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a la Mod:

Domino is
a "disarmingly
work that "pushes
us to reexamine our
relationship to images
and their consumption,
not only ethically
but metaphysically"
-Collin Brinkman

De Palma on Domino
"It was not recut.
I was not involved
in the ADR, the
musical recording
sessions, the final
mix or the color
timing of the
final print."

Listen to
Donaggio's full score
for Domino online

De Palma/Lehman
rapport at work
in Snakes

De Palma/Lehman
next novel is Terry

De Palma developing
Catch And Kill,
"a horror movie
based on real things
that have happened
in the news"

Supercut video
of De Palma's films
edited by Carl Rodrigue

Washington Post
review of Keesey book


Exclusive Passion

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario


AV Club Review
of Dumas book


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De Palma interviewed
in Paris 2002

De Palma discusses
The Black Dahlia 2006


De Palma Community

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The De Palma Touch

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Carrie...A Fan's Site


No Harm In Charm

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Came In From The Cold

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Greetings & Hi, Mom!

Scarface: Make Way
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Deborah Shelton
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De Palma a la Mod

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Friday, October 9, 2020

A couple of days ago, the Star Tribune's Chris Hewitt posted an article headlined, "Are you being watched? 7 of the best paranoid thrillers of the 1970s" --
My job requires me to be open to all kinds of movies, but if asked about my favorites I will not hesitate to say the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s.

The implosion of Richard Nixon’s presidency looms in ’70s films. It’s even depicted in one of them, Alan J. Pakula’s “All the President’s Men.” The loss of faith in government, cynicism about the presidency, fear of the impact a few powerful people can have on public policy and suspicion that the official version of events isn’t true — these are all legacies of an era in which Americans saw a disgraced president resign and his henchmen go to the slammer.

The most trusted people in our country were lying to us. Of course we were paranoid, and the movies are always best when they tie into something audiences already feel.

This explains why so many ’70s movies feature a protagonist who stumbles on a secret that leads to a vast government conspiracy. Besides reflecting the times, these stories offer freedom for a director to reshape material according to his style and interests. But the key is how closely the hero’s journey mirrors our own as moviegoers.

Just like the guy who finds a secret file or overhears a clandestine phone call, we begin a movie knowing little about what we will encounter, and soon (if the movie is good) it engulfs us completely. These films make us part of the conspiracy; we’re safe in our seats while the heroes risk their lives to get at the truth. Like the shadowy government figures who tap their phones or pull their children aside on the playground to issue warnings, we are always watching. Even more than other kinds of movies, paranoid thrillers make us aware that we’re voyeurs, dying to find out what happens to Gene Hackman or Warren Beatty.

For this list, I would stretch the definition of “the 1970s” to include 1981’s “Blow Out.” It belongs to the ’70s, culturally, because of its connection to earlier movies, its government conspiracy theme and its origin in events such as Watergate (and the Chappaquiddick incident in 1969). The voyeuristic “Chinatown” (1974), while not set in the post-Watergate years, is also clearly a product of them.

Chinatown” establishes a link to earlier movies, too. I won’t go so far as to push the extended dates for this list back to the 1940s, but paranoid conspiracy thrillers are the answer to the film noir of the ’40s, equally dark tales that also focused on lone wolves attempting to solve mysteries that were bigger than they realized.

No medium does suspense and danger better than the movies, so I’m surprised paranoid thrillers are not more common. “The Lives of Others” (2006), the electrifying “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011) and Will Smith’s “Enemy of the State” (1998) are more recent versions, but I still return to these classics often.

Blow Out (1981)

When I tell people this is my favorite movie, they’re often baffled. Its reputation has grown since it bombed in theaters, but some dismiss it as a garish knockoff of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up,” and director Brian De Palma is spoken of as a Hitchcock imitator, if at all. But the movie is a masterpiece, with great performances (John Travolta as a principled sound technician, Nancy Allen as a kind woman with a major clue and John Lithgow as a creep involved in the assassination of a governor), operatic emotions, suspenseful set pieces, a gleeful parody of slasher films and double-your-pleasure paranoia: Travolta slowly assembles a film of the assassination even as we are watching a film about it.

The other six films on Hewitt's list: All the President’s Men, The Parallax View, The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, The Day of the Jackal, and Marathon Man.

Posted by Geoff at 7:40 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, October 9, 2020 10:58 PM CDT
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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

"Brian De Palma is hands down my favorite director," states Greg Srisavasdi in the description for the latest episode of his Find You Film podcast, "and thankfully Eric Holmes and Bruce Purkey are here to provide even handed insight into the Brian De Palma films Femme Fatale and Raising Cain!" Srisavasdi menions that they plan to do more De Palma episodes "as this is just the beginning!"

On the podcast's Instagram page, the episode is promoted with the image above, which shows a hand-painted Raising Cain glass credited to Pour Decisions by Carol.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Monday, October 5, 2020

"'Can we have a chat on Zoom, now, Jay?'" Jay Glennie captioned the image above with that quote today on Instagram, adding, "When Brian De Palma (so many great films: Carlito’s Way, The Untouchables, Carrie, Scarface, Mission: Impossible, Blow Out) emails to chat about Raging Bull you drop everything!"

Glennie interviewed Martin Scorsese last month via Zoom for the book, a "Making of Raging Bull" from Coattail Publications, in collaboration with Robert De Niro. If you register your interest in the book at the bottom of the Raging Bull page, you'll get on their email list and can then recieve a 10% discount when the book is released.

In an American Cinematographer review of the 2009 Blu-ray release of Raging Bull, Kenneth Sweeney quotes Scorsese from one of the disc's extra features: "When I was preparing for the picture, Walter Bernstein took me, with Jay Cocks and Brian De Palma, to the fights at Madison Square Garden for the first time. We sat all the way up in the seats, way up. Walter was sort of talking me through the fights — what was happening and such, and it was very hard to tell what was happening. Then I realized…I don’t know how to shoot two guys in a boxing ring! I just don’t know how to shoot it. De Palma looked over at me at one point and said, 'Good luck.'"

Posted by Geoff at 8:35 PM CDT
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Friday, October 2, 2020

Today, Peter Martin's 70s Rewind, at Screen Anarchy, looks at Phantom Of The Paradise:
Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise, which he wrote and directed, brings those ideas into the present day (i.e., the early 1970s). Mega-successful Swan (Paul Williams) recognizes the talents of unknown composer/singer Winslow Leach (William Finley) and promptly steals them, intending to discard Leach and take personal credit for his incredible work.

Differing from past big-screen versions, De Palma makes Swan the lead character; he's evil, sure, but he's also charismatic, has a great smile, and does certain things very, very well. (For example, we see him in the studio, punching up a voice track featuring Winslow's horribly disfigured vocal chords with the graceful dexterity of a magician; he knows what he's doing.) Swan is a different kind of monster, one that reflects the era: as powerful as he appears to be, he's still answering to a higher power yet, one that is even more diabolical, yet remains unseen.

The film remains rather fabulous; its sly, satiric side has aged well, and its happy mocking of the theatrical rock and rock stylings of the day bring back a lot of memories. Somehow, what stands out most for it is the introduction of Jessica Harper, who is more than fabulous: she is a star.

The character is a mainstay in Phantom movies; here, she is called Phoenix, which may be too on-the-nose, but it's a perfect description of her personality, as she performs songs beautifully, boldly dances across the stage like Mick Jagger, and reveals hidden depths to a woman who is seduced by stardom. (Our own Zach Gayne talked with Ms. Harper about the film, which is worth another read or two, and reminds me that my own current hometown served as a key location.)

Fitting nicely into De Palma's oeuvre between the slashing horror flick Sisters (available to stream on The Criterion Channel and considered on Blu-ray by our own Michele 'Izzy' Galgana) and the lushly unsettling Obsession (which I loved more than Ms. Galgana), the playful pop force behind De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise makes it an enduringly alluring tale of monsters, especially the ones who have all the power and don't really know what to do with it, except boost their own forgettable careers.

Posted by Geoff at 9:27 PM CDT
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Thursday, October 1, 2020

Adam Nayman's monthly series for The Ringer focuses on "the direct and subtextual representations of U.S. presidents and their social and political impact" from the past six decades. The latest entry, posted yesterday, delves into the George W. Bush years:
[Steven] Spielberg was one of several reigning elder statesmen to weigh in during the Bush era, most powerfully in his heavy-artillery remake of War of the Worlds, which envisioned America under attack before reversing the terms of the metaphor to suggest that the Martians and their machines had a distinctly imperialist appearance. Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York was gestating for a decade before its completion in 2002, at which point its NYC creation myth had extra resonance (and its own subtle World Trade Center cameo). In The Departed, Scorsese had Alec Baldwin’s shady Boston cop Captain Ellerby invoke the Patriot Act (“I love it! I love it!”) as a symbol of ostensibly good guys doing very bad things.

Unsurprisingly, the ’70s survivor who confronted Iraq head-on was the indomitable Brian De Palma, whose Redacted adopted the same polemical hybrid of style as Moore, Cohen, and Range. The film is loosely based on a true account of U.S. military personnel raping a civilian girl, and unfolds as a series of video diaries, surveillance tapes, and YouTube clips that replicates an entire online multimedia landscape around recreations of the horrific event at the story’s center. By returning to the incendiary approach of his sardonic anti-Vietnam films Greetings and Hi, Mom!, De Palma transformed the recency of an ongoing catastrophe into an artistic strategy. Redacted proved so controversial that its producers insisted on recutting it for its New York Film Festival premiere, leading to a war of words with a filmmaker unafraid of biting the hand that feeds him. At one point, De Palma volunteered to buy the movie back and release it un-redacted, at once savoring and savaging the irony of the situation.

As images of distress go, Redacted’s photo-realistic final tableau of a broken, bloodied casualty of war was true nightmare fuel, while Paul Haggis’s money shot in 2007’s other major Iraq War movie, In the Valley of Elah, was constituted of simplistic semiotics: an American flag turned upside down. The film’s tale of a father learning the hard truth about his son’s activities while overseas earned Tommy Lee Jones an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, although he was better that year in a different role—as the reactionary, benevolent, and finally ineffectual sheriff in Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country For Old Men. The film’s long, clean narrative lines, biblical severity, and setting in Bush’s old gubernatorial stomping grounds begged the questions of whether or not the Coens had instrumentalized Cormac McCarthy’s drug-runner thriller into a State of the Union address; critic Jonathan Rosenbaum interpreted the movie’s “gorgeous carnage” as an indirect mediation on the violence of the Iraq War.

No Country was a hit, but the Coens’ more incisive Bush-era commentary was their follow-up Burn After Reading, a delirious mashup of screwball stupidity and cloak-and-dagger paranoia featuring John Malkovich as a past-his-prime spy struggling to adapt after the thaw of the Cold War. It’s a funny movie set in a cruel universe: Its best scenes feature J.K. Simmons and David Rasche as CIA operatives performing a heartless, hilarious audit of the story’s ever-escalating body count—a callback to Dr. Strangelove minus the apocalyptic ending. Even as the film’s seemingly anachronistic analysis of tetchy (if hypothetical) U.S.-Russia collusion proved eerily prescient a decade after the fact, the dismissive dialogue in the movie’s ruthless coda couldn’t help but connect to cycles of foreign-policy fuckups and the political buck-passing that went with them.

“What’d we learn, Palmer?” queries Simmons’s high-ranking intelligence agent to his underling.

“I don’t know, sir.”

“I don’t fucking know either … I guess we learned not to do it again.”

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, October 2, 2020 12:59 AM CDT
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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Collider's Drew Taylor posted an exclusive look today at an upcoming children's book from the creators of Cinephile: A Card Game. Titled A is for Auteur, the book is writen by Cory Everett and illustrated by Steve Isaacs.

"A is for Auteur is officially described as a 'beautifully-crafted alphabet book to inspire the next generation of cinephiles,'" Taylor writes in the post. "It features 'references to more than 200 films from Alfred Hitchcock to Agnès Varda,' told in the style you’ve come to know and love from the card game. I’ve read the book and it’s incredibly fun and charming, with gorgeous illustrations and told in a sing-song-y nursery rhyme style that is perfect for leaving an impression on your budding movie lover."

Taylor then adds, "Along those lines we are also thrilled to debut an exclusive page from the book devoted to living legend Brian De Palma, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday. I mean, is that awesome or what?"

Posted by Geoff at 8:31 PM CDT
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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

I don't recall seeing the above picture before-- not until I saw it today in a tweet posted by Claqueta de Bitácora. It shows Brian De Palma preparing to shoot a part of the Scarface scene at El Paraiso, with Caesar Cordova looking every bit in character as the cook at the Cuban sandwich shop. Cordova passed away last month of natural causes at the age of 84.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Saturday, September 26, 2020

Over at The 15:17 to Cinema, Collin Brinkmann has posted the most exhilarating piece we're likely to read about Brian De Palma's Domino, discussing the film as an artist's late-period work that is something close to the end of cinema as we know it:
This stranded film may indeed exist on an island within De Palma’s body of work, but if so it is an island of profound importance for the De Palma project, possibly a projection of where De Palma is heading with his art. The accidental nature of the lack of shooting days, or De Palma’s inability to oversee the final mixing and whatnot, can hardly wipe away what seems to me like a reasonably close facsimile of what De Palma originally intended to create, a film that was perhaps intended as a new step forward in his work—a step, perhaps, that goes beyond anything he’s ever done. Beyond in what direction? I have no idea. It is perhaps not beyond but deeper within his own artistic persona, so deep that it can only manifest itself on the surface in Domino’s austere images seemingly stripped of the usual ornamentation one is used to in De Palma. Next to something like Passion, Domino appears almost as post-cinema; compared to De Palma’s recent work it is disarmingly straight-forward, no narrative tricks à la Passion or Femme Fatale, no mystery between dream and reality or anything like that. It is instead bluntly barreling ahead and, I’d say, reaching for a new and deeper understanding of reality and the film image that captures it.

That is just a very small taste-- read the entire thing from top to bottom at The 15:17 to Cinema.

Posted by Geoff at 12:22 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, September 26, 2020 12:23 PM CDT
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Thursday, September 24, 2020

"One of the most enduring questions among cinephiles has been what exactly to do about Brian De Palma," Ben Kenigsberg states at the start of his "Gateway Movies" column today at The New York Times. "Detractors used to dismiss him as a talented recycler who riffed on the movies of great auteurs (Alfred Hitchcock most obviously and consistently) without achieving those auteurs’ nuance or depth. Admirers cast him as one of the most gifted stylists of his generation — every bit the peer of Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, who came up in the film industry at the same time. In this view, he’s also a serious artist who has preserved classic Hollywood traditions even as he has slyly toyed with them.

"The 2016 documentary De Palma, now streaming on Netflix, gave the feeling of resolving the matter. The director sat down with fellow filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, much as Hitchcock had with François Truffaut, and went film by film through his career. No one who saw the documentary could doubt De Palma’s sincerity, the range of his work or, particularly, his command of film language. De Palma turned 80 this month, and at this point it seems uncontroversial to rank him among the living masters of the cinematic form.

"What recent appraisals haven’t settled, though, is a pettier tiff among De Palma’s fans, about the 'right' way to appreciate De Palma. You liked The Untouchables (1987) and think it’s one of his best? Too bad. If you’re talking to a De Palma fanatic, The Untouchables was a commercial effort, written by David Mamet, and to see it as superior to a De Palma-penned Psycho pastiche like Dressed to Kill (1980) is to miss his originality.

"My own enthusiasms, as Robert De Niro’s Al Capone might call them, have varied wildly over time, from skepticism to appreciation and back. But if even inveterate De Palma watchers sometimes get tsk-tsked for their taste, where does that leave newcomers? I propose that a good middle ground is to start with a De Palma classic from his freewheeling 1970s-’80s period, Blow Out, and to continue with one of his finest studio efforts, Carlito’s Way. Aficionados may howl at that one as insufficiently pure-grade. (David Koepp, not De Palma, wrote the script, which mostly plays it straight.) But in De Palma, the director himself remembers watching Carlito’s Way and thinking, 'I can’t make a better picture than this.'"

In fact, back in 2002, De Palma had chosen these very same two pictures to bookend a career retrospective at the Pompidou in Paris. Two sides of the same personal coin, the two films share a similar sense of tragedy, irony, and fate.

Earlier this month, the blogger at You Remind Me Of The Frame discussed De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise as "a complex and intertextual satire" that nevertheless "operates independently" of its references. Kenigsberg echoes that viewpoint in his discussion of Blow Out:

Part of what makes “Blow Out” quintessential De Palma is that it wears its influences proudly — but also recombines them to make them fully the director’s own. The basic premise is consciously indebted to Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” (1966), which concerns a photographer who accidentally captures evidence of a murder. But De Palma’s film uses the setup to create a thriller, something that Antonioni’s study of disaffection in swinging London steadfastly refused to be.

Blow Out” centers on a movie sound man, Jack (John Travolta), who unwittingly records audio that could prove a fatal car accident was a political assassination. Antonioni is only the most superficial influence. De Palma borrowed the car accident off the bridge from the Chappaquiddick scandal involving Ted Kennedy. Jack pores over individual frames of the murder scene as if parsing the Zapruder footage, which gets a shout-out. De Palma has cited the Watergate operative G. Gordon Liddy as his inspiration for the villain (John Lithgow), who has vastly exceeded his mandate by killing and goes to extreme lengths to cover his tracks.

Although the film has something to say about what was at the time recent American history and the public’s capacity to turn a blind eye to corruption, on several levels “Blow Out” is a movie about movies and the apparent contradiction they contain.

On one hand, movies offer the promise of capturing the truth. Jack, who recorded the accident while making audio of whooshing wind for a horror movie, turns increasingly to film to prove his case. He cuts still photos of the accident from a magazine and animates them, synchronizing them to the audio he’s recorded to create a mini-documentary of the crime scene.

On the other hand, movies are inherently constructions, with the capacity to fabricate. “Blow Out” has already lied to us by opening with an elaborate fake-out: a sequence from the point of view of a slasher stalking coeds that turns out to be a film within the film. (This sequence represented De Palma’s first use of the Steadicam, which was then a novel device, and a tool he has used to extraordinary effect ever since.) The sequence ends with the stalker about to murder a showering woman, and she lets out a pitiful scream; cut to the screening room, where we learn that Jack hasn’t bothered to dub the actress. The search for a believable fake scream frames the movie. In the final irony, he will hear that perfect scream in real life.

Kenigsberg goes on to discuss the various vantage points De Palma provides the viewer in Blow Out's key repeated sequence, before transitioning toward Carlito's Way. "Few filmmakers are as adept at leading viewers through the geography of a sequence," he states. "My favorite example is in the final 20 minutes of Carlito’s Way, which is simply one of the most thrilling chases ever filmed." Read the rest at The New York Times.

Posted by Geoff at 8:56 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, September 24, 2020 9:02 PM CDT
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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, September 24, 2020 12:14 AM CDT
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