SLATE'S SAM ADAMS & GUEST CARRIE RICKEY DISCUSS 'BLOW OUT'
Hello and welcome to the unofficial Brian De Palma website.
Here is the latest news:
a la Mod:
It all begins with a scream. Jack (John Travolta) is a sound technician working on a tawdry, low-budget slasher movie where the usual gaggle of photogenic teenagers gets hacked up by a knife-wielding maniac. The big problem for Jack is, the director doesn’t find the strangled, squeaky cry of the killer’s latest victim convincing enough. Jack and the director sit in the editing bay, glumly reviewing the footage, listening to the co-ed’s keening wail over and over again. Nope: it simply doesn’t work.
Jack’s quest to find a truthful-sounding, blood-curdling scream for the B-slasher provides the jumping-off point for Blow Out, director Brian De Palma’s mind-melting thriller murder, about political conspiracy and the power of the filmmaking medium. It also has what might be one of the most horrifying shock endings in 80s movies. I don’t mean horrifying in the sense of outright gore and violence, though Blow Out has more than a bit of that, as you’d expect from De Palma. No, Blow Out’s ending is horrifying in a psychological sense that hits you right between the ears; it’s the kind of conclusion that actively defies you not to sit bolt upright in your seat and say (or at least think):
“You can’t end a thriller like that. Can you?”
Yet as the credits roll, Blow Out leaves you to ponder what’s just happened. Jack’s final actions in the movie could be described as utter callousness, or more likely, the work of a man driven out of his mind by recent events and punishing himself by listening to the same piercing sound, over and over. The final scene could also be taken as an elaborate and incredibly twisted joke on the part of De Palma; a punch line to a gag which began with that first scream in Blow Out’s opening reel and paid off in its last. It says a great deal about the dark humour in so many of De Palma’s films that this latter reading is a remotely plausible one.
It was through thinking about my initial, knee-jerk reaction to Blow Out that I realised how carefully crafted and outright brilliant De Palma’s film is. I’d seen the movie before as a teenager, but I’d failed to understand the true gravity of that ending I’ve been talking about for two or three paragraphs already. Watching it again about 20 years later, I finally felt the weight and heft of Blow Out’s downbeat climax, its political cynicism and the totality of Jack’s failure in achieving the goals laid out for him as the film’s protagonist.
De Palma didn’t make matters easy for himself by giving Blow Out such a bleak conclusion (he wrote the screenplay as well as directed). When the film came out in 1981, audiences appeared to vote with their wallets, with the warm recommendations from critics falling largely on deaf ears. Yet De Palma remained true to the movie he wanted to make; in the final analysis, Blow Out’s conclusion is as vital to its construction as the desolate resolution of David Fincher’s Seven.
In fact, there’s another potential reading of Blow Out that its director may or may not have consciously placed there for us: the movie is a master class in how to craft the perfect shock ending.
The way Hoskins told the story to Absolute Radio in 2009 was that De Palma sent Hoskins the Untouchables screenplay and told him to look at Capone. "I went to meet him at his hotel," Hoskins said on the Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show, "and he said ‘really I want Robert De Niro to play him,’ and I thought, ‘well great what am I doing here?’ He then said ‘but if he don’t do it, would you sort of step in?’ and I said ‘yeah of course I will’. Anyway months went by and I read the papers and saw De Niro was doing it. I’d sort of forgotten all about it, and then Linda – my Mrs – was opening the post one morning and said ‘what’s that?’ and it was a cheque for £20,000. It said ‘thanks for your time Bob, love Brian’. [He laughed] I phoned him up and I said ‘Brian, if you’ve ever got any films you don’t want me in son, you just give me a call!’”
This was a good six years after Hoskins had made his mark in The Long Good Friday. Another reason this double feature is interesting is that Mackenzie would go on, in 1986, to direct a TV movie out of a screenplay De Palma had developed with novelist Scott Spencer in the early 1980s, Act Of Vengeance.
Here are links and excerpts from the program notes for both films, as well as a couple of other recent articles about The Untouchables:
Watching Bob Hoskins walk through the airport in John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday is one of those pleasures in cinema that doesn’t happen enough these days. And, really, watching Bob Hoskins do anything – walk, talk (that voice!), whisper, prepare a creepy dinner based on his dead mother, joke, yell, fall in love or spiral into an anger so intense that his neck looks bigger than it really was (and it already was big) and with his face so engorged that it could appear perilously close to bursting. He really could be gloriously terrifying. And charming – often at the same time. He shined and charmed and intimidated and moved you with his tenderness – he’d catch you off guard with it. He had those eyes too – nothing spectacular at first sight until he started emoting – orbs that, in a state of actorly rage, Helen Mirren said looked like, “two little shiny black olives.” Honoring her fellow actor and friend who passed away in 2014, Mirren, his co-star in The Long Good Friday, continued describing Hoskins as such: “Chock-a-block with testosterone, mucho machismo, a real bloke’s bloke, built like a brick outhouse, but with a gentleness, a sweetness and a love and respect for women that was very rare then, and is quite rare now.” That’s lovely – those seeming contradictions of the barrel-chested bruiser who claimed he was never as tough as he looked. As he put it: “You don’t end up with a face like this if you’re hard, do ya? This comes from having too much mouth and nothing to back it up with. The nose has been broken so many times… Oh yeah, plenty of courage. I’m the soppy sod who got up again.”
Just reading his self-description (from a terrific interview in The Guardian) makes me miss Bob Hoskins and miss his voice (if you can believe this insanity, at one point Hoskins’ voice was going to be dubbed for The Long Good Friday and the movie over-edited and dumped on TV). So watching The Long Good Friday again, and watch his swagger through the airport, that now famous opening entrance, was especially effecting. And he’s not even talking yet! I thought to myself, who is like this guy anymore? Who? And who ever was? An unlikely leading man in the vein of Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, a bulldog (or, more, a pitbull) and that guy who either hugs or punches you (or both) after a long night of drinking, he was a stocky lug, short in stature but large in charisma, with a slangy eloquence that was rough-hewn melodious, a guy one loves to listen to – his rugged cadence was often full of wit and an energy that was both boot shaking and an absolute pleasure. Like this lovely/scary threat to a corrupt cop from Good Friday: “Don’t you ever tell me what I can or can’t do! Bent law can be tolerated for as long as they’re lubricating, but you have become definitely parched. If I was you, I’d run for cover and close the hatch, ’cause you’re gonna wind up on one of those meat hooks, my son.”
With the perfect cast in place to bring the story to life, De Palma was free to use his signature visual storytelling mastery, using long takes and his trademark-Hitchcock-influenced “creeper” sequence – shot from the killer’s point of view who is stalking the victim but doesn’t want to be seen. While the hand-held creeper sequence devoid of dialogue is always highly effective in the De Palma filmography, none evokes the emotional impact like the one that takes us through Jim Malone’s modest apartment – the climax of which solidified Sean Connery’s name on his Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. It’s a show stopper, and the most important lesson that Costner’s Ness needs to learn. The kind of lesson that Malone was trying to impart to Ness in the famous church scene that director of photography Stephen H. Burum shot from a low angle, making the two men appear larger than life, overwhelming the screen as Malone prods Ness – “What are you prepared to do?” Ness’s answer – “Everything within the law,” will fall woefully short to bring down Capone. The irony of the bloodshed that Malone forewarns will be the result of Ness’s crusade, while the two men speak of violence in a house of God, was a set location suggested to De Palma by Connery himself. This connection to the material was a perfect example of the veteran actor shepherding the characters not only onscreen, but off-screen as well.
Burum originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white, but after De Palma explained that the studio would never go for that, he instead came up with a “compositional plan to shoot repetitive images.” In a kind of Kubrick-esque pattern, he set up shots with the same make of car lined up in identical formations on both sides of the street, creating a sense of period familiarity without overwhelming us with colors and busy sets. Burum also employed framing with a lot of “negative space” to remind the audience that things were still evolving, and there weren’t as many people jammed together in an urban environment like there was 30 years ago when the film was first released. Location Scout Eric Schwab and Visual Consultant Patrizia von Brandenstein return Chicago to its prohibition history, with essential locations that keep us in the film’s time period. The two were key contributors to the authenticity of the film’s period look, and put the green screen and computer mate backgrounds of today’s movies to shame.
When the production couldn’t afford to bring to life Mamet’s train collision at Union Station as it appeared in the script, De Palma shows off a bit, crafting the Odessa Steps homage from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), forcing Costner and Garcia to deal with a baby carriage and its tiny passenger as it makes its way down the Union Station stairs, while they are engaged in a gun fight with Capone’s men. De Palma knew that it’s one thing to blow a cute girl with pig-tails to smithereens, but it’s something else all-together to have a baby killed. Who says De Palma films are too violent?
De Palma and Mamet created an opera with De Niro as a cherubic “Pagliacci” character that is both jester and royalty, and no opera is complete without costumes to enhance the story and the music that tells it – with Marilyn Vance nominated for Best Costume Design (Vance always took exception to the Armani credit) and Ennio Morricone nominated for Best Original Score. For all the film’s smart camera moves, genre raising script, slick production design, and standout performances, the key to the film is Morricone’s score. The sweeping music lifts you out of your seat, while the driving intensity pins you to it. His five note piano march builds suspense while the sharp notes of his haunting, hair raising harmonica, informs us that something wicked is lurking, and on a dime Morricone turns the Post Office raid into a pride filled victory for Ness’ crew, with a colorful musical exclamation mark of what would’ve otherwise been a simple scene unto itself. It’s incredible work by the genius composer.
The Untouchables is a handsome, incredibly satisfying film experience, that continually one-ups itself, and even the violence has a brilliant polish to it we can’t turn away from. The film sits on De Palma’s Mount Rushmore, remaining every bit as stylized in the crime genre as Tim Burton’s Batman that followed in 1989, or the comic book color palette of Dick Tracy in 1990, ranking among one of the decade’s finest crime films.
When I first saw The Untouchables as a teenager, I had never heard of Sergei Eisenstein or the Odessa Steps sequence that Brian De Palma masterfully cannibalized for the film's Union Station set-piece shootout. I knew serious actors sometimes transformed their bodies for a part, but never realized — until reading that Robert De Niro wore silk boxers to help identify with Al Capone — the lengths some went with preparations the audience would never see. And I'd never heard of its screenwriter, David Mamet, whose voice I'd soon encounter in both the plays others turned into movies (Glengarry Glen Ross) and the films (The Spanish Prisoner) he crafted from scratch as writer-director.
De Palma brought these and other highbrow elements together in a movie so well paced and entertaining that a budding cinephile could watch it on a sofa with friends whose tastes barely stretched beyond action blockbusters and broad comedy. The director had been smarting-up sleazy genre pictures for years by the time he made it, and had enjoyed success with the controversially violent Scarface; but here, almost 20 years into his career, was a four-quadrant hit like (if smaller than) those made by his contemporaries Lucas, Spielberg and Coppola. In terms of mainstream appeal, the only picture he would ever make to compete with it was the first Mission: Impossible.
The Untouchables is a dream of gangsters in Chicago. It isn’t De Palma’s dream, though. This isn’t a “personal” movie. He isn’t the voluptuary satirist here that he is in Carrie or Dressed to Kill or the hallucinatory The Fury; he isn’t the artist that he is in Blow Out. And The Untouchables doesn’t have anything comparable to the romantic lushness or the obsessive, sensuous rhythms that Leone brought to Once Upon a Time in America. The picture is more like an attempt to visualize the public’s collective dream of Chicago gangsters; our movie-fed imagination of the past is enlarged and given a new vividness. De Palma is a showman here. Everything is neatly done in broad strokes—the gangsters’ bulging bodies in their immaculately tailored suits, the spats and fedoras, the tommy guns and gleaming cars, the gilt on the furniture, the deep, plushy reds of the blood. And the slight unbelievability of it all makes it more enjoyable.
De Palma has been developing a great camera technique, and in this movie—it’s his 18th—he uses it more impersonally than in the past. He’s making a self-consciously square movie. He works within the structure of Mamet’s moral fable, and Mamet is a master of obviousness. This writer is all deliberation—his points are unavoidable. Yet his characters have a fullness: you get what you need to know about each one. His dialogue is pointed; it has tension. And the scenes have a satisfying economy. He’s a good engineer, and his construction provides De Palma with the basis for reaching a broad audience. De Palma employs this engineering without being false to his own sensibility. He puts almost no weight on Mamet’s moralism. (The film isn’t at all like the Mamet-Lumet The Verdict.) De Palma doesn’t press down on the scriptural language—he uses it as much for its rhetorical color as for its import—and when Ness makes a speech about how the war with Capone has changed him, De Palma glides over the words.
De Palma’s resistance to Mamet’s heart-tugging devices results in a neutral tone in some of the scenes. (The mother of a little girl who has been killed by a gangland bombing comes to see Ness to encourage him in his efforts; there are interludes of Ness at home with his wife and small daughter to show us the domestic tranquility he’s trying to protect; and his wife puts little notes in his lunch bags telling him how proud she is of him.) But if De Palma’s cool neutrality is infinitely preferable to the cloying emotions that other directors might have piled on to scenes such as the one where the little girl is killed by the bomb (she might have been a bonny little lass), it nevertheless creates dead spots. At times, you feel that he’s going through the motions pro forma, in order to preserve Mamet’s structure. Yet De Palma takes such pride in camera angles and the organization of the shots that even the dead spots are likely to have some visual life. (The cinematographer, Stephen H. Burum, uses Panavision to spectacular effect. The imagery, though, isn’t always backed up by the music; every now and then you wonder what Ennio Morricone’s throbbing disco-synthesizer beat is doing in this period.)
De Palma demonstrates his technical command in a stakeout on the marble staircase of Union Station, where Ness and his sharpshooter have gone, hoping to grab Capone’s bookkeeper. They’ve been tipped off that he’s going to try to slip out of town, and they know that he’ll be escorted by gunmen. A young mother is struggling up the steps with two suitcases and a child in a cumbersome old-fashioned baby buggy. Ness, positioned at the top of the stairs, keeps looking down at her progress, knowing that she’s going to be right in the line of fire, and De Palma has the beautiful effrontery to make us experience Ness’s anxiety in suspended time, as in the instant of a car’s skidding into a tree. He holds sound in suspension, too: the shooting is punctuated by the noise of the buggy as it rolls down, clattering slowly, step by step. The sequence deliberately evokes the Odessa Steps montage in Potemkin. It doesn’t involve crowds and armies, though—only a small number of people—and it isn’t meant to be taken as real life. It’s a set piece, and when it’s over, you want to applaud De Palma for having the nerve to bring it off.
EXCLUSIVE: Carice van Houten is teaming with fellow Game Of Thrones regular Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to star in Domino, the suspense thriller from Brian De Palma penned by Kon-Tiki scribe Petter Skavlan. Production got underway this month and will travel to locations in Belgium, Spain, Denmark and The Netherlands befitting its international auspices.
Coster-Waldau and van Houten now star as police officers who go rogue while tracking down the killer of their police partner who was murdered in the line of duty. As they cross a Europe shaken by ongoing multiple terror attacks, the pair will discover troubling links between the man they are chasing and a CIA operative on the trail of the ISIS cell behind the attacks. Eriq Ebouaney co-stars. Christina Hendricks had been attached to van Houten’s role.
“I am delighted to join the cast of Domino; it’s a privilege to be working with such an iconic director,” the Dutch-born van Houten said. “And who knew that Jamie Lannister and Melisandre would meet outside Westeros?”
An Instagram post by Adi Cojocaru (below), showing an "it's a wrap" moment on a Domino police station set, appears to confirm Verrijcken's tweet with its hashtags:
Meanwhile, here is a Google-assisted English translation of most of the Gazet article by Kristin Matthyssen:
Ranst - Brian De Palma, the American director who worked with top actors like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, filmed the windmill in Oelegem on Monday, June 26 for his new movie Domino.
Among other actors, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, known from Game of Thrones, was present. The crew had already brought its material itself, from bench to trash cans.
The owner of the mill, the municipality of Ranst, had been informed for a long time. Molenaar Luc Verachtert was also informed. He had been instructed to wind the windmill all the way up and adhere to strict confidentiality. He had to turn the wings Monday.
The volunteers from the historical association De Brakken in Oelegem, who manage the mill, are proud that Brian De Palma chose their mill. "We do not know why, but it would be cool if our Oelegem mill was to be seen in cinemas all over the world, even if it's only a few seconds."
De Palma drove down with small trucks, vans and a caravan. He stayed the whole afternoon and evening watching three scenes, the arrival of a car at the mill to a scene on a picnic bench in front of the mill. The area was shielded, although people could still sit on the terrace of the tavern near the mill. At 22:00 the area was restored. News of the high visit spread like a running fire. Some people came looking to catch a glimpse of the stars.