AT CINEMATHEQUE MASTERCLASS EARLIER THIS MONTH - CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LINK
Hello and welcome to the unofficial Brian De Palma website.
Here is the latest news:
a la Mod:
Bregman discovered Al Pacino in an Off Broadway play. "I think it was The Indian Wants the Bronx, one of the early plays by Israel Horovitz in the late ’60s," Bregman's son, Michael Bregman (a co-producer on Carlito's Way) tells Deadline's Mike Fleming Jr. Bregman signed Pacino and became his personal and business manager. At various times throughout his career, Bregman also managed Alan Alda, Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen, Faye Dunaway, Candice Bergen and Bette Midler.
According to a Variety obit by Carmel Dagan:
Bregman nurtured Pacino as the actor built his stage and then his film career, helping Pacino land his first starring role in a feature, 1971’s “Panic in Needle Park,” for which the actor beat out Robert De Niro.
Building film projects around the young Pacino, Bergman produced his first films in 1973’s “Serpico” and 1975’s “Dog Day Afternoon,” both memorably starring the actor [and both directed by Sidney Lumet]. The two would later reteam for 1983’s “Scarface,” 1989’s “Sea of Love” and 1993’s “Carlito’s Way.”
Talking to Tucker about changing the story from Chicago to Miami, Bregman said, "It was Sidney Lumet's idea. When I first went to Sidney, with whom I disagreed later on a political issue, in the initial discussion, he had a great idea. Sidney said, 'Well, liquor is no longer outlawed, there's no such thing as Prohibition, and why don't you look into the cocaine world,' which at the time was reaching epidemic proportions as an illegal import into the country, and largely through ports in southern Florida. And that was it. That was a brilliant idea of his."
More from Tucker's Scarface Nation:
While completing the editing of Blow Out, De Palma was approached by producer Martin Bregman about remaking Hawks's Scarface with Pacino as its star. De Palma was intrigued by Bregman's idea-- which at that point was Scarface as a period piece, set during the early 1930s-- and began working on a script with the playwright David Rabe. (De Palma had collaborated with Rabe off-Broadway, in a revival of the 1971 play The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, and on an early version of Prince of the City, which, with a different script, would eventually be directed by Sidney Lumet.)
But De Palma and Rabe never found a way to do the story that pleased them, and so they bowed out of Bregman's project, which the producer then took to-- in a tidy coincidence-- Sidney Lumet. Bregman paired Lumet with Oliver Stone. "I brought Stone in," Bregman told me. "I'd known him for years. I'd once optioned a script he'd written that I couldn't get anyone to make and that film was Platoon." (Ah, the ones that get away, eh?)
"Oliver was a wonderful writer and had experienced the ups and downs of cocaine. I'm not telling you anything out of school, because he'd tell you the same thing." And indeed Stone has, to me and in numerous interviews...
Stone's druggy days are, even in his own mind, legion. "I'll admit that cocaine kicked my ass. It's one of the things that beat me in life," he's said. "Cocaine took me to the edge."
Stone ticks off this era of his filmography as something of a pharmaceutical event: "Conan was written on cocaine and downers. The drug period was from Conan through The Hand, and into my research for Scarface.
Stone seized on Lumet's idea to transform Scarface from a '30s Chicago gangster to an '80s Cuban immigrant-turned-gangster. "Scarface grew out of this Lumet idea of the Marielitos coming to America, the brazenness, the drug trade, making it big, taking over from the old Cuban mob." Stone has said, "The Marielitos at the time had gained a lot of publicity for their open brazenness. The Marielitos were the 'crazies.' They were deported by castro in 1981 to America... it was perceived he was dumping all the criminals into the American system. According to the police enforcement in Miami Beach, they were the poorest people, the roughest people in the prisons, who would kill for a dollar. How could you get this outlandish, operatic character inside an American, contemporary framework?... That was the artistic challenge."
Stone did a lot of first-person research "in Florida and the Caribbean. I had been in South America [and] I saw quite a bit of the drug trade from the legal point of view as well as the gangster point of view... There's no law down there; they'll just shoot you in your hotel room. It got hairy; it gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical, Third World gangster, sexy Miami movie."
Bregman told me that he, too, went with Stone on some of these expeditions: "We spent a good deal of time in Florida. Pretty much everything I saw was in the film. The way the big drug lords were depicted were [as] very successful businessmen, and their business was cocaine."
Stone lit out for Paris to complete the script. "I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world," he told Creative Screenwriting. "I was an addictive personality. I did it... to where I was stale mentally... I moved to Paris to try and get into another world... and I wrote the script totally fucking cold sober."
But when Stone turned in his script, Lumet balked, considering Stone's work florid, melodramatic, and simplistic-- more the blueprint for an exploitation film than the movie of ideas that Lumet had envisioned. He wanted to explore the politics and human plight of an immigrant who is forced by circumstance into crime. Stone says, "Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."
Bregman put it to me more bluntly: "When I had completed the script"-- these producers, they take credit for everything, don't they?-- "Pacino wanted Sidney, okay? I had made two successful films with Lumet and Al, Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico, so I wasn't opposed to that. Sidney's a good director, and in my discussions with him, that's how the whole liquor [theme] changed to cocaine. But then Sidney said, 'I have a problem with this script. The problem is it's not political enough. I see the Reagan administration being heavily involved in the cocaine world.' Which is a crock of shit. There was nothing political about [the cocaine trade]-- it was a business."
For his part, Lumet says that he objected to "the corny elements" in the script, specifically the sentimental portrayal of Tony's mother and sister. "I also wanted to introduce political ramifications, exploring the CIA's involvement of drugs as part of their anti-Communist drive. I didn't want to do it on just a gangster or cop level. As it stood, it was a comic strip."
"And I wasn't about to do anything that would indict [then-President] Reagan, over something he had nothing to do with," retorts Bregman. "He wasn't involved in the cocaine world. At that point I said to Sidney, 'We're talking about a different film. Go make it. It's not this film.' So we separated.
As far as Lumet's dismissal of the script as cartoonish is concerned, Bregman has been quoted by writer Andrew Yule as saying, "De Palma and I had no intention of making a comic strip. We wanted to give the whole thing a larger-than-life, operatic quality." The italics [underlined] are Yule's; the "operatic" is, as I've said, the adjective that will be used by all principals in this production to give a high-culture gloss to its grand-grunge melodrama.
A neurotic, introverted young military veteran forces himself to go to a party to meet new people and finds himself plunged into a bizarre criminal underworld of sex and blood in Drew Barnhardt’s utterly mad RONDO (World Premiere). An exuberantly seedy, obsessively well-directed gonzo thriller that’s funny in the darkest ways, RONDO’s violent twists and genuinely uncomfortable moments will leave you breathless from gasping, laughing, and screaming – possibly at the same time. Oddly reminiscent of CRIMEWAVE-era John Paizs by way of De Palma, this is a squirm-inducing, one-of-a-kind exploitation oddity that even the most brazen viewers will never be able to unsee.
I found Rondo to be a very vivid movie, in terms of image, story, style, graphic images/language, music, the whole shebang. The propulsive music, by Ryan Franks and Scott Nickoley, carries the film along through memorable chase and suspense sequences. The film features a narrator, and I was reminded of Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Phillip (or, going back, Woody Allen's Take The Money And Run, perhaps, or even Kubrick...?). When I asked Barnhardt about this, he responded via email, "Stanley Kubrick has been my favorite director for ages and it is probably not possible for me to ever shed some of my Kubrick affectations (nor do I desire to). The narrator is one of those. However in Rondo, unlike my last movie where I used a Michael Hordern Barry Lyndon stand-in, my search for the narrator this time out was built on Peter Thomas and his voice work for both Forensic Files and Nova. So that's what all that is all about."
And of course there is plenty of De Palma influence in Barnhardt's new film: the change in protagonist halfway through, linked by the gaze into each other's eyes at moment of one's death (transfer of knowledge and narrative). An elevator sequence that brings the chase in Carlito's Way to mind. Barnhardt agrees there are echoes of De Palma, Kubrick, but also Buñuel and "even getting to play around with some Peckinpah stuff in the finale." He also mentions Verhoeven. However, Barnhardt stresses, "My hope is, that such a gumbo of influences has led to this picture kind of being its own spicy little monster. Or, at least, MY spicy little monster."
I would say it is that, for sure.
If the 1970s were the most fruitful decade for this particular subgenre of horror, it may be no coincidence that De Palma’s thrillers begin to draw from gialli closer to the end of the ‘70s. Dressed to Kill, released in 1980, represents the apex of this influence on De Palma’s work.
Then there are those aspects of Dressed to Kill that feel almost like a 1:1 adaptation of a giallo film. It begins with a woman in danger, as Angie Dickinson’s Kate Miller dreams of a long, hot shower, complete with lingering shots of her (body double’s) nude figure. Suddenly, she’s grabbed from behind by a stranger inside the shower with her; she calls out her husband’s name, but he can’t hear. She wakes up, having dreamed the whole thing, but De Palma has laid out his mission statement: this a movie about a woman who is not safe, just as Bava and Argento and Martino and Fulci had been making movies about women in danger for the previous decade. It’s not just the danger that makes Dressed to Kill a giallo, though, but rather the way it intertwines with a sexuality in a way that’s far more erotic than the hormonal teenage rituals of the slasher genre.
The movie’s biggest setpiece is an extended silent sequence during which Dickinson flirts with a man in an art museum (works of fine art are common signifiers of a giallo), then makes love with him in a cab, goes home to his apartment and makes love again, sneaking out after getting a bit of shocking news about him – the guilt of her marital transgression come to terrible life – and enters an elevator to leave the building and the memory of the mistake behind. This is pure visual storytelling, played out wordlessly across one nearly 15 minute sequence. Once Dickinson enters the elevator, everything changes: hiding in the corner is a blonde woman in sunglasses who begins to stab and slash her. We get an extreme closeup of her eye as the razor cuts her face; not only are shots like this closely associated with filmmakers like Argento, but with entire giallo genre – a genre obsessed with eyes as a function of “looking.” Black leather gloves, the light glinting off of a straight razor – De Palma’s camera fetishizes these hallmarks of the giallo throughout the murder. The killer’s reflection is glimpsed in a mirror by a bystander (a prostitute played by Nancy Allen), which should be familiar to anyone who has seen Argento’s Deep Red. More than any other, this is the scene in which De Palma confirms Dressed to Kill as an American giallo.
But it’s not just the elevator sequence that codifies the movie as a giallo, as De Palma embraces other tropes as well: we get our amateur sleuth in the form of Dickinson’s son, played by Keith Gordon, who becomes obsessed with solving his mom’s murder, enlisting the help of witness Allen along the way. We have the ineffectual police presence, here personified by De Palma regular Dennis Franz. We have a major red herring. We have the psychosexual motives of our killer, ultimately revealed to be the psychiatrist who was treating Dickinson’s character and played by Michael Caine. Aside from the murder of Angie Dickinson early on, this is De Palma’s most overt nod to Psycho, but it’s also totally in keeping with the traditions of gialli, in which repressed sexual desire and gender fluidity often drive the killers to kill, whether it’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet or Tenebrae or A Blade in the Dark or even, to a certain extent, Who Saw Her Die?. Murders are rarely random in gialli; they’re motivated by sex and psychology and, usually, some break between the two. Dressed to Kill fits this model completely.
I don’t know for certain that De Palma set out to make a giallo when he wrote and directed Dressed to Kill, but I do know that he has long been the sum of his influences as a filmmaker. He takes all of the movies he loves, all of the movies that have made an impact on him, then filters them through his own lens (believe it or not, Dressed to Kill is probably his most personal film) and executes them with a near-unparalleled technical precision. It’s hard to believe that a decade’s worth of Italian gialli didn’t play some role in shaping Dressed to Kill, though, given how many elements of the movie are so in line with that subgenre of horror. Whether intentional or not, Dressed to Kill still stands as the definitive example of an American giallo film. There are a few other instances of directors attempting to adapt the distinctly European giallo for American audiences – White of the Eye, for example, or 1994’s Color of Night – but none are nearly as successful as De Palma is here.
Dressed to Kill is a bottle of J&B and some dubbing short of being a perfect giallo.
While Bromley's discussion of the giallo influence on Dressed To Kill seems dead on, his insistence on Hitchcock's Psycho as the main influence on Dressed To Kill overlooks not only Vertigo, but more importantly, the very Buñuelian elements ingrained within the film. Buñuel's Belle de Jour informs the structure of Dressed To Kill just as much as Psycho does, and it also informs the film's surreal sense of sexual fantasy.
Godard is also an influence here, as is Bergman (or maybe it is Bergman via Godard-- see the Weekend/Persona derived scene in which Liz, dressed down to her lingerie, tells Dr. Elliott explicitly about her dream). As Bromley suggests, none of these influences are likely the only ones, either. De Palma even finds room in Dressed To Kill to pull from his own life, Peter being a surrogate for a younger De Palma.
To bring things back to the Italian cinema, however, in his book Nightmare Movies, critic Kim Newman sees nothing less in Dressed To Kill than the influence of Michelangelo Antonioni:
With its dream-like atmosphere and Argento-ish insistence on the importance of wordless, apparently irrelevent sequences like the menacing/sexy gallery stalking, Dressed To Kill betrays its sources and suggests that Antonioni, not Hitchcock, is the real inspiration for much of De Palma's work. Ultimately, the film is only about psycho killings in the limited sense that L'Avventura is about missing persons.
Are you interested in new cinema technical tools? The very high frequency camera (120 frames per second) that Ang Lee uses in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, for example?
Brian De Palma - It seemed futile, but I did not see it in the proper projection conditions; the film has good things otherwise, it's a good idea, but I didn't understand where Ang Lee was coming from. Otherwise, at this moment, it's the drone shots that interest me. In the plane that brought me here, I saw a French film with in-CRED-ible drone shots (he takes out a notebook from his pocket, opens a page where is written: "Goodbye Up There" , drone shots "- Editor's note). These shots have become a cliché, everyone does them because they're pretty, but it's very rare that they make sense. Last year, I was on a jury in Toronto, and I remember saying to my co-jurors: "At the next drone shot, I'm leaving!"
A detrimental consequence of digital cameras is that their extreme sensitivity means you no longer need to know how to light. We can film anything, anywhere, and we immediately have a satisfactory result - and too many people are satisfied. This is how the television style wins. I'm going to look old-fashioned saying that, but the photographic art of a Sternberg is lost, and I regret it. The low sensitivity of the film at that time required extremely complex lighting, so complex that nothing could be arbitrary. Every shot with Marlene Dietrich is a masterpiece in itself.
We can still do incredible things with digital cameras. Things that Sternberg, precisely, could not afford. There was this magnificent Chinese film this year in Cannes, Bi Gan's Long Day's Journey Into Night, with a one-hour clip shot, partly filmed with a drone.
Brian De Palma - Long Day's Journey Into Night ... Not easy to remember, but beautiful title. I'll take a look at it. New techniques interest me, don't get me wrong. But only when we use them wisely. Not to make your life easier. When the Steadicam came out, it was a revolution for me. I used it for the first time in Blow Out (in 1981 - ed), and it allowed me to design shots more and more complex. The one at the end of Carlito's Way, in the escalators, is another good example. At the moment, I'm working on a project that requires a very complex drone shot, and I'm having fun imagining it. So when I saw this French film, I was a little jealous (laughs)!
(Thanks to Patrick!)
Is Brian De Palma really going to make a Harvey Weinstein-inspired horror movie and set it at the Toronto International Film Festival? If so, it could help serve as a reminder of the need to fight sexual harassment and to empower women, says TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey.
“It reminds us of just the real importance and the urgency of making a change in the film industry when it comes to gender parity,” Bailey told the Star.
Online reports this week, drawing from interviews De Palma is doing while on a European book tour, say the writer/director plans to make a horror film called Predator in Toronto based on the alleged sex crimes of disgraced producer Weinstein.
The film, to be produced by the same people who made Paul Verhoeven’s controversial rape-reckoning film Elle, would potentially use TIFF as a backdrop for the title predator’s crimes. Weinstein, who this week pleaded not guilty to multiple rape and criminal sex act charges in New York, is alleged to have used film festivals — including TIFF, Cannes and Sundance — as his hunting grounds to abuse women.
Bailey, who will become TIFF’s co-head on Oct. 1, said he hasn’t yet been approached about the film by Hollywood veteran De Palma, whose previous movies include Carrie, Dressed to Kill and Mission: Impossible.
He said TIFF is “following it as we read Twitter” and it’s too soon to say whether the festival would allow De Palma, 77, to use its TIFF Bell Lightbox headquarters and other facilities for a movie shoot, the way Cannes did when the American filmmaker used the French festival for multiple scenes in his 2002 thriller Femme Fatale.
Added Bailey: “I think we’d probably wait to see where this project goes and what it asks of us, but for us, really, what it raises is just the kind of harassment that had been happening throughout the industry, including at film festivals over the years, and how important it is to get women into more positions of power in the industry, telling their own stories. We’ve been doing a lot of that here, by Share Her Journey and other things.”
De Palma has been a familiar face at TIFF for decades. He most recently visited the festival in 2016, where he served as one of the three jury members of the Platform program, a mini-competition within the festival to select the best of new and challenging world cinema.
“Brian’s been at the festival many times and we think he’s a great filmmaker,” Bailey said. “This project (Predator) is something that I think we just need to see what happens with it.”
You have not told us where this pessimistic view of politics comes from.
I was in my twenties during the 1960s, the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. These last two were killed in 1968 and, with our stagnation in Vietnam, I think that my idealism disappeared forever at that time. Kennedy's death fascinates me, I had to read 27 different books behind the scenes of his murder and it always fascinated me. Since Vietnam, I have never believed in the justifications of our elected for these wars led by America and based on lies. When I do Casualties Of War or Redacted, they are metaphors about how we violate those countries where we go to war. I watch on TV these wars, the thousands of refugees they provoke and I feel helpless to stop that, like the heroes of my films. And I am angry to see that this is where my tax dollars go to.
But ... are not the wars against Al Qaeda then the Islamic State inevitable since they themselves are declaring war on us?
No, but ... pfff ... how was the Islamic State born? How long have we been [making a mess] in the Middle East?
Are you going to discuss this topic in your next movie Domino?
Domino is not my project, I did not write the script. This is the story of revenge of a cop duo against terrorists who killed another cop. But the whole political aspect will be very little exploited, the film was more for me a new opportunity to explore a visual narrative. In the fim, terrorists are obsessed with the idea that their actions are instantly visible live on the Internet or on TV.
Domino, could it be to Brian De Palma what Frenzy was to Hitchcock, that of the unexpected big comeback?
(laughs!) Only in the sense that, like Hitchcock on Frenzy, I had all the trouble in the world to finance this film. I have never had such a horrible experience, a large part of the team was not paid by the Danish producers, the film is finished and ready to go out, but I have no idea of its future, it's in the hands of the producers. This was my first experience in Denmark and most likely my last.