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Domino is
a "disarmingly
straight-forward"
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
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De Palma/Lehman
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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

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Exclusive Passion
Interviews:

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario

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AV Club Review
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A note about topics: Some blog posts have more than one topic, in which case only one main topic can be chosen to represent that post. This means that some topics may have been discussed in posts labeled otherwise. For instance, a post that discusses both The Boston Stranglers and The Demolished Man may only be labeled one or the other. Please keep this in mind as you navigate this list.
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Thursday, April 15, 2021
'OBSESSION' DISCUSSION ON 'CINEMA RISING' PODCAST
ALONG WITH 'SUZHOU RIVER' - TWO FILMS "WORKING THROUGH ASPECTS OF HITCHCOCK'S 'VERTIGO'"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/cinemarising.jpg

On the latest episode of the podcast Cinema Rising, Jake Sanders is joined by his brother Tom Sanders to discuss Brian De Palma's Obsession and Lou Ye's Suzhou River, "two films working through aspects of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo." After the two brothers discuss Obsession, they are joined by Cara Li, "to provide some cultural and historical context for Suzhou River."

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Tuesday, April 13, 2021
'THEM' SERIES CREATOR CITES DE PALMA'S 'CARRIE'
"HIS USE OF SPLIT-DIOPTER SHOTS IS THE REASON WHY WE USE THEM EVERYWHERE!"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/carriehair.jpg

Little Marvin, creator of the new Amazon Prime series THEM, was asked by IndieWire's Kristen Lopez to name some of his influences. "Too many filmmakers to name," replied Little Marvin, "but I will say that I'm super in love with all of the thrillers and the horror films of the '50s, the '60s, and '70s. Allison [Pill] mentions Hitchcock-- absolutely. William Friedkin, Brian De Palma...! Like, Carrie is a massively influential movie to me. His use of split-diopter shots is the reason why we use them EVERYWHERE! [laughing] Because if I could just make every shot a split-diopter shot, I would. And Stanley Kubrick. All of those filmmakers are hugely influential on my childhood. Those movies live large over my imagination. So we definitely wanted to pay homage to that look."

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, April 14, 2021 8:08 AM CDT
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Monday, April 12, 2021
JOSEPH SIRAVO HAS DIED AT 66
ACTOR MADE HIS FEATURE FILM DEBUT AS VINNIE TAGLIALUCCI IN 'CARLITO'S WAY'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/carlitojoseph3.jpg

Joseph Siravo, the actor who made his feature film debut as Vinnie Taglialucci in Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way, passed away Sunday after a long batle with cancer, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 66.

As Vinnie, the son of a mob boss seeking revenge for his father's murder, Siravo is a major part of one of De Palma's most extraordinary and memorable sequences: the subway chase which leads to an escalator shootoout at Grand Central Station.

"Better known to television audiences around the world for his turn as Tony Soprano's ruthless father on The Sopranos," Abid Rahman states in the Hollywood Reporter obituary, "Siravo built up an impressive list of Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theatres credits and became an integral part of the first national tour of the Tony- and Grammy-award-winning Jersey Boys, playing the part of Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo in over 2,000 performances."

Rahman continues:

Born in Washington D.C. on March 11, 1955, Sivaro attended Stanford University, where he performed for the Stanford Mendicants, an all-male a cappella group. He graduated from Stanford in 1977 with a BA and received his MFA from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Theatre Program in 1980, where he trained under the guidance of Ron Van Lieu, Olympia Dukakis and Nora Dunfee.

Siravo first made his mark acting in theater. His notable Broadway credits include J. T. Rogers' Tony-award-winning play Oslo, Herb Gardner’s Conversations With My Father with Tony Shaloub and Judd Hirsch, the musical The Boys From Syracuse and Craig Lucas' musical The Light In the Piazza.

Off-Broadway he starred in Caryl Churchill's Mad Forest and Michael Develle Winn's Up Against The Wind and in the regional theater he starred in a number of Shakespeare productions including Hamlet, Anthony & Cleopatra and Othello.

In 2006, Siravo was part of the first national tour of the phenomenally successful musical Jersey Boys, based on the career and music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. He played Genovese family boss Gyp DeCarlo and stayed with the production until 2012, performing in 38 cities.

To a wider audience, Siravo will always be remembered as Johnny "Johnny Boy" Soprano from HBO's critically acclaimed mob drama The Sopranos. Siravo took on the role of DiMeo crime family capo and father of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). In the show, he appeared in flashback and dream sequences in five episodes, making his first appearance in "Down Neck," the seventh episode in season one with his final one in episode 15 of season six titled "Remember When."

Siravo's also starred in FX's Emmy award-winning drama The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, in which he gave a powerful performance as Fred Goldman, the father of the murdered Ron Goldman.

His other television credits include For Life, New Amsterdam, Blue Bloods, The Blacklist, Elementary, In Treatment, Made In Jersey, Dirty Sexy Money, Hack, Third Watch, Law & Order, Witness To The Mob and Cosby.

Siravo made his big-screen debut in Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way in 1993, in which he played Vinnie Taglialucci, the grieving son of a mob boss who seeks revenge on David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) and Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino). Although his focus was mainly on theater and television, Siravo's film credits include Maid in Manhattan, Shark Tale, playing John Gotti in The Wannabe and most recently The Report, Equity and Motherless Brooklyn.



Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Saturday, April 10, 2021
NATHAN RERA ON HIS LONG OBSESSION WITH 'OUTRAGES'
AUTHOR INTERVIEWED BRIAN DE PALMA, DAVID RABE, MICHAEL VERHOEVEN, AND MORE FOR NEW BOOK
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/casualtiesposterlandscape2.jpg

Nathan Réra, whose book about Casualties Of War (Outrages) will be published on April 22, has posted an article at Gone Hollywood that details his years-long obsession with Brian De Palma's film, and the real-life events that it is based on. In the article, Réra reveals that he interviewed De Palma, David Rabe, Michael Verhoeven, and more for the book. In the introduction to the article, the Gone Hollywood editors state that Réra is a "lecturer in the history of contemporary art at the University of Poitiers, who offers a fascinating backward inquiry into the film and the 'news item' from which it is inspired." Here is a Google-assisted translation of Réra's post:
STORY OF AN OBSESSION

I have vivid memories of my discovery of Outrages at the end of my adolescence: I can still see myself buying the very first edition of the film on DVD, to expand my collection of works by De Palma… We were then at the very beginning from the 2000s. I was intrigued by this film, of which I only knew a few images; I assumed that it must be in line with the “great” films on the Vietnam War, alongside Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Platoon or Full Metal Jacket, films that I had seen during my adolescence and which had marked me, each in their own way. However, watching De Palma's film awakened feelings in me that I had never experienced in any other war film. I came away deeply shaken. I quickly realized that Outrages was not just another war film - nor was it completely a film about Vietnam ... - but a film about rape as a weapon of war. The impact the feature film had on me owes a lot to the heartbreaking renditions of Thuy Thu Le and Michael J. Fox, the terrifying performances of Sean Penn and Don Harvey, the chiseled writing of David Rabe as well as the overwhelming music of Ennio Morricone (in my eyes, perhaps his most beautiful score…). Since that first viewing, Outrages has not let go of me; I have seen it many times. Between the young film buff that I was when I discovered it and the confirmed researcher that I have become, a specialist in visual representations of mass violence and genocide, I have obviously come a long way. For example, a film like Schindler's List, which sparked my interest in depictions of the destruction of European Jews, confronted me with aesthetic, ethical and moral issues of the highest order; so much so that today my take on this film, from a filmmaker whom I admire by the way, is much more nuanced than it was twenty years ago. Quite the opposite of Outrages: with each viewing, the impression of strength and accuracy exuded by Brian De Palma's film remains intact.

I wanted to study the film to try to understand why it obsessed me so much, a bit like Eriksson who cannot forget the face of Oanh. This research was initially a personal, intimate quest. Originally, my plan was to write a book focusing exclusively on De Palma's film, which would have retraced its history, from its genesis to its theatrical release. To that end, I first contacted the filmmaker and screenwriter, David Rabe, to find out if they would be willing to speak with me. They both answered yes. It took several months for a meeting with De Palma to take place; on the other hand, I very quickly started a long correspondence with David Rabe. Our discussions convinced me of the interest of giving the floor to all those who had participated in the film, not just the most illustrious… Of course, I knew that De Palma's film was based on a text by the American journalist Daniel Lang originally published in the New Yorker. I had acquired the excellent French translation published by Editions Allia in 2018, but I was eager to know more about the fabric of the report and the journalist's intentions. The investigation into De Palma's film was then coupled with an investigation into Lang's work, which I was able to carry out with the agreement of his daughters, who allowed me to have access to his archives. . At the same time, I got my hands on the archives of the court martial trials; I was able to locate several funds relating to the early adaptation projects of Casualties of War, well before that of De Palma; and I also spoke with Michael Verhoeven, the author of o. k., the first film inspired by Lang's investigation, known to have prematurely interrupted the Berlin International Film Festival in 1970. My research thus took on a scale that I was far from suspecting at first! I am summarizing here in a few lines nearly three years of intensive work, punctuated by periods of doubts, false leads, trial and error ... I sometimes had the impression of throwing bottles into the sea! But my persistence paid off. It was essential to stir broad in order to reconstruct the history of Casualties of War over the long term, from 1966 (date of the real events) to 1989 (date of release of De Palma's feature film).

CASUALTIES OF WAR BEFORE OUTRAGES

Several parameters made possible the realization of Outrages, which Warner had started in 1970 without succeeding in completing the project. De Palma reactivated the project in the wake of the release of The Untouchables (in 1987), which was at the time his greatest commercial success; the collaboration with its producer, Art Linson, was in good shape. When the latter asks him which project he now wishes to work on, De Palma sends him Lang's text, which he had dreamed of bringing to the screen since 1969. He had also tried to carry it out in 1979-1980, in a time when he was already working with David Rabe on a project called Prince of the City (which Sidney Lumet would eventually direct). Coincidence: Rabe, too, had been dreaming of writing an adaptation of Casualties of War for the big screen for several years! The screenwriter approached Lang at the time, shortly before the journalist's death, but negotiations did not go very far, and De Palma eventually embarked on the directing of Dressed To Kill. Seven or eight years later, the situation has changed: after the success of The Untouchables, De Palma has the big studios at his feet and can afford the luxury of choosing his projects. However, it should be remembered that the choice to adapt Casualties of War was perilous: the war in Vietnam remained at the time a sensitive subject, on both political and moral levels, despite the great cinematic successes that followed one another throughout the decade ... It is for this reason that Paramount, which was initially supposed to produce the film, finally threw in the towel, before Columbia decided to grant it its "green light".

Outrages is a film adaptation of a journalistic investigation, which is itself based on the hundreds of pages of court martial transcripts Lang had viewed. David Rabe and Brian De Palma therefore necessarily made cuts, simplifications or adjustments. Some of their narrative choices conflict with the vision of Daniel Lang, who was heavily involved in the various adaptation projects prior to Outrages. However, Rabe's script is broadly faithful to Lang's text, as it is to the real story. The portrait he paints of soldier Eriksson is very close to the sensitive one painted by the journalist, and the unfolding of the facts resumes that of the book, even if the first part of the film, which relates the daily life of the soldiers in Vietnam, extrapolates the testimony of the real Eriksson. Everything is plausible, however, and we must insist on the realism of the feature film, which is due to the vision of Rabe (himself a Vietnam veteran) as much as to the work of historical or military advisers. There are of course some differences between reality and its cinematographic transposition. The main one relates to the nature of the crime: in reality, it was a planned feminicide. From the start of the mission, it was agreed that the soldiers would abduct the young woman, Phan Thi Mao, to satisfy their sexual urges, and then kill her. In the film, the kidnapping and the rape are well planned, but the murder is decided in haste, when Meserve (Sean Penn) becomes concerned that the captive will be spotted by the American helicopters which fly over the area where he and his men lie. In my book, I analyze these different gaps between reality and film; it was necessary not to obscure them, as they reveal the tensions inherent in the work of adaptation.

RAPE OF WAR VS. FEMINICIDE

Outrages is evidently at the heart of the great DePalmian oeuvre, because it contains figures and themes dear to the filmmaker; but at the same time it constitutes a kind of outgrowth of it, forming part of a small nucleus of films (with Greetings and Redacted) which tackle war, male domination and violence against women. On the directing side, the film has a few brave moments that bring to mind De Palma's taste for complex camera movements (especially the tunnel sequence, at the start of the film). However, one feels the director less concerned with visual performance than in his other films; he seeks throughout the story to adapt the form to his subject. From this point of view, his use of Steadicam is particularly interesting, because the movements performed with the device are not aimed at gratuitous virtuosity: they take care of the moral questions raised by the narrative. Among the passages that arouse in me a renewed emotion each time is the metro scene, which frames the film. This almost silent sequence, carried by the music of Morricone, gives an account of Eriksson's break-up, of his inability to stay in the present, in the world of the living, to simply relive without thinking of the one he couldn't save. It seems like the ending leaves us on a "positive" note, but studying the multiple layers of scriptwriting reveals how reductive that feeling is, and does not do justice to Rabe's intentions. Eriksson’s last look is unforgettable… I could also cite the sequence of the kidnapping of Oanh, of unbearable violence, and the rape itself, which De Palma films with remarkable ethics. More broadly, I find Thuy Thu Le's bodywork gripping. Rarely has an actress portrayed a rape victim so realistically; the passage where Eriksson tries to establish a dialogue with Oanh, while her body is ravaged by multiple wounds and bruises, does not leave the spectator unscathed.

De Palma has often said that the reception of his film in the United States has been abysmal. It seems to me that this impression needs to be qualified a little: by going through the archives of the American press of the time, we also find good (even very good) reviews, not only that of Pauline Kael in the New Yorker! But it is true that many others have distinguished themselves by their great violence. The most striking is undoubtedly that of Frances FitzGerald, who won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1973 for a book on Vietnam. In the magazine Village Voice, she attacked De Palma, reproaching him for having made a "sado-porn" film and denouncing the supposed improbabilities of the story ... She had obviously not read Lang's book! Veterans associations have also stepped up to denounce the portrayal of the US military, claiming that the facts recounted in the film were "exceptions." I believe the reception of the film in the United States is indicative of the depth of the moral wound that the Vietnam War has caused in American society. Of course, Platoon had achieved resounding success two years earlier; but Stone's film was by no means as critical as De Palma's film. The reception of Outrages also reflects, in retrospect, how war rape and femicide were viewed at the time. That part of the criticism, supported by the veterans' associations, could deplore the image that the feature gave of the American army seems, in today's society, quite improbable ... While the real subject of the film was at the same time very largely brushed aside! In France, the film also had its detractors, but overall the critics were much more receptive, with excellent analytical articles published by Laurent Vachaud and Antoine de Baecque, among others, in Positif and Les Cahiers du cinéma.

WHY REVISITING OUTRAGES IS NECESSARY

De Palma never really recovered from the critical failure of Outrages. Of course he returned to success afterwards, but he never took in the reception that was given to this film, which he rightly considers to be his most personal work. Some of his collaborators, whom he reunited with for his next film (The Bonfire of Vanities), told me that De Palma is not a filmmaker who dwells on failures; he never poured himself out with them. His reaction, after the film's screening at the Cinémathèque française in 2018, however, proves that Outrages is particularly close to his heart. It is not trivial to let such emotion shine through when you talk about a film made thirty years earlier! In 2006, De Palma directed Redacted, which is the tracing of the story of Outrages in the context of the Iraq War; a film once again based on a true story. Among his recent projects, there is also a film inspired by the Weinstein affair ... But I believe that on closer examination, the problem of violence against women and male domination haunts all of De Palma's work.

Revisiting Outrages is more necessary than ever, for at least three reasons. First of all, because it is a great film, still too little known, with complex issues, one of Brian De Palma's most successful works, and undoubtedly the film that best crystallized the moral bankruptcy of America in Vietnam. Secondly, because rape as a weapon of war is a subject that is still too little talked about, despite the existence of remarkable work by historians and journalists. Finally, because we must fight this culture of rape which plagues our societies. We feel that things are evolving, with the liberation of speech movements, but there is still a long way to go to educate the conscience, and especially those of men. Outrages speaks of rape committed in wartime, in a context where all moral barriers are collapsing; but it also speaks of the constitution of a culture of rape, which flourishes well upstream, through homosocial rituals. Outrages is also the antithesis of films which trivialize rape, or which make it a spectacle. Rape is represented here as an experience of great violence, from which one cannot recover; neither the one who is the victim, nor the one who is the witness. I believe that this film - like the book by Daniel Lang - can help educate the conscience and the gaze, because it raises the decisive question of individual responsibility. Positioning yourself on the good (or the bad) side is not inevitable: it is a choice.


Posted by Geoff at 11:53 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, April 10, 2021 11:56 PM CDT
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Friday, April 9, 2021
MORGAN RICHTER EXAMINES 'BODY DOUBLE'
MANY DETAILS IN EPISODE #49 OF "WHEN GEN-X RULED THE MULTIPLEX"

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Thursday, April 8, 2021
'CARRIE IS KIND OF EVERYTHING' - MARGARET CHO
COMEDIAN & ACTRESS TELLS FANGORIA ABOUT HER FAVORITE HORROR MOVIE
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/carrieprom65a.jpg

https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/carrieprom65b.jpg

With her role in the new short film Koreatown Ghost Story, Margaret Cho is interviewed by Fangoria's Meredith Borders, who gets the comedian/actress talking about her favorite horror films:

Once we started talking about the genre in general, Cho really opened up. Although, as she says, it’s always been what she watches most, she’s been especially diving in during the pandemic, and one South Korean television series stands out in this deeply weird time we find ourselves:

“Most recent, I would say that I really love Sweet Home, which is almost a K-drama of horror, but it’s the definition of post-apocalyptic – it elicits some emotions about the pandemic, too. There's the paranoia of other people, there's this thing that's outside that you don't understand what's happening. There's a lot of monsters that are taking different forms that could be like variants. It’s really scary, but it's also the classic horror story where the protagonist finds his strength within, which is really what horror is about. You want to see somebody dig deep and into their heart and survive this nightmare, and the best horror does that.”

When we got into her favorites – a challenging question for any horror fan – she had a lot of answers: “ghosty” movies, found footage, body horror, Halloween and the “entire series” of Friday the 13th. “I love horror with kids, because kids freak me out.” She listed lots of Asian horror films: The Untold Story, Ju-On, Ringu, the original Dark Water – “which ultimately became a true story with Elisa Lam.” Like the truest of genre purists, she adores a lot of pre-‘70s titles: Séance on a Wet Afternoon, The Haunting, anything Hammer or giallo. But when it comes to her absolute favorite, she avers that’d probably have to be Brian De Palma’s Carrie, although she acknowledges that what’s most special about Carrie transcends genre.

Carrie is kind of everything, but what it really is, is this person – that's been victimized by all these people – finding her strength, but then Carrie becomes an antihero, too. So it’s really important to me.”


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, April 9, 2021 8:03 AM CDT
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Tuesday, April 6, 2021
FRENCH BOOK ABOUT 'CASUALTIES OF WAR' - APRIL 22
AUTHOR NATHAN RERA INVESTIGATES THE TRUE STORY REPORTED BY DANIEL LANG, AND THEN IMMERSES INTO DE PALMA'S FILM
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/outragesbookcover.jpg

Rouge Profond will publish a new book about Casualties Of War on April 22. Written by Nathan Réra, who has previously written a Rouge Profond book of interviews with Paul Verhoeven, the new book, Outrages, is said to be "almost 600 pages" long, and illustrated with many images and stills (see below). Here is a Google-assisted translation of the publisher's book description:
Adapted from an investigation by Daniel Lang published in the New Yorker in 1969, Outrages (Casualties of War), Brian De Palma's nineteenth feature film, chronicles the kidnapping, rape and murder of a Vietnamese woman by a patrol of American soldiers led by Sergeant Meserve (Sean Penn). First Class Eriksson (Michael J. Fox) refuses to participate and sets out to expose the culprits.

Nathan Réra's book reconstructs the pitiful history that led to the creation of this underestimated masterpiece. From numerous rare documents (military archives, correspondence, unpublished scenarios), the author returns to the real facts and their revelation in the American press, then on to the adaptation projects which followed one another during a decade, before immersing the reader in the heart of De Palma's film creation.



Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, April 7, 2021 1:02 AM CDT
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Monday, April 5, 2021
GERMAN PODCAST DELVES INTO DE PALMA DISCUSSION
2 EPISODES OF PROJEKTIONEN MOVE FROM GODARDIAN TO HITCHCOCKIAN, AND THEN TO DE PALMA'S PECULIARITIES
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/obsessionbartspainting.jpg

Thanks to Jochen for letting us know about a German podcast, Projektionen - Kinogespräche, which has posted a two-episode discussion about "The postmodern cinema of Brian De Palma." Marcus Stiglegger, an expert on genre films, and co-host Sebastian Seidler, a journalist, bring on a guest who is described as a De Palma expert: film scholar Andreas Rauscher. The first episode, according to Jochen, begins with a discussion on "parallels and relations between Godard and De Palma," before moving on to discuss Hitchcock within the context of De Palma's cinema. The second episode (Episode 22.2) is about De Palma's peculiarities, his fetishes and the split screen, according to the Projektionen podcast description.

Posted by Geoff at 11:49 PM CDT
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Friday, April 2, 2021
'JUST TELL HER EVERYTHING'
JULIE SALAMON, ERIC SCHWAB, CHRIS SOLDO REMEMBER 'BONFIRE' AND 'THE DEVIL'S CANDY'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/devilscandy0.jpg

In an article posted today at The Guardian, Oliver Macnaughton looks back at Brian De Palma's The Bonfire Of The Vanities, and Julie Salamon's book about its making, The Devil's Candy, which was first published in November of 1991:
To some, De Palma was not the obvious film-maker for this material. He had previously made gruesome works such as Dressed to Kill, Scarface and Carrie, and Bonfire did not seem like a natural fit. But after suffering a major financial blow from the failure of his previous film, the Vietnam war drama Casualties of War, De Palma needed a hit. And after the success of Wolfe’s novel, the film seemed to be a guaranteed money-maker.

A big problem for the studio was that the novel lacked any sort of likable or sympathetic character. Wolfe’s book was deliberately cynical, examining the various institutions of New York with disdain. If there was one actor that didn’t appear to have an ounce of cynicism, it was Tom Hanks. And so the producers decided to do the unthinkable. They tried to make Sherman McCoy a likable protagonist, and gave the role to Hanks. Equally odd was the casting of Bruce Willis as Fallow. Willis, fresh from the success of Die Hard, wanted to diversify his career away from charismatic action heroes. Yet Fallow is written as a sleazy, scrawny Brit, a far cry from the chiselled all-American handsomeness of John McClane.

De Palma then did something that, in retrospect, would ensure the film’s notoriety – he allowed Salamon to document the film. Having worked as a financial reporter, Salamon had become the Wall Street Journal’s film critic in 1983. She had got to know De Palma and became friendly with him. “He was a kind of troublemaker, and he would plant me story ideas,” she remembers.

Though the crew were mostly aware of her on set, the studio didn’t know about Salamon until five months into production. When Salamon started asking difficult questions of Eric Schwab (Bonfire’s second unit director), he confronted De Palma; Schwab says De Palma told him to be honest. “He said to me: ‘This is going to be an honestly brutal thing of what you go through when you’re making a film, just tell her everything.’”

Salamon’s description of the film’s progress was unsparing. Production began in April 1990 and there was trouble from the beginning. The studio was worried that for a novel about racial politics, there is hardly one sympathetic black character. The studio told De Palma that the character of Judge Kovitsky had to be black instead of Jewish. (The judge was renamed White.) The concerns about racial representation even affected filming in the Bronx. Assistant director Chris Soldo remembered a local “somehow got through a perimeter and got right up to Brian De Palma’s face and started berating him for not having more black people represented on the crew”. (Soldo adds: “Probably a fair critique.”) Eggs and lightbulbs were thrown at the production from Bronx tenement rooftops.

There were further complications with the cast, as recorded by Salamon. As the production moved from New York to Los Angeles, Melanie Griffith got breast implants, a potential continuity nightmare. Hanks was a popular presence on the set, but Willis less so. At one stage, Salamon relates that he publicly challenged De Palma’s directorial authority, instructing his fellow actors how to play scenes. He also had a special assistant on hand to cover up his nascent bald spot with makeup, and asked De Palma to backlight him rather than wear a wig.

Despite the difficulties, once filming was over, everyone was convinced they had a hit on their hands, including the studio. Salamon recollected in The Devil’s Candy that one Warner Bros executive declared it as “the best movie we’ve ever made”. However, test screenings showed that the film wasn’t working with audiences and re-edits were made, including a change to the ending in which McCoy and Fallow have a swordfight. Despite the changes, Bonfire only made $15m at the US box office, well below its $47m budget.

The critics hated it. The Los Angeles Times called it “calamitous” and an “overstated, cartooned film for dullards”. The New York Times’ verdict was “gross” and “unfunny”. Rolling Stone thought it “achieves a consistency of ineptitude rare even in this era of over-inflated cinematic air bags”. Much of the critics’ ire was directed at the casting of Hanks and Willis. Schwab thinks that the negative response towards Hanks in particular was not simply because he was not Wolfe’s idea of Sherman McCoy. “Whenever I saw any reviews, I basically felt well, he is good in this role, even though you can’t accept it,” he says.

All of this came as a surprise. Salamon remembers that, despite the occasional tensions during production, no one ever thought the film was going to get the critical and commercial lambasting that it did.

Nor do Salamon or the crew I spoke to look back at the movie with bad memories. What became a notorious flopdoes not seem to have left any lingering resentment. It certainly didn’t ruin any careers, with Hanks and Willis going on to hit after hit in the succeeding years.

As for De Palma, he bounced back with successes like Carlito’s Way and Mission Impossible but never found Bonfire’s reception justified. In an 1992 interview with Charlie Rose, De Palma said: “You don’t think you have made a bad movie. I will say to this day, the way I made it is an interesting movie that I like. It is not Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. The problem is that everyone that wrote about the movie, read the book.”

Soldo, for one, looks back on the experience if working with De Palma with fondness, saying that “there was a tremendous loyalty and a maintenance of a relationship between movies … if you were lucky enough to be one of those people, you got to participate in some really interesting and good work”. He adds: “De Palma’s always been kind of fearless about or seemingly immune to what people think about him or say about him.”

Salamon’s book was published in 1992, and, unlike the film, it was critically acclaimed and became a bestseller. However, she says it affected her ability to work as a critic; her stint in the post ended in 1994. “For me personally, writing about Bonfire really was the beginning of the end of my career as a film critic, because after … spending the time, day in and day out for almost a year watching this process, I found it harder and harder to write negative film reviews.

“I didn’t know it was going to end up becoming this huge, quote, unquote, flop that people were going to peg all the negative attributes of Hollywood film-making, I think unfairly, on its back. My favourite reviews of my book were the ones that said this isn’t a book about a big flop. This is a book about people who love their craft, who love their work, and were trying to do something great.


Posted by Geoff at 11:36 AM CDT
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Thursday, April 1, 2021
FLASHBACK - SOUND MIXER DICK VORISEK, AD CIRCA 1967
WORKED ON 6 DE PALMA FILMS - SISTERS, CARRIE, THE FURY, BLOW OUT, DTK, & THE UNTOUCHABLES
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Eric Dienstfrey shared this advertisement on Twitter
, adding some interesting trivia. The ad for Reeves Sound Studios, according to Dienstfrey, is circa 1967. In the 1950s and 1960s, Reeves "was the premiere post-production sound facility in NYC," Dienstfrey continues. "The man in the front row with the glasses is Dick Vorisek. In the 50s, he mixed all of Cinerama’s seven-track surround sound releases, and in the 60s he’d mix the bulk of Sidney Lumet's and Elia Kazan's movies. In the early '70s he and his brother Jack formed their own post-production studio, Trans/Audio, which was located in the same building as Studio 54. There they’d continue mixing Lumet's films as well as the soundtracks for Brian De Palma, Robert Altman, and Elaine May. In any event, this photo was taken circa 1967, around the time when Reeves tasked Vorisek with mixing Mel Brooks’s The Producers. This crew of party animals mixed 'Springtime for Hitler'."

Not only that, but Vorisek worked on De Palma's Blow Out (1981), as well as Dressed To Kill (1980). Having worked with De Palma since Sisters in 1973, and then through Carrie (1976) and The Fury (1978), one wonders if Vorisek might possibly be the sound person who De Palma asked, during Dressed To Kill, to get some new sounds, thus sparking the idea that sets off Blow Out. Vorisek worked one more time with De Palma, on The Untouchables in 1987, which was written by David Mamet. Vorisek's final film was Mamet's excellent directorial debut, House Of Games, from that same year. He died two years later, in 1989.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, April 2, 2021 9:10 AM CDT
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