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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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Monday, June 20, 2016
This new, second De Palma poster popped up today from A24. Meanwhile, in this week's issue of The New Yorker, Tad Friend sits in on a Thursday night dinner with Brian De Palma, Noah Baumbach, and Jake Paltrow:
Brian De Palma tucked his napkin under his chin and said, “I woke up in the middle of the night with this idea for a script. In the last big scene, my lead character is photographing a movie set at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Meanwhile, my other story line is winding up on top of the tower.” Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow leaned in over their kale salads at Gotham Bar and Grill. De Palma, bearded and bulky at seventy-five, wore a safari jacket, as befits a Hollywood director; his clean-shaven, slimmer, much younger friends from the indie world bracketed him in navy suits. De Palma went on, “So I asked myself, ‘What movie could be shooting at the foot of the Eiffel Tower?’ And I said, ‘Vertigo’!”

Everyone grinned; the Hitchcock classic had left a heavy impress on such De Palma films as “Body Double” and “Dressed to Kill.” He went on, “ ‘Vertigo’ was originally a French novel, so I have to read it and figure out how, in the French version, did they kill the wife?”

On Thursday nights, the three directors, often joined by Wes Anderson, meet for dinner here or at Bar Pitti. One week in 2010, Baumbach and Paltrow filmed De Palma to preserve his stories for posterity. Over the years, they shaped their home movies into a documentary, “De Palma,” which just opened. Then they all went back to meeting simply to talk shop.

De Palma mentioned two enduring sources of chagrin: getting shot in the leg by the cops for hot-wiring a motor scooter when he was twenty, and casting the bronzed, wooden Cliff Robertson in “Obsession” in order to get the film made. (“That ridiculous tan!”) Then Paltrow threw out an idea: “How about a surveyor? Someone buries treasure as he’s watching through his lenses. That could be a De Palma.” De Palma chuckled noncommittally. Baumbach said, “Sometimes we come up with our concept of a De Palma movie and see if De Palma likes it.”

“We’re batting in the low .120s,” Paltrow said.

But De Palma said that their selection of clips from his movies for the documentary—cat-footed tracking shots, women being slashed to bits, cascades of blood—proved that they understood his predilections. “Watching it was like when you die and everything . . .” he revolved his hand, film-reel style, to indicate his life flashing before his eyes.

(Read the rest at The New Yorker)

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, June 21, 2016 12:05 AM CDT
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Sunday, June 19, 2016

The A.V. Club has an exclusive clip from De Palma.

BBC News interviews Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.

Posted by Geoff at 11:56 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, June 20, 2016 12:14 AM CDT
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The three amigos appeared on the June 10, 2016 episode of Charlie Rose (click the link to watch the video). A full transcript of the episode is available on the video link, as well. Here's the best bit:
19:20 Charlie Rose: Dream sequences.

19:23 Brian De Palma: I like dream sequences because I do a lot of dreaming, and I'm trying to make sense of them.

19:29 Charlie Rose: Do you really?

19:30 Brian De Palma: Yeah.

19:31 Charlie Rose: Well, but do you hire people to interpret your dreams?

19:34 Brian De Palma: No. But I get a lot of ideas from my dreams.

19:37 Charlie Rose: Do you really?

19:38 Brian De Palma: Yeah. If you go-- I don't know if this works for any of you guys, but if you're dealing with a problem and you go to sleep, somehow you work it out in your dream and you wake up and you're, ah-ha, that's it.

19:50 Charlie Rose: Does that happen to you?

19:53 Noah Baumbach: Yeah, versions of it. I don't put it in my movies.

19:58 Brian De Palma: Yeah, plus it's very stylized and you can do really crazy things.

Posted by Geoff at 4:35 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, June 19, 2016 4:41 AM CDT
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Posted by Geoff at 4:04 AM CDT
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Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Exclusive Clip from De Palma at Entertainment Weekly

The Village Voice:
"The Untouchables: In Praise of the De Palma Films That Still Divide Critics and Audiences"
Alan Scherstuhl on Mission to Mars (2000)

Let's not oversell this: The critics who lambasted De Palma and Disney's big-budget turn-of-the-century astronaut epic had themselves an easy target. The script is weak, the characters flat, the first ten minutes a stiff bore, and the last twenty or so a palate-offending stew of 2001's beyond-the-infinite mysteries and Close Encounters' humans-meet-aliens playdate — with the origins of life on Earth explained in something like a multimedia planetarium show. But in between, De Palma romps, as clever and geeky as that inventor kid Keith Gordon played in Dressed to Kill, building complex new dazzlements from pieces in Kubrick's toybox: elegantly rotating spacecraft, misadventures outside the airlock, hyper-competent astronauts casually comfortable in zero-g.

De Palma's "stick jockeys" — their term — are underwritten, but they have soul, especially the married couple played by Tim Robbins and Connie Nielsen, even if their idea of romantic accompaniment for a dizzying floating couple's dance is Van Halen. The camera (Stephen H. Burum served as d.p.) glides through three dimensions, in and out of the ships, with a fluidity we wouldn't see again until Gravity. The suspenseful problem-solving set pieces, meanwhile, are expertly shaped and -paced, building to a big-name death that also anticipates Alfonso Cuarón's 2013 Oscar winner. For a movie accused of being derivative, Mission to Mars is in the DNA of a crop of auteurist descendants, including The Martian and Interstellar. And De Palma, wittily, enlivens material that would seem tired in those: He uses the lag-time in interplanetary communication as an excuse to cut in cheery footage of characters who are actually in terrible danger, and the inevitable scene of space travelers watching recordings of people back home becomes one of the director's subtlest screen-splitting lulus.

Vulture, Kevin Lincoln talks w/Baumbach & Paltrow
One of Brian’s comments in the movie that struck me was his remark about Hitchcock, about how Hitchcock’s technique of returning to and reusing visual tropes was sort of dying with him, and how Brian saw himself in that tradition. As good filmmakers in your own rights, what did you guys think about that statement?


That’s our big takeaway from the movie as well, and it’s something that I don’t think we discovered until the editing of the film was finished. Brian sees this visual language, this visual storytelling that starts with Hitchcock. Naysayers claim it’s appropriation, but it’s not. If you look at it like a language or a dialect, it becomes a really compelling way of looking at Brian’s movies, because he’s doing it consistently. People have made movies that we think of as Hitchcockian, which means you make one or two things in that vein, a Body Heat, or a … the one with Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas

Baumbach: Basic Instinct.

Paltrow: — these movies that are overtly Hitchcockian, but then that person will go on and make something totally different and not necessarily visually driven. But Brian is working in this language that he’s talking about, and we both thought that was a very exciting thing. It’s a very bold observation to make about yourself, but it’s so true, and it changes the way you think of Brian. It’s the ultimate definition for me.

Baumbach: Right, and it’s also been leveled against him, especially throughout his early career, as a negative. But Brian has no trouble owning it.

Do you think that his focus on a visual language rather than plot or scale is one of the reasons why he might have less mainstream name-brand recognition than some of his contemporaries from the ’70s, like Steven Spielberg or George Lucas?

Paltrow: I think a lot of peoples’ experiences with Brian is, I didn’t realize he made this, or he made that. It’s a very strong flavor that’s out there that people know — they just have to be nudged a little bit. And obviously, the people who like Brian and his movies tend to do so fervently.

Teo Bugbee, MTV:


After a lifetime spent peering out from behind the camera, veteran filmmaker Brian De Palma becomes the subject of his own movie in De Palma, a documentary on his career made by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow. In the film, released last Saturday, De Palma takes his disciples on a guided tour through his filmography, and with them the anonymous audiences and potential filmmakers who have been watching and learning from his movies for decades. If you’re already a De Palma connoisseur, then by all means ignore me and head straight to theaters for your dose of film history. But for anyone who hasn’t yet become acquainted with De Palma’s movies, the documentary presents an occasion to dive into one of Hollywood’s weirdest and most accomplished artists.

De Palma is a perfectionist when it comes to his work, and his obsession with film history and techniques can make understanding his movies a little daunting. He is also, god bless him, a total perv, and while his tendency toward a kind of ironic horniness only makes his movies more endearing as you watch them, I can see how it might be disorienting if the first film you see unexpectedly features an oft-nude woman murdered by a gigantic, phallic power drill. As a fan who stumbled her way into Brian De Palma appreciation without a road map, here are my humble suggestions for anyone who is ready to take the plunge for the first time.

The Black Dahlia Years
The most important advice I can give you as you start your adventures with De Palma is to avoid being born in the early ’90s, which dooms you to the youthful error of picking up the first new De Palma movie you see at your local video store. Fortunately, there are no video stores anymore, but the point is that if you’re like me, this path leads to watching The Black Dahlia at 13 — long before your developing mind can wrap itself around any coherent sense of irony, surreality, or forgiveness — and then vowing never to watch a De Palma movie again. I came around eventually, but The Black Dahlia is a movie that is For Fans Only if there ever was one; with a plot that never stops unfolding, the only actor who seems to even have a clue what’s going on is Fiona Shaw, who adjusts to the mess around her by going completely bonkers. Critics and 13-year-olds declared it incoherent at the time, and while De Palma stans might find camp value in the movie’s never-ending twists, nonsensical lesbianism, and A-list bad acting, first-time De Palma viewers would be better off starting with a movie that offers more straightforward pleasures. The same word of caution applies to Passion, the glossy corporate thriller De Palma made a couple years ago with Rachel McAdams, which is mostly good, utilizing Skype as a 21st-century cinematic device several years before Unfriended — but which is also unfortunately hampered by a deranged (and not in a Fiona Shaw–esque, good way) performance by the Swedish Dahlia, Noomi Rapace. As a rule, recency is not the best path into De Palma, and if you can sidestep the hurdle of starting out with movies that might be older than you are, you’re already over the biggest challenge.

If you want to get on board with a documentary in which a grandpa talks about nothing but his own movies for two hours, I’m going to send you back to 1976 to watch the horror classic Carrie. Carrie is, truthfully, a bit of an anomaly among De Palma’s films — while he has dabbled in just about every genre, De Palma’s preferred filmmaking style tends toward mysteries and thrillers like his hero, Alfred Hitchcock. The themes of the occult that make the explosion of violence in Carrie so mesmerizing don’t really recur anywhere else in De Palma’s decidedly secular cinema. But what Carrie does highlight for first-timers is the pinpoint precision of De Palma’s formal style, his queasy ability to express unstable mental states through sound and image — think of the kaleidoscopes and split screens that accompany the start of Carrie’s attack on her high school prom — and the thin balance between sincerity and insincerity. Stephen King’s source material and Sissy Spacek’s performance ground the film in the relatable outsider’s perspective, but De Palma unsettles any sense of normal identification, pushing scenes like Carrie’s endurance of her mother’s religious ecstasies to melodramatic extremes. In De Palma’s hands, part of the film’s horror comes from not being sure if you should be laughing, crying, or screaming at the unfolding tragedy of Carrie White.

Sisters and Carlito’s Way
Where to go after Carrie is a little tricky, because Carrie is so good that if you start looking for Carrie equivalents you’re just going to come back disappointed. Sisters is a solid early De Palma outing focused on an actress who either has an evil twin or a killer case of multiple personality disorder. It hews closer to De Palma’s usual external preoccupations like murder and doubles without burrowing to the same emotional depths as the more psychologically introspective Carrie. The Untouchables is famous, but it’s also straight-up bad — its constant winks to classic films and Al Capone might constitute kitsch if only it weren’t following such a bland team of lawmen. Skip it until you’re so invested in De Palma movies that even a De Palma movie starring Kevin Costner can’t bore you to an Eisenstein-homage-themed hell. On the other hand, Carlito’s Way marries De Palma’s ostentatious style with a thoughtful story examining cycles of crime and recidivism — but it’s kind of a dad movie. Either watch with your dad or become a dad and then watch it.


Posted by Geoff at 7:31 AM CDT
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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times (profile/interview piece)
For De Palma, 75, the film “De Palma” serves as both an overview of his career and as something of a primer on a life in moviemaking, showing a transparency that is refreshing from such a high-profile figure.

“I hope that, much like the book [‘The Devil’s Candy’] about ‘Bonfire of the Vanities,’ you just have an honest portrayal of what the process is like, you don’t pull any punches, you say exactly what happened,” De Palma said. “That’s the only way to convey to young audiences or people interested in movies how the system works.

“As you know, film journalism is mostly spin. You talk to people, they say the experience was great, I love working with so and so, it’s the best experience I ever had. And not until you’re in the Hollywood old-age home do you have anybody tell you the truth.”

L.A. Times - De Palma's underrated gems, decade by decade
Justin Chang: “Casualties of War” (1989). Some of the signature themes De Palma played with in “Body Double” — a man’s inability to save a woman’s life, the tragedy of seeing but not really seeing — achieve their fullest, darkest expression in this devastating Vietnam War drama, which feels like nothing he’s done before or since. If De Palma here favors a searing emotional directness over his usual stylistic trickery, “Casualties of War” nevertheless takes his love for “Rear Window” and “Vertigo” to its most sobering possible conclusion: There is no voyeuristic thrill in the spectacle of sexual violence he confronts us with this time, only a crippling sense of helplessness. De Palma achieves something here that few directors could: Even as he paralyzes us in our seats, he somehow deepens our capacity to feel.

Mark Olsen: “The Bonfire of the Vanities” (1990). In Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s documentary, De Palma shows his own penchant for insightful self-criticism when he laments that the biting social satire of Tom Wolfe’s original novel was watered down to make the movie’s characters more likable. Even so, watching “Bonfire” today it feels unexpectedly both buoyant and savage, a trenchant no-one-unscathed look at class, race, money and privilege that you can’t even imagine being made at this budget level today. While the all-access making-of book “The Devil’s Candy” clearly chronicles all that went wrong with the film, “Bonfire” is also a film that has become obscured by its notorious reputation. It proves an unspoken thesis of the documentary, that there are no minor De Palma films.

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal, some highlights from De Palma
His apt analysis of what’s wrong with today’s computer-generated action sequences: “They’re pre-visualized. They’ve got it all in their computers. So what are you going to get? Many visual clichés.”

His equally apt appraisal of how his love of dramatic and visual structure sets him apart from other filmmakers. “The way you people make movies,” he tells his interviewers (and friends), “is you start with character and work outwards. I start with construction and work in.”

His take on Alfred Hitchcock, whom he studied and ardently emulated, some would say imitated: “People talk about Hitchcock being so influential. I’ve never found a lot of guys who followed in the Hitchcock school except me.”

His juicy stories about Tom Cruise and the veteran screenwriter Robert Towne during the making of “Mission Impossible.” Mr. Cruise comes off better than Mr. Towne.

Devin Faraci, Birth. Movies. Death.
The problem is that many of the clips Baumbach and Paltrow have selected are spoiler heavy - they reveal the endings of a number of De Palma’s films, which are plot-oriented and thus susceptible to major spoilage.

That makes me wonder just who this movie is for. If you’re brand new to De Palma the doc might very well turn you on to one of the greatest and most underappreciated filmmakers of the 20th century, but at the same time it could be robbing you of the sublime pleasure of experiencing De Palma’s machinations for the first time. If you’re a die-hard De Palma guy you’ll find little in here that’s new, although you’ll enjoy the experience of spending time with De Palma. I almost think the target audience for this film is the middle crowd, the movie dorks who have written off De Palma based on a few of his later films and the memeification of the idea that he apes Hitchcock (a charge easily backed up by De Palma’s own words in this film). De Palma feels like an attempt to reposition the legacy of a great filmmaker, an attempt that’s already working as the great rep societies on the east and west coast are doing major De Palma retrospectives in the wake of the film’s release.

That makes De Palma a kind of work of cinematic activism; it’s a full-throated defense of a man whose work towers over so many of his peers and yet is so often casually dismissed. I like that De Palma allows the filmmaker to take completely ownership of all the things at which a snobby critic would roll their eyes - his love of genre, his approach to movies that starts with plot and comes to characters second, his kinks and quirks, his interest in photographing beautiful women, his status as a self-described disciple of Hitchcock. All of the things that have been used to attack De Palma are true, but that doesn’t make those things bad.

For the last few years it’s been frustrating to see how people write off De Palma, even going so far as to devalue his earlier works. I love that De Palma takes a defiant stand against that movement, and that it even goes so far as to embrace his lesser films. If all that ever comes out of De Palma is a reappreciation of Casualties of War, it will have been worth it, but I suspect that De Palma will do much more for the filmmaker’s status than that.

Posted by Geoff at 12:40 AM CDT
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Monday, June 13, 2016
Brian Brooks, Deadline (June 12, 2016)
De Palma, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s doc about celebrated filmmaker Brian De Palma, edged out the competition in three theaters this weekend. The A24 release grossed $30,856, averaging $10,285, making it one of the best non-fiction debuts of the year. The figure is also the weekend’s second-best per theater average, following Warner Bros.’ The Conjuring 2 at just over $12K. The top doc debut remains Sundance Selects’ Weiner, opening in 5 locations last month, averaging $17,105. Michael Moore’s Where To Invade Next is the year’s highest doc grosser at over $3.82 million.

De Palma got off to a very solid start at the box office this weekend. Critics have responded with some of the best reviews of the year with the film at a whopping 97% on Rotten Tomatoes,” A24 said Sunday when reporting numbers. “De Palma, about one of the most celebrated and enigmatic filmmakers of our time, is being considered ‘one of the greatest films about a filmmaker ever.’” A24 will take De Palma to the top 50 markets and beyond in the coming weeks.

Watch a clip from De Palma at IndieWire

Matt Zoller Seitz interviews De Palma at RogerEbert.com

I recently saw “Blow Out” again, on a big screen, at Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, and Nancy Allen was there, and I was struck by the John Lithgow character—not just how sadistic he was, but the really unsettling way that you portray him. He really gets off on terrorizing women. The movie doesn't, though; the movie is appalled by him, I think. You have a lot of men in your movies who are macho, who are very macho, who are very often military, or they’re cops, or they’re a hyper-masculine sort of role model, and you seem really, really disgusted by their conditioning, by their behavior. Is part of your movies kind of a critique of the sorts of masculinity that other movies celebrate?

I don’t know. I don’t know if you can make a sweeping statement about these types of characters. John Lithgow’s character was very much based on G. Gordon Liddy. That was a very specific reference point, and I don’t think I ever had something quite like that again in a movie.

But in “Casualties of War” and some of the characters in “Carlito’s Way” and certainly in “Scarface” you see a kind of a ridiculousness to machismo.

They’re gangster movies; they’re war movies! Movies like that tend to be very masculine.

But you don't glamorize them, even though you sometimes find them funny or horrible. I was just curious about that, because I have read a lot about your work and have seen a lot of critiques of the kinds of stories you tell, and that’s one aspect I’ve always wondered about: your attitude about machismo, which feels like it's related to the way men terrorize women. You seem like somebody who is maybe not a political filmmaker in a way that some filmmakers are, but I wonder, could there be a political aspect to the way that you portray men and women?

It all came from the genre! You know? I don’t think there’s any through line, basically. I’m basically interpreting the material.
...It almost sounds like you’re saying the audience makes its choice, and you’re OK with it?

A movie is a work of art. It either exists and people keep looking at it, or it vanishes. So, I have very little to do with it, and a movie has basically got to find its own way. And many of my movies, people are still looking at 30 or 40 years later, so I guess there’s some value in it, because they’ve existed through the ages.
...Do you think there’s some truth to this idea that part of what a director does is preside over accidents? Or at least manage things that aren’t in their control?

Well you have to be incredibly prepared, because you have to have a plan when you go to shoot. But things happen: the weather, how the actor feels, what somebody ate the night before. You have to be aware and you have to be able to improvise, depending on what is happening in the moment.

There’s nothing like preparation for dealing with situations like that, so that you can shift from one thing to another painlessly.

Can you give me an example from your movies of something not going to plan, that satisfied you? Where you didn’t get to do what you wanted to do, but you still liked the result?

For “The Fury,” there was a very complicated panning shot that Carrie [Snodgrass] didn’t want to do, because she had to hit certain marks for it to work. She just couldn’t get her head around why she had to be at a certain place at a certain time, because it didn’t seem natural to her. So I had to sort of carefully adjust the shot to something that she understood in order to make it work, so that what I wanted to do and what she wanted to do was in harmony. And it all worked out fine. And she didn’t quite understand it until she saw the rushes.

The great disadvantage of directors of my generation, as opposed to directors working in the studio system, is that you don’t get to direct as many movies as they did. They were under contract, they were directing 52 weeks out of the year. So we think about what we’re doing and maybe get our chance out and do it once a year, if we’re lucky. Sometimes many years pass before you are directing [again]. You can learn a tremendous amount by just practicing your craft. And obviously the great directors of the generations before, either Hitchcock, Ford or Hawks, directed a tremendous number of pictures, nowhere near the number that we’ll ever get a chance to do.

A.O. Scott reviews De Palma for The New York Times
Like any good work of criticism, “De Palma” will be catnip for passionate fans while also serving as a primer and a goad for the skeptical and the curious. Mr. De Palma is remarkable company — witty, insightful and neither unduly modest nor overbearingly vain. It’s almost hard to believe that he could have made so many wild, haunting and provocative movies, but by the end of the documentary, you may want nothing more than to see them all.

Todd VanDerWerff reviews De Palma for Vox
De Palma, a new 107-minute documentary about the man, directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, aims to change that fact by putting him squarely in focus. The director discusses his entire body of work, from the short films he made as a student all the way up through his late-career passion projects, and Baumbach and Paltrow edit the film so that it becomes one long monologue.

The documentary’s commitment to being thorough is admirable. But that urge to be comprehensive is also how De Palma shoots itself in the foot.

De Palma covers everything. Everything.

De Palma has directed nearly 30 films over the course of his decades long career. And since Baumbach and Paltrow want to make sure they find time for all of them — including those De Palma is obviously disconnected from or not that interested in, like his mid-’80s comedy Wise Guys — they end up truncating some interesting discussions in the name of checking every last one of the list.

Occasionally, De Palma will start a tangent about how he sees directors, fundamentally, as voyeurs, or how he thinks movie critics are driven more by the tastes of their time and aren’t great arbiters of actual quality, only for Baumbach and Paltrow to force the movie back into dissecting every single one of his films.

Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere
I caught Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow‘s De Palma (A24, 6.10) last night on Rodeo Drive, and pretty much loved every second of it. So much so that I intend to see it a second time at the Aero on Sunday night. It put me into film-maven heaven. It’s basically MCU footage of Brian De Palma sitting and talking about every film he’s ever made (process, personalities, politics, technique) and regaling the viewer with whatever anecdotes come to mind. No personal revelations or intimate details are offered — the film is strictly about nuts and bolts and personalities.

My only gripe is that De Palma moves too briskly and is over way too soon. (I would have preferred a running time of 120 or even 160 minutes rather than 107.) I’ve shared plenty of complaints about De Palma’s films over the years, especially the ones made after Snake Eyes, but they were all magically set aside as I watched the doc. I just sat there and kind of melted. The film is so much fun if you know the terrain.

Jeffrey Wells goes back for seconds
As promised, I saw Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow‘s De Palma (A24, 6.10) for the second time at the Aero on Sunday night. It’s easily the most enjoyable portrait of a director doc I’ve seen in years, and of course your average T-shirted, backwards-baseball-cap-wearing megaplex stooge will avoid it like the plague. As clever as De Palma often was and as memorable as many of his careful choreography sequences are/were, I don’t think he ever topped this death-of-Frank-Lopez scene. One of the reasons it’s my all-time favorite is because it’s not show-offy. It’s plain but with a strong “uh-oh” undertow. You can really feel the hot breath of death on the back of your neck. And the “what about Ernie?” thing is a perfect mood-lightener.

Posted by Geoff at 1:44 AM CDT
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Sunday, June 12, 2016
W Magazine's Ally Betker was at the DGA Theater screening of De Palma Thursday night, and posted an article the other day that started with a bit of Martin Scorsese's introduction:
“So I guess I’m the warmup,” said Martin Scorsese Thursday night at the Director’s Guild of America theater on 57th Street. That Scorsese was anything less than the main event speaks to the man he was introducing: Brian De Palma. The director of Body Double, Scarface and Carrie, among many, many others, was getting his own film treatment with a documentary on his oeuvre by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.

Simply titled De Palma, the doc is a live motion version of the director’s IMDb page, filmed as one long interview spliced with clips of his films. Though he was known for his bloody psychological thrillers (he was constantly combating the ratings board, often ending up with an X-rating), De Palma also had quite the reputation as a mentor—which is how his relationship with Baumbach (Frances Ha, Mistress America) and Paltrow first started. As well as with Scorsese: “Brian was the one who took my film, Who’s That Knocking at my Door, and me seriously, and sort of became a mentor in a way, supporting me all the time—arguing usually—but supporting, guiding me. And the biggest thing, introducing me to everyone he knew in Hollywood,” said Scorsese. “He would come in and help me edit Mean Streets; I was constantly having severe asthma bouts and he would come pick me up at the hospital, drive me home; he arranged for a mutual friend to introduce me to Rob DeNiro, which led to those films; he gave me the script to Taxi Driver.”

Hopefully more video of the introduction will pop up soon, but for now, Instagram user gabrielecapo posted a partial video in which Scorsese talks about De Palma being talked up to Scorsese's film class as a "big star," having won awards for his short film Woton's Wake. (De Palma was set to come to the school.) The audience laughs when Scorsese says the title, Woton's Wake, after which Scorsese stresses again that this was an award-winning film, and that De Palma was seen in the film school world at the time as a "big star."


Betker later talked with Jake Paltrow at the after party at The Russian Tea Room. When asked if he could recall the first De Palma film he'd ever seen, Paltrow replies, "It was Body Double, and I saw it on VHS. I wasn’t allowed to see R-rated movies and I talked my parents into letting me see it because I was a big Hitchcock fan. And I said, 'Oh, there’s this movie by Brian De Palma,'—who they obviously knew and liked—'it’s a little like Rear Window…' And then I was sort of scarred by it, I mean in a good way, it really stuck with me."

When asked if he and Baumbach had to direct De Palma at all while making the film, Paltrow replies, "In a movie like this, the editing is the directing. The filming of it is just an extension of these conversations you’re having at dinner. And trying to just maintain the same intimate thing where everybody feels comfortable to talk about things in a way you wouldn’t with an interviewer."

When asked if his own directing has been influenced by De Palma's, Paltrow responds, "More and more in a way. Brian’s feeling about visual storytelling, and this idea of making these movies in a sort of visual way first has become a stronger influence now as I get older. Even though he’s always been an influence, I think I understand what he’s talking about better now than I did before. When he talks about the Hitchcockian visual story telling, it’s related to that."

Posted by Geoff at 11:42 PM CDT
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Not to present a sort of "point/counterpoint," but the articles about the new documentary De Palma by Armond White at National Review and Michael Sragow at Film Comment provide a somewhat intriguing contrast in views of the film from two critics who have followed Brian De Palma's work in-depth throughout much of his career. White is no fan of the documentary, saying that it presents "the artist as celebrity," and at one point stating of Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, "They’re not counterculture; they are hipster culture." White then continues, "This film lowers De Palma’s reputation to the anti-intellectualism and insipid 'professionalism' common to today’s untutored filmmakers."

White's review carries the headline, "Taking the Politics Out of Movies"-- here's an excerpt (but defintely read the entire thing)...
Brian De Palma’s 1978 thriller The Fury is his greatest film. It has exemplary visual rhythm, emotional excitation tied to the concept of loyalty, and complex references to film history — plus, it has proven to be politically prescient. The Fury takes on the post-counterculture generation’s innocence (or naïveté) in its story of two psychically gifted teenagers, Gillian and Robin (Amy Irving and Andrew Stevens), who become pawns in government subterfuge and are pursued by a parental rogue agent (Kirk Douglas) and a sinister agency chief (John Cassavetes). The Fury’s unforgettable climax — the most cathartic ending in movie history — turned the post-Vietnam generations’ long-stifled, potentially dangerous energy into metaphor.

De Palma himself might be unaware of The Fury’s prescience; working from his Sixties-based affinity for youthful sexuality and suspicion of government, he was mostly conscious of creating a quasi-political satire, and so in the new interview film De Palma (released by the independent distributor A24), the now 75-year-old director underrates The Fury among other movies in his filmography. He fails to appreciate its astonishing accomplishment as a work of psychedelic emotional depth. (He prefers the conventional anti–Vietnam War cynicism in his 1989 Casualties of War.)...

...An artist’s work is its own defense. Otherwise, that’s what critics are for. But De Palma attests to the lack of critical thinking in contemporary culture. Tired, old complaints about De Palma’s kinetic, teasingly erotic, and often violent style become the basis of forcing the guy to say things like “I did grow up in an operating room; I saw a lot of blood.” Yes, De Palma was the son of a philandering New Jersey orthopedic surgeon (as depicted in his 1978 family comedy Home Movies), but, more importantly, he was the artistic son of several key filmmakers who were also fearless about bravura provocation.

This disappointing documentary never explores the inspiration De Palma drew from Orson Welles (flamboyant, self-conscious technique and Shakespearean morality); Fritz Lang (paranoid examination of social decadence); and Jean-Luc Godard (political wit folded into aesthetic examination). The confluence of their ideas is ignored in the documentary’s emphasis on De Palma’s unabashed parallels to Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense devices.

Aesthetics and political morality are rarely discussed in relation to De Palma’s movies (his hits Carrie, The Fury, and The Untouchables have notable resemblances to the work of Luis Buñuel, John Boorman, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Sergei Eisenstein as much as to that of Hitchcock). Instead, shallow critics and film buffs concentrate on his borrowing Hollywood narrative and so never appreciate him as a distinctive figure of late-20th-century filmmaking. This is proof of cultural illiteracy in our technically advanced, supposedly sophisticated age; as such, it’s a sociological problem. Too much time is wasted on De Palma’s defending his misunderstood movies and answering philistine charges about fame, sexism, and brutality.

Today, in “the Golden Age of Television,” filmmakers are no longer regarded as visual artists; neither are they respected for their social perception. De Palma demonstrates an even worse situation: celebrating a filmmaker as a celebrity. Emphasis on behind-the-scenes gossip (such as the story of De Palma bilking Paramount out of money before eventually turning down an offer to direct Flashdance) ignores the possibility of serious artistry. De Palma says: “You’re battling a very difficult system [in Hollywood], and all the values of that system are the opposite of what goes into making good original movies.”

Failing to clarify De Palma’s Godardian–Langian–Wellesian challenge to the politics and morality of the Hollywood system makes De Palma a documentary for political naïfs and fame-whore pseudo-cinephiles. It is conceived to please millennial careerophiles. Dubious hero worship ignores how De Palma was spurred by political and aesthetic curiosity. He recounts his career journey, yet never gets to the nitty-gritty of the genre revisionism that was the hallmark of his films and those of the Seventies directors he name-checks. (“There was Marty [Scorsese], and then there was George [Lucas] and Francis [Coppola] and Steven [Spielberg]. What we did in our generation will never be duplicated.”)

In his concluding paragraph, White brings it all back to The Fury, "an Expressionist thriller and much more: a potent distillation of the personal and political conflicts that define De Palma’s sensibility and linger in the social miasma of the new millennium. De Palma always works on his sexual and political subconscious. As with any movie artist, every film is political, every film is a public address. But De Palma offers a layman’s inquiry, not a critic’s nor an expert’s. That the makers of this documentary could let De Palma disparage The Fury proves they’re inadequate to appreciate his movies at all."


Michael Sragow, Film Comment

Happily, Baumbach and Paltrow’s quick-fingered succession of excerpts and the director’s running commentary explode conventional wisdom while conveying both his virtuosity and indelible engagement with his times. You can’t see this sampling without savoring how issues like race, political executions, and urban crime recur explicitly and implicitly in his work. Although De Palma’s movies may seem, at first glance, “dated,” they turn out to be enveloping and immediate—time capsules that go off like fireworks. Supreme entertainments like Carrie and Dressed to Kill contain unexpected resonances. Who would have guessed that in Carrie, [Piper] Laurie’s remarkable paradox of a performance—her passionate portrayal of a repressed and repressive religious zealot—would reverberate even more strongly in 2016 than it did in 1976?...

...De Palma creates a visual style so operatic and balletic that Dressed to Kill boasts the imaginative impact of surrealism, while remaining cunningly observant about life in New York circa 1980. What makes De Palma a master pop satirist is his refusal to preach and his utter lack of inhibition. When [Nancy] Allen runs into the subway to escape the killer, it’s a great out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire moment. Who would seek safety in the New York subways of the Mayor Koch era? De Palma captures the racial and social-political tensions of that moment without dilution or apology.

In De Palma, the director talks perceptively about his own influences. The documentary opens with De Palma’s memories of seeing Vertigo as a kid and coming to appreciate it as an adult. He says filmmakers love Hitchcock’s movie because it’s all about what directors do: Hitchcock creates a romantic illusion—and then kills it, twice. In the clips from the Master of Suspense, you can see everything De Palma learned from Hitchcock: his cunning use of subjective camera and his deployment of every tool at a director’s disposal, including blocking, lighting, cutting, and special effects to adopt his characters’ often dizzying perspectives. Hitchcock, though, rarely moved his camera as sinuously as De Palma, who drew on the work of many other directors, including Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick, to create his own simultaneously voluptuous and incisive style. De Palma never sounds more Hitchcockian in De Palma than when he says he starts with “a construction,” not characters, then engages the actors to fill them in and root them in reality—unlike, he says, “you guys” (Baumbach and Paltrow), who start with characters and build films around them. It’s remarkably similar to what Truffaut told Hitchcock: “Your point of departure is not the content but the container.” This stance explains perfectly why he would clash with a character-is-action filmmaker of equal stature, Robert Towne, on the screenplay for Mission Impossible.

This film definitively illustrates that with De Palma, as with any talented movie artist, the truth about his work is often richer and more elusive than his statement of intent. Blow Out stems from a plot De Palma sees as “a construction”: a movie sound technician (Travolta) uses the tools of his trade to prove that a governor’s fatal car accident was a political execution. Every scrap of that construction seems personal to De Palma and becomes a matter of life or death to us. It kicks off with a parody of soft-core horror porn but ends with a portrait of a man trapped inside his own technology. Blow Out is such a mind-blowing movie because it does the reverse of what De Palma says Hitchcock does in Vertigo. De Palma and his hero don’t spend the movie creating an illusion but uncovering a reality moviegoers recognize as a mash-up—not of movie thrillers, but of all the Kennedy tragedies, Chappaquiddick, as well as the assassinations. The central relationship is not an obsessive romance but a tender friendship between the soundman and a makeup counter girl and escort (Nancy Allen) who is sitting next to Pennsylvania’s governor when a tire blows out and his car goes into the Schuylkill River. When Travolta’s character turns the death throes of a murdered woman into the “good scream” he’s been seeking for an exploitation picture, the soundtrack for the movie-within-the-movie becomes the hero’s continuous loop of suffering. De Palma describes the underlying sting of Blow Out: its subliminal message is that even if we stumbled upon exactly what happened in the JFK assassination, nobody would care...

...All of De Palma’s movies contain patches of sublimity or inventiveness, including the much-maligned Mission to Mars (00) and The Black Dahlia (06). De Palma provides a one-of-a-kind filmmaker’s perspective on everything from the runaway costs and escalating burdens of big-studio moviemaking—he made Carrie for $1.8 million, Mission to Mars for $100 million—to the haphazard ways an American movie artist-entertainer must cobble together a career from mixed opportunities and accidents. At age 75, he ruefully admits that filmmakers are usually remembered for movies they make in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. He talks straight from the shoulder about his cave-in to commercial worries on the epochal calamity of The Bonfire of the Vanities (90), and about his inability to find a satisfying ending to Snake Eyes. He tells Baumbach and Paltrow that endings are always a problem, and that you’re lucky if you find two or three that hit the bull’s-eye in the course of a career.

De Palma has the best kind of ending for a director documentary: it leaves us wondering what’s yet to come from this protean and multifaceted filmmaker.

Posted by Geoff at 3:34 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, June 12, 2016 3:40 PM CDT
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Saturday, June 11, 2016

The picture above, of Jake Paltrow, Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, and Noah Baumbach at Thursday night's DGA Theater screening of De Palma, was taken by Andy Kropa for Associated Press. It was previously mentioned that Scorsese "roasted" De Palma during his introduction for the screening. Today, The Huffington Post's Regina Weinreich reports that "Scorsese introduced the film speaking about their salad years as film students at NYU, coming of age in the era with Spielberg, Coppola, and others. Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach, from the podium at the DGA Theater, just let the film speak for itself, for an audience that included a high concentration of directors: Barry Levinson, J C Chandor, Paul Schrader, and more. Actors paid homage too: Amy Irving, Greta Gerwig, Carol Kane, Ellen Burstyn, Rupert Friend and Aimee Mullins, Jonah Hill, Fisher Stevens, and Broadway actors Alex Brightman and Lena Hall, who is about to start her two-week tenure at the Café Carlyle this Tuesday." In the last paragraph of the article, Weinreich writes, "The ensuing celebration at the Russian Tea Room was a microcosm of film world moving and shaking: Gay Talese urged Paul Schrader, Taxi Driver screenwriter, to write a memoir about his boyhood leading to his first ever film watched at age 19."

Jason Mann, who was the chosen rookie director of last year's season of HBO's Project Greenlight, also attended the DGA screening of De Palma.

Posted by Geoff at 12:46 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, June 11, 2016 12:48 PM CDT
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