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Domino is
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Wednesday, May 7, 2014
The new movie Stage Fright is not a remake of the old Alfred Hitchcock classic, but a slasher-musical starring Meat Loaf and Minnie Driver. It was directed by Jerome Sable, who co-wrote the music with Eli Batalion. In a dual interview with Den Of Geek's David Crow, Sable mentions, among other things, a couple of Brian De Palma films that helped inspire Stage Fright, which is currently available on VOD. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

GEEK: Speaking of Rocky Horror though, what were the musicals and, for that matter, slasher movies that influenced both of you and then which ones influenced this movie?

EB: It’s interesting, because we love musicals, but we don’t necessarily love all musicals. I wouldn’t describe us as Broadway fanboys. Actually, there’s probably a lot of stuff on Broadway that we violently detest. [Laughs] But there’s a bunch of stuff. Our musical influences, going to more traditional music, certainly Kander and Ebb, some Gilbert and Sullivan as well. We were just talking a little earlier about Lionel Bart.

JS: The guy who wrote Oliver! There’s influences there not only in terms of the music, but also in terms of the directing Carol Reed. Just the kids in the lunchroom at the beginning in the orphanage if you’ve seen that version of Oliver! And of course, there’s then the rock influences.

EB: Which I say is less Rocky Horror—we’re influenced by Rocky Horror in terms of it setting the precedent, but in terms of the specific rock sound, I think that’s more along the lines of AC/DC, Black Sabbath, some Led Zeppelin, some of the vocal stylings of Axl Rose. That’s the stuff we listened to in high school, so it was an interesting combination of combining that stuff with stuff we had accumulated as enjoyers of music since our teens, and to then throw them together in one film.

GEEK: I felt the whole thing had a very obvious nostalgia for the 1980s. The slasher elements were very Friday the 13th and also Carrie—though that’s the ‘70s—but also the musical that it was most parodying was Phantom of the Opera. I bring that up to ask do you have a love/hate relationship with some of this genre? Because you say Led Zeppelin, and I hear Van Halen in “Metal Killer.” People who listen to Van Halen probably did not like Andrew Lloyd Webber in the 1980s.

JS: Yeah, it is love/hate. It’s like our love letter and it’s also like hate mail. So, it’s our love/hate mail to musical theatre. But here’s the thing, Andrew Lloyd Webber does <>Jesus Christ Superstar, which in itself was more of a rock musical. And then he chose to do his version of Phantom, which is intentionally, and I think he would admit this, high on the cheese factor, high on the romance. He just wanted to take what essentially is a slasher story, because it’s about this guy who offs people in a theatre one-by-one, and takes a slasher and says, “Let me do a slasher completely dripping with romance!” And oozing with this sort of red rose [imagery]. And I think he’d admit that’s exactly what he did. I think on their first draft of the music and lyrics, he thought it was just too haunting or serious. He’s like “let’s just make it more romantic.” Sure Andrew, we can do that.

So, he’s done that, and then we said, “Okay. What about dialing it the other way and making it just more brutal, but also with a sort poking-jabbing at the belly of the beast.” Because of course, it’s such an iconic—when I was young, my mother took us to see Phantom, and the chandelier fell, and it was a hugely impressionable moment. “Oh shit!” [Laughs] So, it makes an impact whether you love it or hate it, it’s a huge part of our culture, which is his take of that story. And by the way, in prepping for this movie, we went back and watched the original movie, the 1925 Phantom of the Opera, and also Brian De Palma’s take, Phantom of the Paradise, which people may not remember [precedes] Andrew Lloyd Webber’s take on the Gaston Leroux story.

EB: I guess a lot of people have done that story.

JS: Yeah, even Dario Argento did one. Even Freddy Kruger himself, the actor Robert Englund, was in a weird version of Phantom of the Opera.

GEEK: To transition a little to the slasher movies, which slasher movies really influenced this? For example, I think you used a lot of in-camera effects for the gore.

JS: Yeah, to your point about there being a lot of nostalgia for the ‘80s and the late ‘70s, yes, there is. I just think those are awesome movies and to name a few others like Black Christmas from ’74, and of course Halloween from John Carpenter, as well as Nightmare on Elm Street, Carrie, Texas Chainsaw, and also Hellraiser. But even the Dario Argento movies, the Giallo, movies like Opera and Susperia; these movies that take place with the ballerinas and opera singers. It’s cool to mix high-class theatre and opera with low-class slashing.

GEEK: Was it hard to get them to sing or lip-synch with all the fake blood splattering around?

JS: They were really singing! We did all live-singing. That was another thing that was tricky to do in-camera singing and in-camera effects. Once we had our cast, they were so talented they could nail it over and over again, being of that theatre ilk and having those chops. But like you say, practical effects take time, and you can’t control splatter, as much as you would like to, so you’d just have to take your time and go again. There was stuff that could go wrong, and it was a complicated shoot, to say the least.

GEEK: Why did you approach it with live-singing as opposed to pre-recorded music?

JS: Same reason as the gore. The results that you get have a certain grit and texture, whether it’s live-singing or in-camera gore. We talk about the splatter. With CG blood splatter, the gravity just never quite looks or feels the same. And maybe you only perceive it on a subconscious level, but if something is fake, it might just feel fake. It is the same with singing. You may not know it, but you feel that you connect more to the character, because it was just what they did in that moment. That’s the result part of things. The other is when you’re on set, having the actors not only singing then and there, but also get splashed with something or see something, that just affects their whole emotional performance. It is throwback, but is also just better in general, I find, to do as much as you can in-camera. It just brings more out of the people then and there.

EB: When you have a canned musical like Singin’ in the Rain, and you can tell that they’re clearly not singing, as a viewer and an enjoyer that takes you out of the moment. It’s very distancing.

JS: Imagine this whole interview was lip-synched, and we weren’t saying what we’re saying.

EB: But we’re still saying these things, but it’s pre-recorded. That would be weird.



The Black Saint, HorrorNews.net
"As I watched Stage Fright I couldn’t help but notice a lot of similarity to De Palma’s Phantom Of The Paradise and I wonder if that wasn’t intentional either. A few times I recognized some shots seemingly lifted part & parcel from De Palma’s film. There’s also a nifty little Carrie (1976) homage (another film directed by De Palma) near the end of the film that made me wonder how much of a BDP fan Sable actually is."

Clayton Dillard, Slant Magazine
"If one didn't know any better, Stage Fright might appear to be some sort of explicit homage to Brian De Palma, loosely held together by post-Scream clichés. At least, the litany of references to De Palma's cinema would suggest as much: a roaming, tormented killer amid a musical production like William Finley from Phantom of the Paradise; a bucket of blood straight out of Carrie; and a power tool in desperate need of an outlet, à la Body Double. The similarities end here, however, as Jerome Sable's debut feature couldn't be further from De Palma's delirious cinematic essays on vision and genre. Instead, Sable operates under the most requisite notions of intertextuality, blankly referencing and parodying far better, more exuberant films less as a form of revision or reflexivity than to engage a pop nihilism that has characterized numerous Scream imitators over the last two decades."

Patrick Bromley, F This Movie
"Like so many up and coming horror filmmakers, Sable loves horror and gets a kick out of paying homage to the films that inspired him. Sometimes, it's a heavy-handed and obvious nod to Brian De Palma's Carrie; other times, it's a fun little throwaway reference to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The greatest influence on the film, however, is the Italian giallo film; from the mystery of the masked murderer to the over-the-top brutality of the kills, Stage Fright is steeped in the look and feel of that subgenre. Even the poster looks like an '80s giallo.

"Stage Fright feels distinguished from almost anything else in horror. The songs probably help, but so does the setting and the energy with which Sable stages everything. I can't wait to program my 24-hour horror marathon in October, because Stage Fright is definitely getting a spot. It's the perfect movie to break up the monotony of a marathon -- it's incredibly entertaining, very much its own movie and still delivers the goods when it comes to the horror (the gore is over the top in the best way). While Stage Fright is never going to be my favorite musical horror -- Phantom of the Paradise cannot be topped -- it definitely earns a spot near the top of the list. I smiled the whole way through and wanted to watch it again as soon as it ended. This movie is too much bloody fun."

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
"Playing like a very special slasher film-themed episode of Glee, Stage Fright mixes horror and Broadway –style show tunes to decidedly mixed results. While this sort of stylistic hybrid has worked in the past—The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise being two eminent examples—Jerome Sable’s directorial debut lacks both the anarchic wit and musical chops to make it anymore more than the sort of horror film curiosity best seen on late night cable television. Despite Meat Loaf’s hammily entertaining turn as the desperate owner of a musical theater summer camp, the film fails to live up to its obvious inspirations."

Ben Kenigsberg, New York Times
"The shoddy plotting — Did the mother’s murder go unsolved? Does the siblings’ adoptive father (Meat Loaf) run the camp single-handedly? — is just pretext for Brian De Palma-esque pastiche, including a killer who sings heavy metal. Give the movie some zip, a few memorable songs and a stronger third act, and (to paraphrase Mr. Sondheim) something good’s just out of reach.

Posted by Geoff at 10:19 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, May 12, 2014 10:11 PM CDT
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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Posted by Geoff at 12:48 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 12:50 AM CDT
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Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Wayward Cloud posted an interview last week with Adrian Martin and Cristina Álvarez López, in which the pair talk about their audiovisual essay, "De Palma's Vision," which readers will recall had the working title "Count It Out," as it was being prepared for the De Palma retrospective last month at the Metropolis Kino in Hamburg, Germany. ("De Palma's Vision" will be available to watch on MUBI Notebook later this month, sometime after the Cannes Film Festival.) In the interview, they discuss some specifics about "De Palma's Vision," and Martin mentions a series of writings called "The Moves" that he and Álvarez López are doing for Transit. An upcoming edition will focus on a single scene from De Palma, and another will analyze a scene from Samuel Fuller.

In the meantime, here are some excerpts from the interview, in which the pair share some of the things they discovered while working on the audiovisual essay, and in the process, looking very closely at De Palma's films. They also discuss, with a critical eye, their concept of the audiovisual essay. From Wayward Cloud:


Álvarez López: The original idea for the De Palma essay was to talk about things related to vision. It was just a broad concept; we didn’t know what exactly we wanted to say. We began to watch some movies and develop some ideas. These ideas mostly come through repetition and variation: certain scenes and motifs reappear in movie after movie. We began to put them together and then we asked ourselves: What are we trying to say by putting these scenes together? Our answers to this question can become part of the text that we are writing in parallel to our audiovisual exploration – maybe just a paragraph that does not find its way into the final text but that can spark off further ideas. It’s a constant intuitive and intellectual movement back and forth between the text and the films. In this process, we slowly arrive at the best way to arrange scenes and frames which, in the beginning, are only an accumulation of footage.

Martin: We are always trying to find the connection between two pieces of film (or rather, snippets of digital files!). We want to find the connecting line, and we want that connecting line to be clear to the person who eventually experiences the piece. We ask ourselves: in going from this scene to the next, is it perfectly clear what we are connecting? Is it a gesture, is it a situation, is it a composition? The challenge is to make this connection as clear as possible, so that it isn’t just a heterogeneous mess of things. If a certain scene doesn’t fit into this line of connections, it has to go – even if we love it.

Álvarez López: This happened, for instance, with a moment from Mission to Mars – I almost cried because we had to let it go. It’s the moment when they have a hole in the spaceship, but they cannot see where it is. They splash some Dr. Pepper and let it go. The astronauts on the inside see where it gets sucked up, and the one on the outside sees it freezing on the hull of the spaceship, and so he can fill up the hole. In some sense, this scene has to do with the idea of blind vision that we explore in the essay; the fluid can also be described as one of the instruments of vision that pop up in almost all of De Palma’s films. But the fragment of film in which the Dr. Pepper is used would have been very confusing in our essay sequence, because it is filmed in a way that the viewer may not recognise its connection with the theme of vision. It is a telling example, but also it’s too different from all the binoculars, glasses and telescopes that De Palma’s protagonists use as visual aids.

Martin: There are too many things going on in that scene, too many instruments and objects floating around for the viewer to know what to focus on and draw the connecting line to. This is something we reflect upon constantly while working on an audiovisual essay: that every single moment in a film is heterogeneous and has many levels – there are always a million things going on. It’s easy to get lost in the richness of certain moments in a film, but if you start to line up these complex and full moments in an essay, you will start to lose the clearness of connection between details that you want to establish. If you want to make a connection between a camera movement in Welles and one Ophüls, you will have to choose precise moments which won’t get the viewer thinking about the motives of the protagonists.


The Wayward Cloud: Taking your work on De Palma as an example, what were some of the things that you learned about him while working on the essay?

Álvarez López: There were a lot of surprising moments. You see and hear certain scenes so many times that you become aware of a lot of things which you didn’t notice before. You begin to see the details: props in a scene, how a camera movement really works, how complex and well executed the whole mise en scène is. Or, you get to understand the gesture of an actor. For example when we were working on our essay on Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Martha and James Foley’s Fear, we already knew beforehand what a great actress Margit Carstensen was. But to again and again see the way in which she turns around when the man (Karlheinz Böhm) tells her that he wants to marry her – well, we really saw for the first time how beautiful and complex this movement is. To constantly repeat and manipulate a scene gives you a different knowledge about it.

Martin: I want to give a really concrete example from the De Palma essay. Everyone who has seen some of his movies knows that there are lot of instruments of vision in them: telescopes, binoculars, cameras. We use this evident idea. But another thing which is not so easy to see are all the reflections of light: in mirrors, knives, shining surfaces. We only saw these instances of reflection and resulting blindness, which pop up again and again and build a complex network of associations in a film like Dressed to Kill, by putting our audiovisual essay together.

Álvarez López: When I watched Dressed to Kill for the first time, I really liked the scene where Nancy Allen sits in the subway, and you can see the killer hidden behind the door to the next coach. But what I did not remember, and only discovered by seeing it again and developing the theme of blindness, was the scene when Allen and a policeman look right and left along the train and, just when they turn their heads, the killer enters the train out of their sight. Maybe it is because the following scene inside the subway car is so long and powerful, it obliterates this smaller moment. So we bring it back to consciousness.

Martin: That was the scene that the audience most reacted to when we premiered our audiovisual essay in the Metropolis Kino. And rightfully so: it’s De Palma’s cinema condensed in two fantastic shots. But it’s not something you necessarily retain from a single viewing. Another thing which helps you discover things is the use of music. We did that really intensively while working on De Palma – who himself always takes particular care in his selection of music, collaborating with some of the best composers ever like Bernard Herrmann, Pino Donaggio, Ennio Morricone, Giorgio Moroder and Ryuichi Sakamoto. We tried to use the music in a very specific, not wishy-washy way. Just like slow-motion, the unthinking use of music which gets heaped on top of images is one of the things I dislike most in many audiovisual essays.

The Wayward Cloud: You don’t like slow motion?

Martin: To be honest, we used it on the train scene from Carlito’s Way, because we wanted to bring out the idea that train windows are like the frames of a film strip. But generally we dislike the technique, because in audiovisual essays these days, basically everything is put in slow motion, it drives me nuts. I do not know why people do it, maybe they want to be like De Palma, maybe they think it’s poetic. It becomes an all-over, all-purpose thing. I like the Kate Bush music video for “Wuthering Heights” slowed down to 36 minutes – that one pushes the technique someplace extreme and interesting!


Martin: The question of control that a director has over his work is a really interesting one. I think it’s one of the ideals of cinema that the more a director can control his vision, the better. There are certain directors who attempt, even if they may not be always completely successful, to impose his or her will on every detail, to control it, to stylise it. As I said, that’s one ideal in cinema; there are certainly others, but it’s one that I admire very much. When you look at some of the directors we picked – Melville, De Palma, Leos Carax – they are all, I would say, control freaks. In a very interesting book, A Pound of Flesh written by Art Linson, who produced several of De Palma’s movies, he says that De Palma is constantly thinking about how much he can control. He picks his production battles so that he can control what’s in the frame. De Palma also always says that his concentration is on controlling the frame. But, for instance, for directors like Garrel or Rossellini, it’s different. In our essay on Garrel, we did not want to suggest that he controls every single movement; within certain parameters, he just lets his actors go. Rather, we tried to catch a bit of the looseness of this event. That would be an interesting topic for another audiovisual essay: directors who are not so much into control.


Posted by Geoff at 11:27 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, May 5, 2014 6:07 PM CDT
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Friday, May 2, 2014

Posted by Geoff at 9:36 PM CDT
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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Posted by Geoff at 6:27 PM CDT
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R.I.P. BOB HOSKINS, 1942-2014
Bristish actor Bob Hoskins died Tuesday after being treated for pneumonia. He was 71. In 1986, Hoskins was signed by Paramount to play Al Capone in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables. However, De Palma had been talking with Robert De Niro about playing Capone, and once De Niro finally committed, Linson asked the studio to pay Hoskins his full salary, which some stories report as $200,000, and others report as $300,000.

The way Hoskins told the story to Absolute Radio in 2009 was that De Palma sent Hoskins the Untouchables screenplay and told him to look at Capone. "I went to meet him at his hotel," Hoskins said on the Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show, "and he said ‘really I want Robert De Niro to play him,’ and I thought, ‘well great what am I doing here?’ He then said ‘but if he don’t do it, would you sort of step in?’ and I said ‘yeah of course I will’. Anyway months went by and I read the papers and saw De Niro was doing it. I’d sort of forgotten all about it, and then Linda – my Mrs – was opening the post one morning and said ‘what’s that?’ and it was a cheque for £20,000. It said ‘thanks for your time Bob, love Brian’. [He laughed] I phoned him up and I said ‘Brian, if you’ve ever got any films you don’t want me in son, you just give me a call!’”

Hoskins' breakthrough role was as a gangster in John Mackenzie's Long Good Friday. (Incidentally, Mackenzie would go on, in 1986, to direct a TV movie out of a screenplay De Palma had been working on for years, Act Of Vengeance.) Hoskins' most famous role was as a private detective in Robert Zemeckis' 1988 smash Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Hoskins' role as an ex-con in Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa (1986) had earned him an Oscar nomination for best actor.

Posted by Geoff at 6:12 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, May 3, 2014 1:39 PM CDT
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The Record's Amy Longsdorf has a capsule review of Trap For Cinderella in her DVD roundup this week, indicating that the film might be De Palma-esque. Here's what she says:

"The thrills come fast and furious in this engrossing whodunit from Iain Softley (Wings of a Dove) about two childhood pals who reconnect after a decade apart. When Do (Alexandra Roach) runs into Micky (Tuppence Middleton) in London, the pair resume their friendship, as if the years had never passed. But Do has changed — and not for the better. Amnesia, mistaken identity, infidelity and a sinister secretary (Kerry Fox) all factor into one of the most wildly enjoyable thrillers since the heyday of Brian De Palma."

Posted by Geoff at 12:37 AM CDT
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Monday, April 28, 2014
James Schamus, who has worked as screenwriter and producer on several Ang Lee films, among others, submitted a Crtiterion Top 10 list last week that includes Brian De Palma's Blow Out, as well as a shout-out to Chris Dumas' book Un-American Psycho. Although the Criterion site is apparently formatted to list everything in order, Schamus notes in his introduction, "So which top ten shall it be today? Well, in no particular order..."

Schamus groups the last two, #9 and #10, together: Abbas Kiarostami's Close-up and Brian De Palma's Blow Out. Here's what he says about them: "Close-up and Blow Out make a great double feature, mainly because their titles sound so cool together but also because you can’t find two better examples of wickedly smart and politically alive 'self-referential' cinema that couldn’t be less doctrinaire. Also, because including Brian De Palma proves I’m not a total snob and allows me to plug one of the funniest and most intelligent books of film theory of the past decade, Chris Dumas’s Un-American Psycho."

Posted by Geoff at 5:26 AM CDT
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Friday, April 25, 2014

A 35mm color and scope print of Brian De Palma's Obsession will screen this Sunday (6:30pm April 27th) at the Cinematheque, at the Cleveland Institute of Art. The screening is part of the Cinematheque's Bernard Herrmann weekend, which began Thursday. Other films in the series include Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground, Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie, William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster, Nathan H. Juran's The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and Orson Welles' Citizen Kane.

Posted by Geoff at 1:37 AM CDT
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Thursday, April 24, 2014
TIME's Richard Corliss posted a review yesterday of Charlie Paul's For No Good Reason, a documentary portrait of artist Ralph Steadman. Steadman's "interlocutor is Johnny Depp," writes Corliss, "a friend of [Hunter S.] Thompson who also starred in Terry Gilliam’s movie of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Bruce Robinson’s film of Thompson’s The Rum Diary. In 1998, Depp and Thompson visited the TIME offices and raised some merry hell (or so I’m told; I wasn’t invited). After Thompson’s death, Depp funded the funeral service: shooting the writer’s ashes from a cannon to the accompaniment of 'Mr. Tambourine Man' (the Bob Dylan song to which the Las Vegas book was partly dedicated). Among the mourner-celebrants were Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn, Bill Murray, Charlie Rose and Ralph Steadman.

"Depp’s appearance in the doc, however appreciated, doesn’t bring much but the patronage of a famous, friendly dude. Nor is Paul quite up to the challenge of synopsizing and illuminating an artist’s long career. As if to prove this is a coffee-house movie and not a coffee-table book, the director uses split screens, animation and rapid montage. But the salient, liveliest parts of For No Good Reason — the title comes from Thompson’s reply when Steadman once asked him, 'Why are we doing this?' — are to be found in the artist’s display of his work and recollections of the eccentrics he met."

In a later paragraph, Corliss discusses the seeming contrasts between Thompson and Steadman, and includes a quote from Brian De Palma that is apparently in the movie:

"While in America [Steadman] got an assignment to cover the Kentucky Derby for Scanlans magazine; the writer would be Hunter Thompson. He quickly realized that he had 'scored a bull’s eye the first time, and met the one man I needed to meet in America.' The two seemed a chronic mismatch. 'To me he was weird,' Steadman says. 'To him, I was weird.' The artist rarely took drugs or alcohol; the writer never stopped. Director Brian De Palma says of Steadman, 'I’ve never met a warmer, generous… He is not his paintings!' Yet Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner, who hired Steadman to illustrate Las Vegas after another artist dropped out, says that Steadman was the more daring one, Thompson the more cautious."

Posted by Geoff at 10:05 AM CDT
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