INTERVIEW COMES FROM THE 2016 SCREAM FACTORY EDITION OF 'CARRIE'
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a la Mod:
Andra Akers and Margo Norton browse the racks and try on dresses at Paraphernalia and other NYC boutiques while discussing men and love in 'Murder à la Mod,' 1968. As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, 'Murder à la Mod' is Brian De Palma's solo directional debut and was thought lost for decades, until it was rediscovered ten years ago. With it's all-white interior, Paraphernalia was “a determinedly with-it New York boutique” (in the words of Mademoiselle magazine) that opened in September 1965 with backing from the mass-merchandiser Puritan Fashions (who was also responsible for launching Mary Quant on to the American fashion scene with their Youthquake concept). Located on Madison Avenue between 66th and 67th streets, Paraphernalia was really the first of its kind—a boutique that displayed clothes like an art gallery, all sleek chrome surfaces and hip salesgirls. Ulrich Franzen designed the interior, while the clothes were designed for the in-house label by all the hippest young designers—the first cohort included Deanna Littel, Carol Friedland, Joel Schumacher, and 23-year-old Betsey Johnson, while later Dimitri Kritsas, Michael Mott, Elisa Stone, and Diana Dew all designed for the label. It’s unique situation—money, support and the manufacturing capabilities of the mass-market—allowed Paraphernalia designers to create truly avant-garde designs from plastic, metal, and paper, along with ones that lit up, at the same time as keeping all prices under $99. For a couple of years Paraphernalia was the place to shop and be seen—the Velvet Underground played the opening and Warhol's stars often picked up a new outfit on their way out for the night. Unfortunately the desire to keep prices down forced the production of more clothes and the franchising of stores, leading to an oversaturation of the market and a diffusion of the brand name—by the mid-70s Paraphernalia was no more. It's always exciting to come across these legendary boutiques on film, especially when shot in an unstaged, guerrilla manner such as this. I don't know the name of the other boutique(s) they visit, so if anyone recognizes them please let me know. 🖤🤍🖤
On October 30th, McLaws Helms posted clips from the cemetery sequence in De Palma's film, with this description:
Andra Akers and a mysterious trunk collide in Calvary Cemetery, Long Island City, in Brian De Palma's solo directional debut ‘Murder à la Mod', 1968. Released in only one cinema in NYC at the time, this film was thought lost for decades and only found again ten years ago—if you are a fan of De Palma this film is definitely worth a watch as it lays out so many of the stylistic, technical and thematic fixations that have defined his later films ('Carrie' et al). Her outfit is really the crème de la crème of mod fashion, though I'll post the best fashion clip from this movie in a few days. 🖤🤍🖤
Brian De Palma's "Carrie" is an absolutely spellbinding horror movie, with a shock at the end that's the best thing along those lines since the shark leaped aboard in "Jaws." It's also (and this is what makes it so good) an observant human portrait. This girl Carrie isn't another stereotyped product of the horror production line; she's a shy, pretty, and complicated high school senior who's a lot like kids we once knew.
There is a difference, though. She has telekenesis, the ability to manipulate things without touching them. It's a power that came upon her gradually, and was released in response to the shrill religious fanaticism of her mother. It manifests itself in small ways. She looks in a mirror, and it breaks. Then it mends itself. Her mother tries to touch her and is hurled back against a couch. But then, on prom night...
Well, what makes the movie's last twenty minutes so riveting is that they grow so relentlessly, so inevitably, out of what's gone before. This isn't a science-fiction movie with a tacked-on crisis, but the study of a character we know and understand. When she fully uses (or is used by) her strange power, we know why. This sort of narrative development hasn't exactly been De Palma's strong point, but here he exhibits a gift for painting personalities; we didn't know De Palma, ordinarily so flashy on the surface, could go so deep. Part of his success is a result of the very good performances by Sissy Spacek, as Carrie, and by Piper Laurie, as Carrie's mother. They form a closed-off, claustrophobic household, the mother has translated her own psychotic fear of sexuality into a twisted personal religion. She punishes the girl constantly, locks her in closets with statues of a horribly bleeding Christ, and refuses to let her develop normal friendships.
At school, then, it's no wonder Carrie is so quiet. She has long blond hair but wears it straight and uses it mostly to hide her face. She sits in the back of the room, doesn't speak up much, and is the easy butt of jokes by her classmates. Meanwhile, the most popular girl in the class devises a truly cruel trick to play on Carrie. It depends on Carrie being asked to the senior prom by the popular girl's equally popular boyfriend -- he's one of your average Adonises with letters in every sport. He's not in on the joke, though, and asks Carrie in all seriousness.
And then De Palma gives us a marvelously realized scene at the prom -- where Carrie does, indeed, turn out to be beautiful. There's a little something wrong, though, and De Palma has an effective way to convey it: As Carrie and her date dance, the camera moves around them, romantically at first, but then too fast, as if they're spinning out of control.
I wouldn't want to spoil the movie's climax for you by even hinting at what happens next. Just let me say that "Carrie" is a true horror story. Not a manufactured one, made up of spare parts from old Vincent Price classics, but a real one, in which the horror grows out of the characters themselves.The scariest horror stories -- the ones by M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe, and Oliver Onions -- are like this. They develop their horrors out of the people they observe. That happens here, too. Does it ever.
King’s novel takes place in the fictional town of Chamberlain, Maine. (A coastal village of the same name exists in the town of Bristol, Maine, but it’s not the location depicted in the novel.) The film, however, takes place in a small, unnamed bedroom community where everybody knows everybody.
“I had sort of conceived it as a town anywhere in America, one of those sort of all-American towns,” says production designer Jack Fisk, who had previously worked on De Palma’s 1974 cult horror musical Phantom of the Paradise. “What I like to do on films is make them universal when we can, so that everybody can appreciate them, and not be too specific about where it is. … [Carrie] seemed like such a universal story, you know, teenage revenge. That’s what Brian used to tell Sissy all the time: ‘It’s a story of teenage revenge.’” Fisk and Spacek met while working on Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973) and married in 1974.
While Carrie features only a dozen locations, Fisk says he put about 6,000 miles on his car driving around the L.A. region looking for spots to shoot the film. The hardest to find was Carrie’s house. Fisk says the problem in some of the usual places, like South Pasadena, is that over time the houses had gotten bigger as people added on to them.
“I wanted a house that looked like it was in a small town, and it looked isolated and it looked quirky, unusual,” says Fisk.
Taking into account Margaret White’s extreme Christian fanaticism, Fisk had the idea to model the Whites’ home after a type of uniquely Philadelphia row house. Known fondly as a Trinity, or a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, it gets its name from three single-room floors that are connected by a steep, winding staircase. In the late ‘60s, Fisk lived in one such house with David Lynch during their time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
One day, Fisk and his Volkswagen ended up in the Ventura County town of Santa Paula.
“I drive by this house and the dormer [window] upstairs is off-center and it looked so bizarre,” says Fisk. “It being off center, it’s like something an architect would never do,” he adds. “I thought it was just remarkable. You look at it and it was weird; something was wrong with it.” The house on North 7th Street between Santa Barbara Street and Main Street was one-and-a-half stories, not the triptych that Fisk had in mind, but it felt isolated and atypical. Fisk estimates that the house was only about twenty-five feet by twenty-five feet. “It was bizarrely small and singular.”
“It was a really old, beautifully done, wood frame house, and we couldn’t find anything like that [in L.A.].” says Dow Griffith, whose first location manager job was Carrie.
A 1981 Ventura County Cultural Heritage Survey of Santa Paula noted that the house was built around 1900 in the Vernacular Victorian style with Eastlake details. The survey rated the house in fair condition.
Santa Paula exteriors appear onscreen for about five minutes of Carrie’s 98-minute running time, but they set the tone of the entire movie. White picket fences, kids riding their bikes on sidewalks and Santa Paula’s Main Street all added to the small town aesthetic and mood the filmmakers were after.
“We basically modeled things on the Santa Paula location that we found for Carrie’s house and that sense of Anywhere, USA,” says Griffith.
Located along California State Route 126 just fourteen miles east of Ventura, Santa Paula wasn’t convenient in proximity to any of the film’s L.A. locations. Palisades Charter High School, the Hermosa Beach Community Center, the Cahuenga Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, Morningside Elementary School in San Fernando, and the gymnasium set built at the Culver Studios all made up Bates High School – named after Norman Bates. There are seventy miles between Santa Paula and the Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon – where Billy Nolan (John Travolta) and pals acquire the film’s infamous pig’s blood. But, in terms of film production, what Santa Paula lacks in convenience it makes up for with an abundance of character.
Fogata, who is also on the board of the Santa Paula Historical Society, was fourteen or fifteen when the filmmakers of Carrie shot a scene in the front yard of the Craftsman home built in 1911 that’s been in his family for about seventy years.
In the film’s opening, Carrie – scared and traumatized after getting her period for the first time – is tormented by her bullying classmates in the girls’ locker room. Carrie is dismissed from school for the day and walks home along a lush, tree-lined street, her school binder clutched to her chest. A boy on a bicycle weaves in and out of the tree line, taunting the demure teenage girl with the insulting nickname, Creepy Carrie. A quick, piercing glance in the boy’s direction sends him tumbling from his bike and onto the Fogata family front yard located at 601 East Santa Paula Street.
“I remember watching them shoot it. They must have shot it twenty times to get the fall right,” says Fogata.
This being before the days of star trailers and massive base camps, Fogata says that craft service was set up on his front porch and his mom opened up the house for the cast and crew.
“I remember John Travolta was sitting in my living room; Sissy Spacek was sitting in my living room. It was kind of their relaxing area,” says Fogata.
Over the years, Fogata’s house has been seen in numerous movies, commercials and music videos, he says, but he remembers Carrie being the first. The same trees from the aforementioned scene are prominent in the music video for Stevie Wonder’s Grammy-nominated, 1987 single, “Skeletons.”
There are some really great split screen moments, like in that final battle or when we see the death of RJ Cyler's character and we get to see everyone's reaction. Are those things that were in the script or when did you decide to use those?
Yeah, Jeymes always wanted to do those two split screen moments. The other one is on the train. That last one that you're talking about when RJ dies, he was very particular about what it was. So we worked really hard even in pre, we got to Santa Fe a couple of weeks early, we were cutting in Santa Fe, and I actually worked with the assistants just with stock pictures to try and get that right, to get the rhythm right.
So that was very specific and then the other one, which is Cherokee, LaKeith, talking through the wall to the General on the train, that was a little bit more like, "I want split screens here, you figure it out." I think he was specifically, he did want it to wipe on, and then I just had to figure out how to cut a scene where can see both sides. Which is a tricky thing for an editor because normally you're always directing the audience's gaze a little bit. With split screens you can suggest but you can't tell them exactly where to look.
Because LaKeith was so magnetic, I would use cuts to sometimes try and draw your attention over to the other side, we needed to see what was going on there. And the other thing that was tricky about that is LaKeith is a very fluid performer, so he doesn't say the same thing twice ever. So those things were not shot at the same time, when he was doing the general side, he didn't do all that stuff about "Dred Scott free," he didn't do the countdown at the end. So I had to find bits and pieces that I could play on the general side that made it look like they were part of the same conversation.
And then there were just fun discoveries, I found that we could also wipe off with the movement of the door. So that was really fun and Jeymes told me to look at Brian De Palma for split screens. He's a big De Palma fan so I went back and looked at "Dressed To Kill" and a couple other De Palma's, and "Carrie," to see how those worked.
To watch Blow Out is to watch an artist confronting his deepest fears using the techniques and technology of the medium that had previously offered him salvation and the ability to wrest control from chaos. That artist is John Travolta’s Jack Terry. That artist is also Brian De Palma.
Recording his father taught him the power of the voyeur’s cinema; designing a decade’s worth of arch and unhinged thrillers interlaced with dizzyingly/dazzlingly visual set pieces of murderous mayhem soaked in deliciously endorphic filmmaking taught him how the voyeur’s cinema has the power to make audiences look at what he wanted them to see and how he wanted them to see it. To direct them as much as his films. And what De Palma saw, and defiantly wanted his audience to see as both a warning and an indictment, was the drain-circling, atavistic degradation of art and culture—while using the immediately decaying tools of art and culture to ring the alarm bells and focus the audience’s attention.
A decade before, De Palma witnessed the encroaching nihilism and commercialization of his generation’s desperate movement to save itself—“When I made Greetings, I found myself on talk shows, talking about the revolution, and I realized I had become just another piece of software that they could sell, like aspirin or deodorant. It didn’t make any difference what I said. I was talking about the downfall of America. Who cares? In my experience, what happened to the revolution is that it got turned into a product, and that is the process of everything in America. Everything is meshed into a product”—and that horror multiplied with his termination from Get to Know Your Rabbit, before unleashing itself in a moment of terrible clarity: standing in an elevator, and hearing that the ear-piercing tune playing was a Muzakification of The Beatles’ cinematic epic about the mutability of reality, “A Day in the Life.” That single moment generated his Phantom of the Paradise, in which an artist literally makes a deal with the Devil to preserve his music, only to hear it survive in increasingly terrible bubblegum incarnations chewed by a mindless crowd. It’s a rock ‘n roll fable in which De Palma directed his audience to witness a fate worse than selling your soul: a world buying back your commodified cultural revolution as elevator (to hell) music. But no one cared; the film died a quick death in theaters.
In 1981, De Palma was driven by the same, singular fury, now compounded by his terrible failure to make Prince of the City, the film he intended to be the defining artistic statement that would prove his seriousness as an auteur. He felt the generation that had turned its own revolution into something to be sold, growing fat on couches while watching peeping tom game shows like Candid Camera, refused to look at the world around them, at the political machinations and murders hinting at power structures operating at levels beyond their imaginations, and thus needed to be directed to see those powers-that-be rendering them impotent, whether those powers were a corrupt government or simply an impatient bottom-line-based movie studio. De Palma wanted to craft a cinematic magic bullet that would zigzag through it all, savaging power at every level and making such a percussive bang when firing from the barrel of his camera that everyone would hear. And in a moment altogether fitting for the hyper-referential De Palma filmography, the design for this bullet came from a merging of his cinema with that of a previous master:
While editing sound on his previous film, Dressed to Kill, De Palma was sorting through the “fill” in his effects tracks (“fill” being the industry colloquialism for random strips of film laced between individual sound effects on a reel) and found, wedged between sounds like “knife slices” and “woman screams” was a strip of film from David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. One of the greatest films ever made (and a De Palma favorite) was being recycled like trash and used to separate the sounds of salacious fucking and shower-killing in his sleaze-epic erotic thriller. Not only did this reinforce his obsession with the idea of all things trending towards commercialized dissolution, it jacketed another layer of lethality to the bullet he was honing—the notion that something of life-shattering importance could be buried beneath the surface of a film, between the sounds.