MISSION TO MARS / DOMINO - THANKS TO ROMAIN FOR THE CAPTURES
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DOMINO is Brian De Palma’s “Fuck You” to #RottenTomatoes, one of many social media trends in De Palma’s cross-hairs. Through a recurring motif, he restores the Fresh Tomato to its now-perverted essence. To paraphrase Godard: Tomato is “red.” Did anyone else clock the first tomato in De Palma’s DOMINO? It imbues the fruit, the ripe red, with connotations of desire and guilt that motivates—and connects—the film’s expressionist panoply of law enforcers, vigilante revengers, and global terrorism actors. The rogues gallery of #FakeNews hacks and cyber-climbers aggregated by Rotten Tomatoes commits a form of cultural terrorism by dismissing De Palma’s vitality and reducing criticism and cinema to produce. The middle finger is mightier than the thumb.
Much to say. But nobody is paying me to say it.
Example: Ever since Verhoeven’s BLACK BOOK (and then her daring portrayal in RACE), I have wanted De Palma to cast Carice van Houten. She imbues the role here with complex feeling, disturbing the spectator’s response to her capacity for action. She aims her righteous right-leg kicks for the testes (“Therapy,” she jokes) and her gun for single-minded vengeance, always registering the moral implications with Adjani-like imminence, even when crossing paths with the woman she betrayed.
It’s a beautiful film—now available on iTunes.
This is a second-tier, non-event film (a commendable rejuvenation for De Palma), and its brisk narrative moves as if on impulse. De Palma’s mastery of pace and composition makes the briefest image and sharpest edit count. When Christian confronts Ezra, their initial alarm is conveyed through European/African facial contrasts — film noir close-ups burning with sociological dread — that, thanks to cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, raise the movie’s temperature. Each character’s desperation and personal motivation are vivid; the global nightmare is conveyed with such quick efficiency that Domino plays like a B-movie dream of a great De Palma film. (The media’s hostility toward it suggests that Domino — which dares pinpoint Islamic terrorism — isn’t PC enough.)
For various reasons owing to our political and moral disorientation, it seems impossible for contemporary American filmmakers to deal with national or global crises. (Note that Domino’s non-American cast mostly speaks in American idioms.) But De Palma’s formidable technique helps him puzzle out this artistic dilemma ahead of his peers. His signature use of split screens throughout Domino shows such assurance and depth that it relays our split moral consciousness. Domino proves that De Palma’s relation to new media includes coming to terms with the horror of ISIS beheading videos — the new media depersonalization that is inseparable from the private commemoration in cellphone photo swipes and facial-recognition technology that destroys all privacy. That concern animates every scene. It’s total illumination of our digital-age crisis.
De Palma’s 2007 film Redacted was a predictably sour retort to George Bush’s continuation of the Iraq War. De Palma couldn’t get over the cynicism he developed in the countercultural Sixties, and his knee-jerk liberalism forced him to shortchange his sympathy with the film’s soldier characters, unforgivably showing them as moral criminals. With screenwriter Petter Skavlan, DePalma’s Domino premise updates Eisenhower’s 1950s domino theory so that the warning against Communism’s spread becomes an allegory for this century’s spread of rampant, even murderous, incivility.
In this way, Domino responds to the post-9/11 political malaise (as well as professional difficulties) that caused De Palma’s artistic slump. That he eventually equates Islamic terrorism to common human vengeance reveals his unfortunate, facile cynicism. Australian actor Guy Pearce plays a bad Yankee CIA agent whose exit line is as trite as his villainous Southern accent: “We’re Americans; we read your emails.” This juvenile political streak is at odds with Domino’s most movingly humane and cinematic moments: A road-movie motif from Godard’s Made in U.S.A., a cliff-hanger motif from Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and a harrowing, self-mocking film-festival red-carpet motif from De Palma’s last great film, Femme Fatale.
These subconscious cineaste references intrude on the global nightmare as evidence that De Palma himself — unlike most recently weaponized pop-culture figures — might be rethinking the cultural decline that has become unmistakable in our politics, but especially in our media habits. That’s Domino’s real theme.
Glenn Kenny, New York Time
‘Domino’ Review: All Voyeurism, All the Time
"In Brian De Palma’s new film, a personal revenge story line is subsumed by horrific visions of television-friendly acts of terror."
The Copenhagen cop Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a pleasant fellow but not a terribly good police officer. Leaving his apartment to go on an early morning shift with his partner and pal Lars (Soren Malling), and distracted by the nude woman trying to get him to stay, Christian forgets to take his gun with him. Later, at a crime scene — a grisly torture-murder — he borrows his partner’s gun. This allows the fearsomely bearded suspect, Ezra (Eriq Ebouaney), to fatally assault that partner. During a rooftop chase that looks like the opening of Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” reimagined as a vintage Doublemint gum ad, Christian manages to lose the borrowed weapon, too.
Under other circumstances, the director, Brian De Palma, might have squeezed some mordant humor out of his protagonist’s ineptitude. De Palma’s career took off with the paranoid comedies “Greetings” and “Hi, Mom!” five decades back, and his filmography has encompassed horror, crime and other genres, all delivered with a sardonic edge. Even blockbuster exercises such as “Mission: Impossible” (1996) managed an acerbic undercurrent.
But “Domino,” arriving here after the director complained in at least one interview about the way the film’s producers treated him, isn’t all that unified with respect to the values it contains and excludes.
The movie shows almost no interest in a personal payback plot (the script is by Petter Skavlan), even after Christian is joined by Alex (Carice van Houten), who was closer to Lars than poor Christian is able to guess. As for Ezra, he’s nabbed by the glib C.I.A. chess master Joe Martin (Guy Pearce, having some fun) and compelled to continue killing. Shaving both his beard and his head, Ezra tracks the same jihadists that Christian and Alex find themselves pursuing.
And what jihadists they are. One of them has a machine-gun-mounted video camera with sensors recording both the shooter in close-up and the victims, and feeding the images to a split-screen display. The scene in which she takes the weapon/camera ensemble to the Netherlands Film Festival is quite a set piece.
De Palma can’t realize all the elaborate effects he clearly wanted (the film’s climax occurs at a bullfight that’s conspicuously not crowded). But his direction often compensates with B-movie energy, particularly when he’s able to concentrate on his perverse vision. The death-dealing, all-voyeurism-all-the-time world that De Palma has been imagining in some form or another since the late ’60s, has, he recognizes, finally come into actual being, and it’s worse than he, or anyone, ever imagined. At times during “Domino,” the director seems practically giddy about it.
Rated R for language, themes, violence, a paranoid vision of the world come true.
Now, De Palma has been issuing warnings about his new film Domino, a Danish production that he claims didn't originate with him and was the most horrible movie set he has ever experienced. And plenty of evidence of a patch job is on display here, especially as the film actively yawns its way through a muddled plot about the conflict between Danish police and the CIA over an ISIS mastermind. It is both thrillingly and painfully obvious which sequences pique De Palma's interest and which ones don't, but fans of the director's work might be surprised by how much of his sensibility survives intact.
Always an underrated satirist, De Palma locks into the concept of terrorist-as-filmmaker and the careful staging and orchestration that goes into turning beheadings and suicide bombings into propagandistic art. With cameras attached to machine guns and remote-controlled drones, and earpieces distributed among his crew, ISIS leader Salah Al Din (Mohammed Azaay) is not much different from Francis Ford Coppola sitting in front of a bank of monitors in his trailer on One From the Heart, issuing directives to his cast and crew. For De Palma, the movies can be a deadly art.
Only Brian De Palma would care so much about the filmmaking techniques of a terrorist group. As with the “Be Black, Baby” scene in Hi, Mom!, the use of cameras and camera angles in Snake Eyes, and the vérité style of Redacted, De Palma is most fascinated here by the use of media as a tool for communication, the visual arts as a weapon. Passion, one of his most concupiscent films,was the first film De Palma made in the age of social media, and technology/social media played an integral role in the narrative, and again, in Domino, social media has the potential to be poisonous, to be propaganda. The phone-as-camera also features prominently in both films. (One thinks of the teenage De Palma avatar in Dressed to Kill uses technology to figure out who killed his mother, or Travolta’s sound man creating a film to solve a murder.) At his best, De Palma is the consummate trash man, crafting out of puerile material some of the most delirious images in American movies. His characters have met untimely ends in high school gymnasiums, in elevators, at boxing matches; his victims and maladaptives are chopped up, maimed, shot, stabbed, immolated, electrocuted, exploded by telekinesis. In Domino, De Palma has fun with a lethal camera drone, which is one of the most on-brand things the filmmaker has ever done. Movies have the power to propagandize, and they have the power to kill.
I have also discovered today that several (not sure how many) AMC Theatres across the U.S. will be showing Domino as an "AMC Extra" twice daily (in the afternoons, usually) beginning Friday. This includes the previously noted run at the AMC Rolling Hills 20 in Torrance, CA (the only theater near Los Angeles that will be showing Domino, for this next week at least). It appears that Saban must have entered Domino into AMC's "AMC Independent" program. I have not been able to find a way to search for every AMC theatre that will be showing Domino, but it will open tomorrow at AMC Classic Irvin 10 (in Irving, Texas), as well as at AMC Woodridge 18 (about an hour outside of Chicago, in Woodridge, IL).
So... check your local area theaters, and let us know if you find Domino listed for the coming week.
These are flaws, to be sure, and they might have indeed sunk many an ordinary movie. However, “Domino” is still a Brian De Palma film, and those who still thrill at the very sound of that phrase will find a lot to enjoy here. Many of the obsessions he has explored throughout his career are on display in "Domino," both dramatic (voyeurism, mistrust of authority, a fascination with technology and the various ways in which it can be manipulated) and cinematic (including split-diopter shots and gorgeous deployment of slow motion at key moments). Although the script is largely straight-faced throughout, there are a couple of moments of De Palma’s trademark dark humor, including a bit in which a character analyzes a brutal torture video to note all the cinematic techniques being deployed with the fervor of someone taking note of every frame of a new trailer for some upcoming blockbuster. And, of course, there are the big set pieces—including an early rooftop chase that provides thrills and a tip of the hat to “Vertigo,” a terrorist attack that Al Din directs from afar as if he was a filmmaker himself and a climactic confrontation at a bullfight in Spain that takes up much of the final third. In that last scene especially, cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine (who has shot most of Pedro Almodovar’s films as well as De Palma’s “Passion”), editor Bill Pankow, and composer Pino Donaggio combine their considerable talents to create a thrilling display of sound and vision that distinguishes them from the largely forgettable CGI melanges that currently dominate the multiplex scene.
“Domino” is not a De Palma classic on the level of “Dressed to Kill” or “Blow Out,” and it doesn’t reach the heights of such recent masterworks as “Femme Fatale” or the absurdly overlooked “Passion.” However, though it may ultimately go down as second-tier De Palma, his second tier beats the hell out of the top-level efforts of most filmmakers. The great Howard Hawks once famously stated that “A good movie is three good scenes and no bad ones.” “Domino” certainly contains the requisite three good scenes and they are so good that I found it easy to forget, or at least forgive, the ones that do not quite work. This is not a great Brian De Palma film in the end, but its best moments will remind you of just how great he can be.
At first, it’s a little disappointing to realize “Domino” isn’t going to reach the heights of “Passion,” nevermind “Femme Fatale” or “Raising Cain.” But as with his 2000s triptych of studio disappointments, there’s also something glorious about being freed from the confines of a pretty rote thriller and simply waiting for De Palma to uncork some rococo bit of violent suspense (“Passion” has a similar waiting period, but with more sustained tension than his weakest studio films).
On paper, “Domino” is about a police officer (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) pursuing a terrorist (Eriq Ebouaney) who murdered his partner—and who becomes entangled with a shady CIA agent (Guy Pearce), hoping to use the criminal for his own ends. But it’s really about one bravura set piece at the beginning, and one bravura set piece at the end. Most of the rest of the movie is a tangled, slack, fraying hammock tied between those two beautiful trees.
Variations on this metaphor can describe a lot of De Palma’s most inconsistent movies: “Mission to Mars,” for example, is a perfectly woven hammock tied tight between two rotting trees on the verge of collapse. The perfectly woven hammock in that movie is a superb outer-space sequence where a crew of Mars-bound astronauts must abandon their ship and attempt to land a much smaller orbiting capsule on the red planet. When I first saw this movie upon its 2000 release, I was gripped by this chunk of the movie, even seeing it twice, but came out of the experience feeling irritated with De Palma, who I’d last seen squandering the terrific simulated single-take opening sequence of “Snake Eyes”—a shot of adrenaline that carries the movie through the majority of its running time...
...“Domino” doesn’t have a star performance to carry it along, but it does have its obligatory highlight-reel moments to open and close things up. The first one, beginning with a long push-in to establish that the cop has forgotten his firearm at home, and continuing through his partner’s murder and the murderer’s escape, is well-squeezed pulp, and the movie’s finale, involving an attempted terrorist attack at a stadium, applies that slow-burn Hitchcockian verve to a disconcertingly contemporary setting. There’s some attempt to point De Palma’s voyeurism toward the exhibition of modern terrorism, but it only occasionally tracks with what actually happens in the movie.
Maybe future repeat viewings of those good parts will be kind to “Domino” overall, just as its big-studio cousins that don’t hang together are less frustrating in retrospect. But in some ways, those two scenes are all “Domino” really needs. In the right frame of mind, coming across a couple of holy-mackerel sequences in an otherwise clumsy movie creates its own kind of ecstasy—not exclusive to this filmmaker, of course, but particularly compatible with his interests and obsessions.
De Palma has been both hailed and criticized for making self-justifying movie-movies, full of homages, films within films, and B-picture artifice, and even his most evenhanded films have especially memorable set pieces that jut out of them prominently. In his more wildly uneven work, those masterful stretches feel weirdly authentic to the experience of watching a lot of movies—in fact, they resemble the critic-like practice of sifting through hundreds of releases and finding the occasional moment of transcendence. He’s one of the best filmmakers alive at gussying up simple thriller actions—a murder, a chase, the discovery of a body—into beguiling, elaborate movies unto themselves, sometimes to the point of liberating them from their original homes in perfunctory, confusing, or uninvolving narratives. It’s a talent both expansive and, in a pleasurable way, reductive. There’s a purity to a mixed-bag De Palma movie that some genuinely successful movies will never achieve. Would his filmography be as much fun without them?
You do not have to squint very hard to see Brian De Palma in Domino. Not literally, mind you … he doesn’t usually take his Hitchcock fetish to constant-cameo lengths. But he’s there in the ominous zoom-in to a gun that a Copenhagen cop named Christian (Game of Thrones‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has left on a chair in his apartment. He’s there in the sequence of Christian hanging perilously off a tall building’s breaking rain-gutter, chasing after the man who attacked his partner — a Vertigo reference writ large. He’s there every time Pino Donaggio’s score channels Bernard Hermann’s ghost while the cameras creep slowly around corners, or when, in a climactic set piece played out like a Carrie-level slo-mo car wreck, the composer cleverly riffs on Ravel’s “Bolero.” And he’s most definitely there whenever someone is framed through a far away window or via binoculars, as if they’re being spied upon, or via split-composed surveillance footage and smart-phone screens. No other American filmmaker has turned the two-way art of observation into such a cinematic obsession.
In other words: Yes, this thriller about Danish police officers chasing ISIS terrorists through two European countries is indeed a De Palma joint. A messy, uneven, heavy-handed, occasionally inspired, often insipid, steroidally stylistic De Palma joint, but one that fits the description in enough fits and starts to warrant the claim. The safari-jacketed gent himself has gone to great lengths to distance himself from a project that’s clearly been cobbled together at very little expense, despite the shady behind-the-scenes money moves; slapping “from the director of Mission: Impossible and Scarface” on the trailer, while technically correct, feels like false advertising. Whatever interest the 78-year-old “Master of the Macabre” has in this for-hire work does not revolve around Petter Skavlan’s script or the espionage-tinged narrative. As a potboiler, Domino is D.O.A. As a game of spot-the-auteurist motifs, however, this exercise in De Palma-reading is practically a gas.
So: Domino. The latest from Brian De Palma hits film culture not unlike a moody son trudging to their graduation party at a parent’s behest, a master of big-screen compositions relegated to VOD for those who bother plunking down. That tussle between pedigree of talent and nature of distribution foretells the chaos within: at one moment lit like a Home Depot model living room–a fault I’m more willing to chalk up to incomplete post-production, less likely to blame on Pedro Almodóvar’s longtime DP José Luis Alcaine–the next photographed and cut as if an old pros’ sumptuous fuck-you to pre-vis-heavy and coverage-obsessed action-filmmaking climate, the next maybe just an assembly of whatever master shots the team could scrounge together during those 30 production days. To these eyes it’s a chaotic joy; nearly malicious, deeply serious about the wounds of contemporary terrorism, and smart enough to pull off a mocking of the circumstances around those fighting it.
I have seen Domino twice and express little reservation saying its plot, courtesy of scribe Petter Skavlan, rests somewhere between formalist window dressing and outright catalyst for those plug-and-play habits. Be even a little versed in De Palma and you know what’s to come: God’s-eye (or director’s; same difference) surveillance shots, split screens as an actual plot device, a melodramatic thread over which to lay molasses-thick Pino Donaggio cues treating much of this as a big joke; the plot-setting incident being yet another assault on a stairwell.
Make no mistake, it’s mostly staged for campiness. More often than not that De Palma touch is zooming in on the specter of terrorism until it can find something ridiculous, heightened, thrilling in their possibilities. The rub is that Domino comes into a world with too many scarring reflections of itself to sit right. How amusing that a director so fascinated with the voyeurism-violence dichotomy would make a terrorist thriller about insurgents using the power of propaganda. Its own protagonist (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, carrying a blankness that lets every expression running across his face draw the movie’s emotions in even bigger lines) makes note of their formal sophistication: “even a drone shot!” But the movie’s high-wire act between gawking and actually showing can suddenly yank any fun from our grasp. Safe to say that watching Domino less than a month after the livestreamed Christchurch massacre–among the best warning signs of how deep into horror our world’s being brought–makes for one of De Palma’s few setpieces wherein aesthetic pleasure stings like sin.
For a film mired in production troubles (apparently, the crew were only able to shoot 30 days/100 and were gipped out of some serious funds), Domino is… good. More than anything, it’s a testament to how strong of a filmmaker Brian De Palma is and remains to this day, overcoming numerous hurdles to present 89 minutes (cut down from a little over two hours, for better or worse) of lean crowd-pleasing thrills grounded in revenge and ISIS hunting...
Like everything else preceding it, the finale is simply awesome, combining realistic threats with outrageously gnarly violence baked into personal vendettas that come to a head. Unfortunately, for as impressively technically crafted Brian De Palma’s film is, it’s painfully obvious that story beats are not as fleshed out as desired and that material was indeed left on the cutting room floor (and I’m willing to bet it has something to do with being screwed over doing shooting rather than creative liberties), but what’s here is undeniably sound and compelling. Domino is a short and sweet suspenseful terrorism thriller teaming up a pair of Game of Thrones stars, that also isn’t afraid to linger on the monster that is ISIS. The violence is enjoyable but not without important real-world parallels, which could have resulted in a bold misfire if not in the hands of a veteran like Brian De Palma. More impressively, it looks and sounds incredible.
De Palma displays glimmers of imaginative energy in images like those that have graced his films for half a century, including tense crane shots and jangling split screens, but the political intrigue is stale and stereotyped, the characters might as well be windup toys, and the gore is repulsive and gratuitous.
Early in Brian De Palma’s Domino, Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) wakes at daybreak and tries to roll out of the arms of his lover. The camera peers down at the detective and ever so slowly zooms in on his bed. Soon it becomes apparent that the camera isn’t even interested in the happy couple, but the gun set off to the side. Here as much as ever, De Palma has fun flexing his formal acumen, building a foundation of suspense with the camera and its subject, portending how Christian, once he manages to get his clothes on, will forget to pack heat, setting into motion a, yes, domino-like chain of mishaps.
De Palma would appear to be on familiar terrain with Domino, what with its deliriously extended set pieces, morally ambivalent characters, and smattering of references to his beloved Hitchcock (specifically to Vertigo and To Catch a Thief), with some self-reflexive commentary on the moving image thrown in for good measure. But De Palma has voiced his disfavor with the making of the film, whose production at one point was in danger of being closed down because of funding problems. So, while Domino superficially feels of a piece with what we’ve come to expect from the master filmmaker, it leaves one with the sense, as we’re wheeled from one set piece to the next, that so much texture that could have been extended to the characters’ interrelationships was probably never allowed to come to fruition.
There are plenty of classic De Palma ingredients to be found in Domino, his first feature since 2013’s Passion: the Hitchcock quotations (including, once again, a sequence cribbed from Vertigo); the side-eyed look at American power; the dual fascinations with surveillance and helplessness. But regrettably, the movie—a troubled production that’s being released under the ignominious tagline “Murder can lead to deadlier crimes”—ranks somewhere near the bottom tier of his filmography. If Passion, an over-the-top remake of Alain Cavalier’s chilly corporate thriller Love Crime, felt like a “for the fans” effort by a director who had effectively been exiled from Hollywood after a string of expensive flops, Domino is the sort of stiff auteur workout that even a De Palma nut might struggle to defend—never anonymous, but shockingly plodding for a movie that barely passes the 80-minute mark before the end credits begin to roll.
There are some flashes of the famous De Palma artistry here – the first action sequence, in which a domestic-violence investigation goes horribly wrong, has carefully built tension and the requisite nods to Hitchcock; in this case the opening to Vertigo. The finale has some sharp cross-cutting, too. Sometimes the screen is split into halves, even quarters, for multiple, simultaneous images; some scenes are washed in bold, primary colors.
The new world of social media also underlines De Palma’s career-long fascination with voyeurism, as we see people watching each other on phones, internet videos, security-cam footage. Nothing is real unless it’s recorded. Nothing is experienced except at a distance.
Yet as the Copenhagen cop on a quest, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is more dull than dogged, never establishing any on-screen connection with his temporary partner, the vulnerable Carice van Houton. Guy Pearce provides some cynical shadows as the CIA man – and probably could provide more, if De Palma gave him any closeups. But instead he’s half-forgotten.
Much of the film has a similarly unfinished look. (De Palma has already complained, publicly, about the low budget.) Sequences that should be stand-outs – an attack on a film festival, an assault at that bull ring – fizzle due to cramped quarters and an obvious lack of extras. Too many scenes consist of Coster-Waldau and van Houton simply driving around.
The film, though, does make plenty of time for its terrorists, who pray as they piece together bombs and coldly assign assassins. Those details are expected, perhaps, even necessary, in a film whose villains are ISIS members. But Domino practically revels in the scenes (one of which it even reprises, as a kind of warning, before the final credits). Add to that a hero named “Christian,” and it feels as if the film’s real subject isn’t Islamic terror but terror of Islam.
DOMINO is De Palma’s everything-all-at-once. A perfect end-cap to his trilogy (REDACTED, PASSION, now DOMINO) of satires dealing with the advancement in technology in media, ease of content distribution, the basic immorality of that content and the ultimate price society (viewer and filmmaker alike) will pay for buying into that corruption. It’s Jon Rubin’s (DeNiro in De Palma’s GREETINGS and HI MOM!) dream of terrorist infiltration and usurpation and ultimate destruction of society through the media. Samuel Fuller’s notion that “film is a battleground” validated for the 21st century. I found DOMINO both comfortable and discomforting. It’s always a joy to see De Palma dismantle the expectations of “mainstream commercial film” audiences and, with this film, he is, if anything, more contemptuous and hostile towards them than previous. A dash of VERTIGO, a sprinkle of TORN CURTAIN and a trickle of - gulp - BEYOND THERAPY (?!?!?) - washes of UNTOUCHABLES and CARRIE and BLACK DAHLIA amongst the greatest hits used to a fairly amusing and bemusing extent. I’m sure this film will continue to piss off, disappoint, depress anyone who still believes that De Palma owes them their idea of a De Palma film. I’m braced for the derisive howls. But the crescendo of failed expectations will be a symphony in testament to the director’s carefully, contemptuously, constructed cautionary message to the masses. I can only hope that De Palma lives long enough to make twenty more features — but — I have to say — this would make one smashing, logical conclusion to one of the most consistent, complex, careers of one of the most devoted satirists working in cinema today. It’s a pitch black, hilarious hoot.
Forget about the plot. When he reads from The Urban Guerilla, direct, like he did in Greetings, when he's reading from the book on voyeurism, I see this removed from the plot. And the plot is, you know, threadbare to begin with. You're formulating your own idea of what the plot really is. It's a fragment. These are fragments. So, you're abstracted from this continuity of daily life, in a story, in a narrative framework. You're in a more Godardian sort of blackout skit, sort of satiric thing. And what he does in Hi, Mom! when he reads from The Urban Guerilla, I believe, is... De Palma's basically stating to the audience that he is a cinematic terrorist. He's going to assimilate into society as a respectable mainstream director. He's going to do commercial, accessible mainstream, genre film assignments. He attempted to do this with Get To Know Your Rabbit, but it was almost fortunate that that was a disaster for him, both personally and, I guess, commercially, because Sisters is where, it's sort of like, there's this little gap, between Hi, Mom! and Sisters, of a couple of years. And when Sisters emerges, it is a superficial veneer of a Hitchcockian commercial horror film. From that moment on, he goes step-by-step into this plan that Jon Rubin, in metaphor, states outright that he wants to do in Hi, Mom! He wants to assimilate into the culture, on its own level, appear to function as a commercial, mainstream, successful director of individual distinct talent, or whatever-- he contributes to the pool, and then he will level it in the most subversive way possible. And that's with his touches of satire. And that's consistent, from the beginning of his career to the ending of his career. He is one of the few directors where I can actually say I almost hesitate to judge critically any one film that he's made, because they all contribute so strongly to an overall cinematic worldview.
Continuing the countdown all last week, the other movies Shepard listed are: Park Chan-Wook's Oldboy, Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin, John McNaughton's Wild Things, Takeshi Miike's Audition, and Park's The Handmaiden.
Meanwhile, yesterday, Netflix tweeted a mini-class thread about split diopter shots and how they're used in The Perfection, using images from other films to illustrate the technique and its effects. "But we can’t talk about split diopter shots without talking about Brian De Palma," the thread states at one point, "whose use of the technique has been a hallmark of his career. You’ll spot these shots in Blow Out, Carrie, Obsession, Mission: Impossible, Scarface… the list goes on."
Also included in the thread is a 43-second bit from the Baumbach/Paltrow documentary, in which De Palma explains how his ideas for the use of split diopter shots grew from his split-screen editing of Dionysus In '69. "I mean, I edited Dionysus, so I was constantly putting two images against each other. And I thought, 'Well, how can I do this in a regular movie?'"
Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960’s hip thriller Blow-Up birthed not one but at least two cinematic children: Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 The Conversation (screening 1 day earlier than this movie on Friday, May 24, 2019 @ 11:59p) and this 1981 Brian De Palma thriller which uses the same basic story as Blow Out AND the same basic profession as The Conversation, the sound recordist.
One of the minor miracles of the two movies that follow Blow Up is that for all their clear inspiration taking from Antonioni’s original, they are both, somehow, equally original and idiosyncratic to their respective writer/directors. While Coppola’s The Conversation explores his career long fascinations with Catholic guilt, hypocrisy, societal greed, and man’s capacity for monstrous violence, De Palma’s Blow Out explores De Palma’s personal obsessions with Hitchcock, cinema, seedy sexuality, and a kind of cinematic language that almost completely transcends anything verbal.
Blow Out follows B movie sound recordist Jack Terry as he realizes that he may have inadvertently recorded proof of an assassination when he records the sound of a car accident one night as part of his routine sound effect recording.
From there, the movie gets giddily cinematically hysterical in typical De Palma phantasmagoric fashion, as Terry comes to realize he is part of a greater US political conspiracy that includes assassination, presidential politics, seriel killing, and prostitutes.
Accompanied by De Palma company regulars Nancy Allen and John Lithgow, Travolta wanders through a series of stunning cinematic De Palma set pieces until the whole thing circles back to be about moviemaking itself and the exploitative nature of almost all moviemaking whether or not it started out in exploitation cinema.
One of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies and one of the most beloved De Palma movies (along with Scarface and Phantom of the Paradise which we are also showing) Blow Out is the perfect way to start your Summer. Come join us for some 80’s Fever Dream cinema and paranoia!