END OF 'BLAIR WITCH PROJECT', AUDIENCE TURNED AGAINST THE FILM - "IS THAT IT?!?" -
'CARRIE' WAS THE REVERSE: "THEY ALL WALKED OUT OF THE THEATER TALKING ABOUT WHAT A GREAT MOVIE IT WAS"
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Jon: I don't know what it is about Phantom Of The Paradise-- it is real weird when you look at it and you're trying to figure out if you want to watch it. Like whether it's gonna be something you'd like. Because for years people have told us to watch it.
Kim: I know!
Jon: I've seen it spoofed on TV shows, even The Simpsons did a little gag about it in a Treehouse of Horror episode. And for whatever reason, I was just, "Ehh, I don't know. Even though it's a Brian De Palma movie, it doesn't really look like my bag. I'll get to it eventually."
Kim: Yep. For me, it just didn't seem directly spooky enough?
Jon: Haha, yeah.
Kim: To entice me? You know what I mean?
Jon: Like, "I guess he's a cool-looking raven thing..."
Kim: Yeah, there was too much bird stuff, like, had it been ghosts and bats, I would have been in on it. But yeah, it was just like, "I don't know if this is for me." And I was fucking wrong.
Jon: Right? Don't you feel like it's... it's weird to say, like [mocking] "This is the greatest movie I've ever seen!" Because it's only been a short period, but don't you feel like a portion of your DNA is now Phantom Of The Paradise?
Jon: I have introduced friends to this movie who I think had the same idea I had, that it's like, maybe not for them. And they've come back and said, like, "Oh my God, this is fucking amazing! I need more movies like this!" Like, the real sad part is that there aren't. It's hard to recommend more movies like Phantom Of The Paradise. It is so unique.
Kim: Yeah. I mean, and that's kind of why we're pairing Rocky Horror and Phantom Of The Paradise together in this episode, because they're kind of anomalies.
Kim: In that, I guess they're similar, but only in their zaniness.
Jon: Yeah. The answer for both: like, if you want more movies like Rocky Horror or you want more movies like Phantom Of The Paradise is just recommend the other movie. Fingers crossed they haven't seen that one!
Kim: Yeah, but it's, "This isn't really like it, but it's like it."
Jon: Yeah. If you've never seen it, please, for the love of God, stop this podcast, and go seek it out. In the States, I think it might still be available on Shudder. We picked up a Blu-ray copy from Scream Factory, it's still in print. So it's available. You can get it. And if you need more of a sell, I'd say that, the thing I always tell people is that it feels-- because there are lots of live performances in the movie-- it feels like an Alice Cooper concert that you never went to.
Kim: Yeah, there's something so interesting, too, about the songs in this film... All of the songs in the movie are performances.
Kim: It's less like Grease, where they just break into song, and more like a stage performance. Like, we are watching a bunch of musicians performing the musical numbers.
Jon: And it has a lot to say about the music industry. Or even just, like, the entertainment industry.
Kim: It's so good.
Meanwhile at Pitchfork, Nathan Smith writes about The Pitch "Movie of the Week," Phantom Of The Paradise --
In just 90 minutes, Brian De Palma folds a ridiculous amount of narrative into Phantom of the Paradise, and yet it never feels rushed or overstuffed. Every moment is more inventive than the last, and there are elements of the director’s style all over: the public horror of Carrie, the surveillance technology of Mission: Impossible, the coked-out sleaze of Scarface. But it’s also vastly different from anything he’d ever make again—in part because the movie is as defined by one of its stars and composers, Paul Williams, as it is by De Palma.
More than anything, Phantom of the Paradise is a stylistic balancing act. De Palma drifts between genres, from expressionist horror to slapstick comedy to searing melodrama, to tell the tragic saga of a passionate artist devoured by the ruthlessness of the music business. Williams, then a songwriter for acts like the Carpenters and Three Dog Night, spoofs everything from Phil Spector-produced teen pop to Alice Cooper-like shock rock on the soundtrack and in his role as villain tastemaker Swan. The diminutive Williams is maybe a hard sell as a rock devil, but there’s something a little demonic about his chubby cheeks and the sunglasses that never leave his face—he’s clearly having fun with the whole thing. One has to wonder how much he, as a working singer-songwriter, channeled his own experiences into the character. As the film puts it, the pop industry is where everything can be sold, even your soul.
Phantom does what all good satire does: it cuts to the truth by going beyond it. De Palma draws on the tropes and themes of classic stories like The Picture of Dorian Gray and Faust and creates images that are almost mythic, reaffirming that the modern-day exploitation of the music industry isn’t anything new—business has been preying on art since the feudal days. The story is as much a parable as it is a parody, an almost fairy tale-like warning about the damage celebrity can do to the psyche.
The article by Craig D. Lindsey looks at Body Double as De Palma's "balls-to-the-wall response" to critics of his then-recent works.
Double has to be the most I’m-doing-this-for-shits-and-giggles movie De Palma ever directed. (His little-seen Home Movies, which he made with his Sarah Lawrence College film class, comes a close second.) It’s surprising how many people took this trolling so seriously. The movie was a flop at the box office and mostly trashed in the press, though a few critics got the joke. (Vincent Canby called it “[De Palma’s] most blatant variation to date on a Hitchcock film,” while Paul Attanasio said it is “carefully calculated to offend almost everyone”). Audiences hated it, too: In a 2002 salute to De Palma in Vanity Fair, critic James Wolcott recalled the “catastrophic public screening” of Double he attended “where the audience hissed the notorious low-angle shot of a power drill pointed at a supine woman’s body like a steel penis.”
Right from the jump, De Palma revels in Double’s Hollywood artifice. Every time we see Jake at a studio, fake backdrops and boulders are being wheeled away. But the fakery doesn’t stop when he leaves the lot. It extends to scenes of Jake driving his drop-top convertible around town, for which De Palma deploys an old-fashioned rear-projection shot. Without question, the movie’s most over-the-top moment, when Wasson and Shelton share a passionate kiss on the beach, is also its most deliberately inauthentic. It’s obviously meant to resemble the revolving make-out session between Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo. But De Palma goes way the hell out for his version, cutting abruptly from footage of the actors smooching outdoors to them clearly on a soundstage, on some revolving platform, against a projected backdrop of a beach, just ravaging each other as the camera does multiple, accelerated swirls around them.
By the end, De Palma has given both his fans and his haters what they crave. He ends his movie with a sequence in which a De Palma-like director (played by Dennis Franz, a one-time De Palma regular) shoots Jake, playing a vampire, biting a naked girl in the shower. A gum-smacking body double steps in for the actress, cementing the whole scene as a nod to Angie Dickinson’s shower scene in Dressed, where she used a double. Even after all these years, Body Double is still tawdry, twisted, and smart-assed, right down to the final frame.
Earlier today, the band posted the above pic of Pino Donaggio and Brian De Palma on the band's Instagram page. "We fell for Pino’s work," the band wrote in the Instagram post, "as we toiled away to get our cover of his score for Carrie, for the release of @vikingguitarproductions Danse Macabre VII."
The Carrie medley consists of four parts:
I. Theme from Carrie
II. Bucket of Blood
III. School in Flames
IV. For the Last Time, We'll Pray
“Bernard Herrmann had just passed away and Brian was looking for someone to work on Carrie's music (1976): he didn't want any other American musicians and he chose me after seeing Roeg's film,” Donaggio said. However, there are some substantial differences between his musical style and that of the famous composer of the music of many Hitchcock films: "While Herrmann immediately prepared the audience for the tension, I preferred to relax the audience at the beginning and then give the sudden musical hit to make people jump out of their chairs, just like the scene where Carrie's hand comes out of the grave.”
The successful collaboration lasted for eight films and allowed Donaggio to work with many other great directors (among many: Dario Argento, Liliana Cavani, Pupi Avati). "The luck I had in America is due precisely to the type of film that De Palma made, where there was little dialogue and the scenes were mainly accompanied by music, which thus had the opportunity to emerge," added the Maestro, also recounting the working method used during the compositions for De Palma: "For all the films of the early years I wrote the music in Italy and De Palma listened to all the work only later, after I had already composed everything: every time in the evening before I was very anxious, as if I had to take an exam. Luckily it always went well. Now it doesn't work like that anymore. There are demos and auditions. With Passion (2012) and Domino (2019) he already knew what I was writing from the beginning."
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.
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.'"
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.