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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

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in Snakes

De Palma/Lehman
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"a horror movie
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in the news"

Supercut video
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edited by Carl Rodrigue

Washington Post
review of Keesey book


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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Yesterday, Ethan Alter at Yahoo Entertainment posted an article with the headline, "The Bonfire of the Vanities at 30: Melanie Griffith's secret plastic surgery and other wild stories from the box office bomb." Those wild stories are culled from Julie Salamon's book The Devil's Candy, about the making of the film. Along with anecdotes about the aforementioned Melanie Griffith, Uma Thurman's screen test, and "an out-of-his-depth" Bruce Willis "throwing his proverbial weight around on set," among others, Alter includes the story about Eric Schwab's painstakingly-achieved Concorde shot:
If nothing else, The Bonfire of the Vanities does contain one of the most impressive — and most expensive — single shots in cinema history: a plane touching down at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport with the setting sun behind it. [Michael] Cristofer wrote a simple version of the scene into the screenplay, but it was second unit director Eric Schwab who brought it to glorious life on the big screen. Schwab himself volunteered for the seemingly thankless assignment, and made a $100 bet with De Palma that he’d come up with a shot so great, it would have to end up in the movie.

Schwab’s first directorial decision was that the famed Concorde turbojet — which flew between Europe and America from 1969 until 2003 — was the only aircraft impressive enough to execute the shot he had in mind: an image of a plane touching down at the exact moment that the setting sun and the Empire State Building lined up in the same frame. After an enormous amount of preparation that included coordinating with the Concorde’s pilots and studying almanacs to determine the most favorable weather conditions, he eventually decided on June 12 as the date for his grand experiment.

That afternoon, he and his crew set up five cameras on the JFK tarmac preparing to film the arrival of the inbound Concorde flight. Each camera had only one role of film, and there wouldn’t be any second chances to get the shot. The plane took off 20 minutes prior to sunset, and for several frightening moments, Schwab was convinced they wouldn’t hit the runway at the designated time. At one point, his nerves got the better of him and he started filming a different plane as it came in for a landing.

But then, precisely on schedule, the Concorde descended, the sun and the Empire State Building were in perfect alignment and it was all captured on film. The final price tag? $80,000. But the feeling of having pulled off an impossible shot, and winning the $100 off of De Palma? Priceless.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 23, 2020 12:16 AM CST
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Monday, December 21, 2020

Brian De Palma speaking about the film to Bullett Media's Joshua Sperling in 2013:
The opening tracking shot was a very important way into the film. It took about 27 or 28 takes to get it right. The idea for the shot actually came from observing Truman Capote stumbling into parties completely drunk or drugged-up. I had been to a lot of those parties and I thought that’s how it should be for Bruce’s character: the voyage from the parking garage up through all the different strata of New York high society until his arrival at the huge palm garden of the World Trade Center. I started out making political comedies, caustic commentaries about the state of our society. The Bonfire of the Vanities felt like an extension of that. When I read the book I quite liked it. I thought it was an acerbic rendering of a particular madness going on in the ’80s. When I was adapting it I thought I should make the central banker character a little more sympathetic than he was in the book, and Tom [Hanks] was a good choice for that. But, of course, the film unnerved everybody because it wasn’t like the novel, which was, by then, a treasured icon of the New York literary scene. I changed things to make the film more palatable but they ended up upsetting a lot of people and it got very bad reviews. Looking back, I find it a very successful picture. It just isn’t the book.

Upon the film's 20th anniversary in 2010, screenwriter Michael Cristofer was asked by Movieline's Mike Ryan to speak about what went wrong with Bonfire:

Oh, it’s a very simple answer: When Brian De Palma and I were working on the script, Warner Brothers agreed that we would do a three-hour film. It was going to be a three-hour epic version of that book. I wrote a script that everyone around Hollywood and New York who read the script said that not only was it the best script that I had ever written, but it was one of the best screenplays ever written. And I say that humbly because it was Brian who really helped me a lot. I mean, we really worked closely on making that script. You know, he’s a genius. His IQ is like 160 or something. Really, it was a tough job and I had done a version of it and then Brian came on and then we really, really worked closely together. And he was storyboarding the whole script as we were writing it. I learned more about directing on that film then probably on any other film where I worked as a writer.

And what happened was two things: Number one, Warner Brothers completely undermined Brian’s casting of the picture. I don’t remember who all of the people were meant to be. Tom [Hanks] was in, that was OK. But, you know, Bruce Willis, that part was supposed to be played by Michael Caine. There were other casting choices that Warner Brothers totally interfered with, and [the studio] threatened to throw Brian off of the picture if he didn’t comply.

And then, finally, like three weeks or two weeks before we started shooting, they gave us the news that the film had to be two hours. It had to be under two hours. So, what was a really terrific script, and what would have made probably a very good movie, ended up being edited down in the space of 48 hours. I mean, we just cut the sh*t out of the script. And, what happened, because of that, was it took on a kind of broader, cartoon sort of feel that just didn’t work. It just didn’t work. Because, you know, when you’ve got something that’s filled with detail and you take out all of the detail and make it shorter, it just got broader, broader, broader and broader.

I think that’s what did it: It was 180 pages of script that we had to cut down to like 110. And we didn’t have the time to do it. There was no time do it. You know, we didn’t have four or five weeks, we had to do it overnight. I’ve actually never read the book that Salamon wrote, The Devil’s Candy. I’ve actually never read it because I manged to avoid her during the entire shoot. [Laughs] So I know a lot of other stuff went on, but the basic problem, that was it, as far as I was concerned. I look at it now and I realize the script is ruined, so the movie is ruined.

Posted by Geoff at 2:08 PM CST
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Sunday, December 20, 2020

The three young movie fans who produce the Middle Class Film Class podcast had a fan suggest that they watch Raising Cain -- and so they did, and then discussed the film for the November 24th episode (the Raising Cain discussion begins at about the 56-minute mark). It's a very interesting listen for several reasons, as the friends seem to not be very familiar with the films of Brian De Palma. For instance, aside from John Lithgow, who they agree is "jarring" to see as "a middle-aged man with hair," the name that sticks out to the host as he reads the cast list is Gregg Henry -- not because Gregg Henry has worked so often with De Palma, but because "he's in every single one of James Gunn's projects."

There is some back-and-forth about whether or not Raising Cain is meant as any kind of comedy or not-- the one guy of the three who likes the film the most is the one who sees more deliberate humor in the film. There is also discussion of the camera work, and the one-shot exposition scene down into the morgue, although they are confused at the "weird" way the camera tilts with the characters as they walk down the stairs.

In the final leg of the podcast, they call Greg Srisavasdi of the Cinemaddicts podcast, who is introduced as a major De Palma fan. Srisavasdi tells them the story of the Rasing Cain press junket: how a press screening had garnered bad buzz for the film, and so the morning after, the producers were trying to play up Raising Cain as a comedy to the media at the scheduled press junket. Then Srisavasdi drops a stunning bit of revelation: "One of the former press junketeers, press members, who was part of that roundtable, was Ryan Murphy."


Ryan Murphy's Ratched amps up Hitch & De Palma
Ryan Murphy's Scream Queens opens with Carrie joke
Ryan Murphy talks American Horror Story: Freak Show

American Horror Story: Freak Show Tips Hat to De Palma
Murphy Says AHS Season Under the Influence of De Palma
Carrie Cues & Echoes of Sisters as American Horror Story Begins Its Second Season

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 23, 2020 12:21 AM CST
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Friday, December 18, 2020

As we look back on Brian De Palma's film adaptation of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire Of The Vanities from 1990, there's a lot seemingly packed into just this tiny part of Tim Golden's New York Times article about the making of the movie, which was printed in the newspaper the Sunday prior to the film's opening day:
Mr. De Palma first read the novel while in Thailand shooting the film "Casualties of War." He became saturated in it while driving cars and flying on airplanes, listening over and over to tapes of the book read by the actor John Lithgow. Hearing the scenes effectively acted out reinforced the director's sense of the story as "basically a flat-tire comedic farce."

"Everybody says all the time, 'Why is this movie so funny?' " Mr. De Palma said, almost exasperated. "I think the problem is that nobody reads these scenes out loud."

In retrospect, it seems almost obvious that De Palma's next film would be the John Lithgow showcase Raising Cain. But we can remember here the exchange between Bucky and Kay in De Palma's film of The Black Dahlia--
Bucky: "Well, it sure explains some things."

Kay: "No, it doesn't."

Incidentally, Lolita Davidovich is one of the actors who screen-tested with Tom Hanks for the part of Maria, on the same day that Uma Thurman was brought back in to screen test with Hanks. Hanks seemed hooked on Melanie Griffith for the role, and he got his wish. According to Julie Salamon in her book The Devil's Candy, De Palma, who had been pushing to cast Uma Thurman, conceded after the screen test that Hanks may have been right all along. And apparently, Lolita Davidovich made a strong enough impression on De Palma for him to think of her for his next thriller.

Salamon's concluding chapter finds De Palma beginning to work on what would become Raisng Cain:

De Palma felt completely lost. In the past he'd felt that he learned something from reviews. They made him think about whether the drill in "Body Double" had been excessive, for example. But he didn't know what to make of this kind of criticism -- Kael saying the opening Steadicam shot wasn't really funny because it was "too precise." The other reviews were variations on one theme, and he stated that theme, "'How could you trivialize this masterwork?' They act as though I've done the National Lampoon version of Hamlet."

He spent the days reading and working out the script for the thriller he'd been thinking about for months. It was the story of a man whose father had conducted psychological experiments on him as a boy, hoping to create the perfect child. The father's experiments continued, and now the son was helping him by kidnapping children to be subjects, killing a few mothers and nannies along the way. De Palma saw the pitfalls in actually directing this film, but it was a pleasurable diversion.

He still felt that his decision to make "Bonfire" had been the right one. "You always have to make an assessment of where you are," he said, "and then you wind up somewhere else. I get less and less joy out of making movies. The process you go through. You've got to find that joy again or you're going to stop making them.

"A lot of what takes the joy out of it are the tremendous economic pressures. There's so much on the line. The bigger the film, the more you come into conflict with the studio. There are more battles."

As he worked out the details for his thriller -- figuring out the killer's pyschological make-up, imagining how to stage the murders -- De Palma felt some of that old joy. "I wanted to make movies because I had strong visual ideas," he said. That's how I started making movies and that's where I'm going to try to return to." But he knew it was going to be difficult. He knew how quickly a career could be undone. Whatever happened next, he knew "Bonfire" had been a turning point for him. He didn't know where he was going, but he knew he would never again feel the same about himself or his place in the business.

De Palma never quite understood why people hated "Bonfire" so much. He didn't understand why people behaved as though he'd sat in a room trying to make the worst movie imaginable when in fact he'd thought he was making a good movie. "While I was making 'Bonfire,' I saw what was there and it worked. I figured, It worked for me, it'll work for everybody else," he said. "But I think there was an alienation factor. I think after a while they thought, Why do I have to watch all this stuff. I'll just close my eyes and listen to what they have to say."

And then he started to cackle. "I guess this taught me one thing. I have a strange sense of humor," he said. "I guess most people don't share it."

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Saturday, December 19, 2020 9:26 AM CST
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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

"This is not a book about Hitchcock." That is the first sentence of a new book by Bruce Isaacs titled The Art of Pure Cinema: Hitchcock and His Imitators. The book, which leads up to a concluding chapter on Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale, examines "the historical foundations and stylistic mechanics of pure cinema," according to the publisher's description.

In a podcast interview with Joel Tscherne at New Books Network, Isaacs explains that the basis of the argument he makes in the book is that Hitchcock "comes up with this notion of pure cinema, which he appropriates himself from the avant garde in Europe. De Palma appropriates that mode of pure cinema, but my argument is that he takes it further than Hitchcock, in more successfully intensified visual form. Visual form in De Palma, in my opinion, is more intricate than it is in Hitchcock, montage is more intricate, and I absolutely believe that if you look at the way that De Palma works with sound, there are very few filmmakers that are that attuned to the capacity of the score."

Regarding De Palma's cinematic relationship with Hitchcock, Isaacs stresses, "Of course it's a relationship, but we need to understand the relationship from a critical point of view, and not simply take the stand that so many critics have taken, which is, 'He's just replicating what has come before.' And that's been so unfortunate, I think, in the reception of De Palma."

In the podcast interview, Isaacs mentions that in the book, he examines the mall scene in Body Double. When the discussion turns to Mission: Impossible, Isaacs enthuses, "If I'd had space in the book, I would have done a very close examination simply of movement patterns in the Prague sequence of Mission: Impossible. Because it's just so masterful."

When asked why Femme Fatale is such a key film for his book, Isaacs tells Tscherne, "I actually think [De Palma]'s making a philosophical argument about pure cinema through Femme Fatale itself. So, motifs of photography, and visual form, underpin the entire story. The lead character is a photographer. And he's going to photograph several things that are going to explain the intersection of all the plot lines, all the character lines, and the way these worlds connect with each other in the story. But to be honest, why I think Femme Fatale is so important is it's simply the most elaborate, complex, and intricate of these pure cinema works."

It's a terrific hour-long discussion. Check it out.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, December 17, 2020 12:59 AM CST
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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Would you look at that jacket worn by Dennis Franz as he channeled Brian De Palma while portraying a film director in Body Double? Then look at this picture from the set of The Bonfire Of The Vanities six years later...! De Palma as Franz as De Palma.

Body Double is the film that kicked off "De Palma December" on the weekly podcast, Cinema Recall, two Fridays ago:

We begin the month of December by covering the films of director Brian DePalma. He has been compared to Alfred Hitchcock but many of his films are a lot more mature in content. Not only does he direct thrillers, but he has worked in horror, action, dramas, and musicals too.

On this episode, Ryan of Coolness Chronicles and Reels of Justice returns to discuss DePalma's homage to Hitchcock's Rear Window and Vertigo with Body Double. Listen to him and The Vern go over moments of this intricate thriller.

This past Friday, the podcast covered De Palma's Dressed To Kill, with special guest Jeanette Miller Mickenham.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 16, 2020 12:21 AM CST
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Monday, December 14, 2020

Julie Salamon revisits The Bonfire Of The Vanities for the latest issue of Town & Country:
The 1980s were good to me. My career and family flourished, yet, looking back, I feel some embarrassment. So many of today’s social ills took root in that decade. Not that I was oblivious, but I was wrapped up in my own concerns. I feel similarly mixed emotions when I think about The Bonfire of the Vanities.

In 1990 Brian De Palma agreed to give me full access to the movie he was making—an adaptation of Bonfire, the 1987 Tom Wolfe novel that had been embraced as a metaphor for everything that was wrong with 1980s New York.

In the book, Wolfe lampooned the city’s racial politics, corrupt judicial system, rampant gentrification, barracuda press corps, and ethnic hostilities. It was high-octane social commentary as entertainment, and Bonfire became an instant sensation.

Warner Bros. hired De Palma to make a film version. But studio executives quickly developed a case of buyer’s remorse. Step by step, the story and characters were homogenized as the budget ballooned. The reviews were savage. Variety called it “…a misfire of inanities.” Good Morning America’s Joel Siegel said, “You’ve got to be a genius to make a movie this bad.” Bonfire became the movie everyone loved to hate.

My book The Devil’s Candy, about the making of the film, was published less than a year after the movie’s ignominious demise. No doubt some of the book’s success was due to Bonfire’s failure. Newsweek put it succinctly: “De Palma’s misfortune is Salamon’s gain.” Ouch. Not nice repayment for De Palma’s generosity in opening his set to me.

Now, 30 years on, the movie deserves to be reconsidered, if not for its quality then for how timely it still feels. Sadly, Bonfire remains all too relevant; only the vocabulary and technology have changed. The “masters of the universe” are now the “one percent.” Twitter has replaced the tabloids. Black Lives Matter leads the charge against racial inequity. The movie may not hold up as a great film, but it was never as bad as its worst reviews. You can watch it now as campy fun, or as a worthy artifact, reminding us that the times have changed but New York’s complicated, messy, grand machinations haven’t.

If anything has changed, it’s Hollywood. In 1990 there were movies and there was network television, with the former being considered decidedly superior.

It wasn’t until The Sopranos came along, in 1999, that long-form series on TV became serious rivals to movies. Bonfire’s many layers would work far better as one of today’s limited series.

Back in 1990 Wolfe was anticipating the future, though he didn’t know it at the time. “It’s too bad movies don’t run nine or 10 hours,” he told me. “The way I constructed the book, almost every chapter was meant to be a vignette about New York as well as something that might advance the story, and to me one was as important as the other.” Amazon Studios bought the rights to make an eight-­episode adaptation of the book in 2016, but a series has yet to appear. Indulging its overindulgence, Bonfire has important things to say. Maybe we just didn’t listen closely enough last time.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, December 15, 2020 12:07 AM CST
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Thursday, December 10, 2020

Richard Corben, the artist who illustrated the fantastic pulpy poster for Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise, "died December 2, 2020 following heart surgery," according to a post by Corben's wife, Dona, this morning on the Corben Studios Facebook page. After the initial release of Phantom Of The Paradise did not gain traction in most markets, Corben was commissioned by Ed Pressman to create a poster for a revised marketing campaign. With the wonderful Swan Archives currently on hold, we thankfully have a terrific summary, with quotes from the Swan Archives' Ari Kahan, via Eddie Shannon's Film on Paper:
The brilliant fan site The Swan Archives, curated by Ari Kahan, features a thorough history of the promotion of the film and shows the initial two styles of poster, one of which was designed by Anthony Goldschmidt and illustrated by the late John Alvin and also featured on the album cover. As Kahan notes:

‘The involvement of A&M records (which issued the soundtrack, and which more or less owned the exclusive rights to Paul Williams’ life at the time) in the co-marketing campaign with 20th Century Fox meant that the film was initially pitched towards what A&M and Fox believed to be the teens-through-college “rock music demographic.” John Alvin’s beautiful painted graphics on the posters and soundtrack album emphasised guitars, keyboards, microphones, patch cords, and other musical ephemera, and a photorealistic depiction of songwriter/star Paul Williams, signalling the studio’s intention to rely heavily on Williams’ existing fame in its promotion of the film.’

The rest of the ill-conceived initial campaign is detailed on the Swan Archives page linked to above. After a disastrous few months at the box office, the film’s producer Ed Pressman convinced the studio to allow him to reposition the film with a revised marketing campaign. Kahan explains:

‘Pressman went into action by launching a second campaign, in mid-1975, which tagged the film as “The Most Highly Acclaimed Horror Phantasy of Our Time,” pushing the horror angle and perennial plot line, and downplaying the music. De Palma, Finley, and Graham were made extremely available to give interviews to Castle of Frankenstein, Monster World, and every other horror magazine that would make time for them’

As part of this second campaign Pressman commissioned noted comic book artist Richard Corben to illustrate a new poster image and fellow comic book artist Neal Adams provided an initial concept sketch from which Corben worked (according to Kahan, ‘Adams drew the sketch for free, to aid Pressman in pitching a never-realised Phantom of the Paradise companion comic book, which he hoped might result in some paying work’) . The new painting emphasised the horror aspect and the Phantom’s mangled face and completely downplayed Williams’ presence – you can just spot him at the bottom of the marquee (see the close-up image). The new campaign proved to be more successful but as Kahan notes:

‘The film gradually took on life, bringing in decent (though never great) box office and some positive reviews. As De Palma put it, “When we revised the campaign in the U.S and made it seem more like The Phantom of the Opera than a horror/rock film, we got an entirely different response.”‘

For more on the film’s promotional travails, I again urge you to check out the excellent Swan Archives site. Corben also painted the style B one sheet for the Heavy Metal film, the magazine of which he’d been involved with for several years.

Posted by Geoff at 8:40 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, December 10, 2020 8:42 PM CST
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Sunday, December 6, 2020

In late November, the podcast Stuff We've Seen with Jim and Teal began a series of weekly episodes in which the hosts delve into the films of Brian De Palma. Here's the description from the first episode, "Brian De Palma: Jim and Teal Get Obsessed" --
Fake outs. Doubles. Doppelgangers. Twists and surprises. Dreams, and dreams within a dream. Dutch angles and split diopters. Overhead angles and split screens. Bizarre sexual fantasies, and stalkers, peepers, and observers. It’s all part of the Brian De Palma mystique, and this week Jim and Teal launch the first of several episodes devoted to the film work of Brian De Palma.

Brian De Palma isn’t Jim or Teal’s favorite director. In fact, as far as movie-going experiences go, they both have a lot of issues with him. But, when The Criterion Channel added Dressed to Kill to their site in November, Jim’s curiosity to rewatch this movie after 30+ years led him down a rabbit hole that he dragged a willing Teal into. Several weeks and more than a dozen watches and rewatches later, our two podcast hosts are a little bit more than obsessed.

“Getting a chance to watch so many of De Palma’s films, back-to-back, allows me the opportunity to appreciate him in a whole new way,” Jim said. “There is so much continuity to his themes and camerawork that I didn’t necessarily pick up on when watching his work spread apart.”

And Jim and Teal won’t just be covering the favorites and well-known work of De Palma’s like Scarface, Mission: Impossible, Carrie, and The Untouchables. They both went deep into his filmography to watch little-known work like 1976’s Obsession, and 2018’s Domino. Throughout this assignment Jim added a good seven De Palma films to his watch list, and rewatched a bunch more.

These episodes are going to be a lot of fun. This first episode is just a taste of De Palma, and Jim and Teal have a lot more to bring you. A second (possibly spit into two) is on its way, and they want to watch a few more of his films to round out his filmography. They hope you enjoy these episodes, and they will get you to consider seeking out more De Palma films you may not have seen, or even known about.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Monday, December 7, 2020 12:49 AM CST
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Saturday, December 5, 2020

Posted by Geoff at 9:03 PM CST
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