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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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Friday, September 6, 2019

David Koepp posted this image above last week on his Instagram page, with the caption, "You can’t outrun a shadow, Kevin Bacon." Bacon stars with Amanda Seyfried in Koepp's new thriller, an adaptation of Daniel Kehlmann's 2017 novella, You Should Have Left. As one might expect, Koepp has written the screenplay adaptation. The film is being produced by Bacon along with Jason Blum, for Blumhouse Productions.

Bacon, who starred in Koepp's Stir Of Echoes twenty years ago, brought Kehlmann's book to Koepp's attention. According to Deadline's Anthony D'Alessandro , "The film version varies from that of the book, which is akin to Stephen King’s The Shining. You Should Have Left is the unsettling story of a wealthy man with a younger wife and six-year-old child. Mistrust and suspicion characterize their marriage while they are in a remote location that may or may not be obeying all the physical laws of the universe."

Bacon was on hand last night at a Barnes & Noble in New York City to moderate a discussion with Koepp about Koepp's first novel, Cold Storage, which hit stores this week. That same day, Koepp participated in an hour-long "Ask Me Anything" discussion on reddit. "My first novel, Cold Storage, came out this week," Koepp stated in the reddit introduction. "It's about a deadly organism that absolutely MUST be contained and destroyed, but is neither contained nor destroyed. Mayhem ensues."

In the ensuing discussion, Koepp was asked, "What's been the biggest challenge going from screenwriting to novel writing?" Koepp replied, "Just the scope of a novel. It was something I'd wanted to do for a long time -- not write a novel per se, but write in a longer format -- but still, the sheer amount of typing involved was impressive. Even for a brisk novel like Cold Storage. But I was DELIGHTED by the ability to go inside a character's head, to delve into someone's thoughts, after 30 years of only being able to write what they do or say."

Koepp was not asked anything specific about his work with Brian De Palma, but he did answer a question about collaborating as a screenwriter with directors:

Collaborating can be a joy, and it can be torture. Sometimes both with the same person. For the most part, I've really enjoyed my collaborations with directors. I'd say ninety percent of the time they've been true partnerships, and there's been respect and encouragement on both sides. The other ten percent of the time -- well, it sucked. I'm sure you've been in bad relationships, where you feel like no matter what you say it's the wrong thing, and you KNOW that no matter what THEY say it's the wrong thing. Same thing with a bad collaboration.

Or, sometimes, you get along great, but the combination of your particular talents just isn't producing good work. That happens too, and it's sorta the worst.

All work with directors is close. You are the two people who have the greatest creative stake in the movie, and you're the two that are with it the longest. All the others come and go, but you and director remain. So it is a close and long-lasting relationship. Unless the director fires you, of course. And make no mistake, that power is theirs, and not yours.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, September 7, 2019 12:20 AM CDT
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Thursday, September 5, 2019

At MUBI, Lawrence Garcia looks at the early films of Pedro Almodóvar, and brings up the cinema of Brian De Palma in the process:
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Almodóvar was never much of a niche director, having achieved a fair measure of success from the start. Pepe, Luci, Bom and Labyrinth of Passion both played at the San Sebastian Film Festival, Dark Habits bowed at the Venice Film Festival, while What Have I Done to Deserve This? and Law of Desire had the (backhanded) distinction of being selected for the annual New Directors/New Films showcase in New York. But Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, 1988), which again saw Maura take the lead, would vault him into another level of success entirely. The recipient of an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, it’s quite handily the most well-known of his 1980s output.

Although it at one point lifts Psycho’s score directly—prefiguring Alberto Iglesias’ supremely Herrmann-esque score for Julieta (2016)—the film’s rhythms are that of a bedroom farce. Opening with separate dubbing sessions of the famed “Lie to me” scene from Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954), the film is, at bottom, about a woman’s emancipation from a feckless, fraudulent man—though along the way, it manages to work in subplots involving a Shiite terrorist cell and a blender of gazpacho laced with sleeping pills. That general arc, though, had something of an unfortunate real-life mirror, since Women on the Verge would be the last time Maura would work with Almodóvar until Volver, a full two decades later. But the film did inaugurate Almodóvar’s collaboration with cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, who could go onto shoot six of Almodóvar’s films. With reference to this long-standing partnership, Brian De Palma, for whom Luis Alcaine shot 2012's Passion, would off-handedly remark: He “lights women beautifully.”

De Palma turns out to be a rather useful point of comparison for Almodóvar. The first scene of Matador, after all, anticipates the American director’s deployment of Double Indemnity in the opening of Femme Fatale (2002)—a film in which, lest one forget, Banderas does an absurdly campy impression of a gay man going on about floppy disks. Likewise, one might recognize shades of Blow Out (1981) in Almodóvar’s own work, such as in the recording sessions of Law of Desire and Women on the Verge. As is the case for most cinephiles of a certain age, Hitchcock looms large for both directors, but in addition, the two share voluptuous visual styles, a taste for scuzzy, voyeuristic pleasures, not to mention a weakness for the bravura set-piece—though Almodóvar’s camerawork never quite reaches the same vertiginous, whirligig intensity as De Palma’s, weighted as it is towards the materials of performance.

Of the films included in the retrospective, the closest point of contact between Almodóvar and De Palma is Kika, an antic slapstick comedy that over its runtime presents a veritable catalogue of scopophilic antecedents: a phallocentric photoshoot in the vein of Blow-Up (1966); an intrusive survey of domestic activity à la Rear Window (1954); a crucial narrative turn from The Prowler (1951); and a prominently placed poster of Peeping Tom (1960) for good measure. Add to this the throughline of an exploitative reality show—sordid true crime, with none of the desired moral/ethical balance—and the film would seem to have the makings of a De Palma-esque thriller. But in keeping with Almodóvar’s filmography, the film’s primary draw is how melodrama and farce serve as containers for these varying interests—seen most clearly in the lengthy, slapstick sequence of Forqué’s eponymous lead character being raped by a recently escaped convict. For this scene, Almodóvar courted a fair amount of controversy—which he had done before, and would continue to do in the decades following. His early reputation as the enfant terrible of Spanish cinema, though diminished, has yet to disappear entirely. But there’s nothing quite like the shock of a first encounter, and if nothing else, Kika makes for a potent one.

See also:
Almodóvar Video Essay by Adrian Martin and Cristina Álvarez López
Vulture's William Penix on Almodóvar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, September 6, 2019 7:26 AM CDT
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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Nancy Allen and Bryan Fuller will host a special event screening of Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill on Saturday, October 19, at The Theatre at The ACE Hotel in Los Angeles. All the information so far is in the image above, but note the two packages that offer exclusive action figures (Bobbi vs. Liz 2-pack in the "Autotron" package, and Bobbi action figure in the "I Borrowed Your Razor" package). Also note that all packages offer "Photo Opp with Cast," while the post-screening Q&A, to be moderated by Fuller, reads, "with actress Nancy Allen & more...", suggesting the potential for more cast members to added to the line-up as we get closer to the event date.

Posted by Geoff at 7:42 AM CDT
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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

South China Morning Post's James Mottram, reviewing Todd Phillips' Joker following its world premiere this past weekend at the Venice Film Festival, mentions that "at one point we see a cinema marquee advertising Brian De Palma’s Blow Out." This would suggest that Joker, which Phillips has said is inspired by films such as Martin Scorsese's The King Of Comedy and Taxi Driver, Milos Forman's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and Sidney Lumet's Serpico, takes place in 1981. Phillips' most recent previous film, War Dogs (below, from 2016), included imagery from De Palma's Scarface.

Posted by Geoff at 7:34 AM CDT
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Monday, September 2, 2019
It appears that Brian De Palma may have sat down for an extra Mastercard Masterclass the other day, or perhaps for a few minutes with the press, before or after the Mastercard conversation with Rossy De Palma, Nadine Labaki, and Valeria Golino. A rough-cut Reuters video is posted at One News Page. Meanwhile, Mike Davidson of Reuters filed an edited interview article that posted earlier this morning, under the headline, "A Minute with: Brian De Palma on horror, #MeToo and critics"...
VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - Veteran film director Brian De Palma, maker of “Carrie” and “Scarface”, has no intention of retiring yet, though he is 78, and is now working on a horror movie inspired by the scandal engulfing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Some 70 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct dating back decades. Once among Hollywood’s most powerful producers, Weinstein has denied the accusations and said any sexual encounters were consensual. He has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges against him.

In an interview with Reuters during the Venice Film Festival, where De Palma revisited his career in a masterclass, the director spoke about sexual misconduct in Hollywood, dealing with bad reviews and adapting to changes.

Below are edited excerpts of the interview.

Q: There is talk you are looking to revisit the horror genre maybe with a take inspired by the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Why that subject matter?

De Palma: “Because my years of working in and out of Hollywood you were very aware of the kind of abuse to women that was going on. And being a director who directs women all the time you are very sensitive in how they are treated in the movie that you are making. So I was aware of some of the things that were happening during the Harvey Weinstein era and it is an interesting story to tell, plus, I like the sort of suspense drama and I created a script that is sort of based on some of the real cases reported in the New York Times. But it is basically a suspense film using that as the historical backdrop.

Q: Did the #MeToo movement need happen to bring change?

De Palma: “It annoyed directors like myself and others of my contemporaries because as directors you deal with actors all the time. And you must engender their trust. And if you... take them out to dinner or abuse them, it goes against what you are trying to do to gain their trust in order for them to be as free when they perform in their movies. It is basically crazy and people who do it, I always have felt are misusing their power.”

Q: You have had a feisty relationship with some of the film press. Do you think some of that was unjustified in the past?

De Palma: “You are always judged against the fashion of the day so you can’t take it too seriously. A lot of my films did not do well when they came out and were not particularly reviewed well and people are still talking about (them) today.

At the time it can be quite hurtful but if you outlive it you will be surprised what remains important in cinema over the years.”

Q: A number of your films in the 1980s had the feistiness of Hollywood then. It seems those films are now out of vogue.

De Palma: “It is a skill. Not only that, whatever happened to beauty in cinema? When was the last beautiful picture you saw where people were lit beautifully? That means you have to sit or be in a particular light and say your lines so that you are hit a certain way like they did in the 1930s and the 1940s. You don’t see that any more.”

Q: What challenges have you faced as the industry changed?

De Palma: “You try to do the best you can but in the immortal words of (director) William Wyler ‘Once your legs go it is time to hang up your riding crop’ basically. It gets more difficult to make movies if you physically have limitations so if I get to make a couple more pictures, great, but as you are heading into 80, it becomes quite a challenge.”

DE PALMA, AGAIN: "At the time it can be quite hurtful but if you outlive it you will be surprised what remains important in cinema over the years."

Posted by Geoff at 9:36 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 2, 2019 11:06 AM CDT
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Saturday, August 31, 2019

Brian De Palma has been at the Venice Film Festival the past couple of days. Yesterday, Christina Newland tweeted, "Guys, I just thought I’d inform you: I did a very brief interview with Brian De Palma and we talked about onscreen fucking. (His words, not mine.)"

Huffington Post's Giuseppe Fantasia also caught up with De Palma and posted the interview yesterday. Here's an excerpt, with the assistance of Google Translation:

"The crucial problem is climate change. We have not been up to a responsibility that we have towards the environment, and that consists of having to protect it, which is our crucial role. Someone like Trump does not want to put it in his head and even goes so far as to deny that this is the role of America. Children will have to face a world different from this one in which we have not been able to safeguard what is around us. Thumberg is right to point this out to us. We are the ones who are living the life unlivable to them. Isn't it terrible?"

Here at the Lido, where the 76th International Film Festival is underway, today Brian De Palma, director-symbol of New Hollywood origin, "father" of tension-rich impact shots, such as the characteristic slow motion shot or 360 ° rotation of the camera around a body, the worthy heir of Alfred Hitchcock whose styles and manners have been revisited. From Carrie - which featured his ex-wife Nancy Allen - up to Blow Out, Scarface, The Untouchables and Carlito's Way, just to name a few, his work has contributed to maintaining the thriller genre while making suspense his strong point. That word, which has a different sound depending on whether it is pronounced in English or in French, is preferable to fear, which has nevertheless always managed to be conveyed in its own way in his films. "I've always created it, even though I'm not a master like Hitchcock. When I make films, it's as if they were a canvas that involves the audience in the protagonists and their personas, and all facets of the characters. In any case, today, given the situation we are experiencing, there is something to be afraid of."

"In America" - he adds - "we have a crazy president, but unfortunately he is our president." And yet, we point out to him, there is a large slice of the population that voted for him and continues to love him. "We are living in a very particular period," he replies. "We have never had such a president and I hope he will not be re-elected." "We can call it the last bastion of white America," he adds. "America is a great country that is based on migratory flows and that has always tried to include migrants. What he is doing, as we know, is keeping them out, even though our country has always welcomed those who are different, it has always tried to integrate it. The mistake lies in having created a structure that is exclusive, rather than inclusive." Also in Italy, we point out to him, we are experiencing a situation in many ways similar. "I don't know much about Italian politics," he says, "but I keep myself informed and I obviously have my ideas..."


Fighting the many bad things that surround us is a "Mission Impossible," wanting to mention one of his most beloved movies, which was followed with later chapters. "Cinema helped me a lot," he explains. "It gave me so much and it gives me so much today when I do it, but there is one thing that it gave me and made me discover even better, which is beauty. I am a visual storyteller, I tell the story through images. My goal is always to create stories that speak through images and I learned to tell stories through images even when politics was going to disturb what was around me. The real challenge was to be able to create those images despite what was happening, often in a dangerous and ridiculous way."

"See Life Through A Different Lens" is the title of the Masterclass organized by Mastercard which included him as a panelist together with the actresses Rossy De Palma, Nadine Labaki and our Valeria Golino. "It's what we do with films: to see life with different eyes, from another perspective. We should always do it. It is a gift that not everyone has. I think of my job being to point the camera at someone or something and then show them how I live life. I'm inspired by Godard: cinema is in line with what is said in those seconds or minutes. Cinema," he concludes before saying goodbye, "is life seen from a different perspective.”

Posted by Geoff at 3:51 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, August 31, 2019 4:22 PM CDT
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Friday, August 30, 2019

Brian De Palma, Rossy De Palma, Nadine Labaki, and Valeria Golino all took part in a panel onstage today: "See Life Through A Different Lens," presented by Mastercard at the Hotel Excelsior, as part of the Venice Film Festival (festival director Alberto Barbera popped up on stage near the tail end of the conversation). I will post more about the conversation tomorrow (it was presented live on the "Best Movie" Facebook page), with more pics and other interviews from Venice.

Posted by Geoff at 6:19 PM CDT
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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman attended the world premiere today of Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story at the Venice Film Festival. After pre-movie drinks at the Hotel Excelsior (where De Palma will participate in a Mastercard conversation event tomorrow), De Palma and Lehman arrived on the red carpet, where they posed for photographs, and De Palma signed autographs (as in the photo above, taken by Alberto Pizzoli). See below for a few more pics, a YouTube video from the Red Carpet, and a few links to early reviews of the well-received Marriage Story, which stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in what Telegraph critic Robbie Collin describes as "a thinly veiled cine-memoir about the filmmaker’s recent divorce from the actress Jennifer Jason Leigh."


Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

One of the strangest and most beautiful paradoxes of cinema is this: the more needlingly specific it gets, the more sweepingly inclusive it feels. At the Venice Film Festival earlier today, the multi-national audience in the Sala Grande winced and hooted as one at Noah Baumbach’s tremendous Marriage Story, a thinly veiled cine-memoir about the filmmaker’s recent divorce from the actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.

It is Baumbach’s funniest, most fine-grained picture since 2012’s Frances Ha – a kind of screwball Kramer vs. Kramer, full of laser-targeted telling comic detail, both about the divorce process itself and the couple’s split existence between the New York arts scene and upper middle class Los Angeles. There is a subtly brilliant running joke in which the film’s LA residents keep gushing over their city’s “sense of space” – invariably from inside some poky air-conditioned office.

Jon Frosch, The Hollywood Reporter
Marriage Story begins with a fake-out. Via voiceover, spouses Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) enumerate the things, big and small, that they adore about each other: she’s an unparalleled listener, an expert gift giver, an "infectious" dancer; he’s a natural with their young son, a surprisingly great dresser, cries at movies. Glimpses of their shabby-chic domestic contentment are shown as a bittersweet Randy Newman score swells. It’s all warmly romantic in a grounded, adult way.

Alas, those lists aren’t Valentine’s Day cards Charlie and Nicole have written for one another, or an intimacy exercise meant to draw them closer. They’re something a mediator has asked the pair to cobble together to kick off their separation in good faith. On the surface, this is indeed not a tale of love, but of mounting mutual hostility — though as Noah Baumbach’s wounding, masterly new film argues, the line between those sentiments can be agonizingly blurry.

Viewers who dug the relative mellowness of Baumbach’s last effort, 2017’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), should brace themselves: Like Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage — an inevitable influence — this is a tough piece of work, steeped in pain that feels wincingly immediate (it’s based on Baumbach’s own divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh) and unsparing in its willingness to observe, at sometimes startling emotional proximity, good people at their worst.

It’s also funny and, when you least expect it (and most need it), almost unbearably tender, thanks in large part to the sensational leads, who deliver the deepest, most alive and attuned performances of their careers. Marriage Story puts you through the wringer, but leaves you exhilarated at having witnessed a filmmaker and his actors surpass themselves.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety
Marriage Story” is the Noah Baumbach movie we’ve been waiting for. It’s better than good; it’s more than just accomplished. After 10 features, released over a quarter century of filmmaking (his debut, “Kicking and Screaming,” came out in 1995; his other films include “The Squid and the Whale,” “Greenberg,” and “Frances Ha”), this, at long last, is Baumbach’s breakthrough into the dramatic stratosphere. At once funny, scalding, and stirring, built around two bravura performances of incredible sharpness and humanity, it’s the work of a major film artist, one who shows that he can capture life in all its emotional detail and complexity — and, in the process, make a piercing statement about how our society now works.

The movie is a drama of divorce, and when it’s over you may feel like you know the lives it’s about as well as you know your own. Yet “Marriage Story” isn’t just the tale of a marital breakdown and its aftermath. It’s a film about divorce: how it operates, what it means, its larger consequences. Television periodically confronts this kind of thing (on “Big Little Lies,” say), but if you’re wondering when it was that a movie last dealt with the subject of separation on such a big-picture scale, you might have to go back 40 years — to the era of “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Scenes from a Marriage,” and “Shoot the Moon.” “Marriage Story” makes a worthy addition to that canon, though so much has changed. Divorce was commonplace back then, but this is the first film set inside what might be called the divorce-industrial complex. It’s about two people coming to terms with a process that, however necessary, is more wounding at times than their heartbreak.

Posted by Geoff at 8:48 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, August 29, 2019 11:19 PM CDT
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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

With Domino opening in Belgium next week (September 5th), Gazet van Antwerpen's Kristin Matthyssen notes that the windmill in Oelegem "shines for 90 seconds" in the film. Meanwhile, reviews from Germany are starting to come out-- here are a couple of them, translated with the assistance of Google translations:

Fritz Göttler, Süddeutsche Zeitung

A nice little political thriller, "Domino" by Brian De Palma. The fight against ISIS, scene of Copenhagen. There is a suicide bombing on the red carpet, and for the finale one in the bullring of Almeria, with drone. The "Game of Thrones" stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten practice their job as Copenhagen cops with pleasantly old-fashioned methods, and De Palma conjures up Hitchcock again, in the stairwells and over the rooftops of the city, this time the beginning of "Vertigo," with James Stewart hanging from the gutter. Installed in a dozen terraced houses, the CIA stages their interrogations ice-cold under the unruffled gaze of a Buddha. When Coster-Waldau wonders how they would know a personal detail about him, he gets the answer: We're Americans, we read your e-mails.

Michael Kienzl, Deutschlandfunk Kultur
The Destructive Power of Images...

Brian De Palma has been known since the '70s as a visually stunning stylist. His specialty is in films with dual ground layers. Meanwhile, he films with low budgets in Europe. With "Domino" he has managed a convincing thriller.

The spectacular finale of "Domino" takes place in a Spanish bullring. Two police officers from Copenhagen are trying to thwart an Islamist terrorist attack. The scene is staged like a ballet. While the movements of the actors become soft and graceful through the use of slow motion, composer Pino Donaggio turns the tension screw with a slowly increasing Bolero rhythm.

A Stylist from "New Hollywood"

With visually extravagant moments like this, American director Brian De Palma has earned a reputation as a great stylist, melodrama and Hitchcock heir, especially in the 1970s and 80s. Often these were horror films and thrillers like "Carrie" and "Dressed to Kill", and later also major projects like the first part of the "Mission: Impossible" series.

But some flops made sure that he could no longer realize his films in Hollywood. "Domino" is now - after "Passion" shot in Berlin - already the second, purely European De Palma production.

The story combines various revenge stories: It's about two investigators who follow the murderer of their colleague from Denmark to Spain. He in turn hunts an ISIS terrorist who has his father's conscience - and is used by a CIA agent, who in turn wants to avenge his partner. It is not political but personal motives that develop into a vortex of retribution in which salvation is ruled out.

An Enrichment of Genre Cinema

With its estimated $6 million budget, Domino is a low-budget movie, so to speak. In part, you can see that too, for example because many scenes play in cars or interiors and the aesthetics are closer to that of television than to the cinema. And through the complicated production history, the film with its ISIS story also acts as if it would lag a few years behind.

From much of the criticism, the film was accordingly panned. But even if some things are a bit adventurous or thickly applied, De Palma shows in an impressive way how he represents an enrichment for the current genre cinema even under the most difficult conditions.

More than Hollywood on the Back Burner

"Domino" does not simply try to implement the savings version of Hollywood material. With a wink, he plays offensively with the fact that here a renowned US director suddenly films in Europe.

A running gag of the film is about the absence of firearms. Right at the beginning, the protagonist forgets his service weapon at home, which ultimately leads to the death of his partner. And when he wants to follow the murderer with his new colleague to Spain, the two have to leave their weapons behind at the security checkpoint.

Operatic Picture Excesses

Although De Palma's greatest strength here again is the operatic image excesses for which he is known, the film not only revels in his images, but also reveals its destructive power. For example, a terrorist uses a machine gun with a mounted camera to record both the perpetrator's and victim's reaction. Later, the recording ends up as a propaganda video on Youtube.

A CIA agent, on the other hand, uses surveillance images on a laptop to break a prisoner. The terror and also the fight against him lead in "Domino" to a showdown over who produces the more threatening images.

Posted by Geoff at 8:13 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, August 28, 2019 5:40 PM CDT
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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Last week, Nerdist posted a great article by Rosie Knight with the headline, "Phantom Of The Paradise and the Making of a True Original." The article uses new Fantasia Fest interviews with Ed Pressman (via phone) and Paul Williams to look at the making of Brian De Palma's film, before delving into interviews with the makers of the documentary, Phantom of Winnipeg:
Phantom of the Paradise is unlike any other film. Sprawling and strange, the epic musical masterpiece is uncannily prescient, predicting the nostalgia craze, glam rock, and multiple other musical trends. The project came about after Phantom of the Opera became one of two options that Pressman and De Palma picked up after the lauded director became disillusioned with big studio movies. “I first met Brian De Palma in New York. He’d done a film called Greetings, a low budget independent film with some political undertones, and we became friends and he went on to start directing for the studios. He did a film for Warner’s called Get to Know Your Rabbit and he was very unhappy with the experience and called me from Toronto, I think. There was a producer taking options on Phantom and Sisters, and Brian said, ‘Get me out of here. You can get the rights so we can make it the way I want to.’ So we did that,” Pressman told us.

Though the producer preferred the strange vision De Palma had for the unexpected mashup of classic literary tales Phantom of the Opera, Faust, and Dorian Gray, the pair settled on adapting Sisters first, with a cast made up of De Palma’s housemates. “We had a decision to make about which film we wanted to do first. From the beginning, Phantom was the most exciting out of the two projects in my mind but Sisters was more practical. At the time, Brian was living in a house in Malibu that was owned by Waldo Salt who wrote Midnight Cowboy. He’d left it to his daughter Jennifer and she invited Brian and Margot Kidder and Paul Schrader, a whole bunch of people. So the easiest thing was to keep it close to this group. So Margot Kidder would play one role and Jennifer the other lead, and it was a simpler form to make. It turned out that Sisters did really well, especially in the drive-ins.”

After the success of their first collaboration, Pressman and De Palma began their passion project, Phantom of the Filmore. The reimagining centers on a young singer-songwriter, Winslow Leach, who’s overheard by a maniacal music producer known as Swan who steals the young man’s music. De Palma brought in composer Paul Williams to write the many songs in the film. “I was a staff writer at A&M Records, writing for The Carpenters, Three Dog Night, and a lot of great but kind of middle of the road music, you know, certainly not the Music of the Spheres,” Williams explained. “They opened a film department to try and get more of the music coming out of A&M Records into movies, and a guy there knew that Brian was doing Phantom of the Paradise, which at the time was called Phantom of the Filmore. I don’t know why Brian responded to my music because it was so different. I was known for writing what I call co-dependent anthems but for some reason, he really responded. So I came to it first as a composer and lyricist.”

That might surprise fans of the film who know Williams best as the evil, Faustian producer who steals Winslow’s songs and later tries to trap him into becoming the voice and mind behind his new music venue, the titular Paradise. “The first song, Brian wanted Sha Na Na to perform and I said, ‘You know what, I’ve got this band I’ve been working with, these guys have been with me for years, they’re my road band. I’d like these guys to be the band.’ I think this may have been the beginning of when he started going, ‘Ah, there’s Swan.’ They eventually became the Juicy Fruits in the film and the bands that they evolve into throughout.”

De Palma originally suggested that Williams play the Phantom and hero of the story himself, Winslow Leech, but the songwriter wasn’t sold on the idea. “I told him, ‘I could not, are you kidding??? I’m too little.’ And he said, ‘But you could be this creepy guy up in the rafters throwing things at people,'” Williams laughed. “For me, the idea of trying to perform with one eye through a mask…Bill Finley did things with that, there was just this essence to the character, something in the reading of Winslow that was so beautifully innocent, so touching. He was an amazing actor and it worked out because I got to play Swan!”

Filming Phantom was off the cuff and collaborative, a process that saw input from those around cast and crew, as Williams recalls. “The first thing we shot was the contract scene. Yeah, my manager actually came up with a line that’s in the contract that I love. The concept for where the line came from is: if God signed a contract to create the universe, what would the contract say? ‘All articles which are excluded shall be deemed included.’ You know, it’s perfect. So that wound up in there.”

Like most low budget films, the making of Phantom of the Paradise was incredibly intense. For the songwriter, there was no time to congratulate himself on his first acting gig. “There wasn’t a lot of time to really celebrate. I remember shooting all day and there was one scene that we had to reshoot the scene when I pull the knife from Winslow’s chest on the roof. We shot all day, and then I went directly from the set to the studio, recorded vocals until almost dawn, and then went right back to the set. They took my makeup off, put new makeup on, and then I shot the scene. I was so tired, I couldn’t understand me. And we were all like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s terrible.’ So we ended up reshooting it in New York.”

For Pressman, Phantom was the kind of film he had always dreamed of making. “It was unique and original, closer to a kind of Cocteau fantasy that I’m drawn too. Sisters was more of a conventional thriller; I mean, Brian turned it into more than that, but on the page, Phantom was just far more expansive. The idea of Paul Williams doing the score was just this far more ambitious and exciting project.” Though the creative team was passionate, they were unsure of how the film would be received once they’d finished making it. “I don’t think we had an idea of the impact it would have. I think we were really happy with the film and we were happy that Fox picked it up when it finished, which was unusual in those days. They were doing less independent films and studios were not in the business of picking up other movies. They paid–today it would sound like peanuts–but I think they paid $2 million for the rights, and that was a big deal then.”

Though the ambitious and audacious film was nominated for an Academy Award for Original Song Score and Adaptation, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score: Motion Picture, it was a financial flop that failed to make money in almost every market except for Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s not totally surprising as the film was ahead of its time in almost every sense. From showcasing an overtly queer character in the form of Paradise star Beef to a story centered on male toxicity and the abusive nature of the record industry the film pushed boundaries and didn’t seem to be playing to any kind of mainstream audience.

In her final paragraph, Knight notes that Paul Williams thinks Phantom Of The Paradise "belongs on the stage, with someone like Lady Gaga at the heart of the story, bringing a new and updated vision of the parable to a whole new generation. He even teased that he’s written new songs for the potential production. Pressman revealed that a remake had been on the cards with [Guillermo] del Toro attached but had never gotten off the ground. Still, the producer is hopeful about the potential of the Phantom returning once again in the near future, especially as the film’s legend and mythos continue to grow."


ComicBook.com Interview with Paul Williams
ComicBook.com Interview with Jessica Harper

Posted by Geoff at 5:49 PM CDT
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