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a la Mod:

Domino is
a "disarmingly
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
for Domino online

De Palma/Lehman
rapport at work
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


Exclusive Passion

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario


AV Club Review
of Dumas book


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De Palma interviewed
in Paris 2002

De Palma discusses
The Black Dahlia 2006


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Carrie...A Fan's Site


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Scarface: Make Way
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De Palma a la Mod

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Thursday, March 28, 2024

From an article at abbeyroad.com titled, "The History of Film Recording at Abbey Road Studios as told by Abbey Road's Mirek Stiles - Part Four:
The Black Dahlia (2006)

Director: Brian De Palma
Composer: Mark Isham
Engineer: Simon Rhodes

“I select music that I think will inspire the composer for that theme. Some composers don't want you to do that at all. Some composers don't want you to put temp tracks in, and you have to describe the music or say “it should be a little like Mahler's 3rd” or “a little of Puccini here,” you sort of describe the music to them and they go off. Morricone was like that, Herrmann was like that. But some people like you to give musical suggestions and I give them very clear musical ideas of what I had in mind.” - director Brian De Palma

The Black Dahlia is film noir crime thriller directed by Brian De Palma based on the 1987 novel of the same name. Both book and film are inspired by the heavily sensationalised media coverage of the gruesome murder of Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles 1947. It stars Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson with the music provided by distinguished New York session player turned composer Mark Isham. The highly anticipated release, after the success of film noir hit LA Confidential, is currently the renowned director's last big Hollywood studio project after the film tragically flopped at the box office.

I have been a fan of Isham since his compelling and gritty score for the 1988 hidden gem The Beast. The criminally underrated composer collaborating with the innovative director of Carrie, Scarface and Carlito’s Way was always going to grab my attention. Apparently, James Horner was originally hired to score the project but for reasons unknown Mark Isham was brought in to replace Horner at the last minute. Isham has a rather splendid background in jazz and is a tremendously skilled trumpeter, making him a savvy choice to match the atmospheric and beautifully shot neo-film noir setting.

The score opens with a sliky-smooth trumpet solo performed by Isham that establishes the musical voice of Josh Hartnett’s character. This opening sets the scene for a gorgeous mixture of jazz, blues, driving rhythms, irregular strings and fully orchestrated actions cues. The overall effect of the score is emotionally complex and a rewarding listening experience. Both the movie and music give a modern twist on an authentic film noir experience. It’s a fine moment in Isham’s career, it just oozes class and is one of his best scores to date.

“I build up my templates, and then along the way, ideas will presumably start flashing in front of me and I very quickly try to get them down. I don't necessarily worry about making them fit the picture or how long or short they are. If there's a good kernel of an idea, you just want to get it down. I’ll end up with maybe 20 different ideas all sketched out as a starting place.” - Mark Isham

The photo above, which comes from the article, shows Mark Isham in Studio One at Abbey Road.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, March 29, 2024 12:27 AM CDT
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Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Here's the news from the Winnipeg Free Press, from this past Friday:
A documentary paying homage to Winnipeg’s love affair with Brian De Palma’s cult musical Phantom of the Paradise will screen on Nov. 1 at the Burton Cummings Theatre, just in time for the film’s 50th anniversary.

Directed by Canadian filmmaker Malcolm Ingram, Phantom of Winnipeg features interviews with local “Phans,” original cast members, including star/composer Paul Williams, and director Kevin Smith, a longtime fan who will be in attendance at the screening.

The event will be hosted by Phantom actor Peter Elbling; Smith will take part in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets, starting at $39.95 plus fees, go on sale today at 10 a.m. at Ticketmaster. The event precedes two sold-out screenings of Phantom of the Paradise on Nov. 2 at the Burt.

Posted by Geoff at 11:35 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 26, 2024

M. Emmet Walsh, the character actor who had a small part in Brian De Palma's first studio film, Get To Know Your Rabbit, died last week of cardiac arrest. He was 88.

"With his distinctive lumbering form and droll delivery, Walsh was an ideal supporting player," states Chris Koseluk in an obituary at The Hollywood Reporter. "A master of off-kilter comic delivery and dogged edginess, he excelled at roles that dwelled in the darker corners of humanity. No matter whom he played, he made a colorful impact."

Here's a bit more from Koseluk:

Michael Emmet Walsh was born on March 22, 1935, in Ogdensburg, New York. His father was a customs agent.

Raised in Swanton, Vermont, Walsh attended Tilton School in New Hampshire before enrolling at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, where he roomed with future Knots Landing star William Devane. (In 1998, Clarkson honored Walsh with its esteemed Golden Knight Award.)

Walsh graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1958 and moved to New York City. Three years later, he joined the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and began plying his craft in summer stock and regional theater throughout the Northeast.

Walsh appeared on an episode of The Doctors in 1968 and made his Broadway debut a year later in the drama Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie? in a cast that included Al Pacino and Hal Holbrook. In 1973, he replaced Charles Durning in the role of George Sikowski in the original production of Jason Miller’s That Championship Season.

After making his film debut as an uncredited extra in Midnight Cowboy (1969), Walsh popped up in such notable features as Serpico (1973), The Gambler (1975), Bound for Glory (1976), Ordinary People (1980), Reds (1981), Cannery Row (1982) and Silkwood (1983).

Blood Simple marked a turning point.

Walsh was shooting a film in Texas when he got word of an indie project that two brothers in Austin were trying to pull together. He was intrigued by the private eye character, envisioning the role as a Sydney Greenstreet type with a Panama suit and hat. After watching a promo trailer they had shot to entice investors, he signed on.

With Joel Coen and Ethan Coen making heavy use of storyboarding and light on giving direction to their actors, Walsh wasn’t sure what to make of the fledgling filmmakers. He didn’t expect Blood Simple to have a big impact on his career.

“I didn’t hear from them for months after that. They didn’t have enough money to fly me in to New York for the opening of the film,” Walsh said. “I saw it three or four days later when it opened in L.A., and I was, like, ‘Wow!’ Suddenly my price went up five times. I was the guy everybody wanted.”

Walsh had a flair for comedy, as seen in Cold Turkey (1971), They Might Be Giants (1971), Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972), What’s Up, Doc? (1972), At Long Last Love (1975), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975), The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979), Fletch (1985), Back to School (1986), Wildcats (1986), Camp Nowhere (1994), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) and Christmas With the Kranks (2004). And he showed up in a curmudgeonly role in Knives Out (2019).

Posted by Geoff at 10:12 PM CDT
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Monday, March 18, 2024

Posted by Geoff at 10:34 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, March 18, 2024 10:43 PM CDT
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Sunday, March 17, 2024

"Scarface, Brian De Palma’s nearly three-hour reach for epic-level greatness, is seldom talked about as an actual film anymore," states Awards Daily's David Phillips at the start of his "Reframing" essay about Scarface. "The movie," Phillips continues, "(and particularly Al Pacino’s no-holds barred performance as gangster Tony Montana) have drifted so far into iconography that the quality of the film itself has become secondary to its legend. And it’s one hell of a legend at this point."

Here's more:

As a film, Scarface has largely one pounding note to play—one filled with extraordinary levels of violence and drug usage (including Pacino going facedown in a huge pile of coke, and taking more bullets to the chest and still standing than any human ever). And it plays that note relentlessly for the entirety of its extended running time. There is a boldness in the film’s extreme approach that can be both exhilarating (De Palma’s camera movement is exquisite) and exhausting. Scarface is all just so much much.

And yet there is an undeniable propulsion in the film, a ferocity that exists throughout that cannot be easily dismissed. It really says something that Pacino, who played the legendary film gangster Michael Corleone in two of the greatest films ever made (Godfather I & II), might have eclipsed that seminal character with Tony Montana in the eyes of crime-film lovers. As his reluctant paramour and later recalcitrant wife, Pfeiffer gives one of the great ice-queen performances in the history of cinema (I swear, her bangs and bob were cut with steel). Written by Oliver Stone, the film is chock-full of quotable lines and in all technical aspects, Scarface looks and sounds remarkable.

The question I suppose is to what end? What are we to take away from all of the sturm und drang displayed in Scarface? There’s a great scene late in the film, when an over-coked and over served Montana humiliates Elvira, makes a spectacle of himself in front a full house of a Michelin-starred restaurant, and turns to the milky-white patrons, dresses them down for their own largesse, and says, “Say good night to the bad guy.” In that moment, De Palma’s film asks some interesting questions about capitalism and who benefits from it. I wish the film would have delved deeper into that theme as opposed to settling for being a “wonderful portrait of a real louse.”

That being said, I cannot disagree with Roger Ebert’s assessment, even though it seems that many who have seen (and will see) Scarface will find what I would consider a strange and abiding love for that louse. Regardless of whether one is repulsed or invigorated by the film (or, maybe like me, both), what Scarface eventually reveals to us is less about what happens to the people on screen, and more about how its massive cult following has responded to it. Depending on your perspective, I suppose the film can be seen as “just a movie,” or a reflection of our large-scale societal affection for those who are unapologetically bad. De Palma’s Scarface prefaced the era of the TV anti-hero (see The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Ozark, and so on) but followed on the heels of films like The Hustler and Bonnie and Clyde—movies about the disreputable and our attachment to them.

Scarface wasn’t so much new or groundbreaking, as much as it was the most pitched variation on that theme. It’s hard to imagine films like Natural Born Killers or Fight Club without De Palma’s still troubling “classic” gangster epic. A distinction that one may have trouble wrestling with depending on how they feel about those aforementioned films.

One thing is clear though: The audience for “the bad guy” is in no way ready to “say good night.” Not on film. Not in real life.

Posted by Geoff at 10:44 PM CDT
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Saturday, March 16, 2024

As mentioned here last month, Chicago's Music Box Theatre will feature a week-long "Cinema Morricone" series, which launches this Thursday evening, March 21, with Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars. The series then continues the following afternoon with a 2pm screening of De Palma's The Untouchables. A couple of days ago, the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips previewed the upcoming film series:
Somewhere between 400 and 500. That’s a lot of film scores for one composer in one lifetime to write, and orchestrate, and store in the memory banks of millions of listeners worldwide.

The Italian maestro Ennio Morricone (1928-2020) hardly needed more than a handful of those scores for him to gain entrance to the realm of screen theme immortals. The howling-coyote signature melody for director Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and Ugly,” parodied to death for nearly 60 years now, would’ve been golden ticket enough.

But what if he had stopped there? Unthinkable! Decades and hundreds more movies, diminished. We wouldn’t have Morricone’s indelible evocations of nostalgia, and loss, and hope, in “Days of Heaven” or “Cinema Paradiso” or “The Mission.”

We wouldn’t have the rest of his collaborations with Leone, including “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Or – maybe my favorite, though I’ll change my mind by tomorrow – Morricone’s rousing sonic portrait of 1930 Chicago for Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables.” The film itself may be factually ridiculous because it cares not about sticking to the historical record. Welcome to the movies! The score creates an aura of myth, from the first notes of the threatening marvel under the opening credits.

This Thursday the Music Box Theatre launches “Cinema Morricone,” sponsored by MUBI. It’s a weeklong, 17-film festival of movies, famous as well as obscure, celebrating the sheer scope and earworm mastery of this composer.

With one foot in the avant-garde and the other in mainstream classicism with a huge dash of pop, Morricone embraced the film medium’s innate capacity for violence (John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” screening March 22 and 27). Also its ability to break, heal and warm hearts on screen and in the audience (Giuseppe Tornatore’s achingly nostalgic “Cinema Paradiso,” March 24 and 25).

The Leone/Clint Eastwood/Morricone “ Man With No Name” trilogy takes its rightful place in the festival, along with “The Untouchables,” and some less venerated titles from the windmills of your mind. “Red Sonja,” for example (March 26-27), the Sandahl Bergman/Arnold Schwarzenegger ode to sword, sorcery and cheese. These are just a few of the titles, and “Cinema Morricone” concludes March 28 with the documentary portrait “Ennio,” directed by his friend, collaborator and “Cinema Paradiso” director Giuseppe Tornatore.

How did one man write so much so memorably, showcasing a pan flute here, an ocarina there, operatic sopranos and harmonicas and whistling (so much whistling!) everywhere? To further my musical smarts a little beyond the level of “it’s cool, therefore I like it,” I talked to Columbia College Chicago’s Kubilay Uner. He directs CCC’s Music Composition for the Screen Master of Fine Arts program. Uner also has composed for movies (“Force of Nature”), theme park rides (Corkscrew Hill at Busch Gardens) and video art installations (he’s in the permanent collection at Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

A few questions into that interview with Uner, Phillips brings The Untouchables into the dicussion:
Q: Here’s a quote from “Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words,” conversations with Alessandro De Rosa, where he’s talking about music’s main function in relation to what’s on the screen. He quotes his friend Gillo Pontecorvo: “My friend used to say that behind every story cinema tells, there is a real story, one that really counts … music must find a way to bring out the value of that hidden story and highlight it.” That’s a really intriguing description of a film composer’s role, don’t you think?
A: I think all film composers can relate to that. There’s something fundamentally useless, most of the time, if you’re just duplicating with music what the film is already doing. Now, there are exceptions. Sometimes you want everybody (executing) the same moves for maximum impact, so the visuals, the storyline, the acting, the editing and the music all push one thing. That’s great for a high-intensity fight scene. But a lot of the time, and what Morricone’s so smart about, is what he’s describing in that quote, which is more prosaically called the subtext. There, the question for the composer becomes: What’s actually happening in the scene? It’s an essential description of what film music is supposed to do. Q: Morricone started as an arranger, and got his first on-screen composing credit for “The Fascist” in 1961. His output is staggering, across six different decades. Do you think he ever felt burned out, or that he’d sold out? A: I don’t think so. I don’t think you can write close to 500 scores with themes of his quality without believing in them. Even in his most accessible film scores, he’s pushing boundaries somewhere, with interesting chord progressions you just don’t hear in other movies.

Q: Until a decade or two ago I didn’t realize Morricone, and other film composers, often composed and sometimes recorded music before a film was actually shot. De Palma, in one interview, talks about “The Untouchables” (March 22 and 26), which is a score I love. Morricone read the script and met up with De Palma in New York for a few days and talked, and Morricone wrote several versions of four main themes for the picture on that trip. That kind of impressionistic film scoring versus scoring specifically to the director’s images —

A: — It does lead to a different result, obviously. I’m extrapolating, but I wonder if it aids in creating a kind of parallel story, the story underneath the story, that Morricone mentioned in that quote from the book. It’s not a super rare approach; some of the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Oscar winners for “The Social Network” and Pixar’s “Soul”) I think was written that way. There was some criticism leveled at them from those who believe that isn’t really scoring in the purest sense. But think about the very beginning of music and movies: It was some dude sitting at a piano with a book of classical themes in the public domain, themes sorted by emotion or whatever. Love scene? Boom! Something by Brahms! Chase scene? Boom! Wagner! That’s how it all started, in a way.

Posted by Geoff at 11:31 PM CDT
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Friday, March 15, 2024

"Less well-known but still crucial among these names is the cult horror director Brian De Palma," states Richard Chachowski in his introduction to his Wealth of Geeks slideshow ranking his top 15 De Palma films. "One of the unsung heroes of ‘70s and ‘80s film, De Palma served as the closest thing New Hollywood had to Alfred Hitchcock’s successor. Through his odd and audacious movies, De Palma crafted a new kind of horror movie that merged psychological suspense with plot twists and more visceral imagery."

This is a slideshow worth viewing, as Chachowski's writing about the films throughout is much better than the average click-bait slideshow, and he does seem to be familiar with De Palma's work. Check it out.

Posted by Geoff at 7:18 PM CDT
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Friday, March 8, 2024

In today's weekly Fangoria email sent out to email subscribers, Fangoria's editor-in-chief Phil Nobile Jr. shares his anticipation for the upcoming Phantom Of The Paradise screening event at the Overlook Film Festival:
Anyway, it’s incredibly fun to come up with an evening’s entertainment for my comrades in kino, and those fleeting moments have fueled a low-key jealousy of the friends and acquaintances I have who get to do it full time (-ish). So you can imagine my elation when a phone call I made to Landon Zackheim, co-founder of the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, during which I pitched him a special screening for the 50th anniversary of The Phantom of the Paradise, was received so well.

I’m a pragmatic sort, so I pitched a scalable event, with removable parts and contingency plans, in the hopes that if we got a “no” on one front, we’d get a “yes” elsewhere, and end up with SOME version of this event for the fest. But yesterday The Overlook announced their lineup to the world, and I’m excited to say the Phantom event is the ultimate version Landon and I dreamed of.

First off, there’ll be an entertaining, informative and often hilarious presentation on the history, trials, tribulations, and persistence of Brian De Palma’s 1974 glam rock horror musical, given by Ari Kahan of The Swan Archives; next, a screening of the classic film itself, giving some Overlook audience members their first-ever chance to see the movie on the big screen (at the beautiful, historic Prytania Theatre, no less); and finally, an in-person conversation with the great Paul Williams, Phantom’s villainous star and composer. I kind of can’t believe it’s actually happening.

And to be clear: I did NONE of the work. I had an idea of how *I* would love to see the film presented, pitched it, connected a person or two to the fest, and Landon and his team made it happen. (Then, no less crucially, Fango agreed to sponsor it.) And my understanding is that Phantom is a film that the Overlook’s late artistic director Doug Jones had been hoping to screen at the fest for some time, so I humbly recognize that I’m just a small part of the universe’s larger plan here. But the excitement in Landon’s voice upon hearing my pitch, and the incrementally growing excitement in his voice with each new update — man, that’s a buzz I could get used to. And it’s a buzz I’ll be riding right up to the moment this screening ends… and let’s be honest, probably for a couple weeks afterward.

This screening will likely be the culmination of my 40-plus-year relationship with this movie, sure, NBD, but at its core it’s just a bigger version of showing people you like a movie you love, which is an attainable and relatable buzz for all of us. I think that tradition has been diminished in recent years as we text and DM each other links all day, and maybe fewer folks are sitting down to actually watch the thing you’re recommending (I know firsthand that folks will do anything to NOT leave the platform on which you’re sharing an external link with them). But it does still happen; Shudder and Screambox are basically platform-sized versions of this, with passionate movie lovers finding and sharing with us films they absolutely love. Certainly Joe Bob Briggs is the role model for this activity, championing lost classics on his show and converting his congregation to one new-to-them title or another every episode.

I bet the film fest programmers, the streaming programmers and Mr. Briggs alike would agree that curating films for our tribe is, on any level, a buzz worth chasing on both sides of the transaction. It’s probably tied to our innate desire to share and tell stories; maybe that’s what that dopamine hit I’m feeling right now is about. But, and not to put too much pressure on the next Blu-ray you loan out, it’s also ultimately how the movies we love gain immortality. It’s important and it’s needed. So fire up those recs, those links, those discs, get out there and spread the good word.

Posted by Geoff at 11:46 PM CST
Updated: Friday, March 8, 2024 11:58 PM CST
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Thursday, March 7, 2024

Cláudio Alves at The Film Experience looks at the career work of production designer Jack Fisk, with sets of images from several of the films that Fisk has worked on over the years. These include Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise and Carrie, as well as films directed by Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, David Lynch, and Paul Thomas Anderson, among others:
Born in Canton and raised in Ipava, Illinois, Jack Fisk didn't study cinema or any performing arts, for that matter. His background was in painting, having gone to the Cooper Union and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. There, he started to explore the medium of sculpture, free to experiment with large-scale work that, in his own words, looked better when you were walking around them. In other words, he was building environments rather than a piece to be observed from a static distance. He attended college with childhood friend David Lynch, whose acceptance to the AFI prompted the pair to go West, to California. There, Fisk found work on movie sets, like a non-union gig managing traffic for a shoot.

Inevitably, he found his place in the art departments of small productions, such as the Jonathan Demme and Roger Corman-produced Angel Warriors. In that project, he worked alone and learned the necessities of set dressing, which, until then, hadn't crossed his mind. Still, cinema was a job to Frisk until one production opened his eyes to its possibility as an art form. It was Badlands, and Fisk got his job after knowing of Terrence Malick through Lynch – their time at AFI overlapped – and feeling curious about the film's premise. Mostly, the art director wanted to try his hand at a period piece, even if it was set in the not-so-distant past of 1958. Learning to work with this new director was a wild experience, a repudiation of mechanical filmmaking practices and a love for artistic freedom.

Take the treehouse inhabited by the runaway lovers. There was no such thing in the script, but Fisk suggested it to Malick, took a day to build it, and they were shooting there by the next sunrise. With no storyboards and such fluidity, he became more aware of the world-creating magic of production design, intuitively relating spaces to each other to generate ideas, blending actual location with scenography to invoke a seamless feeling of immersion. Moreover, the director's methodology often involved creating something even more expansive than what ended up on the screen, being ready for any eventuality, the camera's will.

Fisk has described Malick as a brother, but it was also on the set of Badlands that he met his wife, Sissy Spacek. Less than a year after the film saw the light of day, they were married, and she soon started working as a set dresser between acting jobs. Spacek's first art department credit came in 1974 when Fisk got a job designing the theatrical lunacy of Phantom of Paradise. It was the first of the couple's two collaborations with Brian De Palma since the thespian managed to win the role of Carrie White, and Fisk also designed the 1976 Stephen King adaptation. Far from the only genre pictures he made during this time, such projects proved that this artist could thrive beyond realism.

But between horror and blaxploitation, indie nightmares and musical fantasy, Fisk's "brothers" pulled him into their own worlds at the height of New Hollywood. For Lynch, he was Eraserhead's The Man in the Planet, and for Malick, he was the man in charge of bringing to life Days of Heaven's farmland poem. Inspired by historical photographs and the director's idea of a three-story Victorian house lost in the middle of a wheat field. In his most lavish production up to that point, Fisk found himself working the land like the characters, seeing that engaging with the picture's reality helped him as a designer. His achievement is also a treatise on the power of emptiness in the cinematic frame and the lyricism of light.

Posted by Geoff at 11:20 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2024 11:21 PM CST
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Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Paul Williams will be there in person for "a very special screening" of Phantom Of The Paradise on April 7 at the 2024 Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans. The screening is presented by The Swan Archives and Fangoria. In the Fangoria announcement, Scott Wampler writes:
The Overlook Film Festival is one of the country's best genre fests, an annual party that combines some of the most exciting new horror films, rep titles and special guests with wholly unique immersive experiences that you simply won't get anywhere else. Today, the fest has announced this year's full lineup, and ... phew, they've really outdone themselves this time! The 2024 Overlook Film Festival lineup is possibly the best it's ever been.

A special point of pride for us this year: FANGORIA is presenting a 50th-anniversary screening of Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise, with none other than Paul Williams in attendance, as well as a special lecture about the film's history by Swan Archives' Ari Kahan. We couldn't be more excited to be bringing this special event to the Overlook.

The Overlook Film Festival runs April 4 - April 7.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2024 12:10 AM CST
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