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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Verna Bloom, an actress who appeared in three Martin Scorsese pictures, died January 9 at 8o years old. Her family stated that she died from complications of dementia, according to Variety.

In the picture above, taken in 1979, Bloom is posing second from left at the table, in between Marcia and George Lucas and in front of Paul Hirsch. Bloom's husband, Jay Cocks, is leaning on a chair next to Nancy Allen, who was then married to Brian De Palma, who is standing in the middle between Paul and Jane Hirsch.

In 1968, Cocks was covering film for TIME magazine when he screened and reviewed Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool, which blended fiction and documentary by filming at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. "He found himself smitten with Verna Bloom, a New York actress who had given such a natural performance that he didn't realize she was one of the film's fictional elements," stated The Globe And Mail's Simon Houpt in a 2001 profile piece on Cocks. "Oh, I had the major hots from the screening," Cocks told Houpt with a chuckle. "I wasn't counting on meeting her and the review wasn't written to woo her. But she got a great review." Houpt continues:

A friend at Time introduced him to Bloom, who is now perhaps best known for her role as the dean's besotted wife Mrs. Wormer in the classic frat flick Animal House. (She also played at the other end of the spectrum, as Mary, mother of Jesus in Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ.) For their first date, the two went to a movie with Scorsese. "It was a Susan Sontag movie, Duet for Cannibals. Two out of three of us fell asleep during the picture. Guess who stayed awake? Marty!"

In 1970, Scorsese was an instructor at New York University, where, according to Les Keyser's 1995 book Martin Scorsese, politically active students (including Oliver Stone) had teamed up "with a radical group of independent documentary filmmakers" to film the May 1970 student demonstrations on Wall Street. With NYU equipment being "lost, destroyed, or pilfered" amidst all the violence, Scorsese directed a team of editors (including Thelma Schoonmaker) to cut together the amateur 16mm film into a coherent documentary. The resulting 75-minute film, Street Scenes 1970, concludes with "a heated informal debate among journalists, filmmakers, and friends," according to Keyser. Scorsese, Harvey Keitel, Jay Cocks and Verna Bloom are among those involved in the debate.

In 1971, Bloom was in a play with Robert De Niro, Kool Aid, which was actually an umbrella title for two one-act plays (Grail Green and Three Street Koans) written by Merle Molofsky. The play had a brief run at the Forum Theater at Lincoln Center in New York. Later that year, Verna Bloom and Jay Cocks (who married each other in July 1972) hosted their annual Christmas party where, on this occasion, De Niro met Martin Scorsese-- the two may or may not have been introduced to each other that night by De Palma, who was also there, but they soon realized that they had known each other casually as teenagers. They would soon make Mean Streets together.

Bloom would later appear as a sculptor in Scorsese's After Hours (1985), and she then portrayed Mary, Mother of Jesus in Scorsese's The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988). Cocks had collaborated with Scorsese on the latter film's screenplay, although his work for that one went uncredited. (Cocks has also worked on several unproduced screenplays for De Palma, and he is credited for making the documentary within De Palma's Sisters.)

Bloom also appeared in two of Clint Eastwood's films: High Plains Drifter (1973) and Honkytonk Man (1982). The Hollywood Reporter's Mike Barnes has included some nice career details and quotes in his Verna Bloom obituary:

Bloom made her big-screen debut in Wexler's documentary-style Medium Cool (1969) as a single mother from West Virginia who gets caught up in the violence surrounding the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention, which took place in Wexler's hometown of Chicago.

The writer-director-cinematographer inserted Bloom into the violence, and the image of her in a yellow dress searching for her lost son among the protestors, tear gas, tanks and armed soldiers became an indelible artifact of those divisive times.

"She was not only a wonderful actress, she was fearless," Wexler once said. "I was more frightened than she was."

In Animal House (1979), Bloom put in a great comedic turn as Marion Wormer, the wife of Faber College Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon). Her flirty character talks about cucumbers with ladies' man Eric "Otter" Stratton (Tim Matheson) in a grocery store before embarking on a fling with the college kid.

Born on Aug. 7, 1938, in Lynn, Massachusetts, Bloom graduated from Boston University in 1959. She moved to Denver and started a local theater, where she helped produce productions of Look Back in Anger and A Taste of Honey.

She came to New York and made her Broadway debut in 1967 in The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis De Sade. Wexler then cast her in Medium Cool on a recommendation from writer-historian Studs Terkel.

Her fellow Medium Cool actress Marianna Hill, in a 2016 interview with Shaun Chang for his Hill Place blog, said that Bloom was handcuffed and arrested during filming as Hill managed to flee. She said Terkel "wrote a wonderful story about two girls walking in the park and getting arrested for just being girls. It was a cause celebre and was in the headlines in the Chicago Sun-Times for about two weeks."

Bloom's big-screen résumé also included The Hired Hand (1971), directed by and starring Peter Fonda, and Howard W. Koch's Badge 373 (1973), also starring Robert Duvall.

On television, Bloom portrayed the mother of Linda Blair's character in the landmark 1975 NBC telefilm Sarah T. — Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic and was the wife of a cop (Frank Sinatra) in 1977's Contract on Cherry Street, another high-profile NBC movie.

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CST
Updated: Friday, January 11, 2019 12:06 AM CST
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Wednesday, January 9, 2019
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/scorsesenyfcc2019.jpgAt The New York Film Critics Circle’s annual awards dinner Monday, Martin Scorsese presented the Best Screenplay award to Paul Schrader for First Reformed (image here cropped from a tweet by Alissa Wilkinson). In his ten-minute intro for the award, Scorsese mentioned meeting Schrader via Brian De Palma, saying that the three of them would go to screenings of Yasujirō Ozu films together. According to IndieWire's Zack Sharf, Scorsese added that Schrader's license plate back then read O-Z-U. "After discussing how their shared love of John Ford’s The Searchers and Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest made them fast friends," writes Sharf, "Scorsese championed First Reformed: 'I was so impressed and moved by the way Paul discusses the nature of faith and how it’s bolstered by Ethan Hawke, who gives such a magnificent performance and goes so deep into his character’s pain, into his long, twisted road to understanding.'”

Hawke won the NYFCC Best Actor award for First Reformed, and Sharf quotes much of the actor's acceptance speech:
“My mother gave birth to me when she was 18 and one of the things she hid from her father was her subscription to The New Yorker magazine,” Hawke said. “It’s a weird thing to combine white trash and The New Yorker, but that’s my family. When I was growing up, what she used to do was save The New Yorker and whatever Pauline Kael reviewed was the movie we would go see. After we saw it, we would read Pauline Kael’s review, which we often did disagree with. … Even after ‘Dead Poets Society’ came out I had to go home and sit at the dinner table and read Pauline Kael’s very negative review of that movie. ‘The whole thing is wrapped in a gold bow like a bunch of bullshit. If I have to see another movie that makes me glad I’m alive I’ll have to kill myself,” is what I think she said.”

Hawke’s ability to pivot from humorous anecdote to profound meditation remains unmatched. “In my life, I have witnessed big business absolutely devour an extremely young art form,” he said at the end of his speech. “We live in a culture that hero worships the accumulation of wealth and then acts surprised about who we elect as our officials. Film criticism establishes a different barometer of success and it teaches audiences what to look for, how to watch movies, how to listen to stories, and I’m so grateful to articulate why all these movies you are celebrating tonight matter, because they matter to me.”

According to Paula Schwartz at Showbiz 411, Hawke also spoke of Roger Ebert: "He’s the only critic that matters. I don’t understand this, but okay, at the Cannes Film Festival Roger Ebert gave me a toast as the most successful, the only successful American actor who has never killed anybody on screen. I was about 30 years old and I knew that I was going to kill people. I knew, I did. I knew that there was no way it was going to last. I respected the attention, but I learned from Roger Ebert that it matters what we put into the world and I was extremely inspired by the critics of art."

See Also:

Mark Jacobson, Vulture
In Conversation: Paul Schrader

Posted by Geoff at 12:46 AM CST
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Monday, January 7, 2019
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sisterstexastheatreposter2.jpg"The movie might not get many midnight showings," Polygon's Jenna Stoeber stated about Brian De Palma's Sisters last month, "but it’s still a cult classic." Well, here we are just a month later, into the new year, and Sisters is in the middle of a two-screening run at The Texas Theatre, and also played tonight at The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA. Last month, Stoeber's article caught the attention of Joyce Carol Oates, who tweeted the headline and link: "Brian De Palma’s Sisters delivers weirdness in a way modern movies don’t."

"Watching Sisters," Stoeber's article begins, "Brian De Palma’s 1973 psychological horror film, is like meeting your best friend’s parents for the first time and suddenly understanding something about your friend that couldn’t have known otherwise — where they came from, and how far they’ve come. A relatively early entry in De Palma’s long and storied career, Sisters features plenty of the style he would become known for, with eyes firmly on Alfred Hitchcock."

After some plot description, Stoeber continues:

Sisters features de Palma at his most Hitchcockian. It’s full of homages, with cheeky nods to the repercussions of voyeurism and the instability of sanity. It even features a piercing score by frequent Hitchcock-composer Bernard Herrmann.

But more than that, the technical skill inherited from Hitchcock can be seen in de Palma’s ability to make even mundane events sinister and captivating. Before the stabbing, when Danielle and Phillip are getting frisky on the couch, we get a careful zoom-in on the wide mound of scar tissue down her hip. A low-angle tracking shot follows Phillip as he brings in a birthday cake — and a knife to cut it with. It brings to mind shots of the house looming over Bates Motel, or Norman Bates surrounded by taxidermied birds. The anticipation of violence heightens the tension long before the knife flashes.

From start to finish, Sisters is weird, but it rarely feels like it’s just for the sake of being weird. Some of the plotting might feel familiar to modern audiences; the idea that one conjoined twin is evil and the other good is borderline cliché at this point. But the story is infused with so many off-kilter details that even when you know what’s going to happen, you can never predict how you’ll get there.

In the scene in which the police investigate of the apartment, you imagine that Danielle is going to charm her way out of the situation. Collier discovers the birthday cake bearing two names, proof Danielle lied about being in the place alone and for a moment it seems like she’s going to be caught. But in her haste to present it to the police, she fumbles and drops it directly on the detective’s shoes.

It’s a shockingly funny moment, and it’s the sort of strong tonal shift that most modern thrillers or horror movies don’t dare attempt. Sisters has a lot of diversions that are almost slap-stick, and it can afford to because de Palma is so deft at creating tension. Even in this early stage in his career, he breaks the mood knowing he can rebuild it later, more than practically any other director, including his contemporary peers or Hitchcock himself.

In an interview published as part of the new Criterion Collection edition, de Palma explains that he was emulating Hitchcock “in order to work out my own problems as a storyteller.” Since then, he’s directed a startling number of movies that have indelibly changed American culture, like Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables, and Mission: Impossible. As far as exercises in self-improvement go, I’d say Sisters is a remarkable success.

Posted by Geoff at 11:12 PM CST
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Sunday, January 6, 2019

In an interview with The New Yorker's Michael Schulman, posted last week, Robert De Niro is asked about his shift into comedies:
The first decades of your career you mostly played dramatic roles. That seemed to change around the time that “Analyze This” and “Meet the Parents” came out. Was comedy something you were itching to do?

I mean, I’d done things that were—they’re not comedies, but “Greetings,” “Hi Mom!,” stuff like that. Quasi-comedy of a certain type, whatever the label would be. But, with “Analyze This,” Billy Crystal had this script and he wanted to get it to me, and so he got it to me. And I said, “O.K., let’s have a reading of it and let’s see.” Because I thought it would be kind of fun to do this if we got it right, and if we got the characters more real. Not doing caricatures but doing characters.

In a way, that character is a comic version of mob characters that you had been playing in dramas. Did you have a feeling that you wanted to play off your own image?

Yeah, I didn’t mind that. I thought it would be O.K.

The interview opens with Schulman asking about the pipe bomb that had been sent to De Niro's office in late October, one of several that had been "sent to high-profile Democrats and critics of the President," according to Schulman. This leads into discussion of Donald Trump, De Niro's recent recurring role on Saturday Night Live, and eventually touching on De Niro's experience as a young man in the late 1960s:

When did you find out about the bomb? Where were you?

I was in my house, working out. I got a call early in the morning that it was there in the office.

What went through your head?

There’s so many crazy people. The state of the country is so terrible now, with a person who has set such a bad example of bad behavior. I’m waiting for the bad dream to end. So what are you gonna do? What am I gonna do?

How much blame do you place on the President for something like that happening?

I think on a subconscious or subliminal level, and many other levels, it gives the O.K. to other people who are maybe more on the verge of thinking, or fantasizing, that he’s somehow given the O.K. to do that. I used to think, Well, maybe once he becomes President, he’ll maybe—he’s a New Yorker. Not that that means anything, in certain ways, but it does in others. I thought, Maybe he’ll come around. But then he’s been worse than I ever could think. ’Cause he has no plan. He has no center whatsoever. He even gives gangsters a bad name. ’Cause a gangster will give you his word and will pride himself—or herself. He doesn’t even understand that kind of logic. He thinks he’s slick and all that. There’s something wrong with him mentally.

It’s interesting that you compare him to a slick mobster guy—

Well, he thinks he’s a mobster. He’s a mutt. And I’ve said that before. I’ve said it publicly. And everything that he says about other people—that they’re losers, that they’re this and that, every terrible thing he says—he’s really saying about himself. I don’t know what his parents did, I don’t know how they treated him, whatever, but it’s all projection.

I imagine that a lot of people out there in the country who admire him are also people who’ve admired you over the years, even just demographically. Older white men tend to like President Trump. And I would think that they might see in him things they could have seen in Vito Corleone or Jake LaMotta, these guy-guys who don’t take any bullshit.

There’s a difference. He doesn’t represent—he likes to act like he does, I guess from that stupid show he did, that a lot of people bought and believed that he would act a certain way. And I remember seeing a documentary about these two writers who helped create the whole aura, the whole look, the office, the presentation, and everything. These two schlubby guys, two writers. They said, as I remember it, they said, “We created this thing.”

You mean the makers of “The Apprentice,” who created the character.

The character. And now he’s in reality and he’s got to make real decisions. I don’t know if I’m answering your question. You’re saying people who like me—yes, there is a similarity with my characters. But I’m an actor. Those are characters I play.

Have you seen any kind of backlash from your fans, people who are Trump supporters?

No. I can’t worry about that.

Did you ever interact with him personally over the years?

I met him once at a baseball game.

What happened?

I was there with a few of my kids. He came into the box that I was in, said hello, and we shook hands. I never wanted to meet him. Because I think everybody’s onto what he’s about. What amazes me is that people buy into it—people who have a responsibility to the country, not to him. They have gone along with this. And we all know who they are. Republicans who can go into the private sector and get a job making more money in a law firm or something. Instead, they opt to stay in this situation with a criminal and sell themselves. And everyone who’s involved with him has been tainted, and people will never forget it. The only one is Mattis, a little bit, and he stumbled the other day when he went down to the Mexican border and tried to give a Pancho Villa story. I felt bad, because I have great respect for him, and we all do.

And now he’s gone.

Yeah, I don’t blame him. It’s dangerous that he left. We’re in a crisis in this country. We have a fool running it, and, when a guy like Mattis finally has to go, we have a lot to be concerned about. I don’t see how we can go two more years with this guy.

I assume that the reason the person sent you a bomb was because of what you said at the Tony Awards, which was not what I expected to happen at the Tony Awards. Was that a decision you made beforehand or was it impromptu, to say, “Fuck Trump”?

It was impromptu. I feel that more people should speak out against him and not be genteel about it. At Tribeca, I said, “I’m tired of being nice about it.” They have ads on CNN about truth. “This is a banana, this is an apple,” or whatever they have. That’s what we’ve come to with all the “fake news” stuff.

How did your role as Robert Mueller on “Saturday Night Live” come about?

Actually, my wife, who—we’re [searches for the word and pulls his hands apart] separating now—but she had thought of it. I said, “What can I play on ‘S.N.L.’?” Because I love “S.N.L.” And she came up with Mueller. So I told Lorne Michaels. This is how I remember it—I could be wrong.

Is there a key to playing Mueller?

Mueller is the hope. Mueller is our hope. And he’s doing everything—he’s doing it perfectly.

But he’s not someone who’s seen in public very much these days. How did you decide to play him?

I didn’t. It’s a skit—the makeup and everything. They put jowls and prosthetics on, the chin, the nose, eyebrow.

Did you grow up in a political household?

Not really. Some but not much.

What was your experience of the antiwar movement, the politics of the late sixties, early seventies?

I felt that the war was not a just war. And, you know, it was a turbulent time in America, as I think it is now. It might even be worse now.

Did your parents have a particular kind of politics that they spoke to you about?

My mother was a little more leaning toward the left, in some ways, but never telling me much. My father was an artist. He was apolitical, pretty much.

Posted by Geoff at 2:50 PM CST
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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Bob Einstein, who won an Emmy in 1969 as a writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where he got his start, has died of cancer. He was 76.

"On Smothers Brothers, Einstein crafted the humorless, helmet-wearing motorcycle cop Officer Judy who would perpetually ride in to sketches to 'bust' other characters," according to an obituary by Variety's Cynthia Littleton. "During his tenure on the groundbreaking and controversial CBS series, Einstein was a writing partner and roommates with future comedy superstar Steve Martin."

Einstein reprised the Officer Judy role in Get To Know Your Rabbit, pictured above, which was Brian De Palma's first major studio picture. In an interview from the early 1990s, Einstein described the creation of Officer Judy:

The first time I did Officer Judy was... we had Judy Collins on the show, and we were trying to come up with a way to have fun with one of her records. And she just, you know, she sings beautifully, so it was kind of difficult. So we came up with an idea... "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today" was the song. Absolutely beautiful. And Judy Collins had been on once in the show, and then in the second half of the show, Tom says, "Ladies and gentlemen, once again, here's Judy." And the music started in front of the audience, "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today." Curtains open, and I'm there with my motorcycle, lip-synching "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today," her voice. Finish, and we cut over to Tom and Dick, and Dick says, "What was that, Tommy?" He says, "That was, uh, that was Officer Judy." That's how the name happened. And he said, "What was going--" He says, "Well, I got stopped. I was speeding coming over here. And I got stopped." And Dick said, "And you promised this cop he could be on the show?" And he said, "Well, not just once, I think it was six." And at that point, I came in, back to the camera, blocked the whole thing and said, "How did I do, Tom?" He said, "You were great." That was the frst time he was ever on. It was just kind of a fun idea because it was a show with a policeman. And any time things-- you know, we were always in the news about, we've gone too far, or we're stretching this or we're pushing that, and we had our own policeman now to come on and be very straight and to make sure the show would keep at a certain level. And then I arrested Liberace on the Emmy show, which was a lot of fun.

Posted by Geoff at 11:04 PM CST
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Friday, December 28, 2018

"We kick off 2019 with a variation on our yearly January Giallo series with three nights of Dario Argento/Brian De Palma Jan. 24-26 at the Egyptian Theatre," Cinematic Void posted on its Instagram page yesterday. The double feature series will pair up Suspiria / Carrie, Blow Out / Inferno, and Dressed To Kill / Tenebrae at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles.

Posted by Geoff at 8:36 AM CST
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Sunday, December 23, 2018
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/mimondocover2.jpgI somehow totally missed this last August, but earlier this year, Mondo released a double LP edition of Danny Elfman's score from Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible, with a very retro-looking cover sleeve. Two vinyl versions were made available: a limited edition Red Light,Green Light Vinyl (limited to 1,000 copies), and a Translucent Red Vinyl version. The album includes liner notes by Brian Satterwhite, himself a soundtrack composer. Either edition costs $35 at the Mondo website.

Posted by Geoff at 8:40 PM CST
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Saturday, December 22, 2018

At Sabzian, Gerard-Jan Claes and Nina de Vroome have written an interesting article that looks at Brian De Palma's Blow Out, citing Lewis Carroll and Roland Barthes, and illustrated with generous amount of images from the film. Here's an excerpt, with the assistance of Google translation:
De Palma reports as a painter who can only report on painting by making a painting himself. It is as if he realizes that in the end you can only say something about the body of a film by creating a new body. His cinema is essentially always a making-of, not as an instructional video that explains technically how a film is created, but as a mirror that reflects on the essence of cinema. A mirror is always more than a two-dimensional plane that reflects an opposite image. It also opens up a space in which another variant of reality lives. The mirror image shows the things you never saw before, peculiarities and details that never before stood out but at the same time remain uncomfortably recognizable. The familiar image is given a new form as reflection, like the characters in a book that is held in front of the mirror.

In the editing studio, Jack is instructed by the director to find a scream that fits the image. As a professional sound man he goes out that night to collect sounds. At a bridge over a river Jack takes sound close-ups. Through his headphones we are made part of the sensory closeness of the sound of the things that Jack captures. He holds his microphone with his bare hand, as if it were a gun, and shoots his listening ear into the distance. There is a couple on the bridge. The woman whispers in our ear: "What is he, a Peeping Tom or something?" In light of the first scene even the benign curiosity of our Jack gets a suspicious side. Listening is listening, because in the chair of cinema it becomes clear that looking and listening are never innocent. An owl, the loving couple and a frog unleash themselves from the night scene to show themselves to Jack as isolated figures. Suddenly he hears the hard bang of a car tire, slipping wheels, the railing of the bridge breaking into pieces and a great splash. Together with the car, an attractive passenger sinks into the depth. Jack intervenes and saves her from death. But what appears? Beside her was a man who leaves behind a bubbling trail of air bubbles.

A bit later, Jack, together with the drowning woman, seeks refuge in a motel where he again hears the sound, this time not to verify whether it can be used for a gratuitous film scene, but to bring a hidden truth to light. What actually happened during the recording? He starts a reconstruction. With his pencil he does the movements he made with his microphone. The line that pulls the directed microphone through the space seeks to connect the area with a possible perpetrator. With the pencil in his hand Jack manages to bring that conscious evening back to life. In this scene it becomes tangible that sound initiates a much stronger reminder mechanism than image. By playing the sound again and letting the pencil move with it, Jack tries to find out the origin of the sound. The sounds he hears become the soundtrack of his memory. They are able to bring back the image that had slipped into this memory. We see him in a motel room, but his physical presence is subordinate to his mental absence. Just as Jack relives a moment from the past, the spectator in the cinema is similarly always split in the meantime. The voices and faces in a film always refer to a different moment, to the moment of recording. The viewer always looks at events that have already taken place. He looks back at things that have been lost, that have been erased by time and that brings the film back to life as a reminiscence. Discovery and re-experience take place simultaneously in a present that consists of the past.

The technique that Jack uses to "rewrite" his memory with the pencil does not take him any further. He continues his research into the possible murder. He not only tries to fathom the conspiracy, but at the same time works as an accomplice of De Palma, who seizes Jack's quest to further dismantle the cinematic device. He comes into contact with a journalist who has been able to record the accident in a series of photographs. The photographs themselves do not suffice as evidence. Unlike the photographer in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up Jack does not lose himself in the analysis of dust and dots in the texture of the photo. He immediately looks for a way to "uplift" the medium from photography to cinema, as if the value of a photo can only be named as a film still for him. Only when successive film stills are placed synchronously on a sound band, does the miracle of reality arise. When he looks at his montage, his mouth falls open, because of what becomes visible in this film, but also for the appearance of cinema itself.

All of this leaves the graceful drowning woman Jack has fallen in love with cold. Sally has no interest in his search. But was she not right next to the man who is no longer alive? From her point of view, Jack's discoveries should have aroused her interest, but not according to the logic of the film: the excitement in Blow Out stems in part from the fact that everyone works against Jack, that no one believes him, that nobody cares about the truth. De Palma also argues that he is free of that obligation. It does not matter what the truth is. It only matters that the viewer feels that a truth is buried in the fabric of the film. As in a B-movie, the viewer has to be served and as long as set-up and payoff are connected, according to De Palma every narrative obligation is met. A real conspiracy has an ideological agenda and he does not burn his fingers. Meanwhile, the viewer is continually being misled and delusions and reality start to mix. There are a number of strong plot twists that defy every logic. Like the spectator, Jack gets entangled in conspiracy theories. Is he crazy? Or is there something wrong?

This brings us to a next lesson from De Palma. In the cinema you are constantly looking for hints and directions. Something always happens. Is it not visible in the picture, or hidden behind the scenes. The work of the mastermind that makes everyone believe that a serial killer is ravaging the country is reflected in the work of the director who is in charge. Watching a movie has always had to deal with the feeling that it works simultaneously behind the scenes and in full view. It is dealing with the chimera of a conspiracy, with the idea that you are being defrauded. Because whether you are being manipulated or not, there is always a concrete result: as a spectator you get misled in a specific way, you become connected to the world on the screen with a "technical umbilical cord" (Lauwaert). Always that ambiguous experience: suspension of disbelief and the feeling that someone is listening to you.

Posted by Geoff at 4:47 PM CST
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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Sam Irvin posted the two pictures above to his Facebook page a couple of days ago, to celebrate Liv Ullmann's 80th birthday. In the post, he tells the story about Brian De Palma handing Irving a script to deliver to Ullmann, and then Nancy Allen adds a comment. Here's the scoop:
Imagine this: Liv Ullmann getting stabbed to death in the elevator in Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL. Huh?!

Little known factoid: Liv Ullmann, the brilliant muse of Ingmar Bergman in CRIES AND WHISPERS, PERSONA and FACE TO FACE, was Brian De Palma’s first choice to play the role of “Kate Miller” in DRESSED TO KILL — the role that ended up being played so iconically by Angie Dickinson.

The character gets shockingly stabbed to death in an elevator — an homage to Janet Leigh’s character “Marion Crane” getting stabbed to death in the shower in Hitchcock’s PSYCHO.

In both movies, it was essential to cast big-name stars in these parts to make it all the more shocking when they are unexpectedly bumped off early in their respective scenarios.

In the summer of 1979, when DRESSED TO KILL was in preproduction, I was working as Brian De Palma’s assistant. I was 23 — and a very big fan of Liv Ullmann — who had won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in THE EMIGRANTS (1971) and nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Actress in THE EMIGRANTS and FACE TO FACE (1976). So, you can imagine my excitement when Brian handed me a copy of the DRESSED TO KILL script and said, “I want you to hand-deliver this to Liv Ullmann at the Majestic Theater. She is expecting you in her dressing room.”

Liv was currently starring on Broadway in Richard Rodgers newly-musicalized version of I REMEMBER MAMA. I would be going to drop off the script between a matinee and evening performance.

I arrived at the stage door with a large envelope in my hand. I knocked and after a few seconds, the door cautiously cracked open as though it were a speakeasy. A crusty old doorman peered out from the shadows and said, “Yeah?”

“I’m here to see Ms. Ullmann,” I explained in my best business-like voice.

The doorman gave me the once-over, spotted Ullmann’s name written on the envelope, concluded I was just a messenger boy, and sneered, “A delivery? I can take it to her.”

He creaked the door open a little further and held out his gnarly hand, expecting me to give him the package.

As if. I wasn’t going to give up the chance of meeting Liv Ullmann when I’d already come within breathing distance. I gulped and stood my ground. “I have been instructed to deliver this to Ms. Ullmann personally. She is expecting me. My name is Sam Irvin. From Brian De Palma’s office.”

Poker-faced, the doorman said nothing for what seemed like an eternity.

Finally, he withdrew his empty claw and shut the door in my face.

Had I been summarily rejected? Should I knock again and demand to speak to someone higher up the food chain? My job was on the line! With all sorts of desperate thoughts running around in my brain, the door suddenly popped back open.

“Ms. Ullmann will see you now,” the doorman grunted, annoyed that he’d been out-maneuvered.

I stepped inside and followed him to her dressing room. He knocked and walked away. The door swung open with a breeze of perfume to reveal the resplendent, welcoming smile of Liv Ullmann attached to her entire being. In person. Yep. I was starstruck.

She graciously greeted me. We exchanged small talk. I gave her the script and she said, “Tell Brian I am looking forward to reading it. Thank you for bringing it to me.”

I departed on Cloud 9 and floated back to Brian’s office. Mission: accomplished.

Sadly, for reasons I don’t recall, Liv eventually passed on the project.

Then Brian had me deliver a script to the wonderful Jill Clayburgh, hot off her Oscar nomination for AN UNMARRIED WOMAN (1978). A long-time friend of De Palma’s, Jill had made her movie debut in his early feature film THE WEDDING PARTY (1969) opposite the young Robert De Niro. My encounter was brief and similar — but equally cherished and memorable. Unfortunately, she also ended up passing due to scheduling conflicts.

Ultimately, Angie Dickinson ended up with the role and knocked it out of the park.

Nevertheless, it is intriguing to imagine what the movie would have been like with Liv Ullmann in the role.

Happy 80th Birthday to Liv Ullmann.

ADDENDUM from DRESSED TO KILL star Nancy Allen: “Liv was Brian’s first choice. He wanted it to be out of character for the actress who played the part to be having the sexual encounter with the stranger in the museum. Someone you might think of as sexually repressed. I suggested he send her flowers and take her to lunch. Ultimately she declined the role because she didn’t want her children to see her in that way.”

Thanks Nancy!

Posted by Geoff at 8:06 AM CST
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Saturday, December 15, 2018
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/greetingspremiere.jpgBrian De Palma and Charles Hirsch's Greetings opened at New York's 34th Street East Theater on December 15, 1968. It was the first movie to be rated X by the MPAA. As Glenn Kenny discusses during an audio commentary track included on Arrow Video's new Blu-ray of Greetings, Hirsch pitched the idea for the movie to De Palma as an American version of Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin Féminin. They began shooting on 16mm film, but quickly realized that the format would limit the potential release to very few art houses, according to Laurent Bouzereau, in his book The De Palma Cut. Bouzereau adds that the film initially made three times what it cost (the cost was about $43,100). The film was panned in the New York Times by Howard Thompson, who stated that while De Palma and Hirsch "are determined and camera-minded," they should try next time "for something that matters instead of the tired, tawdry and tattered." A few weeks later, the paper ran three letters from readers in defense of the film, under the headline, "Was That Any Way To Greet 'Greetings'?" William Bayer's letter began, "When a good film is misunderstood and then characterized by Howard Thompson of The New York Times as 'tired, tawdry, and tattered,' it is time to come to the rescue." Kenny quotes more from these letters in his audio commentary.

Greetings follows three young men as they attempt to dodge the Vietnam draft (the film's title directly refers to the first word seen on the page when someone would open up a letter from the U.S. government telling them they've been drafted). Along the way, each of the men, played by Robert De Niro, Gerrit Graham, and Jonathan Warden, grapples with his own personal obsessions (respectively, voyeurism, the JFK assassination, and computer dating). In his commentary, Kenny links the buddies-hanging-out aspect of Greetings to Federico Fellini's I Vitelloni. Aside from a general Godardian influence throughout, there is also direct reference to another Godard film, Vivre sa vie, and, of course, overt references to Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, the latter of which Chris Dumas has explained (in his book, Un-American Psycho) "was recently in theaters when Greetings was in production; its specific presence here - like Une Femme Est Une Femme in Bertolucci's Before The Revolution* - signifies that the film's logic was, as they say, a topic of conversation."

At one point in the film, Lloyd (played by Graham) asks pop artist Richard Hamilton (playing himself) if he's seen Blow-Up. Shortly after that, Lloyd brings a photo of Dealey Plaza to Tina, a photo assistant played by Tina Hirsch (at the time of filming, her name was Bettina Kugel-- by the time Greetings was released later in the year, she had married Charles Hirsch and changed her name). While this scene makes overt visual reference to Blow-Up, it was Tina Hirsch who insisted on adding a verbal reference in this scene. As she told William Chamberlain a few years back, "Brian and Chuck [Charles Hirsch], the producer and co-writer, wrote the scene. As originally written, Gerrit Graham was, you know, he played a Kennedy assassination buff, and he wants me to blow up a picture taken on the grassy knoll to prove that officer Tippet is Oswald’s accomplice. And that he’s hiding behind a tree. I was supposed to answer that if he blew it up, all you’d see is the grain. I mean a funny side story is that that literally was a studio in which I was working as a photographer’s assistant, and I actually blew up those shots that are shown at the end. I told Brian that I couldn’t say that line, that the movie Blow-Up was all about that. I didn’t feel comfortable saying it without crediting the other movie. So my answer became something like, 'You’re not going to be able to see anything. I’ve seen Blow-Up, I know how this turns out. You’re not going to see anything but grain the size of golf balls.' Years later, Pauline Kael, the movie critic for the New Yorker, quoted the line as one of Brian’s great citations. [Laughing] But, in fact, I was the one who cited Blow-Up. That’s the way it goes."

*Incidentally, Dumas' essay about Greetings in the booklet of Arrow's new disc set is titled, "Before The Revolution."

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Sunday, December 16, 2018 3:29 PM CST
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