IN-BETWEEN THE 45TH ANNIVERSARIES OF 'OBSESSION' & 'CARRIE'
Hello and welcome to the unofficial Brian De Palma website.
Here is the latest news:
a la Mod:
The career-spanning Baumbach/Paltrow doc is terrific, of course, but if you really want to go in-depth with De Palma discussing his career, the Blumenfeld/Vachaud book is the go-to source. As we know, there are several great books about De Palma and his work -- this one fits in with something like Hitchcock/Truffaut, or Matt Zoller Seitz's comprehensive conversation books with Wes Anderson and Oliver Stone. There really should be an English-language translation -- hopefully someone will look into that and make it happen.
Brian De Palma’s Carrie is considered one of the greats of the horror film genre. However, for Salem Horror Fest director Kay Lynch, catching it on late TV one night it was more than great, it was life-changing. “It was one of the first films I can remember ever feeling validated by,” she recalls. “The body horror in the shower, the insecurity, and rage. I felt so connected to her... I’ll never forget the palpitation in my chest. It was an emotional catharsis. That’s when I realized that horror could be a healthy way to face my darkness.” And for Lynch, the film festival, which is celebrating its fifth year this October, offers audiences an opportunity for that same kind of emotional outlet.
The festival, which screens a mix of repertory and independent premieres, first began as a response to the 2016 election. “I was angry, hurt, and scared. Knowing that there were millions of others who felt the same way, I wanted to devote myself to something that would foster community, creativity, and critical thinking,” Lynch, who saw it as an opportunity to fulfill the need for a specific kind of catharsis, said.. “[It’s] for anyone who reads the news and needs to scream bloody murder in a safe environment.”
In fact, this will be the first of several "very special screenings" of Phantom Of The Paradise that Ari Kahan will be presenting in the next few days. More details of each screening are available at the aforementioned news page, but the Principal Archivist has also provided a handy little schedule via Twitter:
9/30 Providence RI
10/1 Brookline MA
10/2 Brattleboro VT
10/3 Salem MA
Watching this fever dream of a movie, it feels like Brian De Palma learned that he had six weeks left to live and decided to put all of his cinematic ideas in this film, whether or not they fit the story. It’s about an out-of-work actor who is housesitting at the Chemosphere and how he becomes more and more intrigued by a porn star he watches through a telescope. But following the plot is a fool’s errand – it’s the kind of film where you simply need to let the vibe wash over you in order to enjoy the onslaught of baffling maximalist creative decisions. From the sudden switch to rear projection mid-scene, to the abrupt musical number that happens toward the film’s climax; it’s crazy to think this is the blank check movie De Palma wanted to cash after the massive success of Scarface.
Body Double also contains one of my favorite set pieces in all of De Palma’s filmography. In a moment of pure visual storytelling, we follow the main character tailing his object of desire, while a stalker is simultaneously tailing her at the same time. It’s the kind of sequence that can only exist in a movie; it would be so challenging to read in a novel and could never work in audio form. The way De Palma carefully lays out the geography and visual design of how his three chess pieces move across the board is remarkable.
I also just love that the killer’s weapon — a giant drill — is a direct homage to Slumber Party Massacre, one of the smartest horror movies ever made, and directed by a woman.
At once a searing supernatural shocker and a sensitive portrait of high-school loneliness, Brian De Palma’s Carrie shows that for a film to be truly terrifying, it helps if we actually care about its characters. And it’s impossible not to connect emotionally to burgeoning telekinetic Carrie White (a brilliantly affecting Sissy Spacek), a shy, repressed girl bullied by her classmates at school and abused by her religious-fanatic mother (Piper Laurie) at home. Faithfully adapted from Stephen King’s novel, the film focuses less on Carrie’s emerging supernatural powers than on her painfully awkward desire to fit in. Less visually extravagant than many De Palma films, Carrie is still stylish without being obtrusive. When the film finally explodes in climactic violence, the effect is both cathartic and horrifying, a teenage tragedy worthy of Greek myth.
Wan cited Brian De Palma as one of the key influences on Malignant, and it's not hard to see why. The provocative filmmaker has crafted several pieces of entertainment that gleefully mush art and trash together, backflipping off the diving board of respectability into a pool of excess with the craft of an Olympic diver. Many of De Palma's works will give you that Malignant feeling, but his 1972 Sisters feels the most thematically appropriate to recommend. A psychologically driven slasher, the film stars Margot Kidder as a pair of titular sisters, one who is fundamentally decent and trying to get by, and the other who may have some murderous impulses she needs to get out. This violent, perverse, Freudian-on-uppers thriller takes several large turns when we learn the real nature of Kidder's twins, and while even mentioning this in relation to Malignant likely gives you an idea, it's still a particular genre pleasure to see unfold (and an essential piece of horror history to understanding Malignant).
As we're still vibing on the 15-year anniversary of Brian De Palma's stunningly-personalized film adaptation of James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia, it's worth noting a mention of the movie from filmmaker and critic Scout Tafoya. Reviewing the new Apple TV+ sci-fi series Foundation for Cult of Mac, Tafoya delves into the backgrounds of its showrunners:
Foundation doesn’t prove as fearless about its antique roots. But in keeping the character of psychohistory alive (mathematics as a bulwark against religion, or at any rate a worthy twin), you can see Asimov with his sideburns and his new age techno-humanism in the great big towering storylines anyway. They’ve just been filtered through the aggressively middlebrow vision of showrunners David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) and Josh Friedman (Emerald City).
Friedman has done some interesting work in his time. But you’d be hard-pressed to locate anything as concrete as a sensibility from his shows, beyond a sort of desire to build great big worlds out of existing IP. He wrote the movie The Black Dahlia, which ranks as nobody’s favorite adapted screenplay, though I confess it’s among my favorite Brian De Palma movies.
Goyer is more troublesome. Having written both the exciting and edgy Blade and Christopher Nolan’s baggy and self-important Batman movies, and helping ensure the enduring monopoly of DC and Marvel comics at the U.S. box office, he was then given free reign to do whatever he wanted. This despite his having directed the abysmal likes of Blade: Trinity and The Unborn.
I can’t fully bring myself to write off Goyer because he seems to want to make better films than he frequently produces. Plus, once upon a time he wrote the excellent Dark City, one of the great out-of-nowhere science fiction movies made during my lifetime. (That’s the kind of thing Asimov probably would have liked.)
"Cult movies usually have to do something wrong in order to miss out on a first-run audience," Tafoya states in the video. "Idiosyncrasies and eccentricities pile up, and only a handful of people can see them as integral to the film's success as a crowd-pleasing oddity. In the case of Phantom Of The Paradise, the indifference that greeted it from critic and public alike seems much more baffling than its continued success in Winnipeg.
"It's easy to why Rocky Horror failed with mainstream audiences at first. It's entirely too pleased with itself, and features nothing in the way of sex or violence that audiences couldn't find in movies without self-conscious glam-rock all over the soundtrack. Phantom Of The Paradise had something to say, not to mention something to prove. Though it's rarely lumped in with many of its landmarks, the Phantom came out of the New Hollywood movement. By 1974, American artists were finally digging in and starting to take advantage of the creative autonomy offered by more adventurous studios. 1974 was a watershed year in particular, because it was when passion projects started flowing out of major studios. Directors were taking immense formal risks left and right, telling dark stories in daring ways, bowing to no one but their muse. There were huge successes, films that changed everything. And then there were films like Phantom Of The Paradise.
"Up until this point, Brian De Palma had been making bizarre little movies that mixed Godard and Hitchcock with abandon. Phantom Of The Paradise was his biggest film to date, and it remains his best. Perhaps sensing that he was the right man to make a crazed irreverent hash of classic literature, he grabbed his own pet influences to make a film that did for rock and roll what fellow enfant terrible Ken Russell had been doing for classical music."
This week, Armond White reviews the film for National Review:
Saint-Narcisse, a place of the imagination, is an ironic destination for LaBruce’s protagonist, who loves to take pictures of himself. Duval looks like a Marvel superhero: curly hair, curious eyes, gym-fit body (part Chris Evans, mostly Sebastian Stan). His arrival in Saint-Narcisse evokes certain gay cultural signposts, from Aubrey Beardsley–style ink-drawing flashbacks to the erotic-art film Pink Narcissus. It’s a combination of myths — from mother dominance to same-sex narcissism — once used to either explain or represent homosexuality. LaBruce adds his own mythology, evoking Brian De Palma’s 1973 thriller Sisters (which starred Canadian actress Margot Kidder as twins Dominique and Danielle), playing with the idea of split personality to further tease queer pathologies that are either inflicted or alleged.
“Everyone despised us for what we did and what we were — your grandmother, the church,” Dominic’s witch-artist mother explains, defending her own transgressions. LaBruce’s post-Stonewall, post-Warhol sensibility never shies away from transgression, which is why he has made the bravest, most emotional films about gay experience by any artist in the Western Hemisphere. His only rival is Mexico’s Julián Hernández. In the sequence where the two suedehead twins confront each other in the woods, they share curiosity, frustration, and desire. Their yin-yang postures in postcoital Last Tango stills are daringly cinematic — like the montage of Sebastian reclining against a tree, which dissolves to a rippling lake, leading to the classical mythological image of Narcissus seeing himself reflected in water. These beautiful contemplative moments, more sensitive and sensual than in LaBruce’s 2017 film The Misandrists, are unexpectedly classical.
But LaBruce must interrupt classicism with agitation in the form of institutional critique: Brother Daniel’s sexual identity is derailed by the rapacious priest (Andreas Apergis) in an order of eccentric monks whose seclusion (“Evil grows in the dark,” by the Poppy Family) features S-M rituals and manic self-flagellation. Scenes of monks disrobing and swimming at a pond are like Claire Denis’s Beau Travail finally directed by a gay man, while the corrupt priest’s death is the payback François Ozon tastefully avoided in By the Grace of God.
In Saint-Narcisse, LaBruce works through decadent sexual identity by confronting its corruption. Critic John Demetry pointed out a connection to De Palma’s Carrie (a great movie not generally appreciated for its profound satire of sexual-social-religious guilt) in the scene where an arrow-pierced Saint Sebastian statue (often a gay objet d’art) looks down, comically condemning a perverse supplicant. LaBruce matches that with his own pop-culture jest: Sly and the Family Stone’s “It’s a Family Affair” (“Blood’s thicker than the mud”) during the climax which clears away sorrow, confusion, and narcissism. Saint-Narcisse doesn’t show De Palma’s mastery of suspense tropes but moves from obsessive self-regard to open embrace. Brothers Dominic and Daniel escape the high-priest hypocrite whose lust is stronger than his love, just like LaBruce’s honest, gay-identity horror-satire triumphs over the political blasphemy of Buttigieg’s lust for power.
In a repost from their "Female Monsters" series, The Final Girls podcast last week posted an episode in which host Anna Bogutskaya and film critic Kelli Weston go "for a deep, deep dive on the inimitable classic of horror cinema, Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976). We talk about the monstrous feminine, otherness, Sissy Spacek, period horror, who's the real villain in the film and so much more."
Five years ago, Bogutskaya and her Final Girls co-founder Olivia Howe hosted a screening of Carrie:
FlashbackSunday, September 25, 2016PANEL DISCUSSES 'CARRIE' IN LONDON
FINAL GIRLS U.K. EVENT AT SCALARAMA
The Final Girls (Anna Bogutskaya and Olivia Howe) hosted a screening last night of Brian De Palma's Carrie at the ICA in London. The screening, which was part of Scalarama film month, was followed by a panel discussion made up of Michael Blyth (BFI Festivals Programmer), Catherine Bray (Film4 Editorial Director and Producer) and Dr. Alison Pierse (Lecturer at York University). The discussion is summarized by Smoke Screen's Owen Van Spall:Brian de Palma's films and his own statements have been controversial to say the least, something the Carrie panel tackled right from the start of their conversation. This is a film that begins with a tracking shot that has become somewhat notorious; the camera journeys through a steamy changing room as Carrie’s high school gym class are seen in various stages of nudity. This is far from the last time in the movie de Palma’s camera will linger on female flesh either: with female cheerleaders on the pitch and high school bad girl Chris’s bra-less torso getting plenty of screen time. This is also one of many de Palma films that put their female characters through the wringer, to put it politely.
Thus the panel agreed that at some point they had all been driven to ask themselves: “Is it cool to like Carrie [and de Palma]?” But the consensus was that, after repeat viewings and after taking a few steps back to reconsider de Palma’s career as a whole, rejecting Carrie entirely as mysoginistic felt too much like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Alison Pierce for example praised the way the film - largely through Sissy Spacek’s intense performance - effectively transmitted the desperate sadness of the plight of this hapless but incredibly powerful young woman. You empathise with Carrie as almost a Frankenstein-like figure, a victim created by monstrosity. The panel also noted how both De Palma and King explored her victimhood in interesting ways - with the narrative and characterisation of Carrie seeming at times to provoke the viewer to almost want this pathetic figure to get tormented. De Palma arguably manipulates viewers to effectively swing between delighting in seeing Carrie suffer, and yearning to see her inflict terrible vengeance on her tormentors turn. The bucket of blood sequence, with its long, almost gleeful build up in slow motion, was much discussed as an example of this. Viewers might want to ask themselves; do you maybe sneakily want that rope to be pulled, and the bucket to fall, knowing both what the immediate humiliating result will be, and what will happen next?
Author Stephen King and de Palma also have an interesting kingship, as Catherine Bray noted: they are good at “serious fun” - taking a ludicrous concept and imbuing it with genuine terror and emotional weight. Of course, Carrie can simply be enjoyed as campy, shlockly fun, with Michael Blyth half-joking if you could convert this film easily into a musical given its tone and setting. Regardless, the panel noted that the film remains very striking from a cinematographic perspective, with a visual approach that teeters on the deliciously overblown at times. De Palma throws in a tonne of tricks that he would become well known for, including diopter lens shots, and the use of montage which really works well in the prom terror sequence, as Carrie starts to come apart, her attention and powers jumping to various points as she singles out her enemies for destruction. The Smoke Screen in particular was struck by the deliriously bold lighting throughout the film too. Much of the film’s early sequences seem drenched in a warm, apple pie glow, but in the prom night sequence sees de Palma start us off with a dreamy kaleidoscopic mix of purples and yellows that highlight how carried away Carrie is by her one moment of bliss, only to drench the entire affair in an insanely deep red shade once the psychic assault starts.