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Wednesday, September 19, 2012
At Cinema Viewfinder:

"This sets the stage for Passion's impressive climactic sequence, driven by Donaggio's score in much the same way the dreamy epilogues for Carrie and Dressed to Kill owed something to the composer's creepy scoring in those picture. De Palma, a formalist more attuned to the visually technical and emotional than to the plot-driven or intellectual, fashions a tag for the story that many may find outrageous and nonsensical given the leaps in logic required. But it demonstrates the confidence th[at] this reinvigorated director has in his abilities—and Donaggio's—to sweep the viewer up in Passion's phantasmagoric conclusion. Brian De Palma is back."

Posted by Geoff at 1:06 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 4:36 PM CDT
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"He’s beyond any convention of classical narrative filmmaking," states Peter Labuza in his review of Brian De Palma's Passion, which he calls "hypnotic." Labuza states that this is De Palma doing what he does best, and that the director is "beyond any convention of classical narrative filmmaking (though one might have to ask when he ever was) and engrosses you with his ecstatic vision."

According to Labuza, Passion parallels De Palma's Redacted from the start, "as Rachael McAdams and Noomi Rapace stare at a screen. They are master and servant in the world of corporate advertising, a sexual ferocity always willing to bubble over into soft-core pornography with every line of dialogue (plus a phallic bottle of liquor sitting right in front of them). Christine (McAdams) and Isabelle (Rapace) are working on a campaign for a smart phone, and during the middle of the night (as Christine indulges in some kinky mask and blindfold sex), Isabelle comes up with the idea for a campaign that involves an 'ass cam' joke in which her assistant Dani (Karoline Herfurth, a redhead with a fire both on the outside and inside) walks around in tight jeans and the camera exposes those who stare. It’s one of the great De Palma jokes in the film, but also the most essential: the camera exposes true desire and want, and as we laugh, we also realize that the image being presented only though cameras shows what men (and women) truly think.

"Such a relationship to the exposure of reality is essential, because so much of Passion is about the deception of real life performance. Christine and Isabelle duel and spar around promotions, boyfriends (both are cheating, but it seems also on each other), and their own disdain for each other ('it’s not backstabbing' is a repeated quip). De Palma never gives us the inner exposure of his two women, they play around with clothes and make up. Isabelle always dresses in pure black, and when Christine adds on red shoes and lipstick, it’s an intrusion onto the body. Meanwhile, Christine goes for the garish and big—Hitchcock reds and blues (a cross that could also double as a dagger dangling from her neck and three watches hanging on her wrist), and in one scene, she sits on her couch garmented in a golden satin robe and black lingerie, spread out like a queen, or at least demanding to be one.

"As Passion proceeds the frames become more expressive and more subjective, switching at one point to almost five minutes straight of subjective point of view shots. But again, what can we trust in the world of performance? De Palma flurries his camera through the action—push ins, zooms, and in the film’s central piece, a brilliant split screen use that only reveals its true revelations at the end as it plays with again our vision of watching. And while he leads us down one road—the cinematic frames suggest one answer, the truth once again lies in the recorded image. Like The Black Dahlia, the most real thing on screen is that which we see though screens."

Posted by Geoff at 12:06 AM CDT
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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Posted by Geoff at 7:28 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 11:16 PM CDT
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Looks like Passion production designer Cornelia Ott was also at the Venice Film Festival. Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten posted a brief interview with Ott last week-- here is the main excerpt in English:

[Cornelia Ott] read the script, created visualizations, and communicated via Skype almost daily with the director. Brian De Palma had prepared his own storyboards... Based on these Cornelia Ott scouted locations: more than 30 found in Berlin, where the thriller is set. The locations were then transformed with set-components, such as specially designed and crafted furniture in Studio Babelsberg, says Ott. Thus the Schöneberg Town Hall became the London office of an advertising agency, and the lobby and foyer of the Bode Museum was where a reception was filmed. De Palma is not just about depicting external realities, says Ott. His films are complex and stylized. The film goes from reality to dream sequences and surreal scenes, which are reflected in the design of the sets. It took great effort to create a key sequence in the film, in which a murder occurs: For this Ott had to import a stage set in the Renaissance Theater, to film the dancers performing the ballet "Afternoon of a Faun".

Posted by Geoff at 1:38 AM CDT
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Monday, September 17, 2012
Fiction Factory in Germany announced today that it has just finished production on a series of filmed interviews for the upcoming French DVD and Blu-Ray releases of Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill and Blow Out. Releasing on November 21, the sets from Paris-based Carlotta Films will include interviews with Vilmos Zsigmond (on Blow Out), Angie Dickinson (on Dressed To Kill), Keith Gordon (on Dressed To Kill), Nancy Allen (on both films), and George Litto (on both films). The link above includes captures from each of the interviews.

Posted by Geoff at 7:32 PM CDT
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There are many many reviews and interviews left to get to, but here's a handful of interesting reviews of Passion.

Dread Central's Serena Whitney writes, "Passion is an impressive film that makes no concessions to the audience. The film's intricate, dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream structure and abstract style, which combines gaudy surrealism with often satirical moments of eroticism, requires a level of audience devotion from De Palma enthusiasts that few contemporary directors are bold enough to demand." Whitney stresses that "De Palma has clearly made this film more for the enjoyment of female viewers," and echoes The Swan Archives' Principal Archivist in stating that the film's trailer is misleading.

The Principal Archivist tells us that Raising Cain is probably the closest antecedent to Passion, with all of the "is she dreaming, or merely tired and disoriented or crazy" sequences in the new movie. He also says the Pino Donaggio score "seemed to me to be purposely parodying [Bernard] Herrmann's score for Sisters." The Archivist says that De Palma has "kept the best of the Corneau film (several of its most effective scenes are reused almost shot for shot), but rightly created some doubt in the audience's mind about who the murderer is, by providing other characters with solid motivations and by shooting the killing from the POV of the killer, and injecting some ambiguity about whether the alibi is dreamed."

Mountain Express' Justin Souther calls himself a De Palma fan, yet seems to find Passion somewhat of a guilty pleasure: "I want to preface my thoughts on Passion by saying that this is in no way a good film if judged by any normal critical standards. But as overheated, glorious trash, it’s De Palma at his finest, all bloody murder, lesbianism, and intrigue. I had a friend describe the film as De Palma playing the hits, which is approximately what it is -- there’s some (really excellent) split screen work, a little deep focus, and even a few 'it was all a dream' moments. But damn, if it’s not fun. You have to know what to expect going into a De Palma film, and if you’re open to his nonsense, you’re likely to have a good time. I saw it in a half-full press and industry screening, and about a third of the audience broke out into applause once the credits started rolling. It was kind of amazing -- especially since P&I screenings are notoriously bad audiences who are there to work, not enjoy some movies. I overheard a couple after the film discussing the film, and attempting to dissect it and analyze it, and it took everything in my power to not pull them aside and explain to them that it’s De Palma, and that’s all that matters. The film is a lot like De Palma walking through the audience giving everyone the finger, and a chunk of us really getting a kick out of that. Because a lot of us De Palma fans wouldn’t have it any other way."

Movies.com's Monika Bartyzel says Passion is fun, but not really a modern women's film. Her review opens with this: "The beginning of Brian De Palma's Passion plays out like the entry point in a professional battle. Rachel McAdams' Christine and Noomi Rapace's Isabelle look at a computer screen, frustrated over the misfires in their latest ad campaign. They talk shop, they drink, and just the slightest hint of competition breaks through the interplay as Isabelle briefly sits alone on Christine's posh couch – arms spread, palms down on the soft cushion like a plebeian sneaking a moment on the royal throne. There's a whiff of sexuality in the air and a playful melody suggesting a classic professional battle set on modern women's terms. But that would be sane, and Passion isn't about sanity. It's a mind-boggling feature of illogicality playing in the confines of De Palma's distinctive eye."

Posted by Geoff at 1:44 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 17, 2012 1:45 AM CDT
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Sunday, September 16, 2012

In the video interview above from the Toronto Film Festival, Beyond Cinema's Elliot V. Kotek asks Brian De Palma about the differences between audiences in Venice and Toronto. De Palma replies that the audience for Passion in Venice "was very focused, very much caught up with the film, but I think they were a little tense, so they didn't, sort of, laugh with it, because it's a lot of fun, this movie. You know, there's really outrageous behavior by the girls, and the Toronto audience got it, and there are many very funny lines in it."

Kotek then asks if De Palma enjoys the debates that come from audiences anticipating the kind of film he is going to make. "Well, debates? I don't know if there is much of a debate. They sort of fall on either side of feeling that... they reject the whole concept, basically. And then there are people that sort of watch the film and see the kind of visual things I'm doing. They get entranced by it. So it's always been a divide. There was an article in the New York Times, I think, on my last film, you know, "You mention a De Palma film, and then the fights begin."

Kotek responds: "Do you think that's also characteristic of the fact that you've chosen not to define yourself in any specific genre? I mean, between Redacted and Black Dahlia and this, it's like you're continuing to explore film generally, and other people kind of want to know exactly what they're getting into."

De Palma: "Well, there's always a problem when you're experimenting with new forms. The first reaction is, "What is this? He makes these kind of films. I don't understand this at all." And there are so many catch phrases in relationship to the way I'm defined. "Hitchcockian," "magpie," a series of violence, "misogynist"-- I mean they've been quoted at me for decades, and then, like they never really look at the movie anymore. They sort of quote what's in the press booklet."

Kotek: "Are there any attributes that have been thrown at you that you like? That you embrace?"

De Palma: "Well, I do have my supporters, and they do see the way that I visually explore the subjects. They see the beauty and the poetry in my movies. And they are taken up by the emotion, and the kind of operatic feel to many of the sequences."

Kotek asks De Palma if he intentionally made Passion less explicit than the average erotic thriller. "I think this is a movie with women, by women, and for women. And over the years, having made many thrillers and other types of gangster movies, women don't like explicit sex scenes or explicit violence scenes. They get turned off, they look away from the screen, and this is really not necessary. Needless to say, we had the footage. The girls were not afraid to do anything with each other. But I felt that it wasn't really necessary."

After a brief discussion about Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams, Kotek asks De Palma how Passion came about as a German-French co-production. "Well, each film is financed differently, whether it's a studio, or some kind of European cofinancing. The studios are financed by European entities. So this film, because a lot of the financing came out of Germany, we would have to shoot the interiors in Germany. But when I discovered Berlin (and the movie was originally set in London), I said to myself, 'Why don't we shoot this in Berlin? This is an international corporation. It can be in any kind of big European city, and Berlin is fascinating. It has these great locations. Let's do the whole movie there."

Kotek: "So, does that effect the story?"

De Palma: "Not really. It's rather secondhand for me. I'm an American director living in Paris, making a film in Germany, and everybody's speaking a different language. When we want to talk together, we all speak English. I kind of like it because I get distracted by conversations that I can hear, off camera. So when I'm on the set and they're speaking Spanish or German or French, I don't understand what they're saying, and it's fine for me, because I can concentrate on what I'm doing."

Kotek also asks De Palma if there is a film of his own that he would ever remake. De Palma replies that he is 72 years old, so a remake of one of his own films (directed by him) is not likely in his future. He also talks about being at the Toronto Film Festival every year for his birthday, and how it was nice this year to have a crowd sing "Happy Birthday" before a screening of Passion.

Posted by Geoff at 9:19 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, September 16, 2012 9:20 AM CDT
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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Posted by Geoff at 4:17 PM CDT
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Friday, September 14, 2012

The photo of Brian De Palma above was taken by Tyler Anderson for the National Post, for which John Semley interviewed De Palma. Semley describes part of the opening scene of the film: "Passion opens on McAdams and Rapace peering into a computer marked by the familiar Apple computers emblem. Then, a different, equally recognizable brand materializes on screen: 'Written and Directed by Brian De Palma.' This is what De Palma is selling. Not MacBooks or Nespresso or Audis or Coca-Cola, though all those trademarks crop up in Passion. He’s selling himself — he’s selling the idea of a 'Brian De Palma movie.'”

"I’ve freelanced all my life,” De Palma told Semley. “I never had a safe office to go to. No insurance waiting for me. I started making independent pictures, scrapping together money. Here, at the end, it’s kind of the same thing.”

The discussion turned to the frequent criticism that De Palma rips off from Hitchcock:


“First, they’re not looking at the movie,” De Palma says of his critics. “They’re more listening to it. You get these literary evaluations. Movies are essentially a visual medium, and the directors who practise that, I think, get misunderstood. Painters, writers, every other art form has always emulated the masters of the past in order to define a style of their own. But suddenly in cinema it’s like, ‘Oh, you stole something!’”

Semley writes that "De Palma is aware of his own critical recuperation, if a little confused by it." He then quotes De Palma: "I think I’m making a movie that everyone’s going to have a lot of fun with. And then I’m told it’s only for the De Palma fans who are going to see it at three o’clock in the morning."

Metro World News' Ned Ehrbar interviewed De Palma in Toronto, and got some very energetic responses:


Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace both get the chance to really hit the crazy button.

That’s right. I mean, it’s like with Rachel — that phone call. When she gets the phone call about the guy who cancels the date, she heaved the phone [across the room]. I forget which take that was. (laughs) Wow! Unbelievable. And then she picks up the phone and figures out whatever she’s going to do next. She calls up an old lover and, “You want to come over?”

There is a lot of fluid female sexuality in this movie.

I just let the girls go with the scene and just sat back to see what would happen. The way that Dani [played by Karoline Herfurth] offered herself to Isabelle [played by Rapace] — “Kiss me!” — and then starts to undress her! (laughs) All the girls, all their intimate stuff, was all improvised. They just play it. They play it like they would play it if… They make it as real as possible. If something’s not working, we try something else, but they were all fantastic, and it was just fascinating to watch them.

Rachel McAdams’ character feels a lot like a grownup version of her character from “Mean Girls.” Had you seen that film already?

Of course. Oh, I knew Rachel could play it. I’d seen her play it before. Playing a dark, manipulative lady is a hell of a lot of fun, and she had a lot of fun doing it.

You use a split-screen during pivotal scene in the film. How have the reactions been to that?

It seems to work. Everybody seems to talk about it a lot. It’s not like I just have a paint box of things I want to stick in my movies. I look at the scene, and I think what’s the best way to shoot this? Also, I’ve never done a murder where you have a split-screen and you have these two fantastically beautiful women on each side, and then suddenly a knife slashes somebody’s throat and you see somebody with a mask splattered with blood. I’d never done it before.

Have you heard anything from the makers of viral video you recreated in the film?

I haven’t heard anything. But yes, I saw it on the Internet and I basically copied it for the movie. It went viral, everybody thought it was real, but in reality it was two advertising executives [in Australia].

You didn’t have to reach out to them about using the idea?

No. I think advertising copies everything, basically. I don’t think they get worried about being copied themselves.

What’s you take on festival audiences?

Oh, a festival audience is the best audience in the world, especially for a director like myself. There will be De Palma fanatics out there in the audience, so it’s not like you’re in front of a hostile audience. They’re the kind of people that love your movies and want to see what you’re doing. And Toronto especially has very enthusiastic audiences. Needless to say, I’ve brought so many movies here to the festival and seen the audiences’ reactions.

What do you like to see yourself at film festivals?

I go to see the obscure movies that will never get into Manhattan. I do it mostly by reading the descriptions, looking at the trailers, maybe getting some information or insights from some of my friends, and I just keep going and watching as much as I can.

Entertainment Weekly's Solvej Schou separately interviewed McAdams (by phone) and De Palma (at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel) in Toronto. "I was intimidated by Brian at first,” McAdams told Schou by phone. “People have certain kinds of movies, and I thought he would be a certain way, but he wasn’t. Brian watched everything Noomi and I did. I think he does that with everyone. He’s really interested in his actors. He obviously loves film." McAdams also delved into her character: "Playing Christine was a challenge. She’s kind of wickedly delicious, but not too too much. Those characters can be more fun than the ingénue, the leading lady, where there’s the expectation of having the audience like you. I saw the film not too long ago, and I found the sexuality quite restrained, even for Brian De Palma. I found it more about possession, and not about wanting to have sex with each other, and be physical, but wanting to possess the other. I think he’s dealing a lot with vanity, and narcissism. You want the other person to reflect what you want to be. I felt like the only person I could do this with was Noomi. It certainly made it easier. I was nervous!”

De Palma revealed to Schou that the director friend who suggested he take a look at Rapace was Steven Shainberg, who had been considering Rapace for his film The Big Shoe. "He gave me all her Swedish DVDs, and I started to look at them," De Palma told Schou. "There’s some really wild stuff in there. He said, 'This is a really bright girl, and you should talk to her.'"

De Palma also discussed how the two lead actresses brought their own game to his film set. "They came with their own dynamic. They worked together on Sherlock Holmes 2, they knew each other extremely well, and they had this thing between them, that you could see them kind of vying, and they just brought it right into the characters. When we went into rehearsal, I had to watch what they were doing, and they did all kinds of things that surprised me."

When asked by Schou if he has high hopes for Passion, De Palma replied, "Yeah, because I think it’s very commercial. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a good mystery, the girls are terrific. I haven’t done a movie like this in a while. Raising Cain was very successful. We made it for about $10 million. The budget on Passion was $25 million. I made more money on Raising Cain than I made on Mission: Impossible. I think Passion is going to be very successful because it’s fun. I saw it with the Venice audience. You know when they’re watching a movie, this [mimes typing on a cell phone] did not go on. I only saw one cell phone light go on. It was always the same person, who was obviously texting."

When De Palma explained that he wanted Jose Luis Alcaine for Passion because "he knows how to photograph women," Schou asked De Palma if beauty can sometimes overpower nuance. "Are you kidding?" said De Palma. "In contemporary cinema?? I was looking at Rust and Bone, and there’s this gorgeous woman, Marion Cotillard, in a dark corner, and maybe you see the edge of her nose, with no makeup. I made a movie about a stylish business world, and I want the women to look good! … Rachel looks magnificent, and Noomi is the black pariah, she’s always in black, with these bangs."

And in this passage, De Palma discusses his view that by the time they reach 60 years of age, most film directors have already done their best work:


You said something recently, about filmmakers growing older having their best films behind them. What about Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood, directors making movies later? You’re in your 70s. Why can’t there be a Georgia O’ Keefe situation, someone making grand art, a grand movie later in life?

I’m just recording what I know from what I read, and studying directors’ careers. Most directors did their best movies in their 40s and 50s. It’s a debilitating profession. It’s got all kinds of ways to screw you over. Being able to hold the power, doing what you have to do, is incredibly difficult, and you’re lucky if you knock off a few masterworks in that period. You bring up Woody Allen. Is anything better than [1979’s] Manhattan? I don’t think so. With Clint Eastwood, he’s never made a movie better than [1992’s] Unforgiven. That’s the reality. … Especially when you’re being reviewed in your own time frame, they’ll say, “It’s never better than [1980's] Dressed To Kill or Carrie.”

What do you consider your own peak, the best of who YOU are?

That’s really hard to say, the best of who I am. Most of the movies you thought you gave your heart and soul to were badly reviewed when they came out. You do take the arrows and slings of misfortune, and it affects your ability to make movies.

Posted by Geoff at 8:02 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, September 15, 2012 10:19 AM CDT
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According to the tweet above, Indiewire's Eric Kohn attended a screening of Kim Ki-duk's Pieta this morning at the Toronto Film Festival. Kohn also posted his review of De Palma's Passion today, stating that the film "simultaneously parodies its plot while elevating it to a strangely involving exercise in cinematic drama." Kohn's headline states that Passion will please Brian De Palma fans, "and no one else." Here is a paragraph:

"As the friction between the two women builds, Passion develops the aura of a sultry noir replete with increasingly depraved acts driven by furious envy and ego. With the motives of both characters continually ambiguous, the sleek melodrama takes prominence over plot specifics. De Palma's screenplay is less insightful than the hyperbolic mood pushing it along: Cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, best known for filming numerous Pedro Almodovar movies, draws out the absurd soapiness of the scenario with brightly lit scenes seemingly lifted from a fashion commercial not unlike the material produced by Christine's firm. The movie inhabits the same artificiality it critiques."

Posted by Geoff at 6:55 PM CDT
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