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Recent Headlines
a la Mod:

Domino is
a "disarmingly
straight-forward"
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

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Exclusive Passion
Interviews:

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario

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AV Club Review
of Dumas book

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De Palma interviewed
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De Palma discusses
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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, September 30, 2019
LINKS - RECENT ESSAYS FOCUS ON DE PALMA FILMS
BLOW OUT, HOME MOVIES, BLACK DAHLIA, DANCING IN THE DARK, MORE
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/masticate.jpgIt was "Brian De Palma Week" last week over at the Philadelphia-based Cinema Seventy-Six. Writing about De Palma's video for Bruce Sprinsteen's Dancing In The Dark (1984), Ryan Silberstein notes how the first few shots of the video present Springsteen on stage, but without showing his face, which is revealed in the video once he begins singing. This strategy, which Silberstein links to the delayed reveal of Indiana Jones' face in Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981), was also utilized by De Palma three years later, for Eliot Ness in The Untouchables. De Palma also gave Rebecca Romijn-Stamos the same treatment (albeit with the added slap in the face) at the beginning of Femme Fatale (2002), the opening shot of which shows a blurry reflection of her face on a TV screen.

There are also earlier instances in De Palma's cinema: a similar visual strategy is used for Nancy Allen's character (Kristina) in Home Movies (1979, pictured here), as James brings his fiancee home to meet the family. It is not until Denis, the film's De Palma surrogate played by Keith Gordon, sees Kristina walking toward him that we (Denis included) see her face for the first time.

Then there is the matter of the delayed reveal of Swan's face in Phantom Of The Paradise. When we first see Swan, it is a sort of parody of the opening scene of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, although in this case, we do not see Swan's face until a later scene. And then there is the beginning of Hi, Mom! -- we see everything from Robert De Niro's (Jon's) point of view until he tells the landlord (Charles Durning) that he'll take the apartment. (The opening of the drapes here is echoed again at the end of the opening scene of Femme Fatale.)

Some of the films covered for Cinema Seventy-Six's De Palma week include Home Movies, The Black Dahlia, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill, and more. Some links and excerpts are below. But first, there was also a lengthy article about De Palma's Blow Out this week by Jimi Fletcher at VHS Revival:

The sound recording sequence is a joy – here we just luxuriate in the art of movie-making. Jack is out by the river, underneath a bridge, recording the natural sounds that he will end up using in the movie – first we hear the sound, then we follow Jack’s mic as it picks up on it, and then we see the source – a frog, a couple having a quiet talk (unlike the chat between the couple in The Conversation, this one’s absolutely harmless), an owl….and something we don’t see the source of – a strange buzzing, winding sound. What the hell is that? We soon find out that it’s Burke pulling and releasing the garrote on his wristband. One of Blow Out‘s main pleasures is giving us little clues and hints that only become truly apparent on a second viewing. It’s not the sort of thing that makes a first watch baffling, just the odd lovely touch that makes further viewings even more satisfying.

Ryan Silberstein on Dancing In The Dark
Brian de Palma’s direction seems to aim at one main thing: playing into Bruce Springsteen as a sexual icon. “Dancing in the Dark” is a single from the Born in the U.S.A. album, which has the iconic butt shot of Bruce in his jeans taken by Annie Leibovitz as its cover. The album, specifically the cover more than anything else, transformed Springsteen from a socially-conscious rocker into a pop icon. The sexiness of the image is drawing directly on Springsteen’s working class background with the wear on the jeans pocked, the tucked in plain white shirt, and the dusty ball cap. This masculinity in the image taps into the same energy that Ronald Reagan was using to give Americans a renewed feeling after the “crisis of confidence” from the 1970s as stated by President Jimmy Carter. Of course, as their clash over Reagan’s use of the album’s title track on his 1984 campaign stops shows, Springsteen was aligned with the blue collar union workers of the left as opposed to Reagan’s trying to lure them rightward with a combination of promises to stimulate the economy and family values.

As the song goes, you can’t start a fire without a spark, and that album cover is definitely the spark to the music video’s fire.

The video starts with a pan across Springsteen’s body from his foot up to his chest before cutting to a reverse shot. We don’t see Springsteen’s face for over 10 seconds into the video, which calls to mind the delayed introduction of Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Even more striking is that it is shot entirely in closeups and medium shots for the first full minute (the runtime of the entire video is less than 4 minutes) before we get anything resembling a wide shot. This opening salvo puts Springsteen’s body front and center, his pants tight in all the right places, his short sleeves rolled up. De Palma embraces the singer’s inherent sex appeal, giving fans a better view of Springsteen on their tube televisions than they would get from most vantage points at a concert.

And Bruce is a perfect combination of sexy and goofball in this video, dancing with the microphone, smirking in between lines of the song, pointing at the audience. He’s channeling Elvis in every part of his body save his hips, since his dancing is almost entirely in his legs, arms, and shoulders. The epitome of white guy dancing. He isn’t performing at the camera, however, and only looks directly into the camera lens for a few seconds, almost accidentally. This is Springsteen in his element: it’s not about seeing crowds of people cheering him on so much as seeing the power that Springsteen has over his audience.


Gary M. Kramer on Home Movies
James is hilarious because DePalma skewers his toxic hypermasculinity. He mistreats Kristina, his fiancé, and, in a dumb subplot, makes her resist various temptations to prove herself worthy of his love. (He’s more in love with himself than with her). In one bizarre episode, James sniffs out the junk food Kristina consumed against his wishes. Graham goes all in here, giving a wildly physical performance and he’s fantastic. He often plays James like a live-action cartoon character. Just watch his bug-eyed expressions when he gets his jaw dislocated by his father in one scene. (This also leads to him making some mastication jokes). Or a bit where he saves Kristina from choking by removing a piece of meat from her throat with his tongue.

DePalma mines humor from exaggeration and absurdity, and while not all of the jokes land well—and the musical score is far too aggressive—the actors are committed. Allen, too, goes for broke, especially in a bit involving her sexual exchanges with a rabbit. Gordon is appealing in the trite role of a sensitive young man in love with his brother’s girlfriend. Unfortunately, multiple scenes of him in blackface—he’s disguised to take secret photos of his dad cheating on his mom with his nurse—are both unfunny and offensive.

Home Movies has a cheap, low-budget feel to it, but that contributes to its offbeat charm. DePalma may be in a laid-back, low-key mode here, but he still manages some stylish moments. The aforementioned choking scene, the fast food sniffing sequence, and the bit where Kristina is hit by the ambulance, have a darkly comic-horror tone to them.


Victoria Potenza on Dressed To Kill
Watching this film again I remembered how much I liked this film when I was younger. Around that time, I binged watch a bunch of Hitchcock films one summer and really got into thrillers so this stuck out as a staple for be growing up. I did not like horror much at the time but I loved mysteries and procedurals and it was exciting to revisit this and see all of the inspiration from Psycho. for this film. The twist is obviously similar to Psycho, but the way the film follows Kate around throughout her day and gets inside of her head feels like watching Marion Crane stealing money from her boss. The amateur detective team that tries to get evidence go undercover to dig up information is another similarity. Even the scene in the museum reminded me a little of the museum scene in Vertigo.

The biggest thing I noticed while watching it this time around was how much of it reminded me of a Hitchcock/Giallo hybrid. The mysterious black-gloved killer is of course a staple of those Italian horror films, but specifically it reminded me of films like Tenabrae, Deep Red, and The New York Ripper. So many Dario Argento films featured amateur detectives similar to Peter and Liz. Deep Red features a composer, medium, and reporter trying to solve a case and Tenabrae features a writer and his assistant trying to piece together the murderers, the killer in Tenabrae also uses a razor to kill his victims. The scene when Kate is entering the elevator and the killer is on the stairwell with the bright red light on them is straight out of an Argento film and now that I love horror so much I was excited to see De Palma appreciated these films too!


Andy Elijah on Casualties Of War
After severely threatening him, Meserve allows Erikkson to avoid taking part in the rape by standing guard on the perimeter of their camp. But rather than looking into the jungle for any moving figures, the camera keeps its point of view on the decrepit shack that serves as the scene of the crime. We, the viewers, watch in horror as each of the other four soldiers take their turn with the young girl. As hard as it is to watch, it is handled with taste and respect. De Palma, who never shied away from eroticism before, put none of it in the sequence.

It turns out not to just be the camera that is watching, but Erikkson himself. What is so rewarding about loving De Palma's filmography is seeing the auteuristic marks he always manages to insert–whether it be a studio for hire job or a passion project–and this moment of "seeing" falls right into his obsession with being a voyeur. Erikkson is made to be a witness to the crime, as is the viewer. It's as if we could be called to the stand to testify when everything is over. So many characters in De Palma films get themselves into trouble by finding something, or someone, from which they can’t look away. Where as in the past, it was perhaps a source of arousal, here, it is a horrible truth that can't be unseen.


Dan Scully on Phantom Of The Paradise
It wasn’t until very recently that I first saw Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise. Since my first viewing at Shame Files Live, I’ve gone on to watch it multiple times, both in a theater and at home, and every time it gets exponentially better. What a strange thing indeed for a silly, metatextual rock opera to emerge from the brain of a filmmaker once touted the “master of the erotic thriller.” Yet the more I watch Phantom, the more I think it might be the quintessential De Palma film. It’s certainly the only one I know of that feels like self-commentary — which is doubly special given that De Palma himself is no stranger to strong opinions on the nature of the film business.

So what is De Palma saying with Phantom? Well, before I get ahead of myself, let me share with you the one thing that has always stuck with me about his work. De Palma’s camera always seems to be hiding from the actions it’s capturing. What I mean is that my favorite filmmakers typically tend to make their camera invisible to the audience. To me, a great shot is one I don’t think about unless I’m actively analyzing it. It’s for this reason that I fucking HATE shaky cam. A smart shot is not one that announces the director’s presence, but rather one that draws the viewer into the reality of the film. Typically, this means that the performers are tasked with the thankless job of ignoring a camera that is all up in their business. De Palma takes a much different approach. His camera is certainly not present to the audience...but neither is it to the performers. Instead, it feels like surveillance. It‘s like De Palma is spying on his own movie. I can’t think of another filmmaker who does that (maaaaybe Jonathan Demme?).

This style is certainly appropriate given his own history with surveillance as an adolescent — baby De Palma rigged a camera system to catch his father in marital infidelity. In this instance, the camera HAD to be hidden.

Phantom of the Paradise, however, is the only film in De Palma’s body of work that brings the camera into the narrative explicitly by having the performers directly address it during certain sequences. It happens quite a few times, but the most striking example is during Phoenix’s audition for the Paradise. As she chicken dances her way through Special To Me, she makes direct eye contact with the camera and sings as if she’s giving a private performance to viewers of the film. It’s a striking moment that shows the audience exactly what the intended tone of the film should be. Phoenix doesn’t necessarily know she’s in a movie, but the movie itself sure as hell knows just what it is. This sets the table for the thematic questions posed throughout the duration of the film.


Matthew McCafferty on The Black Dahlia
Another part of the problem with the initial reception of this film was the success of 1997’s L.A. Confidential. Both L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia were adapted from novels written by James Ellroy. These two novels were part of a small series of crime books that Ellroy wrote, all based in 1940s and 1950s Los Angeles. So when The Black Dahlia was coming out in 2006, expectations were high. Another Ellroy novel adaptation — and better yet — directed by Brian De Palma. It had to be great. The hype quickly turned to disappointment, which quickly turned to negative reviews.

Again, I understand that The Black Dahlia will never be mistaken as one of De Palma’s best movies. But De Palma does deliver an enjoyable crime thriller once you connect the dots with the plot. And the ending itself actually wraps up pretty nicely. The actual Black Dahlia murder case was never solved, but this film is based off of the novel, which mixes in fact and fiction. So you do end up with some resolutions on motives and other aspects of the plot if you stick it out to the end.

Separating myself from the hyped-up expectations that were attached to this during its initial release in 2006 turned out to be a good thing. If you avoided this film like me over the years, put aside the negative noise from its reputation and give it shot.


Garrett Smith on Blow Out

 

I also really like the way Terry's life starts to become a slasher movie in some sense. His life starts to look and feel like the "trash" that he works on, and I think this is one of the most effective ways De Palma illustrates Terry's experience of being inside a conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories are often constructs we create to help explain what we think is so unfair, it has to otherwise be impossible. While it ultimately seems like Terry's fears are well founded, his paranoia leads to what might be considered a "bleeding over" of his work into his real life.

But here's where I have to be clear about why I've brought The Conversation into this... well, conversation. Blow Out is a thriller full of literal thrills. Thrilling cinematography and sound design, thrilling plot reveals and performance moments, thrilling pacing and editing. And yet, I never quite felt the deep paranoia that I believe I'm meant to recognize in Terry's experience of all of this. Whereas The Conversation, in its obsession with minutiae and methodical storytelling which can feel a bit slow, is ultimately a movie that makes me feel as insane as the main character by the end. This never quite got there for me, and I think it may be because this seems much more definitive in its conclusions than The Conversation does. While I find the idea of proving once and for all that politics are corrupt from top to bottom appealing, it seems more in line with what we know about paranoid types and conspiracy theories for someone to be left fully broken by even investigating that notion, and for us to never know which pieces, if any, were true.

That said, Terry is certainly left broken by this experience. And the end of the movie is truly chilling. Without spoiling it, I will simply say that the final moment in which we see what all of this has ultimately amounted to is so disturbingly reductive of the experience itself that it's practically a punchline. A dark, hollow joke that lines up nicely with what I just said about The Conversation. So I hope you'll take that minor criticism with the grain of salt it's meant to be garnished with.


Posted by Geoff at 7:51 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2019 5:21 PM CDT
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Tuesday, September 24, 2019
DE PALMA-BLUMENFELD-VACHAUD BOOK NOV 7
CARLOTTA TO PUBLISH VERSION FROM 2 YEARS AGO, WITHOUT THE DVDS
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/carlotta2019b.jpgOn November 7, Carlotta will publish a book-only edition of Brian De Palma: entretiens avec Samuel Blumenfeld and Laurent Vachaud. This will be the same version of the book that Carlotta had published two years ago, but this time there will be no DVDs included. According to Vachaud, the size of this upcoming edition will also be about 20% smaller than the DVD version from two years ago, which makes it approximately the same size as the original version of the book from 2001.

Posted by Geoff at 11:18 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2019 7:31 AM CDT
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Monday, September 23, 2019
JAY POTHOF TALKS ABOUT WORKING ON 'DOMINO'
"I SAT AT THE TABLE w/CARICE VAN HOUTEN, HAD A VERY COOL SCENE w/GUY PEARCE"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/dominoson.jpg

Jay Pothof, who plays Ezra's son in Brian De Palma's Domino, recently talked to I Wanna Be A Model about working on the film. "It was a special experience," the 14-year-old Pothof says in the interview. "From the time of filming it took two years and I had to keep my mouth shut about that all the time. I was allowed to fly to Copenhagen for the filming. I played the son of a terrorist and sat at the table with Carice van Houten and had a very cool scene with Guy Pearce. The film will be released in the Netherlands on September 26, 2019. Only then will I see it myself for the first time."

Posted by Geoff at 1:03 AM CDT
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Sunday, September 22, 2019
WEEKEND TWEET - DON CHEADLE, MISSION TO MARS
"OCEAN'S 11" STARS IN OUTER SPACE...
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/cheadletweet.jpg

Posted by Geoff at 9:35 PM CDT
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Saturday, September 21, 2019
FINLEY IN 'ZELENKA' - SHORT MOKUMENTARY FROM 1968
BROADCAST NATIONALLY ON NET IN 1968 - WATCH IN FULL ON YOUTUBE
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/zelenkalolipop.jpg

"Well, you wanted to know what, uh, what my life was like... this is part of it." That line, spoken by William Finley, comes in the intro to the short mokumentary film, Zelenka, in which Finley portrays the fictional famed composer of the title. Anyone who has seen Finley in Brian De Palma's Sisters might recognize a bit of an echo when, in De Palma's film, Finley looks into the eyes of a helplessly drugged up character and tells her, "You wanted to know our secrets... fine... we will share them with you."

According to William Henderson, who posted the 23-minute film to YouTube in 2016 (Susan Finley shared it on Facebook yesterday, which was William Finley's birthday), "Bob Rosen and I made this film in 1967 with the able assistance of RT Miller." (In the film itself, "RT Miller" is credited as "Arthur Miller".) Henderson adds that Zelenka "was broadcast nationally on NET in 1968. It was inspired by a student film I had made at Iowa, The Sculptor, starring my old friend Jon Lipsky."

Zelenka, then, appeared on NET in between De Palma's Murder a la Mod and Finley's participation in Dionysus In '69. In 1970, De Palma incorporated a semi-mokumentary series of his own into the narrative of Hi, Mom! In De Palma's film, Robert De Niro's Jon initially watches the black-and-white documentary series on "N.I.T." (for "National Intellectual Television," a clear parody of "NET," or "National Educational Television"), before he enters the picture himself and becomes part of the documentary. Surely De Palma had been aware that his friend, Bill Finley, had made Zelenka, and had seen it on NET two years before filming Hi, Mom!.

There are also echoes to come in De Palma's casting of Finley as Winslow Leach, the composer whose cantata is cannibalized for the production of pop songs in Phantom Of The Paradise. In Zelenka, Finley plays, in Susan Finley's words, a "notorious Czech avant-garde composer who comes to America to make his fame & fortune." His initial rock song, "Splashdown," is released on 45 on the Karma Records label. Much of the humor in Zelenka comes from watching this self-serious composer create avante-garde rock and pop songs of mind-boggling bizarre quality. At one point, he sets out to create a piece with notes and sounds that can only be heard by dogs, in an attempt to show that music is everywhere, even in the sounds that we as humans cannot hear. Nevertheless, upon listening, the dogs remain amusingly silent and non-plussed.

Watch the movie in-full below. I've included more frame captures below, as well.




Posted by Geoff at 11:16 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, September 21, 2019 11:28 AM CDT
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Wednesday, September 18, 2019
'BLOW OUT' TO SCREEN w/DE PALMA-BALDWIN AT HIFF
SATURDAY OCT 12, FILM @ 11:15, ON-STAGE DISCUSSION TO FOLLOW
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/blowoutjacknotes.jpg

The Hamptons International Film Festival revealed its full schedule this week. The previously announced on-stage conversation between Brian De Palma and Alec Baldwin will take place after a screening of De Palma's Blow Out, which is scheduled for 11:15am (festival passes are on sale now, and tickets for individual screenings and events go on sale October 1st). De Palma will also be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the festival, which runs October 10-14.

A couple of weeks ago, Baldwin tweeted, "He’s directed some of the biggest movie stars in their most memorable roles. Save the date: celebrate iconic director Brian De Palma at the Hamptons International Film Festival on October 12. We’ll explore BLOW OUT, UNTOUCHABLES, SCARFACE, CARRIE + more."


Posted by Geoff at 6:07 PM CDT
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Tuesday, September 17, 2019
LA LA LAND'S EXPANDED 'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE' SCORE CD
2-CD LIMITED EDITION, OUT THIS WEEK, INCLUDES ELFMAN SCORE REMASTERED & EXPANDED
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/milala.jpg

This week, La La Land Records is releasing a limited edition (3000 units) two-CD set of Danny Elfman's score for Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible. The set includes a few alternate unused versions of Elfman's score, and liner notes by Jeff Bond. Here's the La La Land description:
La-La Land Records, Paramount Pictures and Universal Music Special Markets present the remastered and expanded original motion picture score to the 1996 blockbuster feature film that re-imagined an iconic TV property and launched an astounding series of hit feature films that continues to this day, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, starring Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames and Jon Voight, and directed by Brian DePalma. Acclaimed composer Danny Elfman (BATMAN, DARKMAN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, SPIDER-MAN) unleashes an enthralling and action-packed orchestral score - one of the composer’s finest works. Elfman’s score is by turn dark and mysterious, light and romantic, sleek, yet operatic – all of it building up to one of the most exciting action finale music cues of the 90’s! Disc One features the original 1996 album assembly, mastered by Patricia Sullivan while Disc Two showcases the remastered film score, expanding the original album release by more than twenty minutes. Produced by Dan Goldwasser and Neil S. Bulk and remastered by Mike Matessino, this powerhouse 2-CD set is limited to 3000 units and features exclusive liner notes by writer Jeff Bond. The sleek art direction is by Dan Goldwasser.

Posted by Geoff at 7:09 AM CDT
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Saturday, September 14, 2019
BANDERAS FEST IN NY INCLUDES 'FEMME FATALE' 9/19, 9/23
"LAW OF DESIRE: THE FILMS OF ANTONIO BANDERAS" AT THE QUAD
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/ffwhisper.jpg

The Quad cinema in New York begins a series this Wednesday, "Labyrinth of Passion: The Films of Antonio Banderas." Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale is included in the series, screening at 7pm Thursday, September 19th, and at 9:30pm on Monday, September 30th. Here's the Quad description from the Banderas series:
No stranger to erotic thrills onscreen, Banderas put himself in the hands of one of the genre’s master manipulators—De Palma. Fleeing seduced-and-abandoned Rie Rasmussen and double-crossed associates after a Cannes Film Festival theft, smooth criminal Rebecca Romijn takes another woman’s identity and escapes the country. But years later, a snapshot by paparazzo Banderas compromises her cover and she lures him into a web of deadly deceit.

Posted by Geoff at 3:57 PM CDT
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Thursday, September 12, 2019
ADVANCE COPY IS OUT THERE - ARE SNAKES NECESSARY?
DE PALMA/LEHMAN NOVEL, REVISED FROM FRENCH VERSION, TO BE PUBLISHED MARCH 17
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/snakesadvanced.jpg

This morning, Lit Reactor tweeted a picture showing advanced review copies of two upcoming Hard Case Crime novels, sitting on top of a desk, including Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman's Are Snakes Necessary?

"New @HardCaseCrime in the house," LitReactor tweeted, "including Brian De Palma's fabulously titled, 'Are Snakes Necessary?'"

The novel, which Hard Case says "has been extensively revised" since the its original publication in France, has a street date of March 17, 2020.


Posted by Geoff at 8:15 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, September 12, 2019 8:20 PM CDT
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Wednesday, September 11, 2019
KOEPP ON 'M:I' - - BRIAN'S AN AUTEUR, TOM'S AN AUTEUR
ALSO, MAKING UP A FICTIONAL CIA SECURITY SYSTEM; DISCARDED UNDERWATER OPENING FROM 'SNAKE EYES'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/midaylight.jpg

David Koepp, promoting his debut novel Cold Storage, was asked some questions by Thrillist's Jennifer Vineyard that led Koepp to talk about his work with Brian De Palma on Mission: Impossible and Snake Eyes:
What's it like when you've been hired as a writer for a project based on someone else's vision, when they might let you go and have someone completely rewrite what you've done? Or when someone has done that to you? Is it weird working out all the credits?
Koepp:
It's very messy. There were a couple movies where I was hired and fired multiple times, on the same movie. And that's the way it goes with some movies, big expensive movies where there are powerful people involved. They have a script, they don't like, they want to start over. Steve Zaillian wrote a treatment for Mission: Impossible with Brian De Palma, and then Steve had another commitment that he had to go to, so he couldn't write the script. My suspicion is that he got a whiff of what it was going to be like, and ran! [Laughs]

Tom Cruise was producing it, and it was his first time producing his own stuff. Brian's an auteur, and Tom's an auteur, so there was bound to be a lot of conflict. I came on, and I wrote several drafts, and things were going great. Then Paramount said, "We don't have any notes. We want to shoot it," which is the worst thing to say to Tom, because he is a perfectionist, and he never wants to stop tinkering. And if somebody says they want to stop, that sounds like they don't care, to him. So at that point, Tom wanted [Robert] Towne to come in and work on some stuff, so Towne came in. And apparently, it wasn't going so well. The scripts had fallen into disarray, and they were supposed to start shooting. So they hired me to come back. In the most comedic period of this, they had me in one hotel in London, writing primarily for Brian, and they had Towne at another hotel, writing primarily for Tom. And then Brian and Tom would fax pages at each other and argue about what to shoot. From that chaotic process, nothing good should have emerged. But Brian's brilliant, and Tom will work until he's face-down in the dirt. He'll never quit.

I think they should make a Mission: Impossible where he's clinging to the outside of a rocket, he's shot up in the air, and it falls. He's got no parachute, he's on the way down, and he's holding up little pieces of origami, trying to slow his fall. He's falling and falling, and the ground is coming closer and closer. And then he hits the ground and he dies. This time, he doesn't get up. And the movie's only like 45 minutes long. That's how you end it! Because it's got to end! [Laughs]

Apparently you had more of a love triangle in the story at one point? Between Jim, Ethan, and Claire?
Koepp:
Oh, in one draft. I don't think it survived, did it? It should have. That's a great idea.

It's your idea!
Koepp:
[Laughs] See? Think how much better the franchise would have done had they just gone my way. God. Unreal. [Laughs]

Another idea discarded, this time for 1998's Snake Eyes... You were going to have the casino underwater?
Koepp:
Yes. That was strictly financial, but that would have been a nice opening to see. It started with this great image of the blackjack tables and the chips and cards floating in super-slow motion, and then you go, How do they come to this point? You catch up to that in the climax of the movie. But it was just too hard to do. It was at the dawn of CG, and it would have had to been CG to make it work, and it was just too massive.

Your overriding principle in writing/directing 2012's Premium Rush was for it to be CGI-free.
Koepp:
Absolutely. I wanted all of it to be practical -- real stunts, real people. There are maybe a couple of CG shots in the whole movie, background shots. Everything else, of everybody riding bikes, they really did ride that bike, jump off a bike, or slide under a truck. There are some amazing physical accomplishments in that movie. People got hurt a lot, because bike riding is dangerous, and we were putting people on bikes at high speeds and sending them into traffic, which is crazy and dangerous. We had a stretch for nine days where somebody had to go the emergency room every day.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's injury, which you show in the end credits, was caused by a diplomat?
Koepp:
Yeah! This asshole... We had a couple lanes on Sixth Avenue. New York will let you have the weekends in August, because the city empties out. So we had two lanes closed and coned-off, and two lanes open. And everybody around Joe's bike was a stunt driver. We had very clear rules. Stunt drivers weren't allowed to change lanes, they couldn't increase or decrease speed without reason, so the rider knows nobody is going to cut him off. Somebody going uptown felt that our lanes of traffic were moving better than his, some diplomat in a SUV, and he drove over the cones and into our lanes. Like smashing them under his car! And Joe was going to hit him. He had a moment to decide, "Should I hit him, or should I go left and hope for the best?" So he veered away, and unfortunately, the stunt driver in the taxi cab, when he saw the other car, he braked. He had no choice, really. So Joe fell into the taxi cab window. I was in the van driving ahead, watching on the monitors, and Joe disappeared from the monitor. You could hear some bouncing, some horrible screeching and smashing sounds, and then the mic went dead. So in the 30 seconds between, "Stop the van!" and going back and finding him, I thought, "Oh no! I killed him! I killed him!"

Technically, the diplomat would be to blame, not you...
Koepp:
Yeah, but if I didn't have this stupid bike messenger movie…

And with diplomatic immunity, he wouldn't even be charged...
Koepp:
Yeah. He didn't even get a ticket. Isn't that terrible? That's outrageous.


Was it freeing to not have to worry about the cost of CG or the possibility of injuries in coming up with ideas for the novel? The only limit is your imagination?
Koepp:
That was one of the first things Steven Spielberg told me on Jurassic Park -- the only limit is your imagination. So I just wrote freely. In the book, I could write the point of view of a fungus. I could go on a three-page digression about a cockroach. That was the most fun of all. You're going to come away with some useless tidbits of information, like what the recoil on a machine pistol could do, if you have a bad back. Better file that away! [Laughs]

Are you planning to direct your own adaptation of Cold Storage?
Koepp:
No. I think writing the book and screenplay is plenty of creative involvement! [Laughs] Somebody else can figure it out from here.


Earlier in the interview (which is interesting all the way through, so check it out), Koepp talks about he and De Palma meeting with former CIA agents about CIA security systems and being so bored by what they were hearing, they decided to make up their own cinematic security system:

In the past, you've consulted with government agencies when writing, like the C.I.A. for Mission: Impossible. What kind of scientific research did you do for this book?
Koepp:
That's a good example. We had former agents who were advising us on that movie, and when we were researching the action sequence at Langley, we asked them, "What are your security systems like?" And they described them, to the extent that they could, and it was so boring. It was exactly what you'd imagine -- a room full of cameras, and a guy watching the cameras. It was literally putting us to sleep, because Brian [De Palma] was on a couch and I was on a recliner. And then we thought, "What if we dump all the research and just make stuff up?" Brian said, "He'll lower down from the top," and I was like, "Yeah! And there will be temperature sensors, and the pressure-sensitive floor that will light up if stuff drops on it, like in that Michael Jackson video." And then it got really fun. So you do need to find out the real story, but you can also invent.

With this book, I just made things up. I wanted to serve the story first. And when I finished the first draft, I contacted a microbiologist and said, "Okay, read this. Have a good laugh. And then will you sit down and go through it with me?" And he read it, and he said, "Well, the science isn't terrible. But there's a lot that is way off. If I'm going to help you, there's one thing you have to promise me you'll never do." "Okay," I said. "What is it?" "You must stop confusing fungus and benzene. They are not the same thing at all. And you can't turn one into the other, any more than you could turn a city into a pair of socks." And I was like, "First of all, that's a great sentence. But yes, I promise I will stop doing that. Tell me the difference." And then he very methodically gave me notes, and we got it to the point where I think a biologist could read it and not throw the book against the wall.

What was it like taking notes from him, versus taking notes from producers or studio execs?
Koepp:
I rarely discarded what he said. I mean, I would bend it, you know? I would adapt it. The big difference was, he wasn't working toward an outcome. He just wanted it to be truthful and accurate. A studio often has motives that aren't true to the story, they're true to what they think a successful movie should be, and those two things can be very much at odds. I also noticed a big difference between notes from studio execs and notes from book editors. [My editor] Zack Wagman is really smart, and his notes were really good, and he also had a way of presenting them that didn't make me rebel against them.

I've always felt like the best work comes from the least number of people in the room. One reason I've enjoyed working for Spielberg so many times is because it's just his opinion, it's just him and you, and you do the best you can. But when you get a lot of different competing agendas, it's deafening. You become more of a personality manager and you're working towards compromise. So I liked writing this book a lot. It was just so much more personal. The ease with which I could toss in little things that were important to me, but might not be to anybody else -- that's just not something I've found very easy to do in a script.


Posted by Geoff at 6:55 PM CDT
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