MURDER A LA MOD - MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FEMME FATALE
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a la Mod:
Before we run out of time, there’s something I’ve always wanted to ask you. When I saw Mission: Impossible in theaters, I was so excited you were in it, and obviously you don’t last very long in that movie. I’ve always wondered if that was a friendly payback for killing Tom Cruise in his brief Young Guns cameo.
No, it wasn’t that at all. The way Tom had explained it, he said, “Look, I’d love for you to come and join the cast. The whole opening number where everybody gets wiped out, it’s going to be a lot of well-known people and all of them are going to go uncredited and it’s really going to set up the level of peril for Ethan.” And I said, “I’m in. You don’t have to ask me twice, I’m in.” And then afterwards, obviously, the movie’s a giant hit.
Right. They’re still making them. There’s one coming out this year.
Still making them! Tom was like, we were doing a run the year after that and he says, “Man, we made such a mistake killing you off.”
I agree with Tom.
He and John Woo were trying to figure out a way to bring me back for part two, but it just didn’t make sense. I thought you could have because with all the masks, right?
Right… That would’ve been tough though. I mean, you got smashed by an elevator. That’s a tough one to recover from in the hospital.
There arguably isn’t another director who has built as prolific a filmography off the back of simply his love for cinema as Brian De Palma has. His reverence for Alfred Hitchcock is well documented and observed through Blow Out, but the plethora of pastiches in the film include nods to Stanley Kubrick, Howard Hawks, and Sergei Eisenstein amongst many others. It’s been argued extensively that De Palma’s style of chopping up what he loves and reforming it to present something new, almost as if it’s a theatrical equivalent to a hot dog, is something that works at the expense of his true personality coming through in his films. I contend that’s not really true. The approach itself is as much a reflection of his personality as any other director’s could be said to be and through Blow Out we can see just how much the arts of cinema and filmmaking mean to De Palma. It’s quite literally a matter of life and death.
Blow Out is a film that wears its influences proudly. Jack, played by John Travolta, is a sound guy who works for a studio producing schlocky horror movies on what looks like a perpetually repopulated assembly line. It starts with a POV shot that, despite its satirical nature, could have easily been stolen from John Carpenter’s editing suite. In fact, it’s so close to the opening of Halloween that it retroactively makes it funny. The point of view camera shot, the detached suburban house stalked through its windows, and the eventual reveal of the killer are all essentially satirical interpretations of it. Beyond that, though, its narrative structure has often been compared to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, while its pacing and the ways it builds tension are clearly drawn from Hitchcock’s work. Where it differs from them all and becomes its own, independent, piece of art is in what importance it gives to one particular element of it all.
The central theme between the three is that the man in the middle of them all is a loner with a specialty. He’s so enamoured with his work that he regularly finds himself isolated and pushing others away as a result of it. In Blow-Up, he’s a photographer, whereas in The Conversation he’s a surveillance expert. In Blow Out, he’s deeply embedded in the film industry.
The first couch potato was named and affectionately shamed in Pasadena, California, in 1976, when Tom Iacino, an illustrator and designer, made a phone call to his TV loving friend Robert Armstrong, a cartoonist. According to an interview Iacino gave to Bon Appétit in 2014, Armstrong’s girlfriend picked up, and Iacino asked, “Hey, is the couch potato there?”. When she looked over and actually found him on the couch, she cracked up. Armstrong soon asked his friend to trademark that unplanned, brilliant coinage, and in 1979 they took part in an alternative parade, the Doo Dah Parade, with a floating showing a floor with a couple of couches on it. In 1983, Armstrong and the writer Jack Mingo published “The Official Couch Potato Handbook,” a sort of ironic hymn to slouching proudly in front of the TV, taking a stand against Californian healthy lifestyle in the 70s. Armstrong even created a newsletter called The Tuber's Voice that went into many editions.
Here's an excerpt from the interview portion:
In the new film, there’s one point where you’re talking about seeing your face on magazine covers and you say, ‘it was never a true reflection of myself.’ Is this doc, then, a true reflection of yourself?
True as it could be under the circumstances. As a young man, I was pretty naïve but I always knew when I was selling a movie or enjoying the attention. This was different. When I met Davis and he told me how much my books affected him, I agreed to go on a journey with him and see where it goes. I had no agenda. I didn’t hope it would respark my film career or anything like that. I just wanted to see how a guy who thought in a similar way, and had a great track record of filmmaking, would treat this material.
How closely involved were you in Davis’s decision to construct this film in such a unique fashion?
We talked about it early on, but it’s his genre. I remember my lawyers calling me up and saying, “Here’s how it works: you’ll get three strikes to take major plot points out,” and all these other measures to defend myself against the filmmaker. But I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted to make a movie. So I waived all those provisions and I’m glad I did because god forbid I would have gone in and said don’t use my source material as part of the narrative. I thought that was so clever.
I love watching that scene where it’s talking about my relationship with [wife Tracy Pollan] and it’s footage from Bright Lights, Big City. It reminded me how lucky I’ve been in my career to work with everyone I have. Brian De Palma, Paul Schrader. It was so nice to look back and not only reflect on what was going on in my life at that point, but remember all the people I’ve met along the way.
I suppose that anybody who takes time to do this kind of exercise will find some regrets, faults in their decisions. But on the opposite end, I’m curious whether there is anything you initially felt was a mistake, a bad time in your life, that was actually much better than you initially felt, in retrospect?
I’m a goofy, optimistic guy, so all the things that have happened to me were great. I seriously wouldn’t change a thing. The difficulties I had with my early diagnosis, turning to alcohol, getting rid of that to save my marriage – as difficult and painful as all that was, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without it, and my family wouldn’t be the same family without it. So I don’t question things, but I do celebrate them.
Some of the things in the film, people might wince at. But I was going, yeah, cool. Like that moment of me laying on the floor looking up at Tracy and finding her bored with my alcoholism and realizing that was the moment I needed to change. Yeah, I made the right decision coming out of that. The great thing about this film is the moments with my family. The way we were laughing. You can’t fake that laughter. I laugh so much it’s all you can do to get my face to not stretch beyond its skull and blow off.
Well there’s an image for a movie. Actually, it sounds pulled from The Frighteners.
Peter Jackson, I got him between masterpieces.
Hey, The Frighteners is a favourite film of mine.
I wouldn’t joke about it if I didn’t believe that, too. He’s a great filmmaker. I first met him in Toronto, when Heavenly Creatures premiered at the festival. I flew up to see it, and then agreed to make that film.
There is at one point in this doc where Davis says that you get close to the tough stuff and then dart away. How hard did he push you – and how hard did you push yourself – to get to the more difficult material?
Davis did a brilliant thing, in that he put the camera 15 feet away from where I’m sitting, back up against the wall, and he left it on. I forgot it was there. The painful stuff, when I’m looking vacant and drooling in that blank, concrete Parkinson’s stare, I couldn’t have manufactured that for him. He had the filmmaker’s instinct to know how and where to get that. I didn’t see footage until the end, so I didn’t even know what he was up to. He wasn’t going to do talking heads – the one talking head was just mine, even though my head can barely talk some time. If I had any prenegotiated control over the material, it would have been a disaster.
I would, though, like to see a sequel where it’s just talking heads of collaborators you’ve worked with.
They gave me an Academy Award this year for my humanitarian work, which was great because Woody Harrelson presented it. He gets up and starts telling these stories and I thought, oh Jesus. Someone once said to me that we were “eighties famous,” and that’s true. We had a different perspective. There were none of these things [points to his smartphone]. It was just hardcore.
Woody starts to tell this story about when we were in Thailand, and I took them through the jungle. It was me, Woody and [hockey player] Cam Neely, and we found this little hut. It was Deliverance in Southeast Asia. This kid comes out who I had met before, and I gave him this big bag of baht, and he took me to this concrete wall and we jumped over. That’s when Woody and Cam realized there were like 35 cobras in there. I just sat there until they picked up a cobra. Its blood was drained and mixed with Thai whiskey and we drank it. “Brotherhood of the snake,” or something goofy like that. Madness. If we got a whole group of my friends and told these stories, we’d never get out of there.
I think you just found the title of your next doc, though. Michael J. Fox: Brotherhood of the Snake.
Or Fox Eats Snake.
In an interview with GQ, Leguizamo revealed that he was so sick of auditioning to play drug dealers early in his career that he considered passing on his now-iconic role as Benny Blanco in Brian De Palma’s “Carlito’s Way.”
“I’m a Latin guy and I didn’t wanna play another drug dealer. I was just kind of sick of that kind of routine,” Leguizamo said. “So I turned it down three times.”
He continued to resist the role, only to learn that one of Hollywood’s other rising Hispanic stars, Benicio Del Toro, was also in the mix for it. Once he learned Del Toro was interested, Leguizamo said that he opted to do the film after realizing it was a good career move.
“The producers said, ‘Look, this is the last time I’m coming to you. We’re gonna go to Benicio,'” he said. “Okay, I’ll take it!”
Leguizamo’s thoughts about not wanting to play drug dealers echo similar comments he made in a recent interview with IndieWire. The actor explained that the limited range of roles he was considered for as a young actor shaped his view about the importance of representation in films.