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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

For the September issue of Interview, Brian De Palma interviews Emma Cline, whose collection of short stories, Daddy, is published this month. Here are some key items mentioned during the conversation, which took place July 8:
-De Palma says that during the pandemic confinement, he has written a screenplay, and that he and Susan Lehman are "working on another book."

-Regarding Predator, De Palma says: "I have a Weinstein character in a project I’m working on, but he’s sort of a minor character. It looks like it has a lot to do with him, but the real sexual predator is based on a very famous star who was trying to do all the women in the casting sessions in the mid-1970s. I had a real insight into it because when I was casting Carrie, I was seeing every young actor and actress in Hollywood. And so was Mr. X, so the girls had a lot to say about what happened in their casting sessions. It’s a jungle out there."

-De Palma "went out and got a drone" so he could test out a cinematic idea he had for a short film Emma Cline was working on.

-De Palma and Lehman watched Frank Perry's The Swimmer (1968) recently, and then read the original short story by John Cheever right afterward.

-De Palma tells Cline that he's reading a biography of Francis Ford Coppola ("I’m right now in the Francis Ford book dealing with the making of The Godfather"), and that he was adding Oliver Stone's autobiography on his list to read.

-Cline and De Palma have both read Susanna Moore's memoir, Miss Aluminum. De Palma tells Cline that he knew Susanna because her husband, Richard Sylbert, "did a couple of my movies. He was a great, great designer, and a very funny, witty character. He was always hard to get for films, because he was always working."

-They've both also read Sam Wasson's The Big Goodbye, about the making of Chinatown. "It was fascinating," De Palma says.

Here's an excerpt, from the first part of the article:
Last November, pre-pandemic, Emma Cline was not at her writing desk—at least not all the time. Instead, the novelist was busy on set, undertaking her first foray as a director, for a 10-minute short she wrote called “Jagger.” Produced by Gagosian Gallery, the film was shot on location in New York City and in Amagansett on Long Island. For Cline, the experience seems to have been a baptism by fire, from running lines with the actors to negotiating the infinite complexities of the editing process. Luckily, she had a few mentor friends ready with advice, one of them being the iconic filmmaker Brian De Palma, who not only read the script and offered insights, but even screened a daily or two.

For fans of her gorgeous, Charles Manson–inflected debut novel, The Girls, or of her short stories that regularly appear in The New Yorker, Cline’s incursion into the world of cinema shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. The 31-year-old California native is one of contemporary fiction’s most stylish and visually rich world-builders. Cline paints rooms, neighborhoods, and whole scenes with careful attention to colors, clothes, attitudes, and body language—a whole sensorial universe takes shape in her elegant prose. This September, Cline releases her first collection of short stories, Daddy (one expects that the author must be bracing for an onslaught of Sylvia Plath comparisons, but what’s impressive about Cline as a writer is her willingness to stand face-to-face with darkness, and weirdness, rather than merely slink around it). Each of the ten stories is a feast of demented American dreams—hilarious, captivating, horrifying—and one only hopes that Cline doesn’t quit her day job for a Hollywood film career. Cline, in Los Angeles, and De Palma, on Long Island, were scheduled to talk on July 6, but cinema’s great maestro, Ennio Morricone, died that day, so they spoke two days later. —CHRISTOPHER BOLLEN


EMMA CLINE: I heard that you’ve got sad news.

BRIAN DE PALMA: Yes. One of the greatest composers, Mr. Morricone, died two days ago. He did a couple of scores for me.

CLINE: Casualties of War and The Untouchables, right?

DE PALMA: Yes, and he did a really fine score to Mission to Mars. But we’re not here to talk about me. What have you been doing since you’ve been confined?

CLINE: I’ve been in L.A. I have been reading and sort of writing, but to be honest, I haven’t been working very much. Have you been working?

DE PALMA: Yeah, I wrote another screenplay, and then Susan [Lehman] and I are working on another book. It’s been long, endless days here in the country where the big thing to worry about is where and what I’m going to eat next.

CLINE: That’s about how my days are organized, too. It was a run of lentils, but I’ve hit the end. I can’t eat them anymore. I actually do have a book draft that I’m finishing up, so I just have a whole lot of notes. I’m about to dive into that in a big way.

DE PALMA: Another novel?

CLINE: Yes, another novel. It’s actually set where you are right now, on Long Island. I feel like you might have been at some of the parties that are in this book.

DE PALMA: In fact, I met you at one of those parties. Let me ask you how the movie you were making turned out.

CLINE: It’s still not finished. I’m struggling with the ending.

DE PALMA: How did you like directing and screenwriting?

CLINE: I loved directing. Screenwriting felt more similar to things I’ve done before—at least under the same umbrella. It felt freeing in some ways, but very strange to think visually and cinematically. I mean, I do think visually as a rule. I think a lot about how things look in the stories I’m writing, but to actually write something that was going to be translated into visuals was interesting. Directing was incredible, like the best drug in the world, but what I found is that I often had to stop myself from totally flipping into observer mode, which is more my writing self.

DE PALMA: The quiet little girl in the corner.

CLINE: Yes, exactly. I had to resist doing that, because you can’t just be the quiet little girl in the corner. It was so fascinating. I’m in awe of directors who do it. It’s so intense. The idea that you made two movies in a year blows my mind.

DE PALMA: It’s what we do. We get the opportunity and we go to work.

CLINE: It’s like you have to light all these different fuses on all these different projects and wait until one makes it. It’s just a different way of approaching projects than I’ve ever done before. There’s all this timing that has to fall into place. All this money.

DE PALMA: Yeah, but the interesting thing about it, whether you’re working within the studio system or independently, is that a lot of getting a movie off the ground depends on who’s in it. You suggest some names, and they say, “Well, can we get so and so?” It’s always this process of negotiating who they think is hot enough for them to finance the project at that moment.

CLINE: It’s wild to me. But you haven’t seen my new ending yet.

DE PALMA: I’m looking forward to it. Did your idea for the script change at all because of the people you cast?

CLINE: I think the place where it changed the most was in the editing room. That was a new experience for me. You’re in this weird dorm room, with a bunch of bad snacks, with your editor. And you just go in on this granular, second-by-second focus on the project. I loved it, but it changed the shape of the movie I thought I was making. Now that I’ve had that experience, I understand there are moments in filming when you need a different flavor and you need to cover your ass a bit in that way. But the editing was really loose and fun and freeing. And the movie will adapt to the edit, if you have what you need in there.

DE PALMA: Do you have any more directing plans for the future?

CLINE: I’m working on two movie ideas—just outlines now, which I find really fun.

DE PALMA: Well, you’re in Hollywood, Emma.

CLINE: Wait, two movies isn’t enough to have on the backburner? You think I need more?

DE PALMA: I was talking to Greta Gerwig the other day, and I said, “Greta, you have a huge hit. You should be out there making deals for all those projects that you couldn’t previously get off the ground.” Anyway, you did a really terrific job with your recent story [“White Noise,” based on a Harvey Weinstein–like narrator] in The New Yorker.

CLINE: Oh, thank you. You’re working on a Weinstein project, right? Or Weinstein-inspired.

DE PALMA: I have a Weinstein character in a project I’m working on, but he’s sort of a minor character. It looks like it has a lot to do with him, but the real sexual predator is based on a very famous star who was trying to do all the women in the casting sessions in the mid-1970s.

CLINE: Ooh, that sounds good.

DE PALMA: I had a real insight into it because when I was casting Carrie, I was seeing every young actor and actress in Hollywood. And so was Mr. X, so the girls had a lot to say about what happened in their casting sessions. It’s a jungle out there.

CLINE: I’m curious, as someone who’s been in the movie business, if you found the Weinstein portrayal in my story accurate-ish. Or were there big factual errors, or distracting anachronisms?

DE PALMA: I had very little contact with Harvey, because I don’t like bullies. My older brother was a bully. But I remember I set up a luncheon for a director friend of mine when he brought his Irish movie to New York. Harvey was distributing the movie. I saw him at that luncheon and that was enough for me. Bullies take up all the oxygen in the room.

CLINE: Well, he did recover from coronavirus.

DE PALMA: Exactly. How did you put together Daddy?

CLINE: They’re stories that I’ve written over the last decade, most of them in the last couple of years. The title came out of thinking about a unifying theme, concerns or preoccupations that repeated themselves from story to story. Most of these stories are about older men, or younger women who see themselves in relationship to men. There’s something about the word that I thought was very funny and would make a good title.

DE PALMA: Do you have daddy issues?

CLINE: I guess I should anticipate that question. I suppose I do, in a sense, right? Like, am I super close to my father? No. Did I experience him as an angry, malevolent god figure as a child? Yes. I guess in that way you could say I had some psychosexual daddy problems, but I don’t know. Do you have daddy issues?

DE PALMA: No, I had mommy issues. My father was an orthopedic surgeon and was really not around. Consequently, he didn’t figure much in my upbringing.

CLINE: But you do have a vivid story about your father that I’ve heard you tell … going through his office, trailing him.

DE PALMA: Listening to your father set up an extramarital date on the telephone is an enlightening experience. I put a tap on the telephone. All that science fair background comes in handy. I was a science fair winner. I knew how to tap a phone at a very early age. Do you like overhearing conversations?

CLINE: Yeah. I think it’s a quality that unites a lot of the artists and writers I know. Moviemakers and writers have a sense of wanting to create or observe life as it happens, to look at other people and what they’re like.

DE PALMA: As we were leaving the house this morning and I was sitting in the car, I could hear our neighbors discussing something through the bushes. I couldn’t exactly hear what they were talking about, but I’d never heard these neighbors before. Did I perk up and try to listen? You bet. Who knows what great material you will get from observing conversations.

CLINE: I remember when I had my script for the film and you and I were talking. And you had this suggestion that was so cinematic about the little boy seeing his mother in bed with someone who she hadn’t come to the party with. The way we ended up filming it, he comes in—it’s late at night and he’s afraid, and he’s looking for his mom. So he comes into the room. But your thought was that maybe he should have a drone where he can see what the drone sees as he’s controlling it.

DE PALMA: I actually went out and got a drone and tried to do it.

CLINE: Did you see anyone having sex?

DE PALMA: I saw no one having sex in a hammock, no.

CLINE: Maybe you could use it to see what’s going on with these neighbors.

DE PALMA: It did feel very Rear Window.

Read the full article at Interview magazine online, or/also in the September issue of the print magazine.

Posted by Geoff at 6:51 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, September 5, 2020 8:50 AM CDT
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Monday, August 31, 2020

The T-Shirt above (1976 Horror Prom Queen 70s Ringer Tee) was designed by Elaine Christina. It's available at her PopCoven Etsy shop.

Some other Carrie tidbits:

Last week at Pop Geeks, Sandy Helberg, who was one of the original sketch comedy players at The Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles, told Johnny Caps a little story about how he helped get his wife, Harriet B. Helberg, a job as casting director for Carrie:

Johnny: The 70s was a pretty big decade for comedy anthology films. Why do you think that was?

Sandy: Well, I think it was sort of a new format. There was a movie that came out at the beginning of the 70s called TunnelVision, which Chevy Chase was involved with. They used a lot of comedic actors in one scene after another, and then Kentucky Fried Theater, the people who did Airplane!, came out with their own version of it, which was called Kentucky Fried Movie. Again, they had some terrific comedic actors. It was an easy and cheap way to do a film because you didn’t need anybody for more than a couple of days. Loose Shoes was, I think, Bill Murray’s first movie. I knew the directors, and I knew the casting director. She was my wife, so we worked together. I’d help her get jobs and she’d get me jobs, and I helped her get her first movie, which was Carrie.

I had gone in for a meeting with George Lucas and Brian DePalma. They were each doing new movies, and they were seeing people together. George Lucas starts to explain Star Wars to me, and he lost me. I thought, “They’re not going to hire a Jew in space. Let me hear the Italian guy”. He talked about Carrie and high school, and I thought, “That’s more my speed”, so I asked Brian DePalma who was casting it. He said, “Well, we lost our person”. I went home and told my wife. She called Brian DePalma that evening, and he invited her to have dinner with him, Martin Scorcese and a writer, and the next day, she had the job. She used a lot of Groundlings in Carrie. She had a great resource in The Groundlings because they had to get unknown people, and people that looked young and would work for a little money, and she was an expert at that.

Today at Screen Rant, Elizabeth Lerman looks at how De Palma's Stephen King adaptation "created a horror sub-genre" --
The coming-of-age sub-genre weaves growing pains and internal terror with a very literal type of horror. The horror genre in general relies on subconscious fears, dragging out society's deepest dread and projecting it onto the big screen. There is an odd, undeniable comfort in seeing nightmares brought out into the open for all to confront. Fears are unifying, and even the most blatant horror dwells on an underlying relation to the panic of everyday life. The coming-of-age horror sub-genre hones in on a specific moment in time when bodies begin to feel foreign. Faced by everyone growing up, puberty is a universal experience, one that morphs the mind and body, leaving adolescents feeling confused and out of control—an ideal time for horror to infiltrate.

Stephen King's Carrie, much like coming-of-age movies to follow, focuses on the type of disconnect from one's own body that occurs during puberty. Both King's Carrie and Brian De Palma's adaptation kicks off with the shy, ostracized titular character experiencing a traumatizing first period. She is ruthlessly mocked in the girl's locker room and receives no advice or support from her heavily religious mother, Margaret. As Carrie's body develops, so does her power; her telekinetic abilities grow as she matures. Her stress and confusion pertaining to both the physical and mental changes she is facing sparks sympathy from audiences who may recall their own fear during their formative years. It is this sort of human connection that makes it difficult to villainize Carrie, despite the tragic havoc she wreaks on her classmates.

At the core, Carrie is still a child, scared and perpetually uncared for; her naivety, innocence, and anger hardens into a dangerous misuse of power. This trope is present in many coming-of-age horror movies: a young woman's development coinciding with a harnessing of powers. While the occurrences vary in outcome, the heroine is usually faced with a decision as to how she will use her power, the forces of good versus evil weighing heavy on her shoulders. Part of the terror associated with coming-of-age horror films is the unknowable ability of the protagonist, as neither they nor the audience understand the full extent of their powers.

And to close, Peter Debruge's Variety review of Josh Boone's finally-just-released New Mutants mentions "an overt homage to Brian De Palma’s Carrie" --
Like “The Breakfast Club” on steroids, these five misfits slowly overcome their differences, bonding and becoming friends by the time Boone reveals a twist he must have thought would blow the minds of those second-guessing how the movie relates to all the old mutants from the “X-Men” comics. Whereas all the films in that franchise have run with the brilliantly relatable allegory introduced by Bryan Singer’s original “X-Men” movie — in which mutants are seen as freaks by their peers much as LGBTQ teens are ostracized and feared by a homophobic society at large — Boone isn’t as clear about how to treat his characters’ so-called gifts. (That said, this is the first Marvel movie to depict an openly queer relationship, giving Dani a lesbian love interest.)

Here, these traumatized young people fear themselves, the way some adolescents freak out over physical changes brought on by puberty. This metaphor feels literal in one scene — an overt homage to Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” — when Dani finds herself drenched in blood whose origins she can’t explain. Boone, who’s clearly a pulp/horror/classic-movie savant, repeatedly lifts shots and ideas directly from other sources, as in a “Psycho”-inspired shower scream later in the film. But instead of creating a new-and-improved experience for audiences, à la such magpie directors as Quentin Tarantino, he serves up something so familiar as to be clichéd.

Posted by Geoff at 8:44 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, September 11, 2020 4:58 PM CDT
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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale is now streaming on Amazon Prime, with several articles including the film on streaming recommendations lists. At The Sydney Morning Herald, Jake Wilson writes:
Brian de Palma achieved new heights of delirium in this avant-garde 2002 thriller with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos in the dual role of a sexy American jewel thief and her French doppelganger (or are they, somehow, one and the same?). Antonio Banderas co-stars as a photographer whose function, typically for a De Palma hero, is to bear witness.

And over at The Film Stage, the first paragraph of Veronika Ferdman's 2016 "Summer of De Palma" entry is included in its "New to Streaming" guide this week:
Femme Fatale is a bubbling cocktail of Double Indemnity meets To Catch a Thief meets Vertigo meets The Double Life of Véronique that kicks you in the head real good right at the first sip and is so smooth going down that, by the time you notice you’re drunk, it’s too late to care, and there goes willowy Rebecca Romijn, a nesting doll shedding an archetype. The opening twenty minutes, a jewel theft set at the 1999 Cannes premiere of East/West, are what one might call “pure cinema” — which is to say they are series of hyperkinetic moments strung together through the rhythms of music and editing that could not be captured by any medium other than cinema, or any other filmmaker other than Brian De Palma.

Romijn plays Laure, a master thief who steals a beautiful piece of jewelry (which serves as an elaborate snake-like top, with diamonds covering the nipples) from Veronica (Rie Rasmussen) during a steamy bathroom scene while everyone at Cannes — save some frazzled body / jewel guards who are growing increasingly agitated by the length of Veronica’s powder room visit — are paying attention to the premiere of East/West. Laure then betrays her fellow thieves and has to go into hiding, lest those she double-crossed decide to take revenge — which, of course, they do. Luckily for her, it turns out Laure has a suicidal brunette doppelgänger, Lily, whose identity she assumes after Lily takes her own life. Laure-as-Lily goes to the United States and has a meet-cute on the plane with Watts (Peter Coyote), who eventually becomes the American ambassador to France, bringing Lily back into the country she last inhabited as Laure.

Laure’s return to France is Nicolas’ (Antonio Banderas) cue to enter the story as a photographer. Nicolas has been contracted to take a photo of the camera-shy ambassador’s wife and whose happenstance involvement in the capturing of an image — much like John Travolta’s just happening to have been at the wrong place at the right time to capture a sound in Blow Out — sucks him into a rather unsavory mess and Laure/Lily’s gradual transmutation of identity. The photographic image is extremely potent in Femme Fatale as sound is likewise in Blow Out; De Palma loves to imbue cinema’s essential elements with striking gravitas.

To give away more of the plot would be cruel and take away from the wicked, velvety pleasure of observing this film’s sinewy twists. To step away from the specifics of the film itself, it is worth making note of the context of its existence within De Palma’s ’00s career. De Palma made four films in that decade: Mission to Mars (2000), Femme Fatale (2002), The Black Dahlia (2006) and Redacted (2007). As disparate as these works are, the gradual evolution of the worldview expressed from one to the other makes for a stingingly accurate portrait of what it was like to be living in the United States in the early 21st century. From the curiosity and hopefulness of Mission to Mars to the growing cynicism of Femme Fatale, whose last few minutes save the film from dissolving in a pool of acid it has spent nearly 2 hours neatly collecting. And then there’s the sordid messy madness of The Black Dahila, which gives way to the ultimate human abasement and malignancy shown in Redacted, which is so dire in its bleakness it’s a wonder De Palma didn’t just turn his back on the world after making it.

Posted by Geoff at 6:55 PM CDT
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Saturday, August 29, 2020
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/bingeblog.jpgIn this week's Binge Blog, Ryan Kohn writes about how he discovered Blow Out, which he notes is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video:

In theory, I understand why people don't talk about "Blow Out" when discussing Brian De Palma films. 

It wasn't a huge hit, only pulling in $12 million at the box office despite starring a young John Travolta, who was coming off a hit with "Urban Cowboy." That was nothing compared to other De Palma films like "Scarface" ($66 million) "Carrie" ($34 million) and the mega-smash that was "Mission: Impossible" ($457 million). 

I had never heard of the film until going on a Letterboxd deep dive a few weeks ago. Once I read the description (and some glowing reviews from critics I trust), I knew I had to see it, and guess what: I was right. "Blow Out" rules. 

It's a conspiracy movie on the surface. Travolta plays Jack Terry, a sound engineer working on B-grade horror flicks in Philadelphia. One night while Terry is out gathering ambient sound in a park, his equipment picks up the audio of a car's tire exploding. He then sees the car driving off the road and into a river. He dives into the river and is able to drag a young woman out of the car but not the man sitting with her. That man turns out to be a presidential hopeful, and the woman with him was not his wife. 

The candidate's assistant tries to convince Terry not to say anything about the accident; his family is going through enough, no reason to tell them he was having an affair, right? Well, Terry can't quite drop it. Something about the audio of the accident didn't sit right with him. He checks his tapes. Sure enough, he hears two explosions, not one. This leads him to one conclusion: The tire didn't blow out; it was shot. Someone wanted that car to crash.

The rest of the movie follows Terry's journey into the depths of this conspiracy as he tries to convince people in power of his theory, going as far as creating his own movie of the events, syncing the audio he captured with stills a photographer (Dennis Franz) took of the accident. At the same time, he's watching the back of Sally (Nancy Allen), the woman he saved from the water, who might know more about the case than she lets on. 

The film feels timely with all the misinformation floating around the internet these days, much of it spread by people in power. It also is a showcase for the power of filmmaking and the freedom that comes with producing art that calls out those people in power. Sometimes, that's the only way you can get people to listen. 

"Blow Out" also gets points for the following, which is all subjective, I admit: 

  • Characters say the name of the movie like 25 times, which is the sign of a great movie (to me). 
  • De Palma's camera work is out-of-this-world good. The decision to use a scene from one of the movies Terry is editing as a cold open — a killer is stalking college girls from outside their windows — and then proceeding to constantly use shots looking through windows during the rest of the film is brilliant. And there's a shot involving fireworks toward the end of the movie is nothing short of sublime. You'll know it when you see it. My jaw dropped. 
  • Speaking of the ending, the last 15 minutes of this thing take it from good to outstanding. I don't know exactly what I expected, but it certainly wasn't what De Palma delivers. Haunting and emotionally fulfilling in equal measure while taking the movie full circle. The final scene is an all-timer.  
  • John Lithgow is the third lead in this movie. He plays a man so loathsome he might as well be a slug. It's great. 
  • Travolta rules in this movie! Not in an "I'm a movie star, look at me look cool!" way, either. He rules in an "I'm a compelling force, and I will make you feel what I'm feeling" way. 

You really need to watch "Blow Out."

Posted by Geoff at 6:17 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, August 29, 2020 6:22 PM CDT
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Friday, August 28, 2020

Caesar Cordova died of natural causes Wednesday in Atlantic City, according to Variety's Pat Saperstein. He was 84.

Cordova, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York, had a long association with Al Pacino, the two having worked on stage together in Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie? "The play marked the Broadway debut of the little-known Pacino," notes Deadline's Greg Evans.

A little more than a decade later, the pair appeared together on film in Brian De Palma's Scarface, in which Cordova played the cook at El Paraiso, a Cuban sandwich stand directly across the street from the high-class Little Havana Restaurante. Another ten years later, Cordova appeared with Pacino once again as he played the barber in De Palma's Carlito's Way.

Cordova's first film role came at the age of 19, during time off from the U.S. Air Force. Having been stationed in Germany during the Korean War, Cordova was granted a 30-day leave of absence, during which he went back to New York and managed to get a small part in Richard Brooks' Blackboard Jungle. Cordova also had roles in Don Siegel's Crime In The Streets, Art Linson's Where The Buffalo Roam, Ivan Passer's Cutter's Way, and Bruce Malmuth's Nighthawks, among many others.

Posted by Geoff at 8:09 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, September 30, 2020 12:28 AM CDT
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Thursday, August 27, 2020




Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, August 28, 2020 6:02 PM CDT
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Wednesday, August 26, 2020
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/snakescrop.jpgAt Rain Taxi, Joseph Houlihan reviews Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman's novel, Are Snakes Necessary?...
De Palma has always been an obsessive stylist. His cinema pulls viewers through intricate long takes and plot machinations with a classical understanding of suspense. And he's always been fascinated with pulp fiction. Are Snakes Necessary? is pure pulp, with the trappings of political thriller. It's stupid, and as with some of the bad novels of Bret Easton Ellis, stupid is the message.

Are Snakes Necessary? follows the story of a fixer working for a womanizing Senator. There are plenty of clichés, with snarling casino magnates and icy blondes, and more than a few De Palma flourishes as well, such as a photographer sniffing out intrigue on the set of a remake of Vertigo. The style is bare, taking on some of the cadence of The West Wing or a Tom Clancy thriller, but there are also certain strange additions, including a subplot with a rural “Dear Abby” character.

De Palma is often mistakenly criticized for the content of his films: a film about pornography is called pornographic, a movie about rape during the Vietnam War is called misogynistic. Most recently De Palma made a film about the manufactured idea of international terrorism, and it was drubbed as anti-Muslim. Generally, it's been said that he suffers from the curse of people liking his movies for the wrong reasons—Scarface, a film about the shortcomings of the American dream more than a gangster flick, being the obvious example—and surely some people dislike his films for the wrong reasons as well.

Are Snakes Necessary? is obviously a silly experiment in pulp fantasia, and yet there are some indelible images, almost like the intricate set pieces of any De Palma film, that are breathtaking. This is part of the paradox of De Palma's enduring brilliance: He uses the language of trash to talk about trash, and finds an erotic excitement in the transgression, because sometimes it's necessary to roll that shit around in your mouth.

Likewise, De Palma twists genres to catch moments of realness. He deconstructs war pictures in Casualties of War, for example, about the kidnapping and rape of a young woman by American troops in Vietnam. He later revisited this material in Redacted; both pictures reject American militarism, and highlight the violence and venality of military occupation.

The realness of Are Snakes Necessary? comes out in overwhelming cynicism. As more “my years at the White House” books emerge from the past two administrations, it only becomes clearer how self-serious the public workers of the executive branch hold themselves to be—and that this self-seriousness, this acting, is also a violence wrought upon the public.

While De Palma has proven to be capable of epic work in cinema, Are Snakes Necessary? is not exactly another symphony—it's an exercise, a late quartet. But it's quick, and it’s fun. So don't take it too seriously.

Posted by Geoff at 11:49 PM CDT
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Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Side Track is a new podcast run by Paul Davidson. In each episode, either Davidson, or an invited guest, provides a feature-length audio commentary on a movie that they are very passionate about. The tagline: "Their obsession. Their words. Someone else's movie."

For an episode posted a week ago, Matt Spicer, writer/director of Ingrid Goes West, recorded a commentary for Brian De Palma's Blow Out. In the episode's introduction, Spicer explains to Davidson how, when Spicer was 13 years old, his family would sometimes get the free trial of HBO. And whenever that happened, he would stay up late and watch the late night movies.

"And that's how I saw some of my favorite movies for the first time," Spicer tells Davidson. "I saw Boogie Nights for the first time on HBO late at night. So, like, obviously all the best movies, too, were on after midnight. You know, they would play the really salacious stuff. So of course, as a teenager, that's the stuff that you want to watch. And Blow Out was one of those movies. And I remember, it was just one of those perfect things where, like, it's so rare, too, when, back then, you'd be flipping through the channels and you'd hit right as the movie was starting, you know, and so you usually jump in. And the opening scene of Blow Out is... I mean, can you imagine, truly, an opening scene more captivating to like, a 13-year-old boy, than this movie? I mean, it was just literally like, I think, I was just like, I'm definitely watching this whole movie. But, like, I was lured in by this sort of, you know, salacious slasher movie with a bunch of nudity or whatever. But there's this really, like, intense, expertly-made genre thriller, paranoid thriller attached to it. And that whopper of an ending that's just like... And so I think I just went on this full ride. And this was, you know, my film education, I hadn't really decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker at this point. It was just a really cool movie that I... saw. And that had always stuck with me. And I don't know even know if I remembered the title of it. And then I remember in college, it coming up as a potential movie that I could do an essay on. And I was just like, 'Oh, my God, that's the movie that I saw. I love this movie. I want to write about that.' And so I watched it a bunch and wrote about it for this essay."

Posted by Geoff at 7:59 PM CDT
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Friday, August 21, 2020

In her new memoir, Always Young And Restless, Melody Thomas Scott includes a chapter about her time working on Brian De Palma's The Fury, in which she played Gillian's best friend LaRue. Who can forget the film's introduction to the two best friends as they make their way along a Chicago beach and we get a taste of Gillian's psychic ability courtesy of a psychic stalker played by William Finley. A behind-the-scenes photograph from that beach (above) is included in Melody's book (pictured from left to right: Brian De Palma, Melody Thomas Scott, script supervisor Ray Quiroz, and Amy irving).

In the book, Melody Thomas Scott recalls her work as a child actor and young adult, leading up to her role in The Fury and beyond. At 8 years old, she was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, cast as the young version of Marnie in Marnie (1964). "Days with Hitchcock were long and arduous," she writes, "partly because, unlike any director I've ever worked with since, he would take excessive effort to literally push us into position."

In 1971, she worked with Clint Eastwood on Don Siegel's The Beguiled. "Clint would greet us girls each day with a gentle kiss on the cheek. He was such a gentleman." She went on to have a small part as the kidnapped girl in Siegel and Eastwood's Dirty Harry.

And although Melody never once mentions Kirk Douglas in her chapter on The Fury, she has a chapter about being called to an interview at an office in Beverly Hills, where Douglas himself, after braiding her hair, cast her on the spot in a new western he was directing, Posse (1975). "The next thing I knew, he started braiding my hair," she writes in the memoir. "I know this sort of thing would never happen in today's culture but I can assure you, it was completely innocent. Kirk Douglas braided my hair."

After the filming of a scene with John Wayne in what would turn out to be his final film, The Shootist (and again with Don Siegel directing), and then angering John Landis by refusing to agree to do a topless scene in National Lampoon's Animal House ("He says he never wants to see you in his casting office again," Melody's agent told her, followed by "And you'll never be cast in any of his films-- end quote"), the book turns to the De Palma project:

It was June 1977, and I had an interview at 20th Century Fox with Brian De Palma, the director for Mission: Impossible, Carlito's Way, The Untouchables, Scarface, and many more. Of course, back in the late seventies, Brian was mostly known for directing Carrie, the [Stephen] King book-to-film adaptation that changed the world of horror films forever. It featured Sissy Spacek and a giant bucket of pigs' blood.

Pigs' blood aside, my very first interview was with Brian himself and Amy Irving, the star of the movie. Brian was very much a "throw the script down and let's improv" kind of director, which suited me fine. Plus Brian seemed to take a liking to me right away, which also suited me fine. When he asked me to stay to read with some of the girls auditioning for other roles, I happily agreed.

I should be honest. I hadn't seen the movie Carrie, so I didn't know who Amy Irving even was. Not that it would have made much of a difference anyway. I had the sort of personality where it didn't matter who you were, I was going to be unfiltered and friendly regardless.

"So do you have a boyfriend?" I remember asking Amy during one of our audition breaks.

"I do," she said.

"Oh really? What does he do?"

"Mmm... He's a director," she said.

"Oh, really? What's he directed?" I asked nonchalantly, as if gabbing with a friend from school.

I could feel her unwillingness to answer my nosy question. She murmured quietly, "...Jaws."

Jaws? I certainly knew who Steven Spielberg was. This girl must be somebody special, I remember thinking. She's dating one of the most famous directors in the world! She would, of course, go on to marry Steven Spielberg, but that, I'm afraid, is not my story to tell.

I ended up being cast in The Fury as LaRue, best friend to Amy's Gillian Bellaver. Amy and I became fast friends during our time filming in Chicago. Or maybe she just couldn't fling me off! I stuck to her like glue, mesmerized by all that she was. Amy was sophisticated, savvy, world-traveled. Her father was a famous theater director and producer and her mother a well-known actress. Her best friend was Carrie Fisher. She traveled in circles not only with Steven Spielberg, but also Harrison Ford, George Lucas... I mean, Laurence Olivier was one of her family friends. To say she was out of my league would be a gross understatement.

In addition to forming a bond with Amy, the entire cast and crew became quite close. We'd play poker in the evenings up in Executive Producer Frank Yablans's penthouse suite where "everybody" was doing everything. I hate to dismiss the drug scene with a casual oh, but it was just the times. But... it was the times! Still, I had never experienced this scene face to face in my youth and here it was, presented to me for the first time. Not to sound like a goody two shoes, because I'm no angel, but I never did join in on that particular part of our cast bonding. No judgment for those who chose to go under the influence of drugs, though. I simply never trusted what drugs would do to me.

For more innocent fun, we could always count on John Cassavetes, who seemed to know Chicago like the back of his hand. He was always surprising us with impromptu dinners at amazing Italian restaurants. But there's one outing he treated us to that's hard even for me to believe all these years later, and i was there!

The King Tut exhibit was at Chicago's Field Museum at that time. Between our shooting schedule and the long lines at the museum, there was no way that any of us would be able to take a quick peek at King Tut. But it was a huge tour and the whole city was talking about it, and we desperately wanted to go.

One night-- I believe it was a Saturday-- Cassavetes treated us to yet another meal at an award-winning Italian restaurant. But our dinner was much later than usual, and we didn't leave the restaurant until around 11:30 p.m. After climbing into our waiting studio vans, our drives followed strict instructions on where to take us next. We were not going back to the Continental Plaza Hotel yet.

To this day I don't know how he did it, but Cassavetes had made arrangements with who knows how many museum contacts and employees. At midnight, our vans pulled up to a back entrance at the Field Museum; we got out, having been prepped in the vans to keep our voices down and do exactly as we were told. Abracadabra, and poof! We were taken into a private back hallway of the museum. Hocus pocus, and poof! We were ushered into its great public rooms by silent security guards. The next step was a bit trickier, as we had to bend down and jump over invisible alarm beams. I know! Seems preposterous, entirely made up, like something out of a spy movie-- but I was there. We did indeed see the King Tut exhibit that night, and afterwards were whisked into our waiting vans as secretly as we had arrived, then on to our hotel. Another unbelievable evening courtesy of John Cassavetes! It was certainly one of my most memorable filming experiences.

The film was coming to an end and we all worked hard to finish the location scenes in Chicago, including a sequence shot at a real high school where actual students were cast as extras. One of those extras was a young girl named Daryl Hannah. She wasn't known at the time, but years later I thought, my goodness! That's the girl who played one of the extras at the girl's school. Watch the film very closely and I bet you can spot her!

As is often the case, my friendship with Amy came to an end as soon as the shoot did. But the thrill of working with Brian De Palma became one of the highlights of my career. Boy, what a talented director. He is such a master collaborator that he manages to not only make all cast and crew comfortable, but compels them to bring their absolute best to the table, in order to assist him in his ultimate vision. Not an easy feat to pull off. I was disappointed that The Fury didn't do very well with the critics or the box office. But I wouldn't have given up this wonderful experience for all the gold in the King Tut exhibit!

Posted by Geoff at 10:00 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, August 21, 2020 10:11 PM CDT
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Saturday, August 15, 2020

Another husband and wife movie podcast? You got it-- the latest episode of the Date Night Movie Podcast has hosts Ashley and Patrick Russell discussing two films: Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, and the recent Josh Trank film, Capone. The episode runs just under 30-minutes in length, and after discussion of each film, they say whether or not it would make a good date movie.

Meanwhile, Scott Delahunt's "Lost In Translation" column at Psycho Drive-In takes a brief look at the historical accuracy of The Untouchables:

The film focuses on the Untouchables’ pursuit of Al Capone. Ness’ first outing in Chicago goes as it did historically, a lot of notice and no whiskey; Capone’s men had been tipped off by someone on the Chicago Police Department. Despite the headlines, Ness pushes on. He gathers a core group of men he can trust – former beat cop Malone, rookie cop Stone, and IRS accountant Wallace, who was assigned to help Ness with an eye on nailing Capone for tax evasion.

The point of view remains on Ness and his men for the bulk of the film. Capone is kept removed from the day to day operations of his mob, making it difficult to pin him on any crime. The mob boss does keep his own men in line, with force if needed. The choice is be loyal to Capone or die. Ness, however, earned the loyalty of the Untouchables. The difference between the mobsters and the law enforcement agents is wide. Capone has an expensive home, has staff who will serve the finest dinner on silver plates and wine in crystal glasses. Ness has a simple house, crammed in between two similar houses, a wife and child, simple furnishings. When Ness goes out with his team, they go to a cheap diner.

Ness’ investigation includes a raid on a smuggling convoy along the Canadian border with the RCMP’s assistance, where he manages to arrest Capone’s bookkeeper. With some persuasion, the bookkeeper helps Wallace to decode the ledgers. Capone doesn’t take the news well. Nitti is sent to make sure the bookkeeper doesn’t testify, resulting in both the bookkeeper and Wallace dead. Capone ups the ante by having Malone killed as well.

Undaunted, Ness continues the fight. In his dying breath, Malone tells Ness about Capone’s other bookkeeper being sent out of town by rail later that night. Malone and Stone stake out the railway station, leading to one of the tensest scenes in cinema history. The clip below doesn’t show the tension building as Ness watches people arriving and trying to figure out who could be part of Capone’s gang. The shootout is the release of that tension.

With the bookkeeper, Ness is able to build a case for tax evasion against Capone. Despite an attempt at jury tampering, Capone is found guilty, is fined $50 000 and is given 11 years in prison.

The movie takes a few liberties. Some were needed because of the nature of the medium. Ness had ten men initially, all under thirty and idealistic. It’s harder to corrupt a young man full of idealism than an experienced man who has seen how the world works. The TV series could bring in different members through the use of a rotating cast of supporting actors. A film doesn’t have that luxury, so Ness has just Malone, Wallace, and Stone. Frank Nitti didn’t die during Capone’s trial from a fall from a building; Nitti took over Capone’s mob when Capone went to prison and died by his own hand in 1943. However, the film did keep the focus on Ness’ investigation of Capone.

While some of the historical facts were loose, visual details were accurate. Chicago landmarks were used, and the fashion of the era for men and women, for high class and for working class, was accurate. Visually, the film is lush. The 1959 TV series didn’t have the luxury of colour, so couldn’t be anywhere near as lush. The advantage of movies is budget, and The Untouchables made the most of this advantage.

Like the 1959 series, the 1987 film lets drama outweigh historical accuracy in a few areas. However, the strength of the cast, the writing, and the filming lets audiences ignore differences until well after the film is over. The Untouchables is a crime drama, a war between law & order and criminal enterprise, and is well worth viewing even if it isn’t 100% accurate.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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