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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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Scarface: Make Way
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Deborah Shelton
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italkyoubored

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De Palma a la Mod
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Entries by Topic
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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Ambrose Chapel
Are Snakes Necessary?
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Wednesday, January 1, 2020
SYD MEAD HAS DIED
VISUAL FUTURIST & CONCEPTUAL ARTIST ON 'MISSION TO MARS'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sydmeadroverdome.jpg

Syd Mead, the visual futurist who contributed pre-production conceptual art for Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars, passed away Monday in Pasadena, according to Los Angeles Times' Christi Carras. He was 86.

Other films that Mead created designs for include Star Trek the Movie, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, Tron, Aliens, Timecop, Mission: Impossible III, Elysium, and Tomorrowland.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, January 2, 2020 1:07 AM CST
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Saturday, December 28, 2019
NAYMAN ON SPLIT-SCREEN SHOT IN 'DOMINO' - THE RINGER
"DOMINO FORCES US TO THINK ABOUT WHAT WE'RE LOOKING AT INSTEAD OF SIMPLY CONSUMING IT"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/naymandominosplit.jpg

Earlier this week, Adam Nayman at The Ringer posted his picks for "The 10 Best Shots From Movies in 2019," and included the split-screen shot from Brian De Palma's Domino:
Brian De Palma is the supreme split-screen filmmaker of all time. Think of the prom scene in Carrie, or the doubling techniques in Dressed to Kill, or the boxing match in Snake Eyes; his ability to choreograph parallel action while subdividing the frame into different planes of perspective and meaning has always verged on authentic genius. Nobody wanted to give De Palma’s new, more-or-less direct-to-VOD thriller Domino credit as an auteur work, but the fact is that at least three or four of its sequences have the verve and invention of the director’s glory days, including the spectacular—and spectacularly incorrect—set piece depicting a terrorist attack on a European film festival, broadcast on a social media feed that shows the killer’s face side-by-side with the victims glimpsed through her weapon’s high-tech crosshairs. The result of De Palma’s visual gamesmanship is a multifaceted massacre scene that could just as easily be filed under exploitation as critique; by conflating different kinds of “shooting” (the camera and the gun) and reflecting the murderer’s gaze back at us twice over, Domino forces us to think about what we’re looking at instead of simply consuming it (even as the villains’ plans are explicitly to transform political violence into online entertainment). Long after many of 2019’s more conventionally lauded movies have faded from memory, De Palma’s unapologetic virtuosity will endure.

The New York Post's Sara Stewart would disagree with Nayman-- she includes Domino on her list of the five worst movies of 2019, writing that "De Palma scrapes the bottom of the barrel with this retro cop thriller, squandering the charisma of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the process." In her review of Domino back in May, Stewart wrote, "His split-screen signature move is used to gratuitously violent effect in videos shot by the terrorists, while the Arab villains themselves are so cartoonish you wonder how any actor could agree to play them."

Posted by Geoff at 12:00 AM CST
Updated: Saturday, December 28, 2019 12:19 AM CST
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Monday, December 23, 2019
'ASKING IF IT WORKS MISSES THE POINT' - 'DOMINO'
FILIPE FURTADO ON "BRIAN DE PALMA'S EUROPEAN NIGHTMARE"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/buddhalaptop2.jpg

"If one wants to there’s a lot to see in those images," Filipe Furtado writes in a blog post about Brian De Palma's Domino, adding that "if you refuse, they are empty often cruel razzle dazzle." Furtado is getting at the heart of the tendency for viewers to either love or hate what De Palma is doing, with very little in between.

For instance, John DeFore writes about Domino as part of the Hollywood Reporter's staff picks for worst movies of 2019:

In his long and influential career, Brian De Palma has done things some might disapprove of. He has encouraged viewers' voyeuristic tendencies, stolen whole sequences (to excellent effect) from film pioneers and often been a king of the brainy, finely crafted guilty pleasure. But De Palma has rarely been guilty of dullness, as he is with this counterterrorism thriller starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, which offers just slightly more excitement than the average TV police procedural.

Someone like me will practically fall asleep reading what DeFore has written here, because he's doing it wrong. Domino is "dull"? You must not have been paying enough attention, because, to repeat from Furtado, "there's a lot to see in those images." Here's an excerpt from Furtado's Anotacões de um Cinéfilo blog post:
The editing is uncertain particular in the midsection. But the main problem seems to be production more than editing. De Palma has been very open about how troubling and cheap the shooting was and one might risk projecting into what we have, but a lot of it is very visible on the screen. On the basis of what we have, I assume it is more likely that it is the available version of what was shoot than the result of 150-minute movie becoming an 89 minute one. At a certain point, there’s a very good scene with Van Hauten visiting her comatose lover and bumping into his wife, that’s a character note that feels very out of pace into a rushed producer cut.

The third act in particular feels like a good chunk of whatever was planned for the Spanish part of the shoot never happened with a final scene that plays like an improvised soundstage wrap-up. The abruptness feels like DePalma, but it also rings hollow. While the first two acts work as a two-tier chase – Danish cops chasing CIA assset chasing Isis terrorist – but after we hit Spain, Eriq Ebouney (who gives the film best performance, the conviction on his face suggesting his own thing while everyone else is a puppet for De Palma’s schemes) disappears from most of it. There’s many large emotional holes that DePalma is working hard to cover not always with success and I’m not talking here about narrative. De Palma’s films often makes little logic sense, but they’ve always made an operatic emotional one and on those terms Domino is a mixed bag.

There’s a thrilling quality about watching De Palma negotiate the very low budget. Like late Welles it is a blast to see the magician exiled and operating with no means and still finding ways to arrive at new images (and make no mistake much of Domino feels refreshing new). There is a great terrorist attack midway through that staged as a You Tube video with production values to match, that is better than anything on the last Mission Impossible. That the attack happens at a film festival red carpet is both a self reference to Femme Fatale and an acid commentary about those events divorce from the world around it. All three main set pieces remind me that De Palma is one of the few American true masters left. At same time the film DTV cheapness is very noticeable. Production design is non-existent, every set personality free, the bullfight terrorist attack happens in an under populated stadium, the great cinematographer José Luis Alcalaine works hard to give the world a texture it might otherwise lack. Like much of European Welles, Domino is exciting art povera, the lack of resources are glaring in a conventional sense but also open avenues of meaning and feeling. A masterclass of making much out of nothing. Just witness the long close-up whose lens movement not only enforces the scene dramatic point, but exposes the entire investigative logic of the film images and the mix between cinema and policing it is based on.

Whenever Domino centers around the production and watching of images it is great De Palma. Chunks of it are just people watching video on computers, cell phones and on very rare occasions television (De Palma’s hasn’t lost his gift for Godardian annotations). Ebouney watching Guy Pearce’s CIA agent interrogating his son while clearly staging a show for his prisoner/new asset is as exciting as the major terrorist attacks (both of which are imagined as large pieces of media intervention, terrorism in a De Palma film is filmmaking even while cinema only exist here as raw materials for terrorism). Domino often doubles on itself a document about the production of images of power and horror and as a document on its own struggles at arriving at the same.

Is there another 79-year-old artist so excited to think about the new economy of images? Character’s notice the filmmaking merits of terrorists’ drone work. It is like Redacted You Tube videos have been even more expanded in the decade after. There aren’t many movies as attuned to how that new economy of images affect daily activities and how it mediates the transformation of life into product. As often in De Palma’s movies there´s something sinister and perverse about the production of images, the world just finds new horrible ways to arrive at them.

De Palma’s panopticon lingers. Capital and survillaince are inseparable. There’s a lot of observations about freedom of movement in contemporary Europe and how that plays against the sense of a large vigilance project. If Passion took place in an abstract late capitalist corporate hellhole, Domino wants to exist as part of an European union that made a deal with the devil. Government and terrorism as business partners to justify an imprisonment complex. Visual media serving the role of mediator for it. The visual traces it left behind the only commentary left. All the characters react to it with stupor, a new reality taken for granted. Policing is impossible without video, but so is terrorism. There’s no destruction if we can’t see it. A bitter victory of the symbolic in both spheres.

Pearce is having a lot of slimy fun in what might be described in De Palmian terms as the Gregg Henry part. There’s a large perversity in how this is a movie about an Isis guy (whose individual scenes are imagined as big a cliche as images of islamic terror gets) going through Europe producing terror events, while De Palma still stages all of Pearce scenes like he is the big Mabusian villain. His exit line “We are Americans, we read your mails” remains hanging over the final scene, half DTV absurdity, half serious, the same way the movie itself has that De Palmian angry grin. One never can know for sure if it is a serious investigation on police and image-making or an excuse for having fun with it. Knowing our master of ceremonies, it is probably both. That’s part of the reason even by this date, he still has as many hardcore fans as people ready to write him off as a past his prime huckster. If one wants to there’s a lot to see in those images, if you refuse, they are empty often cruel razzle dazzle. Asking if it works, misses the point. It hangs there, sustained like Coster-Waldau in the big Vertigo-inspired opener horrifying, callow, thrilling.


Posted by Geoff at 8:01 AM CST
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Thursday, December 19, 2019
NY TIMES REVISITS 'THE BLACK PARADE', 'PHANTOM' LINK
LOOKS AT INFLUENCE BEFORE & AFTER 2006 ALBUM FROM MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/blackparadeeddie.jpg

With My Chemical Romance set to play its first show in seven years this week in Los Angeles, the New York Times' Christopher R. Weingarten, with the help of a Spotify playlist (the article is "produced by" Aliza Aufrichtig), looks at the influences that went into band's 2006 concept album The Black Parade, as well as how that album has inspired the artists who have come around since then. One of the influences on The Black Parade was Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise. Yesterday's New York Times article includes the Juicy Fruits' "Goodbye Eddie, Goodbye," which, of course, was written for Phantom by Paul Williams. Weingarten's paragraph about the song includes a quote from My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way that comes from a 2014 New York Times article by Marc Spitz:
Two titans of ’70s film — the songwriter Paul Williams (“Rainbow Connection”) and the writer and director Brian De Palma (“Carrie”) — collaborated on “Phantom of the Paradise,” a horror-themed rock opera that was critically panned and financially disastrous. Its quiet cult following includes Gerard Way, who seems to have internalized this tune from it. “When I was doing ‘The Black Parade,’” Way told The New York Times, “I thought about the film all the time, about its message of sacrificing integrity in order to reach more people.”

Back in 2004, Alternative Press reported that My Chemical Romance was then working on an album that the band described as "loosely based on Brian De Palma’s Phantom Of The Paradise." Alternative Press' Jason Pettigrew stated in 2013, "That record would become their breakout, major-label debut, Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge."

Posted by Geoff at 12:26 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, December 19, 2019 12:29 AM CST
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Sunday, December 15, 2019
WILLIAM SHEPHARD HAS PASSED AWAY
PENTHEUS IN 'DIONYSUS IN '69' - "ROCK FREAK" IN 'PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/splitshephard.jpg

William Shephard, the memorable "Rock Freak" in Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise, passed away two weeks ago, on December 1st. His daughter, Amy Elizabeth Shephard, shared the news on Facebook that day:
My sweet Papa, Will Shephard, passed this morning. It was a long process and he is finally at peace. My Dad lived life to the fullest. He loved good food, good music, and time spent laughing merrily with those he loved best. So much of who he is inspired the actor and performer I am today. He also inspired my love of Film. He played King Kong in the 1970s version and he played the rock freak in my favorite cult movie of all time, Phantom of the Paradise. He play Pentheus in Richard Schechner's Dionysus in 69 and through that play was arrested for indecent exposure in Ann Arbor Michigan (which he always recalled with such amusement). I will love him always and will miss him. But I know he is with me, he lives through me and I intend to honor his legacy by following the advice he always gave me, "look for the light." Rest well papa, may your next adventure be as glorious as you were.

Working with William Finley in Dionysus In '69 as part of The Performance Group, Shephard introduced Finley to Susan Weiser, who had been a student of Shephard's when he taught at Immaculate Heart in California. Finley and Weiser fell in love and got married. Susan Finley can be seen running around and rocking out with Shephard throughout the climactic concert/wedding where everything comes apart (see images below-- it is Susan who takes Winslow's mask from him after he removes it). According to the Swan Archives' Principal Archivist, Shephard and others from The Performance Group "were recruited for Phantom to 'train' the extras to act like a true concert audience, and to rile them up and get them excited."

The Archivist mentions (in a December 2, 2019 post about Shephard's passing) that Shephard had published a memoir about working on King Kong, titled Inside King Kong: A Journal. Shephard had also published a book called The Dionysus Group. Google Books carries the following description of the latter:

The Dionysus Group is a story from tumultuous times in American history (1967-1970) told through the eyes of a young actor in New York's Off-Off Broadway production of Dionysus in 69 by The Performance Group, directed by Richard Schechner. William Shephard, a founding member of the Group, played a leading role as "Pentheus," the young King of Thebes, in the Group's adaptation of Euripides', The Bacchae, and he chronicles the extraordinary formation, development, and realization of the Group's ethos in Dionysus in 69. Shephard describes the formation of a Group Mind in which the interpersonal forces within the Group became mirrored in the production; where the casting and performance of roles in Dionysus in 69 reflected conflicts within the Group, itself, and conflicts in American society at large. Themes of passion, intoxication, violence, and bloodshed in Dionysus in 69, were indicative of the times, and The Performance Group's unique use of "audience participation" captured the attention of American and International theater audiences in startling ways.


Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Monday, December 16, 2019 12:43 AM CST
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Saturday, December 14, 2019
KEITH UHLICH TOP 10 FOR SLANT INCLUDES 'DOMINO'
UHLICH LIST ALSO INCLUDES 'PAIN & GLORY', 'PETERLOO', 'IRISHMAN', 'UNDER THE SILVER LAKE'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/tabletext2.jpg

Yesterday, Slant posted its list of The 25 Best Films of 2019, as voted by the online magazine's staff. Included in a companion article is the staff's individual ballots. Of the 16 critics who voted, Brian De Palma's Domino was mentioned only once, by Keith Uhlich. Here's Uhlich's ballot list:
Keith Uhlich

1. Peterloo
2. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
3. La Flor
4. The Irishman
5. Pain & Glory
6. Domino
7. The Gospel of Eureka
8. Chained for Life
9. Under the Silver Lake
10. Atlantics

Honorable Mention: The Dead Don’t Die, The Farewell, Gemini Man, A Hidden Life, High Flying Bird, Knives Out, In Fabric, Our Time, Shadow, Transit


Incidentally, José Luis Alcaine was the cinematographer for the two films in the middle of Uhlich's top ten: Pedro Almodóvar's Pain And Glory and De Palma's Domino.

Posted by Geoff at 12:12 AM CST
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Friday, December 13, 2019
DOMINO ON THE BIG SCREEN IN PARIS FRIDAY DEC 20
CRITIC THOMAS GRIGNON TO PRESENT THE FILM AT LE GRAND ACTION CINEMA


Brian De Palma's Domino will screen at Le Grand Action in Paris a week from today, Friday December 20th. According to the Facebook event page, the "exceptional session" will be presented by Thomas Grignon, a critic who reviewed Domino in October for Critikat.com.

Posted by Geoff at 7:50 AM CST
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Wednesday, December 11, 2019
'SNAKE EYES' TO OPEN CAGE-A-RAMA JAN 3RD IN GLASGOW
3RD ANNUAL FILM FEST HOPES TO BRING CAGE HIMSELF TO SCOTLAND THIS YEAR
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/cagearama2020a.jpgYesterday, Matchbox Cineclub in Glasgow, Scotland, revealed in a Twitter post that "Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes is our Cage-a-rama 2020 opening film 😵" Snake Eyes will play on the fest's opening night, Friday January 3rd. Special guests for the fest, which runs Friday-Sunday (January 3-5), are still to be announced, and Matchbox Cineclub is "doing our very best" to bring Nicolas Cage himself to attend Cage-a-rama 2020.

Films that Cage made with Francis Ford Coppola (Peggy Sue Got Married) and Martin Scorsese (Bringing Out The Dead, which had a screenplay by Paul Schrader) will also be part of the lineup this year, as will Mike Figgis' Leaving Las Vegas.

Posted by Geoff at 12:52 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 11, 2019 12:53 AM CST
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Tuesday, December 10, 2019
UPDATE 3/11/2020 - SIGNING AT STRAND IS CANCELED
CO-AUTHORS WERE TO DISCUSS & SIGN COPIES OF 'ARE SNAKES NECESSARY?' NIGHT BEFORE PUBLISHING
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/briansusan.jpg

UPDATE 3/11/2020 - This event at Strand Book Store has been canceled. No reason was provided, but today, Strand posted the following on its Facebook page:
𝐖𝐞 𝐤𝐧𝐨𝐰 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐲𝐨𝐧𝐞 𝐢𝐬 𝐛𝐞𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐞𝐱𝐭𝐫𝐚 𝐜𝐚𝐮𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐮𝐬 𝐝𝐮𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐂𝐎𝐕𝐈𝐃-𝟏𝟗, 𝐬𝐨 𝐚 𝐭𝐡𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐨𝐟 𝐮𝐩𝐝𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐬 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐮𝐬.

First and foremost, we're keeping our eyes on announcements from the CDC, WHO, and NYC Health to monitor how this all develops. We encourage everyone to follow those sources for the most up-to-date information.

Unless otherwise noted, scheduled events will proceed as planned. We won't be doing signing lines or photo ops to limit the amount of person-to-person interaction. At events, you'll receive a pre-signed copy of the book, so come prepared with lots of questions for the Q&A section so you can chat with your favorite author.

Reminder that in-store, the bathrooms are located on the second floor if you need to wash your hands. Store hours remain the same as always!

If you're staying home and happen to be reading through your TBR pile too quickly, fear not! You can order anything from the store online for delivery to your home from strandbooks.com.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation and keep you updated on how this all affects our programming.


ORIGINAL POST FROM DECEMBER 10, 2019
"The night before we publish Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman's Are Snakes Necessary? (March 16) we'll be holding a premiere with the authors at the Strand in NYC." So reads a Twitter post today from Hard Case Crime, which will publish the novel the following day. The event is scheduled from 7-8pm March 16. Strand's event page has the following description:
Doors open 30 minutes before the start of the event.

"It's like having a new Brian De Palma picture." - Martin Scorsese, Academy Award-winning director

When the beautiful young videographer offered to join his campaign, Senator Lee Rogers should've known better. But saying no would have taken a stronger man than Rogers, with his ailing wife and his robust libido. Enter Barton Brock, the senator's fixer. He's already gotten rid of one troublesome young woman -- how hard could this new one turn out to be?

Pursued from Washington D.C. to the streets of Paris, 18-year-old Fanny Cours knows her reputation and budding career are on the line. But what she doesn't realize is that her life might be as well...

Join us in the Rare Book Room for the release of Are Snakes Necessary? with writers Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman.

Brian De Palma is the world-famous director of more than thirty films, including Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables, Dressed to Kill, Body Double, Blow Out, and the original Mission: Impossible. The subject of the 2015 documentary De Palma, he is considered one of the most accomplished filmmakers of the last fifty years, a peer to directors such as Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese and an inspiration to next-generation directors such as Quentin Tarantino.

Susan Lehman is a former editor of the New York Times and author whose writing has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, The New Yorker, and Spy magazine. An attorney by training, she also served as communications director at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Are Snakes Necessary? is their first novel.


Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, March 11, 2020 6:49 PM CDT
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Monday, December 9, 2019
'THAT'S BRIAN'S OBSERVATION' - BAUMBACH IN PEAK FORM
"DIRECTING IS VERY PHYSICAL - CONCENTRATION-WISE, IT'S EXHAUSTING"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/marriagestory1.jpg

Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story is getting raves and topping lists all over the place. Dazed's Nick Chen spoke with Baumbach last week, and, amidst discussion of the new film, asked him about a Brian De Palma quote from Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's De Palma documentary:
Baumbach is in the middle of a jet-setting tour. The previous day, he flew in from Paris and delivered a BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture. (“Greta Gerwig pointed out to me that my movies tend to tell you what they’re about at the very beginning,” he said at the event. “I wasn’t aware of this, but it’s embarrassing when you go back and look.”) Earlier in the week, in New York, Marriage Story won so many prizes at the Gotham Awards that Baumbach took to the podium four times, eventually deadpanning, “I hope you remember what I said in the last speech, because it’s still relevant.”

Compare it to early 2018, a few months after the release of The Meyerowitz Stories, when Baumbach was a regular at awards shows – but as a plus-one on the Lady Bird table. (InStyle ran an article titled “Who Is Greta Gerwig’s Boyfriend?”) However, several pundits are predicting that Marriage Story will be the first Netflix film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. So what about the rumours that Marriage Story was originally set up at Amazon?

“That wasn’t true,” Baumbach says. “We had talked to Amazon about it, but I already had a relationship with Netflix.” Was he impressed, then, with the creative freedom a streaming service offered on The Meyerowitz Stories? “Netflix is a movie company run by people who really love movies. A few years ago, there was a legitimate distinction between what Netflix is doing and what other companies are doing. But now the movie business is moving that direction. Netflix adjusted on their part, too. We had a month in the United States exclusively in theatres before it went on Netflix, and they’ll keep it in theatres for people who want to have that choice.

“I talked to Scorsese about it. The King of Comedy was pulled after two weeks in theatres. It’s a complex discussion and in flux. In two years, it’s going to be something else. To me, Netflix is just a great place to make movies.”

Unlike Baumbach’s earlier features where scripts were written then sent out to potential actors (Greenberg was nearly shot with Mark Ruffalo and Amy Adams, not Ben Stiller and Gerwig – a real Sliding Doors moment), Marriage Story was conceived specifically for the leads. “Adam’s an actor I’ve continued to work with since Frances Ha,” Baumbach says. “Knowing Scarlett and Laura was invaluable and helped me visualise the scenes. There are sequences written in the movie because I’m motivated by knowing that actor is playing that part. Laura’s monologue came from Laura. We talked about it while I was writing it.”

As Nora, Nicole’s lawyer, Dern delivers a fiery speech about how society accepts imperfect fathers but not imperfect mothers. Fathers are already expected to be absent, Nora explains, but mothers are chastised if they drink too much wine. “We were saying that Nora got into the business for moral reasons. Nora wanted to stand up for people, and women particularly, who she feels the system is rigged against, and she wants to be their crusader.”

Early on, the camera regularly hovers over the shoulder of Charlie or Nicole, depending on narrative momentum. The legal scenes, though, are blocked and framed as if the bickering pair are helpless children in the room. Occasionally, it’s like the lawyers are in cahoots. Dern and Liotta’s characters are arch enemies who socialise at charity dinners and drive up each other’s business. It’s an emotionally cold war: when Nicole hires Nora, Charlie reluctantly directs “two shitty plays” to afford an expensive equivalent. (Incidentally, Baumbach wrote Madagascar 3 and nearly directed Mr Popper’s Penguins around 2011.) In the courts, it’s like we’re witnessing a different film – or what Baumbach describes to me as “various genres that are hidden and that reveal themselves in the movie”.

One of those hidden genres is a musical. At rock bottom, Charlie belts out Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive”, a song that appeared for five seconds in Lady Bird. The sight of Driver’s gigantic face on a gigantic screen as he splutters Sondheim’s lyrics (“Make me confused, mock me with praise/Let me be used, vary my days/But alone is alone, not alive!”) is reason enough to catch Marriage Story in a theatre. That Driver is initially too tall for the microphone is the cue to laugh or cry.

“Charlie clearly knows the song very well,” Baumbach explains. “He’s doing all the other parts. We all have that experience where there’s a song we’ve heard a million times, and suddenly you hear it in a different way.” When performing Sondheim, Charlie is able to reveal his deepest, innermost emotions. Did Baumbach find something similar with Marriage Story – that screenwriting unlocks a certain kind of honesty and catharsis?

“It’s through art that Charlie can express himself in a way that he can’t, or hasn’t been able to, in life,” Baumbach says, slightly avoiding the question. “That was very moving to me. There’s something true of many artists, that they can be smarter and wiser and more profound in their work than perhaps in regular conversation.”

Through Robbie Ryan’s cinematography, the film depicts the visual contrast between New York, where Charlie directs his plays, and LA, where Nicole lands a role in a TV pilot. Often, Charlie is like Stiller in Greenberg: a New Yorker resentfully residing in the open spaces of LA. “We thought about that with the wardrobe,” Baumbach explains. “When Charlie’s in Los Angeles, he’s still wearing an overcoat and sweater. He’s dressed for the past.”

Does Baumbach, a New York resident, consider LA to be his Bergman Island? There are, after all, numerous references to Ingmar Bergman in Marriage Story – including a magazine profile titled “Scenes from a Marriage” and close-ups that pay homage to Persona. “I find LA so strange,” the director says. “Every time I go there, I need to adjust. The car culture and the light is so different from New York. The movie was an opportunity to have these radically different-looking environments: LA for her, New York for him. But it’s a stand-in for a more abstract idea of what home is, and identity.”

As for why there are so few divorce movies, Baumbach doesn’t have an answer. ABBA, I mention, sang about divorce, had two divorces within the band, yet the blockbuster celebrating their music revolved around a wedding. “There are a lot of breakup songs,” he says. “But many love songs are actually about breakups. There’s a movie genre, even, of the love that can’t be: Casablanca and Brief Encounter. I thought about this movie in that context as much as any ‘divorce movie’ context.”

Baumbach, it must be said, speaks carefully and considerately, often starting sentences again, as if punching up his own responses. But he does answer a few quick-fire questions, such as the status of the stalled Barbie movie he’s writing with Gerwig (“It’s happening, but we haven’t started it yet”), and if the “you should see the other dog” line that appears in both Meyerowitz Stories and Isle of Dogs is an in-joke between him and Wes Anderson (“Really? We’ve never discussed it – I’ll ask Wes”).

But the longer answers are, understandably, reserved for Marriage Story, which could have premiered at the 2018 film festivals, but the director opted to spend a few more months perfecting it in the editing room. All of which is to say, catch it in a theatre if you can. There’s a misnomer that talky dramas don’t require the cinema treatment. (A headline from The Onion: “You Haven’t Seen Frances Ha Until You’ve Seen It In IMAX.”) But it was shot on 35mm, the cinematography is thoughtful and elegant, and the collective discomfort can only be experienced with a crowd – unless you watch it at home with a resentful partner, that is.

Many critics have called it Baumbach’s best film. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it’s certainly up there. It’s definitely his most mature, in that it’s the only one in which a character would apologise for screaming, “Every day, I wake up and hope you’re dead!” The richness of the material – feeling like a criminal who hasn’t committed a crime; the irony that Charlie is a better husband in divorce; that loving someone generates a deeper potential for hatred; that Nicole thrives by dumping her controlling partner – wasn’t there in Baumbach’s first few movies. Which brings to mind a quote from Brian De Palma at the end of the 2015 documentary De Palma, co-directed by Baumbach. De Palma claims that filmmakers peak in their 30s, 40s and 50s – then go downhill. Does Baumbach, aged 50, have 10 years left at his peak?

“That’s Brian’s observation,” he says, chuckling. “But what Brian also says, which I think is very true, is that directing is very physical. Concentration-wise, it’s exhausting. It’s a challenge. I’m really impressed with directors like John Huston and Robert Altman who work to the end of their lives. It’s so tiring and gruelling, getting up and shooting nights, and under stress and parameters.”

So it’s fortunate Marriage Story turned out the way it did? “It’s a crazy art form when you think about it. I don’t know if there’s any other art form where you have to get it right this one time – and that’s it.”


Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, December 10, 2019 1:18 AM CST
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