AUSTIN GATES & ALLAN WHETSTONE REWATCH AND DELVE INTO DE PALMA CLASSIC
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Following up Friday's initial tweet about the 360-degree shot, Nedomansky posted five more video clips from the film, each with its own comment, beginning with a "SPLIT DIOPTER ALERT! 5 examples of Brian De Palma's well-embraced visual storytelling technique in Carlito's Way (1993)." He followed that with a clip of the film's shot near the beginning, which moves from the ceiling fluorescents down to Gail, medics, and police, turning upside down and then moving to show Carlito on the stretcher. "I don't even want to know how they did this shot," Nedomansky wrote. "Just want to appreciate its powerful effect..."
Going back to the scene that had the 360-degree shot above, Nedomansky then tweeted a clip foucusing on Carlito's reactions to the conversation around the table. Nedomansky imagined the brief working conversation between De Palma and Burum:
De Palma: Let give Pacino a nice push-in.
DP Stephen H. Burum: I got this.
Nedomansky concluded the series of clips with a beauty: Carlito holding a trash can lid over his head in the rain as he spies Gail with her ballet class through windows across the way. "Carlito tries to reconnect with Gail after 5 years in jail," Nedomansky tweeted. "A beautiful moment as both characters finish the scene with mirrored body poses via a perfect match cut. Subtle and emotional as fuck."
In a scetion on his website, Renda describes his interest in "inserts and cutaways" --
Inserts and cutaways are shots used to avert the viewer's gaze from some intense or visceral sight onto something else. They are a sort of dissociation from the visible. I'm interested in the way that film images, as dialectical medium, form meanings together. In these types of sequences, the director imbues the second shot with the ecstasy, pain, intensity of the first shot.
What interests me as well is when these shots are used to convey the ambivalence of the non-human world or the surroundings of the characters. An example would be a scene "behind closed doors" cutting to the literal closed-door to express the intimacy, privacy, and secrecy of the action.
Time passes, and the two collide again after Ana loses her child to SIDS. Janis takes her on as a live-in nanny, but something has begun to feel off to her about her child. Secrets fester as Janis and Ana’s relationship thickens and intensifies, with the film evolving into a beguilingly uncanny thriller. After the more contemplative autofiction of Pain and Glory, Parallel Mothers is a return to Almodóvar’s familiar sandbox of applying a tender touch to pulp and genre tropes. With shades of Brian De Palma, he even employs a nanny cam to inventive ends.
The tension between Janis and Ana might be emotional and sexual at heart, but there’s a historical rift as well. Janis is the child of a Republican stronghold from the time of the Spanish Civil War, and is all too aware of the hidden mass graves throughout the countryside. In contrast, Ana is disconnected from the past, and the daughter of the fascist upper class. Almodóvar has become such an established brand and an icon of cinematic queerness that the sociopolitical context he emerged from is often forgotten. But it’s impossible to separate the thorny sexuality or vibrant color in his films from post-Franco Spain’s explosion of cultural and personal expression. No nation is ever free of its genealogical trauma. The cotton swab of a DNA test is a double-edged sword in Parallel Mothers — it both cuts away the veil from uncomfortable secrets, but is also a scientific tool that connects Janis to the bodies of long-lost family members. Almodóvar reminds us that the sins and struggles of our mothers are never washed away.
Here's an excerpt:
As a character, Terry is defined by his capacity to listen. His professional responsibility is to capture sounds that most people would either not notice or otherwise ignore. Terry’s receptivity is similar to the forever wired, content-soaked world of today, where we’re constantly getting information stimulation from everywhere, all the time. It’s been widely remarked that the ubiquity of cell phones and social media allow us all to become amateur filmmakers, eagerly posting the daily rushes of our lives for public consumption. But we shouldn’t assume that this constant videotaping of the world around us will make us wiser. As Blow Out reminds us, just because you get something important on tape doesn’t mean that people will listen.
If anything, recent history has demonstrated that, alas, mere documentation isn’t proof. Orwell once said that seeing what’s directly in front of one’s nose requires a constant struggle. If anything, that’s even truer now. Anyone can choose to see what they want to see in a certain picture or video, especially if they have an agenda or a preconceived notion of how they are supposed to respond. How visual information gets processed, and who decides how it’s interpreted, all too often ends up as more fodder for our national melodrama — another exciting plot twist in an interactive live socio-political soap opera that never ends because secretly, whether they want to admit it or not, nobody wants it to.
When Blow Out was released, paranoia and conspiracy theories tended to trend left. De Palma himself explained that he became obsessed with the Kennedy assassination and its disturbingly incomplete official narrative about who was where when: “the more you blow it up, the less clear it becomes.” Assuming that operatives are trying to influence elections and alter the country’s political life was, in hindsight, a very realistic response to the bright shining lies of Watergate and Vietnam.
The obsession with surveillance and how that purloined information is bent to the will of nefarious corporate or political actors was definitely a major theme in films of the late ’70s. Consider The Conversation, made by De Palma’s longtime friend Francis Ford Coppola, and Alan Pakula’s trilogy Klute, All The President’s Men, and The Parallax View, all of which interrogate who’s watching the watchers.
Now the tin foil hat points rightward. No doubt conspiracy theories exist on the left as well, but the right has openly mainstreamed its paranoia. Major figures promote it in campaign speeches, cite it in fundraising drives, and keep it circulating throughout their media echo chambers. Fast and loose, postmodern approaches to truth are no longer the purview of radical academics. Treating truth as a socially constructed puppet of power is a rhetorical gambit that routinely fills stadiums. “Alternative facts” will do just fine for an excited crowd that already knows what it wants to hear.
Yet maybe Terry’s solitary anguish, caught in the crossfire over who will get their hands on his recording, still contains a residue of hope. De Palma described Terry’s plight in self-sacrificial terms: “he has to sacrifice to solve this mystery that no one cares about.” Exactly. Terry loses his own peace of mind and the woman he loves precisely because of his idealistic refusal to ignore the empirical truth of what happened on that bridge.
It’s not just that Terry can’t bear to think of the darker implications of the recording, which are indeed troubling — he refuses to give up on what he knows to be true. He can’t understand why people want to accept the idea that no one else cares. Instead, Terry insists that his recording should be on the evening news. Terry’s not a particularly heroic figure — after all, he’s just a B movie hack who feels guilty over a mafia wiretap gone wrong — but nevertheless, he insists on committing to the truth even if no one else believes him or bothers to listen. This refusal to be gaslit is rather noble if a bit quixotic.
Cox, the youngest of four, was raised in Birmingham, Alabama, in an area she only now appreciates for its rolling hills and beautiful countryside. When she was 10, her parents divorced, and her father moved away. And as her older brother and two older sisters began moving out, she grew even closer with her mother, who became her best friend. “Man, she was a great mom,” says Cox, who shared all the gritty details of her teenage life with her mother. “I didn’t want to sneak and go behind her back. Whatever trouble I got into, I wanted her to know so we could have a really close relationship—because when your parents get divorced, you want that.”
Her father, Richard, installed swimming pools in Florida; Cox recalls that her mother, also named Courteney, answered phones at a psychiatric office and “worked at, like, a Stein Mart, and then I think she got fired because she wanted to play bridge or something.” She was simply not a career woman, Cox says. “There was no part of her that was a go-getter. She was a Southern, sweet, sweet woman. I’m the opposite of my mom in that way. I was always really a workaholic.”
At 13, Cox got a job selling candy to raise money for a foundation. In high school, she worked at a pool store. And at summer camp, she took to the stage, once playing Anna in The King and I. But Cox didn’t realize she could build a career as an actress until she got an agent in New York. There, she modeled, booked a commercial for Tampax, played a debutante named Bunny on As the World Turns and nabbed the part that launched her career.
It was 1984 when Cox was famously cast to be pulled onstage to dance with Bruce Springsteen during a live concert for his “Dancing in the Dark” video—which, in a small sign of her scream-queen career to come, was directed by Brian De Palma, who was behind the horror hit Carrie. There were tons of girls at the audition, recalls Cox, “stretching and…dancers! And I was like, ‘Ohhh, I’m not in the right place.’” When De Palma asked her to dance in his office, “I got so embarrassed,” she says, “because I love to dance, but, like, freestyle.” She was cast with two other girls—but only one would be getting onstage in Saint Paul, Minnesota, for the concert. The day or so before, she met the Boss for the first time with De Palma. “I remember they both had the flu, or had colds, and they weren’t feeling great,” she recalls. And when one of them said, ‘OK, so when Courteney goes up onstage,’ I went, ‘Oh, what?!’” And she’s remained on the world’s stage ever since.
This list, admittedly, has quite a few films from the '70s, but that's because the '70s were just such a damn good decade for horror! 1976 saw the release of Brian De Palma's wildly inventive "Carrie," based on the Stephen King book of the same name. It is a fantastic movie about a young girl with telekinetic powers who is eventually pushed to the breaking point by her unaccepting classmates. What makes "Carrie" so great is Sissy Spacek's performance as Carrie White and Piper Laurie's performance as her extremely devout mother. Spacek approaches the role of Carrie with the perfect blend of naïveté and a pitying desire to be accepted by her peers. You both loathe her and feel for her, a girl trapped in adolescence by her misguided, commandeering mother. Laurie is equally as riveting as Margaret White, commanding the camera's attention whenever she appears on screen. If not for the talents of these two actresses, "Carrie" would not be the masterpiece that it is; the Academy agreed, nominating them for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.
However, one award the film did not receive an Oscar nomination for was Best Picture. That honor would go to films like "Rocky" and "Taxi Driver." It seems America wasn't quite ready to celebrate the emotional turmoil of a teenage girl, but if you ask me, it should have been. "Carrie" is a marvelous example of what can happen when a great book gets a great adaptation. It's also wonderful commentary on female adolescence and the horrors of being a teenager, and while most of us don't possess the ability to move things with our minds or make it rain stones, we do understand the cruel difficulties of growing up and going through high school. While Carrie the girl may have had a bucket of pig's blood dumped on her head at the prom, "Carrie" the movie is worthy of winning Prom Queen and escaping the stage crowned, celebrated, and entirely unscathed.
The presence of a woman in a war film is astounding - this genre full of testosterone has traditionally been vested in men. Even though she is gagged, tied up, and spends most of the time moaning and crying, in a state of prostration. Besides, Oanh's death is a nightmare streak that seems to never end. Covered in blood, she walks like a ghost on the railway tracks of a bridge (the scene was shot on the banks of the River Kwai, near the Burmese border). Unforgettable, her slow agony resembles a funeral march, a requiem.
Depalmian heroes are often haunted by a woman they have seen die before their eyes, unable to rescue her. This was notably the case for the characters played by Cliff Robertson in Obsession (1976), John Travolta in Blow Out (1981) and Craig Wasson in Body Double (1984). This time, it's the one played by Michael J. Fox who becomes a passive witness to a crime and blames himself for being cowardly in front of the other soldiers by not preventing them from taking action. Through his melodrama, De Palma speaks of individual responsibility. And asks an ethical question: are rape and murder more excusable when committed in wartime? "Even in war ... Murder is murder," read the slogan of the film's American poster.
In the eyes of some, this appalling news item remains anecdotal and insignificant. A point of detail in a napalm bombing war. As a good moralist, De Palma, on the contrary, believes that Oanh's death is not a drop of water in a sea of blood. His film works as a metaphor: we must see in this rape that of an entire country by the American invader. And when Michael J. Fox is indignant during a scene, it is De Palma who expresses himself through him (the famous tirade of Eriksson: “Just because each of us might at any second be blown away, everybody’s acting like we can do anything. And it don’t matter what we do. But I’m thinking, maybe it’s the other way around, you know. Maybe the main thing is the opposite! Because we might be dead in the next split-second, maybe we gotta be extra careful what we do.”) Almost philosophical, the theme of Outrages (the individual who is right against the group) provokes reflection. And De Palma would rather dwell on the fate of a single victim, to move the public, than on that of thousands of dead.
Heroes or bastards
War makes heroes, but also bastards, the director seems to say. Dropped in the middle of a conflict they do not understand, attacked at night in the jungle (an incredible opening sequence in an underground gallery where the Viet Cong look like ants), the young American soldiers behave badly towards the Vietnamese civilians in the film. Because the army never prepared them to face a foreign country, a culture, and customs different from theirs. Towards the end of Outrages, the four soldiers guilty of the crime are sentenced (one of them to life) by a military court. But in reality, they were acquitted!
Indeed, after multiple appeals, the sentences were considerably reduced. None of them will have served more than five years in prison. Out of fear of reprisal, the real Eriksson even changed his identity and became a farmer somewhere in the Midwest. In 1972, Elia Kazan made a film that imagined a fictional sequel to this story: The Visitors with James Woods. In the heartbreaking drama, a soldier’s former comrades in arms, who had denounced them for the rape and murder of a Vietnamese woman, returned, after being released from prison, to his Connecticut villa for revenge. And took the opportunity to rape his partner!
No, Outrages is not a cool movie. It looks like a sticky nightmare, which causes discomfort and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Because De Palma's cinema is outrageous. Upon its theatrical release, the film divided critics. The New York weekly The Village Voice notably published an indictment against the film and its director - one of the most violent attacks ever directed against a filmmaker! But Outrages also has supporters. Steven Spielberg was raving about it in Rolling Stone magazine: “This is a huge film, perhaps the most beautiful that we have shot about Vietnam.” Renowned New Yorker reviewer Pauline Kael also wrote a lengthy, glowing article about the film.
In November 1994, in the pages of the monthly Les Inrockuptibles, Tarantino, in full promotion of Pulp Fiction, declared of Brian: “Blow Out is the absolute masterpiece of De Palma, closely followed by Outrages. The latter is in my opinion the best war movie ever made. It’s also one of the best movies about rape and Sean Penn’s best role - which is no small feat." Bertrand Tavernier also defended the feature film in 50 Years of American Cinema, his reference work co-written with another scholar, Jean-Pierre Coursodon: "De Palma manages to renew himself with this film which constitutes for him a real challenge, changing it at the same time of genre, place and register." The authors of the book also prefer his film on Vietnam to that of Kubrick: "The finale of Full Metal Jacket is a bit thin. And it is possible to find richer, even more courageous, a film like Outrages which, for its part, tackles a real moral problem head-on." Which is to say that De Palma was one of the few filmmakers to get their hands dirty, to immerse themselves in the Vietnamese quagmire.
In 2007, the bearded man filmed with digital cameras Redacted, a mock documentary that is once again based on a true story and is presented as an extension of Outrages, a twin film. He embarked on this adventure after reading an article about an incident during the Iraq war in which US Army soldiers allegedly raped a 14-year-old girl, shot her in the face and allegedly burned his body, before massacring his family.
How could these young people have come to this? What is original here is that De Palma recreates the drama through various sources of images: surveillance cameras, videos posted on YouTube, blogs and a GI's diary. A fascinating theoretical object, which forms a good double program with Outrages. A work that has lost none of its strength three decades later. Moreover, during his retrospective at the Cinémathèque française in 2018, the filmmaker without hesitation chose Outrages to represent his work. At the end of the screening of the film, he burst into tears in front of the audience of his master class, so much this film, for which he had fought for so long, was close to his heart.
Outrages boxed set with the film on Blu-ray (in its Director's cut version with six additional unreleased minutes) and on DVD (in its cinema version). As a bonus: numerous additions and a large 200-page book, specially written by Nathan Réra and illustrated with rare photos and archives. Limited edition of 2,500 copies. € 49.99. Wild Side.
It’s hard to say if Brian De Palma spent the majority of his career working in the thriller and horror genres just because he felt most comfortable there, or if Phantom Of The Paradise kept him there. The rock musical was a both a critical and box-office failure, but it has gained a cult following in the years since for how distinctly strange it is. Anchored by the original music (and an unlikely leading role) from pop maestro Paul Williams, the movie is a glitzy riff on The Phantom Of The Opera about a disfigured songwriter who lives inside a theater owned by a benevolent record producer who — as the immortal tagline states — sold his soul for rock ’n’ roll.
Despite its lofty ambitions as a modern-day Faust or Dorian Gray (in addition to Phantom of the Opera) that seeks to satirize the music industry, the movie is perhaps best viewed as a wonderfully gaudy spectacle that would make a great double feature with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. De Palma’s success with his next film, Carrie, launched him into the stratosphere of great genre directors, and though De Palma would never direct anything this zany again, Phantom Of The Paradise still has plenty of the director’s trademarks. Though his films often have a kind of meticulousness that lends him to the obsession of many a movie nerd, he’s also prone to the kinds of bombastic flourishes (see John Cassavetes’ entire body exploding in The Fury) that make this such a cult-y delight.