shrewd enough to surround himself with a trusted yet unorthodox team. Sean Connery as a wizened Irish beat cop, Charles Martin Smith as an eager beaver accountant, and Andy Garcia as a fearless rookie cop round out Ness' team of “Untouchables” — men who are most out of orbit in Capone's bloody Chicago universe.

The Untouchables' most entertaining scenes, unquestionably, center around these superb supporting characters; Connery and Smith, in particular, both make the most of their juicy roles. As Al Capone, Robert De Niro is mesmerizingly intimidating — characteristically, De Niro gained 30 pounds for the role, had his hairline altered, acquired a scar. One instant he's a populist-styled protector, the next, a rapacious killer — De Niro makes these instant transitions frighteningly believable. When he's on the screen, wide-eyed and smiling, your instinct is to duck and cover.

Also deserving praise on the bad guy's side is Billy Drago as the psycho, trigger-happy Frank Nitti — his mean and vicious glint is razor sharp.

Despite one excessively showy and laughable slo-mo, Potemkin-like scene — Ness wipes out a horde of thugs while rescuing a cascading baby carriage — director Brian De Palma brings The Untouchables in tight and true, in the spirit of Ness himself. Unlike Scarface, no one is likely to claim that this film's considerable violence is gratuitous.

Technical credits, like the supporting character portrayals, are well realized and particular. Marilyn Vance's costumes, from the luridly vivid gangster regalia to Ness' Sears-style graywear, are starkly expressive. Meticulous details, contrasting further the character consistencies, are evident throughout in the production design — credit visual consultant Patrizia von Brandenstein for the expressive period nuances. Ennio Morricone's astringent score, featuring a harsh and lyrical trumpet blend, is wonderfully piercing, the perfect sounds for this well-contrasted film.


Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, June 5, 2017 7:23 PM CDT
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Tuesday, May 30, 2017
LILLIAN MICHELSON TALKS 'SCARFACE' RESEARCH
IN DOC 'HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY'

In the trailer (above) for Daniel Raim's new documentary, Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, there is a brief tease featuring Lillian Michelson, Hollywood researcher, recalling what it was like telling her husband, storyboard artist Harold Michelson, that she was going to Ecuador "in a drug king's airplane" to do research for Brian De Palma's Scarface. I haven't seen this documentary yet, but here are some review excerpts mentioning the Scarface anecdote:
Andrew Wright at The Stranger
Utilizing celebrity interviews and cute (but-not-overly-so) cartoony sketches, the film tells the story of the late storyboard artist/production designer/Hitchcock fave Harold Michelson and his wife Lillian, whose dissatisfaction at being stuck at home led her to become the go-to researcher for filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, and Stanley Kubrick. Tom Waits liked to hang out with them, which speaks multitudes.

Director Daniel Raim doesn’t neglect the couple’s sometimes chaotic home life, including their struggles with raising an autistic son. Still, the focus here is largely on The Movies, offering fascinating looks throughout at how Harold’s illustrations helped create the look of classics such as The Birds and The Graduate, as well as the intriguing suggestion that his experiences in the nose of a World War II bomber made him uniquely suited for the job.

The film’s real ace in the hole, however, proves to be Lillian, an endlessly quotable interview subject whose pixyish presence can’t mask the sense that she knows exactly where all of the industry bodies are buried. (A brief aside about contacting a Bolivian drug lord while researching Brian De Palma’s Scarface demands a 10-hour miniseries, at the very least.) Together, the stories of this unlikely Power Couple make for a terrific corrective of the idea of filmmaking being a singular vision. Orson Welles’s quote about the movies being the world’s biggest electric train set gains even more resonance when you consider the folks who keep the transformers humming.


Monica Castillo at The New York Times
Their behind-the-scenes influence on filmmakers was far-reaching. Mr. Michelson’s storyboards show sketched versions of memorable scenes, like the parting of the Red Sea in “The Ten Commandments” and Anne Bancroft’s raised leg overshadowing Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate.” Mrs. Michelson excitedly recalls interviewing women at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles about traditional costumes for “Fiddler on the Roof” and questioning a drug kingpin for “Scarface.”

Scott Tobias at NPR
Though well-known and beloved by their peers, Harold and Lillian Michelson had the sorts of jobs that are often so far below the line that they're not credited at all. As a production designer and art director, Harold would eventually earn Academy Award nominations for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Terms of Endearment, but for the bulk of his career, dating back to an apprenticeship at Columbia Pictures in the late '40s, he worked the art department as a concept illustrator and storyboard artist. Despite a passion for books and a formidable intellect — she was a spelling bee champion in her youth — Lillian stayed home and raised their three children until the early '60s, when Harold was brought onto the lot at Samuel Goldwyn. He helped land her a volunteer position in the research library across the street, and a second career was born.

Only the most hardcore cinephiles have heard of the Michelsons, but even casual viewers are familiar with their work. Harold's talent for adjusting his storyboards for different camera lenses and telling stories shot-by-shot is readily apparent in sword-and-sandal epics like The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, and Spartacus, and he worked side-by-side with Alfred Hitchcock on The Birds and Marnie, two of the master's most strikingly composed films. One of the most famous shots in cinema history — Benjamin Braddock framed by Mrs. Robinson's leg in The Graduate — appeared first on Harold's sketchbook before it was immortalized on screen. He wouldn't start collecting more prominent credits until later, when he worked in production design and/or art direction for filmmakers like Mel Brooks and Danny DeVito.

For her part, Lillian toiled in the research department, where she quietly unearthed the specific period details and bric-a-brac that would lend real-world authenticity to Hollywood fictions. In Harold and Lillian, she describes the extraordinary lengths she would go to get things right, like querying old Jewish women at a deli to find out what 1890s bloomers looked like for Fiddler on the Roof or pressing ex- (and current) drug lords and DEA agents for information relevant to Scarface. When asked the impossible, like getting photos from inside CIA headquarters, she could deliver. She talks about research as a "time machine" that allows her to access other worlds, much as she did as a five-year-old orphan in Miami Beach.

Lillian's voice carries the documentary — Harold died in 2008, though he left a wealth of interview footage behind — and collaborators like DeVito (who also executive-produced), Brooks, and Francis Ford Coppola offer themselves as talking heads, along with other researchers, storyboard artists and technicians in the field. Harold's extensive illustrations of their lives together — including a marvelous tradition of homemade birthday and anniversary cards, adorned by sweet poems and artwork — give Harold and Lillian all the visual panache it needs, much like a real-life version of the side-by-side comparisons between his storyboards and a finished sequence.


Posted by Geoff at 1:07 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, May 30, 2017 1:18 AM CDT
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