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AV Club Review
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Friday, November 9, 2018
2 ARTICLES LOOK AT 'CARLITO'S WAY' 25 YEARS LATER
"THE RARE CRIME FILM TO CONSIDER WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A LIFE OF CRIME"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/carlitoalmostsplit2.jpg

Two articles this past week take fresh looks at Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way, which opened in theaters 25 years ago, on November 7, 1993:

Keith Phipps, Vulture
Carlito’s Way, Scarface, and Brian De Palma’s Fantasies of Power

As the ’80s turned into the ’90s, Brian De Palma thought he was done with gangsters. He’d had tremendous success with The Untouchables in 1987, pitting Kevin Costner’s squeaky-clean Eliot Ness and Sean Connery’s pragmatic Irish cop against a Chicago underworld led by Robert De Niro’s Al Capone. And that was his third visit to gangland in four years, arriving on the heels of the instantly forgotten dark comedy Wise Guys, starring Danny DeVito and Joe Piscopo, and the very-much-not-forgotten Scarface, a bloody, Oliver Stone–scripted remake of a Howard Hawks classic starring Al Pacino as a Cuban refugee who embarks on a bloody ascent to the top of the Florida drug trade. Scarface had been controversial in 1983, thanks to some notoriously violent sequences and Everest-like mounds of cocaine, and it had never really faded from the conversation, becoming a home-video favorite and the go-to reference point for a particular strand of hip-hop. So, as proud as he was of Scarface and as much as he enjoyed working with Pacino, when a chance arose to make another film about a Latino gangster with Pacino in the lead, De Palma figured he’d pass, that he could say nothing more by returning to this world. Then he read the script, and changed his mind, quickly realizing that this was a different sort of movie.

Twenty-five years ago, Carlito’s Way might have looked like a virtual sequel to Scarface, thanks to a poster that screamed “PACINO” above a shadowy image of the star toting a gun. But its relationship to its predecessor is much more complicated. Where De Palma’s Scarface reveled in operatic scenes of violence and its bloody consequences, ending at the moment when Tony Montana runs out of rope, Carlito’s Way is the rare crime film to consider what happens after a life of crime. Is reform possible? Can a gangster with a changed heart find a way out? Can anyone escape the sins of the past? The film would play just as well in a world in which Scarface never existed, but it works even better as the somber bookend to that earlier film. Where Scarface is a film of manic highs leading to a sudden stop, Carlito’s Way is a movie of regretful mornings after. To argue one is better than the other is to miss the point: They belong together.

...

De Palma and screenwriter David Koepp fill the film with period detail, perfectly chosen songs, and rich local color, no doubt helped by source material written by someone who was there. The film is adapted from a pair of novels by Edwin TorresCarlito’s Way and After Hours, with most of the plot coming from the latter — the son of Puerto Rican immigrants who grew up in Spanish Harlem and served as an assistant DA and defense attorney before being appointed to the New York Supreme Court. Torres wrote crime fiction on the side, drawing from the world in which he grew up and using its tougher characters for inspiration. (Based on Torres’s appearance on the making-of doc included on the film’s home-video releases, he also seems to be the primary influence for Pacino’s vocal inflections in the film. Whether or not Pacino’s casting as a Puerto Rican would fly in 2018 is, of course, another matter entirely.) The prevailing sensibility is that of someone who’s seen how hard it is to escape a life of crime. No matter how deep the commitment, one obstacle or another keeps getting in the way.

For all of the film’s fatalistic qualities, however, Carlito’s Way is also a thrilling piece of filmmaking. Brigante’s early encounter with a new generation of gangsters in a bar’s creepy backroom is among the most tightly constructed suspense sequences of De Palma’s career, and the film ends with a set piece to rival The Untouchables’s Union Station climax or the heist at the heart of Mission: Impossible in scale and ambition: a long chase from a club to the subway to Grand Central Station to a train that’s waiting to whisk Brigante and Gail away to a new life in a better place if he can just slip away from his enemies and make it before it pulls out of the station. The filmmaking’s so breathtaking that it becomes easy to forget that you already know how this ends — that there was always only one way it could end.

Tony Montana’s story is the tale of a coke-fueled Icarus; Brigante’s is more complex, and sadder — even if neither of them makes it out of their films alive. Carlito’s Way is the moodier, more mature film, a tragedy of misplaced loyalty and a story of how our surroundings can short-circuit even our loftiest instincts. It was never destined to inspire Funko POP! figures and ridiculously expensive leather jackets. Even with its can’t-miss “crime doesn’t pay” moral, Scarface is a power fantasy. Carlito’s Way understands that power doesn’t last. Tellingly, its most sampled bit of dialogue — Brigante shouting, “Okay, I’m reloaded!” — isn’t a brag but a bluff. He’s out of ammo, faking it, just trying to get out, to live another day. The world, he now understands, is not his and never was. He may not even have a place in it much longer.


Larry C. Taylor - On Film and Film History
CARLITO'S WAY, Brian De Palma’s Unsung Masterpiece, at 25

The tension that builds through Carlito’s Way relies on Carlito’s lack of power; it isn’t about how he is going to escape with Gail (Penelope Ann Miller) to the Caribbean, it’s how he is going to navigate each and every second he stays in New York as his mere presence grows increasingly dangerous. He is vulnerable, scared, and often powerless to the influences and the decisions of the characters who surround him, and powerless to his own code, a code that convinces him to stick with his lawyer, Kleinfeld, who is so clearly the biggest roadblock in Carlito’s exodus.

Sean Penn surprised everyone when he showed up on set with a perm shaved back to resemble severe male pattern baldness. His appearance smartly sets him apart from everyone in the picture. Davey Kleinfeld is the poisonous fruit Brigante cannot avoid, not one of the neighborhood guys, but a slick outsider; Carlito unknowingly helping Kleinfeld murder Tony Taglialucci in the East River outside Riker’s Island leads to the extended chase sequence finale, but ironically it is not the source Carlito’s ultimate demise.

The one time Carlito’s old instincts jump up to bite him is his conflict with Benny Blanco, From the Bronx (John Leguizamo). The bravado of Blanco may mirror a young Carlito, it may not, but one thing is certain: Blanco’s presence stoked a long-buried fire in Carlito’s youthful soul, the one he is working so fervently to leave behind. But his decision in this moment was enough to seal his fate in Grand Central.

Brian De Palma knew from the outset he needed to inject his signature style into as much of the film as he could in order for it to stand out from the scores of gangster films that had preceded it. Even The Untouchables has a feeling of familiarity in regards to the genre. Carlito’s Way is stylistically indulgent, with De Palma employing his psychosexual thriller aesthetics early and often. The split screens and the first-person POV work brilliantly to put the suspenseful building blocks in place, and the story lends itself more to a humanistic tale than what was present in De Palma’s previous gangster films.

Carlito’s Way opened second at the box office the weekend of November 10, 1993, with just over $9 million. Reviews were solid, but word of mouth was nil. Perhaps fatigue with the gangster genre had set in by the end of 1993; the success of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas had spawned Warren Beatty’s Bugsy, but it also generated ridiculous wannabes like Billy Bathgate, Hoffa, and the embarrassingly bad Christian Slater/Richard Grieco star vehicle Mobsters. Whatever the case, Carlito’s Way quietly drifted out of the picture, accruing a meager $36 million in ticket sales; enough to cover the $30 million budget, but nothing to write home about.

In his documentary, Brian De Palma says he didn’t think he could make a better movie than Carlito’s Way. He would return three years later to kick off the Mission: Impossible franchise, but it’s difficult to argue with De Palma’s assessment of his own work. Even though Carlito’s Way hasn’t seen the kind of reappraisal that Blow Out or Dressed to Kill has in recent years, and it doesn’t have the cultural currency of Carrie or Mission: Impossible, or the prestige of The Untouchables, it might very well be his best film. It is, at times, a beautiful film with true affection for its characters. It’s an endlessly engaging thriller, tactile and true, and its collection of incredible set pieces is held together by actors and actresses who hit the heightened notes of their characters with palpable passion.

And, no matter how many times you watch it, you always hold out hope that Carlito will make it to Gail in the end, as a smile breaks through his panicked sprint across the train platform. Even though you’ve known from the outset that happiness isn’t in the cards of a condemned man, you still hope. Because you are invested in Carlito’s salvation.

That’s how great filmmaking works.


Posted by Geoff at 1:56 AM CST
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Sunday, November 4, 2018
'SISTERS' LINKS - REVIEWS OF NEW CRITERION EDITION
PETER SOBCZYNSKI, SLANT, TRAILERS FROM HELL


Several essays and reviews of Brian De Palma's Sisters were posted this past week, as Criterion released its new director-approved edition on Blu-ray and DVD:

Glenn Erickson, Trailers From Hell

The nigh-perfect score is by Bernard Herrmann, who was probably the biggest item in producer Pressman’s budget. Sisters launches with a gripping title sequence consisting of a progression of macro-photographed fetuses set to Herrman’s crashing horns and screaming Moog synthesizers. One could put that music to pictures of baby kittens, and we’d know they were Kittens from Hell. Herrmann’s prestige keeps the Roe-vs-Wade baby monsters from becoming exploitative: the disturbing opening makes the neutral one-word title instantly sinister. We’re prepared for anything.

Out here in Los Angeles, Sisters ‘premiered’ in November 1972’s Los Angeles Film Exposition (FILMEX), and was acquired one month later by American International. I saw parts of it at FILMEX while working as an usher (talk about immediately recognizing music by a specific composer!) and later saw a preview screening in Westwood. Some of the filmmakers were in the lobby afterwards, and I almost walked into a wall when I caught sight of Margot Kidder, who was losing no opportunity for self-promotion.

Variety reviews could usually be relied upon to point out fresh creativity, even in exploitation films. For this show they weren’t as enthusiastic, noting the gory details but minimizing Sisters’ appeal as an ‘okay shocker for the action market.’ The reviewer rather grudgingly noted the filmic references to The Master of Suspense, adding that the ‘Hitchcock-style music’ smooths over the film’s rough edges.

I can’t imagine a 1973 film student not being energized by De Palma’s movie — many of us were in film school because we were inspired by reading about Alfred Hitchcock. As a card-carrying Hitchcock- obsessed film student, I went home and scribbled down a list of Hitchcock allusions, plot points, themes, shots, setups, etc. The only previous movie that I’m aware was consciously constructed of Hitchcock homage material is Riccardo Freda’s L’orribile Segreto del Dr. Hichcock (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock). It wasn’t until much later that I realized Sisters was also a veritable travelogue of witty references to classic horror films that I hadn’t yet seen: Peeping Tom, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, etc.

Here’s the rundown of what I once rudely called ‘Hitchcock Rip-Offs.’
They’re Big Spoilers, so see the film first if you have an analytical memory:

Rear Window: A murder seen by an ‘amateur’ is doubted by a police professional. Actions are observed and investigated with binoculars between apartment buildings. Durning’s detective Durning waves, ‘ain’t found nothin’ yet’ from afar.

Psycho: The major prop introduction of the butcher knives. The unexpected knife killing of a likeable character in whom we’ve invested our emotions. The murder clean-up shown in detail. A private detective that disappears from the film mid-case. The revelation that ‘Dominique died on the operating table’ (= ‘Who’s that buried up in Greenlawn Cemetary?’). Various subjective/objective walks, especially the walk leading to the mystery asylum. A trucking-zoom into the pupil of an eye. The psychiatrist blurting out essential exposition for uncomprehending audiences. Kidder’s double identity and the entire Norman Bates personality transference theme. ‘Special guest transferences’: one between psycho killer and psychiatrist, and another between killer and investigator.

Spellbound: The Dali-like dream nightmare (granted, in style it is more akin to a Fellini nightmare).

Suspicion: Philip’s walk with the cake mirrors the walk with the poisoned milk.

The Birds: The pastry clerks (including Olympia Dukakis!) argue behind the counter, just like the hardware proprietor in Bodega Bay. The ‘huh’ ending features an innocuous-sinister exterior landscape with telephone poles.

Lots of Hitch films: Grace’s troublesome Mother, arguing with the cops (calling the police always leads nowhere).

Yes, the ‘borrowed’ situations do stack up. But this is not a lifeless copycat movie. De Palma mounts several inspired set piece sequences that are wholly his own, not merely witty or clever. The Life Magazine newsreel story on the twins provides very effective exposition. But Sisters is best remembered for two killer scenes, the asylum nightmare and the split screen murder.

Enthusiastically received and much discussed was De Palma’s split-screen experiment during and after the opening murder sequence. Hitchcock never tried a split-screen sequence. He had tried many gimmicks in his long career — claustrophobic staging, ultra-long takes, subjective flashbacks, 3-D. But by the time the multiscreen movie at the 1966 World’s Fair made big news, Hitchcock was no longer tinkering with such experimentation. At the time we thought De Palma had been inspired by Richard Fleischer’s 1968 The Boston Strangler, but De Palma’s own Murder à la Mod, released first, uses the technique as well; it also featured actor William Finley.

As was also seen in parts of the Fleischer film, De Palma’s split-screen replaces standard parallel cutting: he simultaneously shows both halves of actions that would normally be intercut one with another. The suspense of the murderers cleaning away traces of the crime while investigators dawdle only a few feet away is very effective. Audiences I saw Sisters with applauded the double-vision synchronous hide ‘n seek game near the elevators.

Grace’s witnessing of the actual murder is equally effective, but brings up a glaring inconsistency, a big Hitchcock no-no cheat. Grace is shown calmly walking to her window perhaps thirty seconds after the actual murder takes place. Seeing a bloody hand writing ‘help’ on a window, she recoils in alarm, indicating that she was unaware of any problem before. And what can she (we) see? She can barely tell that the man is black. The rest of her view, which we see on one half of the split screen, is obstructed by the reflection of a brick wall on the glass. Yet Grace tells the cops she witnessed a murder, knows it was a stabbing, even describes the assailant, who never came anywhere near the window to be identified. It’s a very cute confusion – on first viewing the murder is so shocking and the events so riveting that Savant just took Grace at her word. Maybe it’s another Hitchcock reference — to the ‘lying flashback’ in Stage Fright.

Brian De Palma’s second bravura sequence is the B&W nightmare, an almost perfect horror vision visually unlike anything in Hitchcock. Assembled as a master tracking shot through a fantastic horror scene, it’s stylistically more akin to Federico Fellini. It also has a purpose, to impress on Grace’s mind a traumatic false reality, ‘Manchurian Candidate-style.’ The zoom into the eye of the drugged Grace was probably inspired by Repulsion; it also has the ‘diamond bullet to the brain’ effect of 2001. Inside the mind’s eye is a convincingly warped B&W Dali-scape of elements and characters we’ve seen earlier on, plus a menagerie of grotesques.

Our ability to take the scene literally vanishes as we recognize people that ‘don’t belong’: Grace’s mother and the famous journalist (Barnard Hughes) are among the creepy inhabitants of this asylum. The fisheye nightmare is too theatrical to be one of Polanski’s quietly disturbing dreams in Rosemary’s Baby, and is much more ‘felt’ than the remote creepshows in Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf. Of course, the spectacle is greatly enhanced by Bernard Herrmann sledgehammer music scoring. When Charles Durning is suddenly revealed holding a meatcleaver, the irrational reigns supreme. It’s the director’s doing: nothing in De Palma’s later horrors matches this moment.


Chuck Bowen, Slant

Though Brian De Palma had directed several accomplished features before it, Sisters feels in many ways like a debut film. It’s certainly De Palma’s first attempt to marry the edgy satirical textures of his earlier work with a recognizable genre narrative. Or, more bluntly, Sisters is De Palma’s first horror thriller, which is the genre that has allowed him to express himself fully. Like many debut films, Sisters is self-conscious and intellectually guarded, lacking the emotional vibrancy of its creator’s future productions, but it’s also a stunning work of style that erupts into ferocious madness.

Sisters opens on what was already then a classically auto-critical kind of De Palma joke. A blind woman, Danielle (Margot Kidder), strolls into a dressing room where a man, Phillip Woode (Lisle Wilson), is changing. Unaware that anyone else is in the room, Danielle begins to disrobe. Until this point, the sequence plays as a perfectly conventional opening for a thriller, or maybe a comedy, until it’s revealed to be part of a Candid Camera-style show within the film called Peeping Toms, with Phillip as the mark. Danielle isn’t blind and works for the show, which follows contestants as they bet on whether Phillip will watch her undress, turn his head, or alert her to his presence. A polite man, Phillip turns his head, causing the contestants to lose points.

Most obviously, this scene functions as one of De Palma’s references to Alfred Hitchcock, acknowledging the voyeuristic functions, and interrogations, of much of the latter’s filmography. And the title of the game show within the film references Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, which was also concerned with the dehumanizing qualities of media. These references are clever, relatively easy to parse, and safe—representing the sort of violations of a viewer’s trust that ironically broker an audience’s greater complicity in the post-Psycho age, as such rug-pulling encourages us to gleefully anticipate the next trick.

Yet De Palma laces all this potentially smug cleverness with an uncomfortable detail that echoes the social satire of the “Be Black, Baby” sequence from Hi Mom!, and that reveals a major element of his own distinctive voice: his scalding humor and distrust of conventional surfaces. Phillip is African-American, and the game show’s audience and contestants are all white. Which is to say that we’re watching a scene in which white people try to lure a black man into sexually harassing a white woman for their own amusement.

Phillip weathers this offense the way people of color have been conditioned to, with a resigned restraint that’s intended to prevent further accosting. De Palma dramatizes the racial savagery of the game show with an off-handedness that’s amusing and disturbing. In case we miss the point, Phillip is given two tickets to a restaurant called The Africa Room for being a good sport, and Danielle is given a set of knives. These prizes epitomize De Palma’s brutal cleverness, as each play a role in Phillip’s destruction.

This racial satire continues to inform Sisters even as the film morphs into a delirious fusion of Psycho, Rear Window, and Rope that retrospectively suggests a test run for Dressed to Kill. Phillip is this film’s Marion Crane, a subjugated person, initially assumed to be the protagonist, who must die so as to satisfy the whims of a white establishment that’s spinning out of control. De Palma plays with our awareness of Hitchcock’s films, deriving suspense not from the pulling of the narrative rug but from the timing of the pulling.

Phillip has sex with Danielle, who’s being stalked by her ex-husband, Emile (William Finley). Phillip overhears Danielle arguing with her twin sister, the pointedly unseen Dominique, who’s enraged that Danielle has a man over at the apartment. Then, Phillip goes to sleep and gets up and buys the sisters a birthday cake—a poignantly thoughtful gesture that seals his doom. Though we empathize with the character, we’re conditioned to become impatient for Phillip’s death so that we may begin to recover from it.

Dying a death as painful and lonely as the one that Marion Crane suffered before him in Psycho, Phillip crawls across the floor of Danielle’s apartment—his blood perversely echoing the color and texture of the icing on the birthday cake—and hands the film’s narrative baton off to Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt). Grace sees Phillip’s hand pressed against Danielle’s window from the neighboring angle of her own apartment and calls the police, whom she’s often criticized in her liberal-minded journalism. And the indifference of the police to Grace’s sensational story of a potential hate crime is visually expressed by one of the greatest split-screen sequences in De Palma’s career: two simultaneous nine-minute shots that contrast Emil’s efforts to conceal the murder with Grace’s efforts to expose it. In an astonishing flourish, we see Grace and Emil just miss each other in a blood-red hallway, suggesting desperate mice in an elaborate labyrinth. And this struggle, to become aware of social atrocity and to expose it, is capped off at the end of Sisters with a galvanizing punchline: Grace, the film’s social crusader, is willed into amnesia.

In prolonged bits and pieces, Sisters shows De Palma to be on the cusp of achieving the mastery that he would display in full by the early 1980s. What the film lacks is the seemingly intuitive sense of emotional escalation that sustains Dressed to Kill and Blow Out, which are so fluid that they almost feel as if they’re composed of a single, breathless shot. Though it climaxes with a mind-fucking in an insane asylum that’s classic in its own right, Sisters is also freighted with tongue-in-cheek exposition that occasionally stops it dead in its tracks, putting unnecessary quotation marks on a grimy, starkly sophisticated fusion of social satire and body horror.


Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com

Even though “Sisters” was De Palma’s first full-out attempt at the suspense genre, one would never be able to discern that thanks to the sheer filmmaking skill that he demonstrates here. After lulling viewers into a state of complacency during the long opening sequence, De Palma begins turning the screws on them with his ability to generate tension thanks to his detailed visual approach. The scene in which Grace’s argument with the cops is juxtaposed with Emil and Danielle trying to clean up Dominique’s mess before anyone else arrives is a virtual master class in filmmaking all by itself in the way that it effortlessly supplies a wealth of information regarding the relationship of Emil and Danielle and the mutual antipathy between Grace and the cops while simultaneously generating equal levels of tension on both fronts. It is a bravura moment that still stands as one of the greatest set pieces in De Palma’s filmography and while nothing else in the film can quite match it, a darker and moodier feel begins to dominate the proceedings—aided in no small part by the spectacularly moody score by the legendary Bernard Herrmann—and the nightmarish final sequence in the asylum, featuring key flashbacks shot in 16mm by De Palma in a manner designed to resemble “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), is a knockout.

One aspect of “Sisters” that makes it a pure product of De Palma is in the usage of voyeurism, a theme that the director would return to time and again throughout his career. In this film, everyone is watching each other, it seems, but from skewed perspectives that prevent them from actually seeing what is right before their eyes. The game show where both Philip and the audience are seeing two different things that are not quite as they seem. Philip sees Emil but can only look at him as a jealous ex-lover of Danielle’s and not as a potential warning sign. Grace witnesses the murder but cannot actually prove anything that she saw and when she does find proof, her inability to watch where she is going ends up destroying it. It is only at the end of the film that people like Grace and Larch are able to see the truth head-on but due to circumstances, neither one is able to communicate the truths that they have seen to anyone, a notion that is perfectly articulated in the haunting shot that brings the story to a close on a deeply ambiguous note.

Even De Palma’s most devoted fans will admit that narrative logic and structure is not always of interest to him and that some of his stories do not exactly stand up to rigorous analysis when all is said and done. Therefore, watching “Sisters” proves to be a bit of a shock because the screenplay that he and Rose have conjured up is actually pretty strong and sound in the way that it provides a sturdy dramatic structure for him to build upon with his weirdo humor and elaborately designed suspense sequences. The opening 20 minutes or so are interesting in the sense that nothing really happens—none of the sex or violence that viewers might be expecting—but the characters of Danielle and Philip are so likable and engaging that it is easy to get lulled into a false sense of complacency that only makes Philip’s murder at the hands of Dominique all the more horrifying. (By employing this kind of slow burn opening, De Palma is utilizing the same approach that he would later deploy in his original version of “Raising Cain” (1992) before restructuring it into the eventual theatrical version.) With all of that going on, he manages to deftly introduce another winning and appealing character in Grace, a contemporary version of the kind of hard-driving crusading female journalist that Glenda Farrell used to play back in the day—the kind who is all about the work and becomes exasperated when her mother (Mary Davenport, Jennifer Salt’s real-life mother) keeps noodging her about when she is going to give up her hobby and finally settle down and get married. As the story progresses, things become increasingly strange and outlandish but De Palma never departs from the logic that he has established early on and indeed, one of the pleasures of watching the film again, once the surprises have been revealed, is to observe just how intricately the elements come together.


Posted by Geoff at 10:36 PM CDT
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Saturday, November 3, 2018
VIDEO ESSAY LOOKS AT SPACEK'S PHYSICALITY IN 'CARRIE'
AND HOW SHE DREW INSPIRATION FROM GUSTAVE DORÉ BIBLE ILLUSTRATIONS

In the video above, titled "What Makes Carrie So Scary," Adam Tinius at Entertain the Elk looks at the physicality of Sissy Spacek's performance in Brian De Palma's Carrie, with a specific focus on how Spacek drew inspiration from a book of Gustave Doré's Bible illustrations that her husband, production designer Jack Fisk, had as part of his research for Carrie.

The Elk video also inspired Film School Rejects' Jacob Trussell to post some thoughts about the video and the topic:

The video focuses on how actors can physically transform for a role. This emphasis on physicality can reinforce the darker, mysterious quality of horror. But frankly, I find there is just something inherently eerie about seeing an actor disappear into a role as Spacek does into Carrie.

Before he was known as Batman, Christian Bale pushed his body to the limit and dropped 60 pounds for his role in Brad Anderson’s The Machinist. This was at a time when we knew Bale mainly as the paragon of muscular definition in American Psycho. Seeing his character’s body mimic his mind as it slowly disintegrates is as haunting as anything else in this story of tragedy and guilt. And this is because the physical body doesn’t just convey emotion, but it can beckon it. Michael Chekhov created a series of poses to illustrate his psycho-physical acting technique in his book “To The Actor”. The abstract poses connected to a range of emotions that the actors could then use in conjunction with their sense memory to create realistic gestures electrified with energized physicality. You can see these types of abstract expressive forms as the video essay emphasizes how the era of Romanticism in visual art inspired Spacek.

Sissy Spacek, thanks in part to her husband Jack Fisk who was a production designer and collected the religious iconography for the film, found inspiration within the religious imagery, especially “The Stoning of Stephen” and “The Martyrdom of St. Stephen” by Gustave Dore. Looking at these two works of art, the parallels to Carrie are plain as day. Both paintings feature the titular Stephen as a crowd assaults him with stones. This echoes our introduction to Carrie White as she is pelted with tampons and pads by the mob of teenage girls. But it’s also the twisted body and anguished expression on Stephens’ face that harkens to Spacek’s nervous bubbling over energy.

The video also mentions minute acting choices like Anthony Hopkins unblinking stare as Hannibal Lecter as a nuanced way an actor can layer physical subtext into their performance. But something that I think is not mentioned is that these ticks, these choices, feel good to the actor. When I was in a production of the musical Sweeney Todd playing the titular demon barber, I constantly had a handkerchief in my pocket that I would smell periodically on stage. It was my Todd’s tick, his psychological gesture. For the audience, this could have been seen as just one of the many choices I made during my run, but for me, this was the last remaining vestige of Todd’s long thought dead wife. In this swatch of fabric was my motivation, my drive, and most importantly: a secret. An early lesson every actor learns is that you should always carry with you a secret when performing, something that’ll keep you one step ahead of the audience, but also give audiences something to mine for. While Carrie’s telekinetic powers are not necessarily a surprise in the film, the force of her powers is.

Sissy Spacek effortless performance in Carrie garnered her first Academy Award nomination for actress, and she achieved this by constantly pushing against the performative grain of her character, imbuing Carrie White with utter authenticity. She counterbalances this authenticity with her striking use of physicality to convey the large religious motifs layered into Brian De Palma’s film. While this video essay highlights what makes Carrie so scary, I think it’s also what makes Sissy Spacek so special. On working with Terrence Malick in his debut feature Badlands Spacek said, “The artist rules. Nothing else matters.” Spacek is an actress, but first and foremost she is an artist. One who uses her body, rather than a canvas, to convey the truths inside us all.


Posted by Geoff at 3:46 PM CDT
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Friday, November 2, 2018
TRAVOLTA RECALLS 'CARRIE' WITH ON-SET PIC
"I DON'T THINK ANY OF US COULD HAVE KNOWN THE LIFE THE MOVIE WOULD TAKE ON..."
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/carriekidspromset.jpg

John Travolta posted the above pic to his Instagram page a couple of days ago. "On the set of #Carrie over 40 years ago," Travolta wrote on his post. "I don’t think any of us could have known the life the movie would take on for decades...or how many times we’d have to explain to our families the blood was actually corn syrup!"

Posted by Geoff at 8:04 AM CDT
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Tuesday, October 30, 2018
ALEKSANDER SZCZEPANIAK'S 'FEMME FATALE' POSTERS
GRAPHIC DESIGNER FROM WARSAW REIMAGINES POSTER FOR DE PALMA FILM
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/ffalsz1.jpgAleksander Szczepaniak, a graphic designer based in Warsaw, Poland, posted a stunning set of four new poster variations for Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale today on Instagram. Two of them are included here-- visit his Instagram page to see the other two, plus many other terrific poster designs.


Posted by Geoff at 10:57 PM CDT
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Monday, October 29, 2018
JENNIFER SALT DISCUSSES DE PALMA IN CRITERION CLIP
"HE PICKED PEOPLE HE ENJOYED WORKING WITH, AND KIND OF LET THEM GO THEIR WAY"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sisterssetjenniferbriansmall.jpg

Earlier today, Criterion posted a video clip from a new interview with Jennifer Salt. The full interview is one of the extra features on Criterion's new edition of Sisters, released last week. In the clip, Salt describes Brian De Palma on the set:
So, on the set, when we were shooting, Brian was... kind of grumpy-- didn't love being on a set, didn't like being asked all these questions, didn't like the amount of time that everything took. He was impatient. He didn't like sitting around. So, he was never in the best of humor, and so he wasn't like somebody who said let's talk about this and let's rehearse it and let's go deeper. He never said anything like that. He just would say, "A little more of this," or some-- you know, it was minimal, what he was giving us, in terms of direction. He picked people he enjoyed working with, and kind of let them go their way and, you know, hope that they would do their thing. And it was easy to do that, because you were getting so much respect from him. You know, I found it very easy. I was never nervous on the set, or, I just, like I said, I just wanted to make him laugh.

Posted by Geoff at 9:50 PM CDT
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Friday, October 26, 2018
GELDERBLOM ANNOUNCES 'KALEIDOSCOPE' FEATURE
WILL WRITE/EDIT/DIRECT USING FOOTAGE FROM FORGOTTEN FILMS TO TELL "ONE BIG STORY"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/peetannounces.jpgDuring yesterday's Amsterdamned presentation of Raising Cain Re-Cut, Peet Gelderblom announced that he will "write, edit and direct a feature film entitled Kaleidoscope. A unique collaboration with Eye Filmmuseum and production company Tangerine Tree, in which footage from a multitude of forgotten films - silents, documentaries, propaganda, animation, advertising and educational video’s - will be combined to tell one big story." Sounds intriguing!

Posted by Geoff at 10:40 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, October 27, 2018 12:34 PM CDT
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Thursday, October 25, 2018
'HOMECOMING' BORROWS FROM DONAGGIO'S DTK SCORE
ESMAIL PREVIOUSLY USED DONAGGIO THEME FROM 'BLOW OUT' FOR EPISODE OF 'MR. ROBOT'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/homecoming2.jpg

According to Vulture's TV critic Jen Chaney, Amazon Prime's new series, Homecoming, which is directed by Sam Esmail, has "a score that sometimes literally borrows from older films — like Alan J. Pakula’s Klute and Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill." Here's the whole paragraph, for more context:
There are moments in Homecoming that are positively Hitchcockian, particularly with regard to Esmail’s choice of imagery. In episode three, there’s a vertical shot of Carrasco descending a flight of stairs that’s deliberately evocative of Vertigo. In a later episode, Esmail deploys a Hitchcock zoom so glorious it deserves an Oscar, even though, yes, I know, Oscars are not given to TV shows. Elements like that and a score that sometimes literally borrows from older films — like Alan J. Pakula’s Klute and Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill — infuse Homecoming with a classic conspiracy theory thriller spirit that makes it feel a bit old-school and thoroughly contemporary all at once. That’s an appropriate combo for a series based on something modern (a podcast) that has the feel of a throwback (a radio serial).

UPDATE OCT. 27 - HOW ESMAIL EXPANDED 'HOMECOMING' PODCAST INTO TV SERIES

The Wall Street Journal's John Jurgensen posted an article October 27th with the headline, "The Surreal World: TV Delves Into Paranoia, Anxiety and Misinformation." The article includes a discussion about Homecoming, and some interview comments from Esmail:

Homecoming” initially was a podcast, released by Gimlet Media in 2016 and featuring a surprisingly star-studded cast. Catherine Keener, who was the first to sign on, played Heidi Bergman, the character Ms. Roberts portrays in the TV adaptation. Oscar Isaac was Mr. James’s audio counterpart as the troubled veteran, while David Schwimmer played a hard-charging company man who launched the Homecoming program (played on TV by Bobby Cannavale).

The podcast’s creators, Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz, also wrote and executive-produced the TV adaptation. When Mr. Esmail signed on to direct it, he expanded the story for a different medium by drawing on the tense cinema of the 1970s. For example, most of the music in “Homecoming” is from that era, using scores borrowed from movies directed by Brian De Palma, Alan J. Pakula and John Carpenter.

Mr. Esmail developed the style for “Homecoming” with many of his “Mr. Robot” collaborators, including cinematographer Tod Campbell and production designer Anastasia White. They tried to create a world in which characters deal with incomplete information in settings that feel askew.

The octagonal office where Ms. Roberts conducts counseling sessions creates a fishbowl effect. “You can move the camera around and it always feels circular, like there’s no way out and anyone can look in,” Mr. Esmail says.

In an unusual visual technique, “Homecoming” uses standard widescreen shots during the scenes from the past—before the Homecoming program unravels—but narrows the frame to a square when the story flashes forward.

That adds a claustrophobic urgency to the therapist’s quest for facts, Mr. Esmail says: “Boxes within boxes.”

As a director, Mr. Esmail is known for that kind of unorthodox camera work, intentionally framing characters off-center or surrounded by odd spaces. “Sam would walk into a room and his first question would be, ‘Does the ceiling come off?’ because he wanted to shoot from above,” Mr. Bloomberg recalls.

“We want absolute control over how we design the shot,” Mr. Esmail says, especially for scenes of people in a facility designed for surveillance. “They’re under a microscope.”


In an episode of Mr. Robot two years ago, Esmail opened with a flashback using Pino Donaggio's theme from De Palma's Blow Out. The episode's intro also brought to mind De Palma's Dressed To Kill and Carrie. Here's what I wrote on August 18, 2016:
Last night's episode of USA's Mr. Robot (season 2, episode 7, "eps2.5h4ndshake.sme"), which was directed by the show's creator, Sam Esmail, opened with a flashback set to Pino Donaggio's theme from Brian De Palma's Blow Out. The theme is the first significant sound heard in the episode (after a couple of footsteps), runs over the opening title and beginning of the credits, and includes a direct homage to De Palma's Carrie, a film which was also scored by Donaggio.

The episode opens with a hint of the way Donaggio's music brings us into Kate Miller's world in the first part of De Palma's Dressed To Kill. The Blow Out theme, lush and melancholic, is accompanied by a camera (us, the viewer, a.k.a. Elliot's "friend") consistently pushing in toward Joanna Wellick, the wife of Tyrell Wellick, a character we are so far led to believe is no longer alive. The flashback is centered on a gift, earrings, that Tyrell had given to Joanna just before a social gathering. As the camera gets closer to Joanna, and Donaggio's music offers sad reflection, Tyrell appears, and even when the scene shifts to the gathering (which includes the woman Tyrell murdered last season, leaving us without a doubt that we're in a flashback), the movement keeps moving from wide shot and, with help of a dissolve, into Joanna's face, seemingly moved by the earrings, the camera eventually providing the viewer a close-up view of an earring in Joanna's ear which, via a match-cut, takes us out of pre-Tyrell's disappearance and into a more present-day, post-Tyrell flashback, where Joanna is tending to her baby in a stroller on the street.

Donaggio's theme here enters into its sparse piano portion (the part that Tarantino used for a tender texting moment in Death Proof), as the episode's opening credits also begin. An older woman is walking by, and Joanna smiles at her, but the woman turns out to be one of the many angry members of society walking around the city in the wake the E Corp hack. Targeting Joanna (and while we as viewer are still focused on the fact that she is wearing the expensive earring gift), the woman suddenly throws a bucket of what appears to be red paint onto Joanna, while shouting, "Capitalist pig!" The use of the word pig, a bucket, and the color red (whether actual pig's blood or red paint) mark the moment as an overt homage to De Palma's Carrie, as does the way Joanna then begins to scream out at the world while splattered in red, yet we can't hear her screams, only the quiet piano of Donaggio's theme from Blow Out, as the title "Mr. Robot" starkly appears overlayed upon Joanna's rage.

As Donaggio's theme trails off to its poignant final notes, the scene shifts once again into present day, as Joanna is now gazing upon a new gift set on top of her kitchen counter: a framed ultrasound sonogram of the baby she and Tyrell created. Joanna has been receiving gifts that seemingly come from Tyrell, who may be dead, and as the camera looks up from the countertop to Joanna sipping on a glass of wine as she looks down at the gift, we hear Elliot's voice ("I see you"), and for a moment, juxtaposed against Joanna's face, we sense that Elliot has been sending the gifts, and perhaps watching Joanna, until we realize Elliot is addressing us, his "friend," the viewer. Or is he...?

In any case, it is a brilliantly-conceived opening sequence by Sam Esmail. Looking forward to seeing how it all fits in once we know the truth about everything that is actually going on.


Posted by Geoff at 8:06 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, October 27, 2018 12:24 PM CDT
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Wednesday, October 24, 2018
'SISTERS' - CARRIE RICKEY'S CRITERION ESSAY
A KEY THEME - "LOOKING IS NOT SYNONYMOUS WITH TRULY SEEING"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/criterionsisterstweet.jpg

Carrie Rickey's essay for the new Criterion edition of Brian De Palma's Sisters (released yesterday) has been posted on the Criterion website. Here's how it starts:
In 1973, the arrival of Sisters, the first film by Brian De Palma that is recognizably his, almost concurrently with the release of Frenzy, the penultimate feature by Alfred Hitchcock, incited heretical talk among cinephiles. Many argued that the former was superior to—and, curiously, more Hitchcockian than—the latter. At the time, I thought those movie geeks were being provocative and/or blasphemous. With distance, I’ve come around to their way of thinking. That U-turn was, for me, a first brush with George Bernard Shaw’s insight that all truths begin as blasphemies.

Posted by Geoff at 7:57 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2018 8:01 AM CDT
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Saturday, October 20, 2018
GELDERBLOM TO PRESENT RAISING CAIN RE-CUT
AMSTERDAMNED FILM FEST NEXT WEEK ALSO INCLUDES DE PALMA'S 'BODY DOUBLE' & 'PHANTOM'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/cainamster.jpgPeet Gelderblom will be present for a Q&A following an Amsterdamned 2018 screening Thursday (October 25th) of his Re-Cut of Brian De Palma's Raising Cain. The Amsterdamned Film Festival takes place Wednesday October 24th through Friday October 26th. The screening of Raising Cain Re-Cut is part of a special Amsterdamned focus on De Palma at this year's festival. Screenings of Body Double and Phantom Of The Paradise will also be included.

In addition, Gelderblom tells us that he will be announcing an upcoming project at Amsterdamned: his first feature film. All the best to you, Peet!

 

Visit Peet Gelderblom at Directorama.net


Posted by Geoff at 1:35 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, October 21, 2018 9:01 AM CDT
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