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

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

Listen to
Donaggio's full score
for Domino online

De Palma/Lehman
rapport at work
in Snakes

De Palma/Lehman
next novel is Terry

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

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

Washington Post
review of Keesey book


Exclusive Passion

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario


AV Club Review
of Dumas book


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De Palma interviewed
in Paris 2002

De Palma discusses
The Black Dahlia 2006


De Palma Community

The Virtuoso
of the 7th Art

The De Palma Touch

The Swan Archives

Carrie...A Fan's Site


No Harm In Charm

Paul Schrader

Alfred Hitchcock
The Master Of Suspense

Alfred Hitchcock Films

Snake Eyes
a la Mod

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Sergio Leone
and the Infield
Fly Rule

Movie Mags


The Filmmaker Who
Came In From The Cold

Jim Emerson on
Greetings & Hi, Mom!

Scarface: Make Way
For The Bad Guy

The Big Dive
(Blow Out)

Carrie: The Movie

Deborah Shelton
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De Palma a la Mod

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A note about topics: Some blog posts have more than one topic, in which case only one main topic can be chosen to represent that post. This means that some topics may have been discussed in posts labeled otherwise. For instance, a post that discusses both The Boston Stranglers and The Demolished Man may only be labeled one or the other. Please keep this in mind as you navigate this list.
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Monday, February 18, 2019

Today is John Travolta's 65th birthday. To celebrate, Newsweek's David Sim and Eve Watling have "collected data from critical review websites Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb to find his 15 most critically-acclaimed movie and TV projects in his career so far."

This method is a bit odd, as it leads to the inclusion of Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line, in which Travolta only appears very briefly-- yet the film ranks on the list one notch higher than the film that garnered Travolta his first Oscar nomination, Saturday Night Fever, a movie that, when all is said and done, encases the quintessential Travolta role.

In any case, the two films that Travolta made with Brian De Palma rank pretty high on the list: Carrie at number 3 ("Total score: 81.13%. IMDb users: 7.4. Metacritic: 85. Rotten Tomatoes: 8.4. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.4."), and Blow Out at number 4 ("Total score: 79.63%. IMDb users: 7.4. Metacritic: 85. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.8. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.7.").

At the top of the list, of course, is Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction ("Total score: 91%. IMDb users: 8.9. Metacritic: 94. Rotten Tomatoes: 9.1. Rotten Tomatoes users: 4.2.), while the number 2 slot goes to the Ryan Murphy TV series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story ("Total score: 88.25%. IMDb users: 8.5. Metacritic: 90. Rotten Tomatoes: 8.7. Rotten Tomatoes users: 4.5.). Grease just missed the top ten, coming in at number 11.

Posted by Geoff at 6:52 PM CST
Updated: Monday, February 18, 2019 6:56 PM CST
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Sunday, February 17, 2019

The images above from Steve McQueen's Widows, showing a character sabotaging his sham of a heist and blowing up a van to kill his gang of thieves and fake his own death, full of regret while holding the cell phone remote, seem directly influenced by the beautifully-rendered shot of Claire blowing up a car with Hannah inside of it, remote in hand as she turns her face toward the camera, from Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible. While both shots come at a point late in each film, meant to shock the viewer with disbelief in what is being shown, there are differences in subjectivity.

In McQueen's film, we are seeing Liam Neeson's character recall the event in his own mind, seemingly filled with regret about the deaths he has caused. In the De Palma shot, we are seeing a subjective possibility within the mind of Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt, which is why Claire (Emmanuelle Béart) hauntingly turns to look directly at the camera eye, looking at Ethan with a cold stare. Deeply in love with Claire, Ethan immediately tries to wipe that image from his mind, struggling to find a way that it could have been her husband Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) who did the dirty deed. In De Palma's film, the shot is static, and shown in slow motion. McQueen's shot is a choreographed slow dolly or zoom before the film cuts back to Liam Neeson in present day. Both shots are meant as a shock to the system, so to speak.

Posted by Geoff at 9:48 AM CST
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2019 10:07 AM CST
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Friday, February 15, 2019

Felix L.A., an art fair that opened its inaugural edition Thursday (February 14) and continues through Sunday (February 17), includes a Brian De Palma double feature tonight at 8pm, when Blow Out and Dressed To Kill will be screened at the David Hockney Pool. The pool is located in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the first Oscars ceremony was held in 1929. A Bloomberg article by Katya Kazakina provides some context for the location, the fair, and how it connects with other fairs happening this weekend in Los Angeles:
Three months after David Hockney’s swimming pool canvas sold for $90 million, the art world is gathering around an actual pool the British artist painted at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Hockney decorated the pool’s bottom with blue swirls in 1987, almost six decades after the historic Los Angeles building hosted the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. This week, the surrounding cabanas will exhibit works by local and international artists as part of a new art fair called Felix.

The event, co-founded by former Walt Disney Co. executive Dean Valentine, is among at least six art fairs taking place as the city vies to become an art-market epicenter, something that has eluded Los Angeles despite being home to major artists, patrons, art schools and institutions. Frieze, which hosts art fairs in London and New York, will debut this week at Paramount Pictures.

“Los Angeles has always had the artists,” said Valentine, 63, rattling off legends such as Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and Chris Burden. “Now there’s more art market infrastructure here. It’s firing on all cylinders.”

International players including Hauser & Wirth and Sprueth Magers joined L.A.’s vibrant, but decentralized, gallery scene in recent years, though some upstarts have since closed. Billionaire Eli Broad and the brothers behind Guess jeans, Maurice and Paul Marciano, opened private museums.

Southern California collectors used to head to New York and Basel to buy art, but now “collectors from all over the world are coming here because the art scene is so exciting,” said Jeffrey Deitch, a dealer and former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. In September, Deitch opened a local gallery because he “saw an international market.”

Frieze will emphasize Los Angeles by giving prominent space to local galleries and offering VIPs a program that includes visits to studios as well as conversations with artists and collectors living in the area.

“We know that L.A. likes to tell stories about itself,” said Bettina Korek, executive director of Frieze Los Angeles, which will host 70 galleries.

At Blum & Poe’s booth, Dave Muller will create a site-specific mural, titled “Oh Hollywood.” David Kordansky will have a solo presentation of Kathryn Andrews, whose works feature film props and sleek surfaces, a hybrid of Pop art and minimalism. Landscapes and cityscapes of California by 98-year-old Wayne Thiebaud, as well as his iconic pastry images, will be the focus of New York’s Acquavella Galleries, with prices ranging from $350,000 to $5 million. Deitch will present abstract works by Judy Chicago, painted during her L.A. sojourn. Hauser & Wirth will stage the U.S. debut of “Unisex Love Nest,” a 1999 installation by Mike Kelley, a South Pasadena-based artist who died in 2012. The asking price is $1.8 million.

At Felix, 41 galleries will present paintings, sculptures and video art in hotel rooms and around the Hockney pool. The setting draws inspiration from an earlier era of art fairs: in 1994, the Armory Show took place at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York and the Chateau Marmont in L.A.

“It was amazing,” Valentine said, recalling works by Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Thomas Schutte. “You walked from room to room, bumped into other collectors in the hallways and then had a drink at the bar.”

Some say that sense of discovery, fun and intimacy is largely absent from the relentless art fair circuit these days.

“It’s become this mega shopping experience,” Valentine said. “I find it hard to get into.” Felix is an attempt “to replicate the things that are missing from the art world,” he said. “More intimate, conversational and fun. Less hyper-capitalistic.”

More details about Felix are provided by The Hollywood Reporter's Laura van Straaten:
Felix joins two established L.A. fairs, Art Los Angeles Contemporary (now in its 10th year) and stARTup (hosting its fourth L.A. fair), as well as heavy-hitting newcomer Frieze, the influential London-based fair that is seen as the linchpin of what is sure to be the city's most robust arts week ever (all four fairs wrap on Feb. 17).

Valentine, a board member of the Hammer Museum, says the choice of the hotel format is meant to evoke the storied but short-lived Gramercy International Los Angeles at the Chateau Marmont in the mid-1990s, considered by some gallerists and collectors to be a key inflection point in L.A.'s emergence as an art city. The Roosevelt also has its own associations: It was the site of the first Academy Awards in 1929. And many rooms, including those being put to use by Felix, overlook the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theater. Valentine hopes the varied spaces and presentations at the hotel will give visitors “the surprise of turning a corner” and finding an unexpected object, moment or connection with another art lover.

The name "Felix" came in part from one of Valentine's favorite cartoon characters, Felix the Cat; it's also a nod to a favorite painting, Paul Signac's seminal portrait of the 19th-century art critic and anarchist Felix Feneon. The allusion to anarchy may be apt because Felix is being produced somewhat on the fly, especially compared to Frieze, which has spent years laying a foundation for its expansion to Southern California and has a well-oiled, well-heeled and market-savvy operation (as well as majority owner Endeavor) behind its presentation of 60 galleries.

Posted by Geoff at 7:49 PM CST
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Thursday, February 14, 2019


In a highly amusing and all-too-brief series of tweets earlier today, writer Chris Randle wrote that he "can’t believe no one has ever licensed the filmography of Brian De Palma for Valentine’s cards." He took his first example from De Palma's The Black Dahlia: "You don’t want to shoot me, you want to fuck me!" Randle then added, "Could anything be more romantic." Three hours later he posted the "We should be more than Franz..." image above, followed by two more images taken from Passion and Femme Fatale.

Of course, let us not forget that De Palma has an entire feature film that revolves around Valentine's Day...

Posted by Geoff at 6:46 PM CST
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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Brian De Palma will be at the Lumière Institute in Lyon, France, on Friday, March 29, to present a MasterClass, which will be followed by a screening of Phantom Of The Paradise. The event is part of an almost-complete De Palma retrospective running at Lumière February 14th through April 23rd It also kicks off a weekend that will see De Palma and Susan Lehman bring their novel Are Snakes Necessary? to the Quai du Polar festival in Lyon, which runs that Friday through Sunday (March 29-31). Last year, on June 2nd, De Palma was on hand for a MasterClass at La Cinémathèque in Paris, which followed a screening of Casualties Of War.

Posted by Geoff at 4:14 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2019 7:32 AM CST
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Wednesday, February 6, 2019
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/snakessmall.jpgTribune de Lyon's Luc Hernandez and others report that Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman will attend the Quai du Polar festival in Lyon, France, this March. The fest, which focuses on crime fiction and detective stories, runs the weekend of March 29-31. In preparation, the Lumière Institute in Lyon will host a Brian De Palma retrospective this month, beginning with Casualties Of War on February 14th.

Posted by Geoff at 7:45 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2019 5:55 PM CST
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Tuesday, February 5, 2019
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/coercivetheater.jpgPhilippa Snow writes about Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom! for ARTFORUM, as the film is scheduled for three 35mm screenings on Wednesday, February 6th, at Film Forum in New York City:
ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH Brian De Palma’s 1970 film Hi, Mom!, a white woman, dazed and recently raped, gives a fuzzy exit interview on camera. “Well, [New York Times theater critic] Clive Barnes was really right,” she says. “It was some experience. I’m gonna tell all my friends that they’ve gotta come.” The experience that she’s referring to is Be Black, Baby, an immersive opportunity (and Hi, Mom!’s film-within-a-film centerpiece) for well-heeled whites to, per the title, temporarily “be black.” If this white woman and her kin had predicted correctly that they would be given “soul food,” and be made up roughly and inelegantly with black shoe-polish, they do not seem to have guessed that they would also be robbed, gaslit, faced with furious demands to see ID, interrogated on the subject of their livelihoods and personal lives, hypersexualized, beaten and sexually assaulted, and then arrested by a white NYPD cop. The happening’s artist-cum-terrorist showrunners, who are African American but wearing whiteface, are as pale as death, and do not seem afraid to kill. The fact that the participants, if rattled, see their ritual humiliation as a dazzling work of art is owed to an embarrassing, embarrassingly recognizable strain of privileged white faux-wokeness. The fact that this scene takes place in a film both written and directed by a white man makes it doubly charged, recursive in its condemnation of white tourism in black lives.

Be Black, Baby is the third of five acts in Hi, Mom!, the fourth effort by the Hitchcock-loving, sleaze-artiste auteur. It is the perfect nucleus around which a chaotic story swirls: A Vietnam vet, broke and keen to game the sickest parts of New York’s system, becomes a peeping-tom-pornographer, then an actor, then finally a radical determined to quite literally explode the bourgeoisie. The protagonist, Jon Rubin, is played by Robert De Niro, a fact less significant in 1970 than it is now. The movie’s introduction to a grinning Rubin, yanking down a cloth that’s covering a mirror to reveal himself behind the camera, must have looked then like a broad allusion to the director’s ongoing themes of doubling and observation. In the wake of 1976’s Taxi Driver, it now functions as a meta joke, a “gotcha” shot whose punchline depends on the megawattage of its star. Meta now, too, is the scene where he auditions to appear in Be Black, Baby as the aforementioned white cop, only to be told that he looks too incapable of brutality or insanity to get the part. “I think I can play a cop, you know,” he swaggers. “I know I can. I can do anything.” Like Travis Bickle, Rubin is a firm believer in the cleansing properties of vigilante violence. His first scheme for making money is to buy a camera, hole up in his dive apartment, and then film the couples living in the opposite block through the readymade screens of their front-room windows; finding that his movies lack the necessary action, he seduces the girl living opposite in order to become the lead in his own porno, a conceit that’s more De Palma than De Palma in its invocation of the twin desires to see and be seen, to fuck and watch the action, to be both directing and directed.

When the stag film fails, he hawks his camera and procures a television. On that television, he sees the black activist group taunting white New Yorkers in a series of faintly Surrealist vox pops, and the next move in his nihilist career presents itself in black-and-white simplicity. De Palma’s love of cinéma vérité is deployed—both in the broadcast that makes Rubin first seek out the group of radicals and in the Be Black, Baby footage—to invigorating, sick effect: filmed on a hand-held camera, lit like shit and void of color, both scenes feel less like fictional exercises than like real-life powder kegs. The best thing De Palma does in the electrifying “theater” sequence is show how idiotic and banal the rich, entitled white person’s general idea of blackness is. Asked to examine the black ringleaders from head to toe by touch, the ticketholders sound like children being handed salamanders at a petting zoo. “So this is an afro!” one exclaims. “It’s like a sponge!” “It’s like angel food cake,” says the blonde white woman who ends up violated with a broom handle. “I expected it to feel like wire wool.” When she assures the troupe that “You’re the actors, we’re the audience, honey,” it is less a throwaway line than a perfect distillation of the white gaze on black bodies, even if it’s improvised. “It really makes you stop and think,” one audience member beams, his face as bloodied as if he had been at war.

In general, white men seem to love to “stop and think,” perhaps because it is the cheapest, lowest-maintenance form of “atonement.” A voyeur by nature, it is difficult to separate De Palma’s love of looking from his status as an outsider on the particularly thorny subjects of black pain, white exploitation, and police brutality, however excellent the Be Black, Baby sequence is in its inventiveness and execution. He is, in classic De Palma style, within and without, the accuser and the implicated, and his placing of a worthy, right-on bearded white man in the otherwise entirely African American activist troupe might be read as barbed self-satire. “The most Hitchcockian riff that De Palma ever examined,” Eric Henderson wrote in a 2004 reconsideration of Hi, Mom!, “is the capacity for the human psyche to harbor intense, complicated divergence.” A divergence necessarily occurs in the minds of the audience members of the Be Black, Baby skit, who simultaneously believe that they deserved the beatings and the rape by dint of the historic evil of their race, and that their willingness to be debased somehow absolves them of the same historic sin. Jon Rubin, after playing at being a cop in Be Black, Baby, marries and impregnates the girl in the building opposite, then leaves a bomb sequestered in her laundry room. He has not actually destroyed the all-American nuclear family, just like being painted black and brutalized is no real foil for white supremacy. With the imperfect and exhilarating Hi, Mom!, De Palma plants something unsafe and explosive underneath his audience, and runs.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2019 12:11 AM CST
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Monday, February 4, 2019

Several reviews of Arrow Video's box set, De Niro & De Palma: The Early Films, have popped up in the past couple of weeks. Here are some links:

David Brooke, AIPT!
3 takeaways from De Palma & De Niro: The Early Films

Given how these films are a bit long, paced oddly at times, and can lose your interest it’s actually quite impressive how good the cinematography and editing is in these movies. DePalma plays around with speeding up films, jump-cutting mid-conversation, and playing around with perspective. The opening of Greetings is a good example of this showing a skyscraper with different apartments and then cutting in footage of different rooms over the windows. It’s an effect that I’m sure at the time was painstaking and difficult, but it looks seamless. The use of light and contrast works wonderfully in The Wedding Party thanks to it being in black and white.

Story-wise each film has its merits. The Wedding Party has the feel of something modern, post-2000, but was made so long ago it’s a marvel. It’s a conversational film not unlike Clerks although it’s far less controversial. Greetings tackles the Vietnam War in ways nobody was doing at the time. Its comedy can sometimes hit the mark, and it’s certainly controversial in how it uses language. It’s a black comedy that works in bits. Hi, Mom!, which serves as a sequel to Greetings, has an excellent first act involving DeNiro’s character selling a porno businessman on voyeurism films. Unfortunately for him he falls for one of the girls he’s peeping on. The film devolves a bit after this into a film within a film, but it’s compelling here and there.

One of the most shocking elements in watching all three of these films is how raw they are. DeNiro has yet to discover the psychotic in Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle or the gangster that defined his career. He’s generally speaking playing a normal guy in his 20s. In fact, The Wedding Party was shot when he was 20 years, if my math adds up, and is his first on film work. He’s not bad in the role-playing an average guy and it makes you wonder if he carried on doing comedies or standard dramas if he’d be as popular today.

DePalma’s directing is incredible considering this is where he started. There are definite signs he’s playing around and learning as he went, but much of these films hold up and are watchable.

Thomas H Green, The Arts Desk
Greetings, from 1968, established De Palma as a rising star of Greenwich Village’s alternative film scene and is known for its anti-Vietnam draft stance. Viewed cold in 2019, its lo-fi, sub-Jean-Luc Godard narrative jumble soon becomes tiresome as we follow three pals chatting about Vietnam avoidance techniques, wandering around New York, and “computer dating”. It’s a dated mash-up of counterculture and titillation, half arthouse, half grindhouse, summed up by a sequence where one of the protagonists, obsessed with Kennedy assassination conspiracies, uses a nude woman to illustrate where the bullets hit.

What Greetings did give us, however, is De Niro’s creepy character, Jon Rubin, a peeping Tom who’s the only one to end up in Vietnam (where he’s given the film’s best lines). Rubin was resurrected for 1970’s Hi, Mom!, a fascinating film in a different class from the other two. It’s still very much in thrall to Godard but with a dynamic energy and originality all De Palma’s own.

Rubin is now a filmmaker who touts to a porn producer the idea of voyeuristic footage shot through apartment windows. The first half of the film is concerned with that and De Niro’s wooing Jennifer Salt’s Judy to comic effect, but the second half expands dramatically on a sub-plot, shot in black and white with a raw funky soundtrack, wherein an Afro-American theatre troupe offers an encompassing theatrical experience for white people called Be Black Baby. These sequences are superbly conceived, gripping, visceral and shocking, and alone worth watching the film for; brilliant satirical film-making.

The other aspect that makes Hi, Mom! vital viewing is that Jon Rubin is essentially Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, right down to the way he dresses, a disturbed Vietnam vet with a porn habit who’s psychologically/psychotically confused by the counterculture’s values. There are Be Black Baby sequences in which De Niro plays a cop that are a direct dry run for some of Taxi Driver’s most famous scenes (“You talkin’ to me?”). Martin Scorcese simply took Rubin from Hi, Mom!, distilled him, and wiped away all the satirical comedy

Roger Carpenter, We are Movie Geeks
De Palma is well-known for his use of split screen and though there is no actual use of the technique present in Hi, Mom!, there is a terrific scene when De Niro, as Rubin, describes his idea of filming ordinary lives through his window to a woman he wants to be a part of the film. They are standing in the street to the left of the screen. As De Niro describes a fictional woman coming into her apartment, on the right side of the screen, a light is switched on and viewers see a young woman enter a room and watch as she mirrors the action described by De Niro. It’s a simple yet brilliant way to use split screen without resorting to expensive opticals yet subtle enough that it took a second viewing for my brain to realize just what De Palma had done and how well-planned the scene was.

All three films, The Wedding Party, Greetings, and Hi, Mom!, represent De Palma’s earliest work and allows film historians to understand De Palma’s influences much earlier than his more famous films like Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise, Obsession, Carrie, Blow Out, and Dressed to Kill. For viewers who only know De Palma as a horror director, these films also allow one to view De Palma doing some high quality comedy. Viewing De Niro as a 20-year-old, first-time actor is also fairly amazing. Already confident in his abilities, one can see from these films that he was obviously going places.

OKC Film Society After Dark
"In this episode, the gang is joined by filmmaker Mickey Reece to discuss Greetings and Hi, Mom!, Brian De Palma’s two early, revolutionary comedies and other sundry items."

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2019 12:02 AM CST
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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Last week, Cinephilia & Beyond posted an article by Tim Pelan, full of details about the making of Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, along with many pictures from the set of the film, video from various source materials online, links to two PDF versions of the David Mamet screenplay, a link to an interview with De Palma from a June 1988 issue of Video magazine, and more.

Here are the opening paragraphs of Pelan's article:

Screenwriter David Mamet came up with a Stanislavski quote to describe The Untouchables: “Tragedy is just heightened melodrama.” Brian De Palma, director of The Untouchables, practically has “heightened melodrama” in his list of job requirements. De Palma and Mamet, Capone and Ness. A no-brainer, in retrospect. Yet both were just bodies for hire. The writing gig was first offered to the late Pulitzer-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein. Whatever the reason for her dismissal, the Chicago-born Mamet, who grew up with folk tales of Capone and his cronies, ended up taking the job for “a shitload of money,” off his own Pulitzer success with play Glengarry Glen Ross (The Writer’s Guild of America still wanted to give Wasserstein a credit however). As for “The Chicago way”? Just Mamet jazz, man. You take something, burn it down to the ground and then you build it back up again. And that’s how you get Capone! In 1984, producer Art Linson enthused with Paramount Studio’s president Ned Tanen about adapting The Untouchables television series into a film. Tanen envisioned a “big-scale movie about mythical American heroes.” Mamet saw it as a kind of Western, about “the old gunfighter and the young gunfighter… It occurred to me, what happens if this young innocent, who’s charged with defending the law but only understands that in an abstract way, meets an old disenchanted veteran, the caretaker of the law, soured at the end of his career because of the corruption in the city?” De Palma was approached, off the back of a couple of box office disappointments, after Mamet turned in his third draft. He also appreciated the Western angle, a kind of Magnificent Seven vibe. He considered The Untouchables to be “different from anything I’ve done in the past, because it’s a traditional Americana picture, like a John Ford picture.”

The film opens with its own “opening crawl” if you like, De Palma riffing on pal George Lucas. Before that some very film noir titles, with marching shadows cast across the credits by the letters of the title accompanied by Ennio Morricone’s “Strength of the Righteous” theme. Sycophantic gentlemen of the press wait in silence upon Capone (Robert De Niro), wrapped in hot towels for his morning shave in his opulent hotel suite—off to the left in an overhead descending crane shot, whilst text illuminates:

1930. Prohibition has transformed Chicago into a City at War. Rival gangs compete for control of the city’s billion dollar empire of illegal alcohol, enforcing their will with the hand grenade and tommy gun. It is the time of the Ganglords. It is the time of Al Capone.

Art director William A. Elliott and De Palma envisioned that Capone and his environs should be reminiscent of the court of Louis IV (“He’s the Sun King”), hence the sunburst motif in his suite’s inlaid wooden floor. Everyone waits for him to speak, or for a burst of anger, tamped down, when the barber pricks his skin after a question about illegality. He laughs it off instead. “Responding to the will of the people,” against the strictures of the Volstead Act (Prohibition of booze) is so much hyperbole to the suck-ups. “People are gonna drink,” he smirks… “all I do is act on that.” Like Donald Trump and his “build that wall” mania, Capone plays on people’s base desire, whilst he lives large in the pampered luxury of his own Trump Tower, the Lexington Hotel (I suppose the main difference between Capone and Trump is the former was an actual hard case, three people dying by his hand, or bat, and he has a working business brain, making actual money hand over fist). “My image of The Untouchables is that corruption looks great,” De Palma says in the DVD extras, “like Nazi Germany. It’s clean, it’s big, everything runs smoothly. The problem is all of the oppressed people are in some camp somewhere, and nobody ever sees them. So the world of (Capone’s) Chicago is a slick world, a world that’s run by big money and corruption. And it has to look fabulous.” Outside and in—De Niro even wore the same Sulka and Co. branded silk underwear as Capone.

In contrast, Kevin Costner’s white knight Treasury agent Elliot Ness, brought in from outside the corrupt city limits to tackle Capone head on, is introduced anonymously in his modest home, face not even revealed as he takes his morning coffee. His wife Catherine (the luminous Patricia Clarkson) sees him off to work after reading about a car bomb that kills a young innocent, caught up in Capone’s enforcer Frank Nitti’s crackdown on those who don’t buy their watered-down booze. Ness is revealed face on finally at the police headquarters, this time to a cynical press. Did this choir boy wear a hair shirt under his wardrobe?

Never has the old adage—when the legend becomes fact, print the legend—been more apt. Ness and Capone never met, and going to jail for income tax evasion is not very suspenseful. “So I made up a story about two of the good guys,” Mamet recalled. “Ness and Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery, playing a jaded beat cop), the idealist and the pragmatist.” The real squad comprised Ness and nine handpicked men. The film whittled the number down to a manageable four, the remainder comprised of Andy Garcia as cadet crack shot George Stone (real name Giuseppe Petri, kicking against inherent force racism), and Charles Martin Smith as the almost comic relief accountant Oscar Wallace, who unlocks the trick to bringing down Capone. De Palma and Linson originally wanted Garcia for the Nitti role, but he wisely pushed for his star making turn here (“You got him?” “Yeah, I got him.” We’ll get to that gem of a scene later.). Billy Drago, a one-time stuntman with stiletto bladed cheekbones and sly eyes did however make an indelible mark as Nitti, aided also by wardrobe. The natty killer always dresses in white suits, like “an angel of death.” As for Wallace, De Palma’s direction to Smith was, “I want the audience to be laughing with your character right up until ‘boom!’ (spoiler) you get it.”

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Posted by Geoff at 2:42 PM CST
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Saturday, February 2, 2019
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/piercingsplit.jpgNicolas Pesce's Piercing opened yesterday in theaters and streaming on demand. It is Pesce's second feature, following his singularly strange and vivid feature debut from 2016, The Eyes Of My Mother. Piercing, which had its world premiere last year at Sundance, is an adaptation of a novel by Ryū Murakami, and stars Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott. In a review at Rue Morgue, Shawn Macomber writes that the film "has the vibe of Brian De Palma co-directing with Michael Haneke and David Lynch. Piercing is menacing, darkly funny, subversive, grotesque, sexy, challenging, stimulating, immersive and monumentally fucking weird."

In a discussion with The Film Stage's Mike Mazzanti, Pesce mentions De Palma as he talks about the development of the split screens used in Piercing:
There are visual components in both The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing that speak to a kind of slow cinema interest; they’re very observational at times. When you’re prepping a film, do you look to bring specific aesthetic sensibilities to each script you write, or does it first depend on the story and the material and what they require?

It starts off as whatever pops into my head. I sort of have a mental library of movie moments that are perpetually collaged, whether that’s to contextualize movies, or my own life, or my own movies. So, I think that it starts with whatever naturally comes to me—as I’m writing it, reading it, whatever—and then once I know what it looks like in my head I start realizing more where those references are coming from. Sometimes I’m not aware of it, but by the time we were making Piercing, I knew we were making a giallo movie.

Going off of that, this feeling of the commonplace is counteracted by the viscera and the sense of psychopathy in the air from Reed.


Which is punctuated by the sharp cutting. While violence and observation are far from being mutually exclusive, they create an interesting dichotomy in Piercing, and sometimes an emotional detachment or distance. How do you go about balancing these visual and conceptual ideas during prep and also in the edit?

It’s really on a case-by-case basis. I think something that’s always been fun for me about filmmaking is that there’s always been a level of experimentation to it. There’s always discoveries that come during every stage. There’s this idea that starts in the book; you’re in their perspectives but you don’t actually know what’s going on.

So, for each character, the things that are going on in their heads are drastically different. So, I thought, how could we communicate these two worlds, but together in the same place, but so disconnected? So, very quickly I was thinking split-screen. Part of it is stylistic—I love Brian De Palma, and he dealt very much in the wheelhouse of what we were doing—but it also conceptually tied in really nicely, this kind of idea of contrasting views of the same thing.

So, we had always known that split-screens were going to be an element of the movie. But initially, it was only planned for the one sequence with Reed on the phone with his wife. And, as we were editing, we were like, this does work the way we wanted it to—where can we find other places to do it? And so, the two other places are key character moments; the first is where Jackie and Reed meet for the first time, and we’re showing how different their lead-ups are to the same moment.

Then, at another moment, Jackie and Reed finally think they’re on the same page—they’re flirting on the couch, they both think they know what’s going on, and they’re both with it—and there’s a moment where something is off, and they both don’t know what’s wrong but they realize they’re on the same page, and we jump back to split screen again. So, you have to find techniques that play into the stylistic choices that you’re trying to make, but it also has to be an element that’s helping the narrative or at least the emotion along, as well.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2019 12:35 AM CST
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