"I'LL THINK ABOUT IT"
Hello and welcome to the unofficial Brian De Palma website.
Here is the latest news:
a la Mod:
Do you see a lot of potential in cinematography thanks to how lightweight cameras have become?
Well, in a sense. But I was influenced a lot on this film by things I saw many years ago in “Das Boot,” the Wolfgang Petersen submarine film. It was a huge inspiration for me as a DP. I was obsessed with knowing how they got the camera to go through the really small bulkhead doors in a submarine. They had built the submarine on a soundstage but they had built it with all the real dimensions. You can cheat all you want in movies, but they didn’t do it. So it was the camera operator who was running through these tiny doors, holding the camera by hand, not on the shoulder, kind of like a hybrid between handheld and Steadicam. It worked fantastically.
The cinematographer’s job is to light things, but there are a number of scenes in “The Outpost” that take place in near darkness.
It’s a natural instinct, for sure, to light scenes properly. If you’ve seen my previous work, you always have a clear sense of what’s going on, so I had to force myself a bit here. Rod was really pushing me for the darkness. We had a lot of real veterans on the location and even in the movie. They were all telling us that at night, they wouldn’t even start fires or shine lights. They would not go outside the barracks if there was a full moon. If it was total darkness, they only had little glow lights around their neck. We wanted to preserve that for the film, but it’s very challenging. Anyone who looks through their iPhone camera at night can understand that. So I did a lot of tests on the night lighting. And then after we finished shooting the night scenes, I still dropped the exposure down a bit in post-production.
The battle sequence is really 45 minutes of relentless combat. It’s not quite done in real time but it’s very visually consistent. How did you manage that?
It was an all-location shoot, obviously. Unfortunately, we had an accident in pre-production when one of the actors (Scott Eastwood) broke his ankle badly. But it meant that we got extra time to spend as production shifted back a bit. I did a lot of brainstorming – first splitting up the whole big puzzle of the battle, then assigning each piece to the best part of a day to shoot, and then reassembling it all. So one morning we would shoot the first part of a shot. But we’d save the second part of the same shot for the next morning, so we would have consistent light.
Were those long shooting days?
Well, we were shooting without lunch breaks. That’s actually a big plus for us in the camera department. You keep the momentum going. When everybody takes a break for an hour, by the time you get the machine going again, it’s already late afternoon and the lighting is completely different. It meant a lot that we were able to complete a sequence with the same look from beginning to end.
Also some of the shots in the ambush sequence are lengthy.
That was the other big advantage. We were shooting long shots and when you are doing that, it’s a big plus for continuity. You definitely dedicate more time in planning and rehearsing and choreographing the shot. But then when you start shooting, you get the result in this little window, after two of three takes. There was a period during the final sequence where we were shooting only two shots a day.
What’s your philosophy about long takes? Do you love the challenge or is it too much trouble?
It makes the job more complicated but I love it. My background is in Steadicam and long takes are part of the magic of Steadicam. Also, when I began working, I was doing a lot of longer Steadicam shots and that’s how I built my career. I would just be called in for a day, because it was extremely expensive 20 years ago to have a Steadicam on set all the time.
What’s your favorite long shot in movies?
I love Brian De Palma and the way he does them. Spielberg is a master as well. There is one in “Carlito’s Way,” Al Pacino is hiding from some guys in Grand Central Station in New York. That was done with Steadicam by a camera operator named Larry McConkey, who’s one of the legends in the movie business.
Do you still strap on the Steadicam?
From time to time. I didn’t on this movie because it was very physically demanding. I didn’t want the physicality of the operating to interfere with the goal we were going for. I had an incredible operator from Canada called Sasha Proctor, who was in much better physical shape than I was. I did it for 20 years, so I’ve got the scars on my back.
De Palma, who, with Rabe, had several meetings with Bob Leuci, spoke with Spiegel for her Lumet biography. Leuci "had a kind of remarkable magnetism about him," Spiegel states, adding that, "as De Palma put it, he was 'the most charming guy in the world; he could stab you in the back and you'd still love him.'"
Here is Spiegel's account of how Lumet got involved:
At eighty-two years old, Burtt [Harris] enters a room with a boom blast of energy; his bright blue eyes instantly get a bead on you. In another life he would have made a great cop; in fact, Burtt was often Sidney's conduit to the police. "They, the cops, trusted me because I was into that macho stuff." He had known "all the French Connection cops," meaning the real-life counterparts of Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo (played by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider), who busted an international narcotics ring in the early 1960s. "The didn't smack people around, they just petrified them," he said, adding, "All those guys wanted to get into the movies." Sidney, Burtt said, didn't "hang out" with cops at bars like Burtt did, "but he met with them and talked with them, and rode around with them some." He remembered being approached by a cop in a bar in Greenwich Village who knew what Burtt did for a living. "You should make this a movie," he said, handing him the book Prince Of The City. The cop said he was one of the characters in the book, Bob Leuci's partner after Leuci got acquitted. "Everyone wanted to shoot him," he told Burtt, "bad guys and good guys. We had to keep our eyes on him all the time."
Burtt recalled screenwriter Jay Presson Allen "grabbing the book out of my hand." "Where'd you get this?" she asked. When she finished reading Robert Daley's account of Bob Leuci, the real-life NYPD narcotics detective whose decision to expose police corruption resulted in tragic consequences, including the suicides of two of his closest partners and the near destruction of his own life, she thought, "Oh yeah. This is Lumet!" When she showed it to Sidney, "he just flipped." It turned out the book had already been sold to Orion, with Brian De Palma as director and David Rabe as screenwriter. Allen told the studio that if the De Palma deal fell through, she and Lumet wanted it. They waited and waited to see if something would come of it. "Sidney was within twenty-four hours of signing up for another movie when we got the call," Allen recalled.
From De Palma's perspective, Sidney "stole that picture" from him. He and Rabe had spent months in meetings with Bob Leuci and had been in discussion with both Al Pacino and John Travolta about starring in it. De Palma acknowledged that they were moving slowly on the script, and maybe that was why they lost the movie-- or, he acknowledged, maybe Lumet and Presson just carried more weight over there.
He wasn't willing to criticize the moviemakers -- just yet. "I think it's bad manners in the Southern sense to be sharp and critical of it," he said. "I did cash the check." However, with his good Southern manners the author had made it clear to the Hollywood people right after he accepted the $750,000 they paid him for the rights to his book that he didn't want to have anything to do with the making of their movie.
"To tell the truth, I've never wanted to write any script based on something I've done," he said. "From my standpoint it's too bad that movies don't run nine or ten hours. The way I constructed the book, almost every chapter was meant to be a vignette of something else in New York as well as something that might advance the story, and to me one was as important as the other."
The author paused briefly. "It's a fairly simple story. It's not a complicated story. But I wanted there to be all these slices, one after another. Not that I gave very much thought to how the movie could be made, but I never could see how you could do that."
TBT: November 1975. The day I met my future boss Brian De Palma. As a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, at age of 19, I organized a festival of De Palma films (SISTERS, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, GREETINGS and HI, MOM!) at a movie theater on campus.
In THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, I found a phone number for the casting office for CARRIE and managed to get De Palma on the phone and I invited him to come to Columbia, South Carolina, to appear at the festival.
I took De Palma to be a guest at a film class I was taking, taught by Professor Bernie Dunlap (in the center of these two photos) where De Palma drew storyboards in chalk on the blackboard and played cues on a cassette tape player of Bernard Herrmann’s newly recorded score for OBSESSION, De Palma’s latest film which was still in post-production (called DEJA VU at that time).
My friend Lee Tsiantis snapped these two photos of me (left), Bernie Dunlap (center) and De Palma (right).
In the summer of 1977, between my junior and senior year of college, I got my first professional job in the movie industry working as a production assistant, extra, and on-set journalist (for CINEFANTASTIQUE magazine) on Brian De Palma’s THE FURY starring Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes.
Then, upon graduation in 1978, De Palma hired me to Associate Produce and Production Manage HOME MOVIES, a comedy he directed that summer, starring Kirk Douglas, Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon.
After that, De Palma hired me as his full-time assistant on DRESSED TO KILL starring Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon.
I owe my entire career to De Palma and everything I learned under his mentorship.
At The Gate, we premiered Brian De Palma’s first full length feature The Wedding Party, that he made while studying at Sarah Lawrence College. I remember De Palma’s 16mm film being shown in the theatre while he personally was projecting his trailer with an 8 mm projector on the glass of the front door of The Gate.
The poster’s not-quite-perfect cursive handwriting reads like a wedding invitation gone slightly awry. The wonderfully perverse image demonstrates Palladino’s mastery in bringing mundane found objects into service as sculpture. He created the cement base himself and arranged the bride and groom cake toppers mass wedding-style; a detail view of the sculpture reveals the couples are already sinking. Till death do they part!
Sculpture 2- “Stuck” or “Here Come the Bride”- 1967-the figures used on top of wedding cakes stuck into cement was made for the poster for Brian dePalma’s, The Wedding Party”, distributed by family friend and “adopted” brother Peter Powell. Not sure if it was used. By the way, this was years before the Sun Myung Moon mass “blessings” Moonies wedding ceremony.
“Stuck” was used for the poster for dePalma’s film “The Wedding Party” w hand lettering by your mom! It was also shot in CU for the trailer for the film. It was that piece and that first collaboration that was the first meeting between PP & TP.
By the time he created the sculpture and poster for The Wedding Party, Tony Palladino had already been famous for his graphic design of the title for Robert Bloch's Psycho -- which then also became the title design for the poster art and marketing of Alfred Hitchcock's film adaptation. An obit by Michael Silverberg at Quartz provides a brief summary:
The title encapsulated the schismatic violence of Alfred Hitchcock’s film with a remarkably simple gesture: Palladino tore up the type, ransom-note style.
“That title was so descriptive, I let the title become the graphic,” Palladino recalled in the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. “It was much stronger than any illustration one could do. The guy was quite cracked up, so, in the graphic, I cracked up the lettering to reinforce the title.”
Originally designed for the jacket of Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of the same name, Palladino’s title was acquired by Alfred Hitchcock for $5,000. “He thought it would be perfect for the ads for this film,” Palladino said. “He wanted the lettering to dominate the newspaper and poster advertising, with just a few photographs of the main actors.” The broken letters were the template for Saul Bass’s influential title sequence and became just as evocative of the film as the famous shot of Janet Leigh’s eye.
As for Connery, Mamet said he was a pleasure to work with and that he brought legitimacy to the tough guy cop character he’d written. Said Mamet: “I was talking the other day to somebody whose brother was a cop and who said to her, ‘the best portrayal I’ve ever seen of a cop in a movie was the one by Connery. What Connery exhibits is what every cop needs and many don’t have, and that is common sense.’ Mamet said that was conveyed in scenes that included one where Connery’s Malone confronts Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness on a bridge at night. “Malone says, ‘why are you carrying a gun’ and Ness replies, ‘Because I am a treasury officer.’ When Connery says okay and walks away, Costner says, ‘ Why would you turn away from someone with a gun, just because he claims to be a treasury officer and Connery says, ‘Who would claim to be that, who wasn’t?’ It is the perfect example of the common sense a cop needs,” Mamet said.
I ask how Connery compared to the many other actors who delivered Mamet’s signature tough guy dialogue. The playwright-turned-filmmaker declined to eat the sushi, er, swallow the bait.
“Ever hear that joke, how do you make 99 of 100 little old ladies say, ‘fuck?’ I confessed I hadn’t. “Have the other one shout, Bingo! It’s the same thing here. Why would I alienate innumerable great actors I’ve worked with by picking one over another? I’ve been blessed since the earliest days in my career when we started our theater company in Chicago and I worked with Billy Macy, Joe Mantegna, Patti LuPone, Laurie Metcalf and others. I’ve worked with a lot of real tough guys,, like Dennis Farina, a real tough cop, and Dennis Franz, a tough Vietnam vet. I’ve worked with actual bank robbers, after they came down state, just superb actors.
“I stopped watching the news five months ago, I just couldn’t take anymore, and my wife and I have been watching old movies, pre-code movies, from back when they made 2500 films a year,” he said. “We’re watching King of the Newsboys, which starred Lew Ayres when he played light heavyweights, before Dr. Kildare, and in one scene they are getting drunk sitting at the bar and a woman wakes up, looks around and says, ‘Oh, am I still here?’ I think, that is genius, there’s no other line in the movie nearly that good. What happened? I think about it and figure, she misread the line, most probably.
“I remember a scene from a film I wrote and directed, Heist. Gene Hackman is in a scene with Danny DeVito. I’m crazy about Danny and he’s talking to Hackman on the phone and the line is ‘Are you fucking with me, are you fucking with me, or are you done fucking with me.’ With the emphasis on the world ‘done.’ As we’re shooting, I think, Jesus, no, don’t let him read it with the emphasis on ‘done’ instead of ‘fucking’ with me. And he reads it the correct way, the way a regular guy would. He was great. Sometimes, these things just happen.”
Back to Connery?
“My wife [actress Rebecca Pidgeon] is Scottish and I remember running into Sean in Edinburgh one year, maybe it was at the Edinburgh Festival,” Mamet said. Obviously Connery, who was knighted in his home country, would have been wearing the traditional kilt.
“What I’ll say about Sean is, not only did he do everything well, but he looked great in a skirt,” Mamet said.
And so we’re off to Kansas City’s Union Station for a big shootout. And if it looks a little familiar, that’s because Fargo shot the scene at Chicago’s Union Station. Even if you’ve never been there, if you’ve seen Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, you’ll recognize it as the setting of a gunfight that gives the movie its most famous set piece. It’s no accident that the battle in this episode evokes that famous scene, from its long set-up to its exaggerated soundtrack to its strategically deployed slow motion. (There’s no baby carriage rolling down the stairs Battleship Potemkin-style, however.) If the scene doesn’t come close to topping its inspiration, it gives the episode yet another moment that complicates our feelings toward its colorful criminals.
It’s probably unfair to chide “Fargo” for ripping off a major set-piece from Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables” since De Palma himself has been knocked for ripping off Alfred Hitchcock. And the set-piece in question, a shootout at Chicago’s Union Station, nods to the famed Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin.” Nevertheless, the quotes around quotes around quotes somewhat diminish the impact of a show that can seem, at times, like a shallow pastiche without the undergirding of original ideas or thematic purposefulness. Its pleasures are mostly on the surface.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For the most part, this episode was an entertaining jumble of loose ends and Plan Bs, full of characters who are scrambling to figure out how to act when their schemes have been blown up. With various subplots zipping every which way, there’s not any single unifying idea that binds the hour together, but at this point in the season, there’s just too much narrative business that needs to be resolved.
The chaos that ensues from the Union Station operation — with Deafy and Swanee dead and Zelmare still on the loose — adds an encouraging volatility to the final batch of episodes this season. No one is in a comfortable spot here: Oraetta has to worry that Dr. Harvard will pursue attempted murder charges; Loy has to worry that the Faddas are finally uniting against him; the Faddas have to worry about Milligan; and everybody has to worry about Zelmare, who will surely be coming back to town, eager to settle some scores. Sounds like one or two more De Palma set pieces waiting to happen.
"In his essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” historian Richard Hofstadter identified a “sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” that served as a recurring pattern in American history (though not exclusively in American history). Writing in 1964, Hofstadter connected the dots between eruptions of panic about the Illuminati and Freemasonry through anti-Catholic conspiracy theories up to the anti-communist hysteria of the McCarthy era. Writing today, Hofstadter would have have little trouble extending that line, from the Kennedy assassination theories that started to crop up immediately after the president’s death the previous November through internet-fueled conspiratorial thinking that has become a prominent part of the 2020 presidential election thanks to QAnon.
Movies have had a complex relationship with conspiracy theories. Misleading — and often outright false — documentaries have been used to push everything from 9/11 conspiracy theories to COVID-19 disinformation to alleged UFO cover-ups to whatever nonsense Dinesh D’Souza is trying to push on any given day. Yet the same elements that can make for irresponsible journalism — and conspiracy theories have a tendency to fall apart upon close examination — can prove irresistible to storytellers. The sense that we live in a world filled with dark forces and sinister plots can be queasily intoxicating. (And for this list we’ve kept the focus on conspiracy theory movies with political implications. You won’t find Close Encounters of the Third Kind, for instance, even though it feeds off the paranoid mood of the era, or stories of corporate conspiracies, real or fictional, like The Insider and Michael Clayton.)
What might not literally be accurate can still be metaphorically true. Here’s Hofstadter again: “Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content.” In the right hands, conspiracy theory–inspired movies tap into a deeper sense of unease and distrust. They can also feed into it. Would our distrust of the government have deepened quite as intensely after Watergate were it not for the Watergate-inspired films that followed it? We may never know. But we can explore the question via some compelling films inspired by the deepest, darkest pockets of political discourse.