PETER SANDZA, ONE DEADLY BULLET
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a la Mod:
Here's an excerpt (sans images) from Curry's column:
The climactic scene of the film (mild spoiler alerts follow) in which clown-masked rioters tear the city up, takes place in front of a fake marquee which Friedberg created on Market Street in Newark, promoting the equally fake (at least as far as my extensive research into early ’80s porn can tell me) Ace in the Hole (“in 3 acts”) which is clearly not a revival of the Billy Wilder film.
The least convincing movie-within-the-movie in the film is the black tie screening of Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 Modern Times at Wayne Hall (actually the Hudson County Courthouse in Jersey City) which just gives Phillips an excuse for Arthur Fleck to enjoy Chaplin’s insouciantly daredevil rollerskating scene (a scene which employed matte paintings as deftly as that long shot of the city at the top of the page).
But the scene which firmly sets Joker in the last week of July 1981 is the sequence towards the end showing Thomas and Martha Wayne and their son Bruce leaving a movie theater (in reality the Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City—one of the five Wonder Theatres opened by Loew’s in the late 1920s) in the middle of the riot. The marquee clearly touts Brian De Palma’s Blow Out and Peter Medak’s Zorro, The Gay Blade, both of which opened in New York on July 24, 1981.
As the camera dollies past the front of the theater, beneath its gorgeous marquee lights, we get blink-and-you’ll miss them glimpses of four movie posters (click on the images to see them large). First Blow Out:
Then Bob Peak’s poster for John Boorman’s Excalibur, which is somewhat the odd man out because Excalibur opened three months earlier on April 10, 1981.
And then, if we’re not too distracted by the Waynes leaving the theater (which film had they just been watching?), we can glimpse a poster for the Dudley Moore comedy blockbuster Arthur, which had opened a week earlier on July 17, 1981.
The tagline for Arthur could have served as an ironic tagline for Joker.
And finally, around the corner, down a dark alley, we see the poster for Michael Wadleigh’s werewolf movie Wolfen, which also opened the same day as Blow Out and Zorro.
Blow Out, Wolfen, and Zorro were all reviewed in the Friday July 24 edition of the New York Times, and ads for all three, as well as for Arthur, appeared in the same paper.
What’s remarkable is how little screen time these posters get and yet how carefully Phillips and Friedberg planned their inclusion. Not only do the posters fix Joker’s climax in a very specific time, they also speak to the film itself. I can’t see the connection with Blow Out, but Excalibur and Arthur are both about a man named Arthur, as is Joker of course, and Wolfen is a transformation-centered, New York-set horror movie, much as is Joker. The comedy Zorro, The Gay Blade might seem an odd choice until you read the synopsis which tallies with Joker’s themes of wealth and class: “When the new Spanish Governor begins to grind the peasants under his heel, wealthy landowner Don Diego Vega follows in his late father's footsteps and becomes Zorro, the masked man in black with a sword who rights wrongs and becomes a folk hero to the people of Mexico.”
There are no posters within the film for Scorsese films, even though the film otherwise wears its Scorsese references proudly, but on July 24, 1981, there was one Scorsese film playing in New York: a revival of New York, New York, which, just coincidentally, is being revived in New York again, starting today.
In an obituary at The Hollywood Reporter, Mike Barnes and Duane Byrge describe Douglas as "the son of a ragman who channeled a deep, personal anger through a chiseled jaw and steely blue eyes to forge one of the most indelible and indefatigable careers in Hollywood history."
After working on The Fury in 1977, Douglas had heard De Palma was making an independent film with film students at Sarah Lawrence College. According to De Palma (in an interview with Gerald Peary for Take One magazine), Douglas had called him and said, "Maybe I can help you out." After reading the script, Douglas wanted to play a part. He became an investor, putting in some of his own money, and also became the star of the film, which would be titled Home Movies (from a script De Palma had written years prior). With a big star like Douglas on board, playing a character called "The Maestro," no less, De Palma feared some of the students might feel a bit intimidated, which might then affect the quality of the film they were making. De Palma made the decision to take on the official role as director of the film, even though he let his students direct the scenes wherever possible. In addition, he hired professionals to head each department.
"All of Kirk's stuff is shot cinema verite," De Palma told Peary, "and his own Star Therapy is to have cameras running on him all the time. He's constantly directing the camera crew that's shooting him, telling them to come around for closeups, over here for a medium shot. When the lab saw the stuff, they thought Kirk was directinig the movie."
Here's an excerpt from the Hollywood Reporter obit:
Douglas walked away from a helicopter crash in 1991 and suffered a severe stroke in 1996 but, ever the battler, he refused to give in. With a passionate will to survive, he was the last man standing of all the great stars of another time.
Nominated three times for best actor by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — for Champion (1949), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and Lust for Life (1956) — Douglas was the recipient of an honorary Oscar in 1996. Arguably the top male star of the post-World War II era, he acted in more than 80 movies before retiring from films in 2004.
"Kirk retained his movie star charisma right to the end of his wonderful life, and I'm honored to have been a small part of his last 45 years," Steven Spielberg said in a statement. "I will miss his handwritten notes, letters and fatherly advice, and his wisdom and courage — even beyond such a breathtaking body of work — are enough to inspire me for the rest of mine."
The father of two-time Oscar-winning actor-director-producer Michael Douglas, the Amsterdam, New York native first achieved stardom as a ruthless and cynical boxer in Champion. In The Bad and the Beautiful, he played a hated, ambitious movie producer for director Vincente Minnelli, then was particularly memorable, again for Minnelli, as the tormented genius Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life, for which he won the New York Film Critics Award for best actor.
Perhaps most importantly, Douglas rebelled against the McCarthy Era establishment by producing and starring as a slave in Spartacus (1960), written by Dalton Trumbo, making the actor a hero to those blacklisted in Hollywood. The film became Universal’s biggest moneymaker, an achievement that stood for a decade.
Douglas’ many honors include the highest award that can be given to a U.S. civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The broad-chested Douglas often bucked the establishment with his opinions, and he had the courage to back them up. “I’ve always been a maverick," he once said. "When I was new in pictures, I defied my agents to make Champion rather than appear in an important MGM movie they had planned for me [The Great Sinner, which wound up starring Gregory Peck]. Nobody had ever heard of the people connected to Champion, but I liked the Ring Lardner story, and that’s the movie I wanted to do. Everyone thought I was crazy, of course, but I think I made the right decision.”
Never one to toe the line with synthetic, movie star-type parts, Douglas played classic heels in a number of films. In 1951, he showed a keen flair for portraying strong-minded characters like the sleazy newspaper reporter in Billy Wilder’s The Big Carnival (aka Ace in the Hole) and the sadistic cop in William Wyler’s Detective Story. He played more sympathetic types in Out of the Past (1947), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) as Doc Holliday, Paths of Glory (1957) and The List of Adrian Messenger (1963).
Douglas was very particular in his role selection. “If I like a picture, I do it. I don’t stop to wonder if it’ll be successful or not,” he said in a 1982 interview. “I loved Lonely Are the Brave and Paths of Glory, but neither of them made a lot of money. No matter; I’m proud of them.”
His independent nature led him in 1955 to form his own independent film company, Bryna Productions. In the post-World War II era, Douglas was the first actor to take control of his career in this manner. Captaining his own ship, he soon launched a number of heady projects. Most auspiciously, he took a risk on a young Stanley Kubrick with Paths of Glory and Spartacus, films that feature two of Douglas’ finest performances. (He hired Kubrick for the latter after firing Anthony Mann a week into production.)
Indeed, Douglas backed his artistic and political opinions with action: His public announcement that blacklisted writer Trumbo would script Spartacus was a key moment in Hollywood’s re-acceptance of suspected communist figures.
During a Tonight Show appearance in August 1988 to promote his first book, The Ragman’s Son, Douglas told Johnny Carson that he often drew from personal experience for his work on film.
“What I found out when I wrote this book is I have a lot of anger in me,” he said. “I’m angry about things that happened many, many years ago. I think that anger has been a lot of the fuel that has helped me in whatever I’ve done.”
I didn’t see all of the films I’d like to have seen, but I did a fair job of catching the ones I most wanted to, and of those, here are the ones I liked best:
Domino (Brian De Palma) took a lot of flak for being cut down from 150+ minutes to 88, but for me it was a crisp, clean 88 and the best film De Palma’s done since Femme Fatale. Combining the strongest elements of Femme Fatale and Redacted with some actual thought about what it means to make images and the all-too-human motivations that underlie our most high-minded moral choices, this has to be my top film of 2019.
A week ago today, McQuarrie discussed one of Czerny's big scenes from De Palma's film in a tweeted response to Tom Gregory. "DePalma," wrote McQuarrie, "while he certainly has flair, doesn't do anything in Mission just for show. His low angles in the fish restaurant, for example, create an intense sense of pressure and keep the fish tank above them in the story. He's not showing off. He's setting up. He let the scene and location tell him where to put the camera and when to cut. He understands that a scene is not just a series of lines, but a series of emotional impulses. The *visuals* tell the story. The dialogue is merely score. Watch the scene again without sound."
On a side note, I love this response McQuarrie tweeted earlier this morning to someone asking him how he avoids plot holes: "Avoid plot."
De Palma’s ultraviolent, ultra-quotable, ultra-colorful, ultra everything remake of Howard Hawks’s gangster classic is the crass flipside to The Godfather, a massively deranged and gleefully disreputable tale of the rise and plunging downfall of a Cuban immigrant turned Miami drug kingpin. Al Pacino throws himself into the title role with the fury of an angry Rottweiler, while Michelle Pfeiffer glowers gorgeously in her breakthrough role as his trophy wife. Featuring cinema’s second most shocking shower scene, and a script by Oliver Stone, Scarface is the film of the Reagan eighties.
It’s telling, perhaps, that the movies associated with the Iraq War have less of an aesthetic legacy than those associated with World War I or II or even Vietnam. In 2005’s Jarhead, Mendes even deferred to Francis Ford Coppola by showing Marines watching Apocalypse Now for inspiration, conceding to the older film’s (and older conflict’s) hold on the collective imagination. For the most part, post-9/11 American war movies have been more attuned to politics and aftermath, with spectacle either miniaturized—as in the tense, horror-movie-like bomb-defusing sequences in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker—or else eliminated altogether. The most formally innovative Iraq War movie, Brian De Palma’s Redacted, avoids the battlefield altogether, focusing instead on a panoply of multimedia perspectives to get across themes of division and disinformation; where his 1989 Vietnam film Casualties of War favored a dreamlike, lyrical detachment evincing distance from its subject matter, Redacted’s surveillance-style textures and artful integration of documentary material were evidence that the director was trying to speak to the here and now.
In the enthralling BLOW OUT, brilliantly crafted by Brian De Palma, John Travolta gives one of his greatest performances, as a movie sound-effects man who believes he has accidentally recorded a political assassination. He enlists the help of a possible eyewitness to the crime (Nancy Allen), who may be in danger herself, to uncover the truth. With its jolting stylistic flourishes, intricate plot, profoundly felt characterizations, and gritty evocation of early-1980s Philadelphia, BLOW OUT is an American paranoia thriller unlike any other, as well as a devilish reflection on moviemaking.
McQuarrie, responding via two tweets, wrote back, "DePalma, while he certainly has flair, doesn't do anything in Mission just for show. His low angles in the fish restaurant, for example, create an intense sense of pressure and keep the fish tank above them in the story. He's not showing off. He's setting up. He let the scene and location tell him where to put the camera and when to cut. He understands that a scene is not just a series of lines, but a series of emotional impulses. The *visuals* tell the story. The dialogue is merely score. Watch the scene again without sound."