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Friday, April 10, 2020

Pedro Almodóvar has begun writing quarantine essays from Madrid. Posted today, the latest essay was "provided to IndieWire by the filmmaker and translated into English by Mar Diestro-Dópido." A few paragraphs in, Almodóvar mentions James Ellroy, which leads into a riff on the films of "my beloved Brian De Palma," including several recommendations:
On Monday night, as the new hardened measures for the current quarantine were being announced, I started feeling symptoms of claustrophobia for the first time. They’ve come up late, as I’ve been suffering from claustrophobia and agoraphobia for a while; I know they are opposite pathologies, but my body is paradoxical, it is one of its characteristics, it always has been.

That night, I knew I was going to try to go out the following day; I felt as if I was going to commit a premeditated crime. As if giving yourself to a forbidden pleasure and you cannot do anything to avoid it. It sounds like cheap pulp literature, and it is, but I blame it on the effects of confinement.

I planned it minimally; I’d go to buy food, a genuine shopping trip and a genuine need since I’m on my own. So that Tuesday morning I got dressed to go out and I felt like I was doing something exceptional: dressing! It’s been 17 days since I last did it, and I’ve always experienced getting dressed as something intimate and very special. I recalled various other occasions of getting dressed, very important moments for me I realize now, which have remained in my mind since. For instance, I recalled when in 1980 I was getting dressed in Lope de Rueda street, for the premiere of “Pepi, Luci, Bom” in the Peñalver cinema on Conde de Peñalver street. Even though it was a cinema where they played re-releases, for me it was as if it was premiering at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. It was the first time that a film of mine would be watched by an audience, the first time in a real cinema and as part of the commercial circuit, with its seats full of people, the audience watching images created by me with my friends, during the year and a half that it took to film. And those who didn’t leave the cinema laughed so much. I remember I wore a red satin bomber jacket that I bought in Portobello Market, in London.

It’s not always that one dresses as part of a plan, or at least you don’t always remember it so. I recall when two years after the premiere of “Pepi,” still in the midst of La Movida, I consciously dressed in a grey Mao collar suit to go to a bar in Malasaña run by a boy I had my eyes on. I have never been much for Mao collars; I prefer the Perkins because it covers up the double chin. I remember the Mao collar suit because the boy in question became part of my life for the next two, three years. And he left a mark.

I also remember the purple silk Shantung tuxedo by the designer Antonio Alvarado, and the studded ankle boots, like the ones now made by Louboutin, that I wore to my first-ever Oscar ceremony in 1989. We didn’t win, my relationship with Carmen Maura blew up into pieces, but I remember that trip to Los Angeles as being full of wonderful events.

Four or five days before the ceremony we had dinner at Jane Fonda’s home; she was obsessed with remaking “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” She’d invited very few people, Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson, her partner then, who mentioned to Bibiana Fernández he had spotted her watching the Lakers that very afternoon. Cher, with natural make-up to make her look as if she had no make-up on, more gorgeous, cuter and shorter than I imagined. And Morgan Fairchild. Yes! (I thought the next guest would have been someone like Susan Sontag.) I was truly surprised, because I thought Morgan Fairchild played in a lower league to the rest (although having worked on “Flamingo Road” and “Falcon Crest” is no small achievement). Jane Fonda must have noticed my surprise since afterwards she explained that she used to go on demonstrations with Morgan Fairchild, who was as feminist if not more so than herself.

We spent the soiree gobsmacked by the energy of the female guests and of Jack himself. We had many pictures taken with them and with the paintings hanging on those walls, whose author was Jane’s father, Henry Fonda.

The morning after the ceremony, I received a phone call at the hotel, a woman’s voice. She tells me, as if she were not conscious of its impact, but confident that her voice was going to have an impact on me: “Hello, it’s Madonna, I’m filming ‘Dick Tracy’ and I would love to show you the set. I’m not filming today and I can dedicate the day to you”.

It could be a false Madonna, or a psychopath who was thinking of cutting me into pieces on one of those waste grounds James Ellroy describes so well in his novels. If you read “The Black Dahlia” you’ll know what I’m talking about; Ellroy’s mother was dismembered on one of those wastelands. You can also watch the film by my beloved Brian De Palma based on the book, with Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank, but the truth is it didn’t turn out that well. It’s not bad for quarantine, but I would recommend you many others by De Palma before that one: “Sisters,” “Phantom of the Paradise,” “Carlito’s Way,” “Body Double” — with Melanie Griffith at the peak of her powers, skinny as a rake — and above all, “Scarface” with Al Pacino. Don’t bother with “The Black Dahlia” and organize yourselves a program with all of those films, you’ll thank me later. They are all gems, seriously accessible, and really enjoyable. I will make you a list of recommendations at the end.

Coming back to Madonna, it could always be someone who was playing a joke on me, but my self-esteem — despite not winning the Oscar — was high enough for me to have no doubt this was an authentic phone call. Madonna’s voice gave me the address for the studio where they were filming, and I turned up there, pleased as punch.

The truth is the whole team, from Warren Beatty to Vittorio Storaro, couldn’t have been kinder to me. They treated me as if I was George Cukor. Beatty forced me to sit on the chair with his name on, the director’s chair, so I could watch the sequence they were filming. I was about to confess that when I was a child I discovered my sexuality when I saw him in “Splendor in the Grass” (the builder in “Pain and Glory” never existed), but I stopped myself from doing so, of course. They were filming a sequence where an unrecognizable Al Pacino was yakking away non-stop. He was nominated for the Oscar the following year, and the film was awarded three statuettes.

Madonna took me around all of the sets and I met someone who I deeply admired, Milena Canonero, the costume designer who by then had already won three Oscars (she’d be nominated for “Dick Tracy” the following year): “Chariots of Fire,” “Barry Lyndon,” and “Cotton Club.” I recommend all three films to cope with the quarantine. My favourite is Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon.” Milena Canonero would go on to win a fourth Oscar, I don’t remember which film. Visiting her workshop was what probably left the strongest impression on me during that visit; it would have been the only reason why I would have liked to work in Hollywood: the obsession for detail.

Continue reading the rest of the essay at IndieWire.

Posted by Geoff at 11:43 PM CDT
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Thursday, April 9, 2020

Remember when this year began and how those first ten days of January saw a plethora of articles looking at films set in 2020, and what those films envisioned for us this year? As it turns out, a lot can change in three months!

"Lots of us have been bingeing pandemic movies, understandably," Sara Stewart states at the start of a New York Post article today. "It’s perversely comforting to see that things could be worse. But what else, I wondered, did film envision for us in 2020, specifically? I looked at five sci-fi movies set this year (and available for rent on Amazon, among other platforms) to see if things were better or worse than the real deal."

Stewart begins with Doug Liman's Edge Of Tomorrow, in which "tentacled aliens have taken over huge swaths of the globe and humanity seems to be permanently at war with them. (So: worse?)"

Then she moves on to Mission To Mars:

Next up: “Mission to Mars,” from 2000. Director Brian De Palma was clearly overly optimistic about our space exploration capabilities. Or was he? Three characters have died 20 minutes in, and there’s a giant face on the surface of the red planet. Yikes. Here’s a whisper of quarantine familiarity as a rescue mission finds that a scraggly Don Cheadle’s been tending a greenhouse alone on Mars for a year. Some of us may find a whisper of relatability here. This is a very cheesy movie, but it’s got a great scene of Tim Robbins and Connie Nielsen dancing in zero gravity. Also, we meet a Martian relative. On balance: better.

The other three movies Stewart looks at are Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim ("depressing to see government officials on what appears to be a Zoom call in the year 2025. I’d have hoped we would have improved the format by then"), Reign Of Fire ("I think it’s fair to say fire-breathing reptiles annihilating our cities while our fate hangs in the balance of a shaved-headed, crazy-eyed Matthew McConaughey is worse than our current predicament"), and John Krasinski's A Quiet Place ("This is clearly worse than having to cover your lower face in public — although I bet 'a quiet place' is what every working-from-home parent is dreaming about right now").

Posted by Geoff at 11:40 PM CDT
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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Allen Garfield, the great character actor who appeared with Robert De Niro in Brian De Palma's Greetings (1968) and again in its sequel, Hi, Mom! (1970), passed away yesterday. He was 80.

News that Garfield died due to complications from COVID-19 was posted by Garfield's Nashville co-star Ronee Blakley on Facebook last night. However, The Hollywood Reporter's Mike Barnes received confirmation of the actor's death from Garfield's sister Lois Goorwitz, and Barnes' obit only attributed the COVID-19 element to Blakley's post.

"Garfield suffered a stroke as he was set to appear in Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate (1999)," Barnes states, "then suffered another one in 2004 that led him to reside at the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills. A spokeswoman for the MPTF facility did not know if Garfield was there at the time of his death."

Garfield also appeared with Tommy Smothers in De Palma's first studio picture, Get To Know Your Rabbit (1972). That same year, he was cast in Michael Ritchie's The Candidate, which starred Robert Redford.

Between Greetings and Hi, Mom!, Garfield appeared in another influential counterculture satire, Robert Downey Sr.'s Putney Swope, as well as Woody Allen's Bananas in 1971. In 1974, he appeared in Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (a key film, of course, in the realm of De Palma's cinema), and later, Robert Altman's Nashville (1975), William Friedkin's The Brink's Job (1978), Richard Rush's The Stunt Man (1980), Coppola's One From The Heart (1981) and The Cotton Club (1984), among many others.

Before he began working at a video store, Quentin Tarantino studied acting for six years, three of them with Garfield as his mentor.

Here's more from Barnes' obit at The Hollywood Reporter:

Born Allen Goorwitz on Nov. 22, 1939, in Newark, he went by his real name in several films, including The Brink's Job (1978) and One From the Heart (1981), midway through his career.

Garfield boxed as an amateur, worked as a sportswriter and studied with Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan at the Actors Studio in New York. He appeared often onstage before making his film debut in Orgy Girls '69, followed by other big-screen appearances in 1971 in Woody Allen's Bananas and The Organization, starring Sidney Poitier.

Often playing jumpy types, he worked for Francis Ford Coppola in The Conversation (1974) and The Cotton Club (1984) and for Wim Wenders in A State of Things (1982) and Until the End of the World (1991).

He also portrayed Louis B. Mayer in Gable and Lombard (1976) and police chief Harold Lutz in Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), and his résumé also included roles in Teachers (1984), Desert Bloom (1986), Dick Tracy (1990), Destiny Turns on the Radio (1995) and The Majestic (2001).

"The reason I did [the 1988 movie] Chief Zabu is that Allen Garfield is from the Actors Studio, I'm from the Actors Studio, and we worked together there on stuff," actress Marianna Hill said in a 2016 interview with Shaun Chang for the Hill Place blog. "Allen Garfield happens to be a great actor. He's a really underrated actor. Allen was the hardest-working actor, but nobody realizes that about him because he seems to be a natural."

Posted by Geoff at 8:16 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, April 8, 2020 9:37 PM CDT
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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

"While critics certainly have their favorites," Alex Wyse states in the introduction of today's post at Screen Rant, "it’s always interesting to see what the general consensus is among fans." It's important to note here, however, that "The 10 Best Brian De Palma Movies Ranked (According to IMDb)" is not a poll of De Palma fans, but a list made up of ratings from users of the IMDb. In other words, it's a more general sort of popular vote from the general public, many of whom might only ever have seen the more broadly known works of De Palma's filmography.

Don't get me wrong-- each of the films in this top ten is solid. "With a film career going all the way back to the 1960s," Wyse writes, "Brian De Palma has built up an incredibly impressive body of work over the decades. Boasting an eclectic mix of movies that range from slashers to gangster epics all the way to big-budget action movies, many of De Palma’s works are considered amongst the most iconic in all of cinema." Wyse includes comments about each of the ten films on the list-- you can read them and see the ranking at Screen Rant.

Posted by Geoff at 8:27 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, April 7, 2020 8:31 PM CDT
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Monday, April 6, 2020

Facu DAntuoni, from Argentina, posted a lengthy analysis of Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale today, as a Twitter thread. Below is a Google-assisted translation, although these tweets are best read on DAntuoni's thread, where he has included screen captures to illustrate his tweets.
Thread Analysis of "FEMME FATALE" (2002). De Palma is repeatedly said to copy Hitchcock and that he is an irregular director. Let's see particularly in this case, as what he does, is a rereading and updating of his work. In one of his least valued movies.

Before starting, I clarify that the analysis will be with spoilers and that there will be several mentions of Double Indemnity (1944), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960) and Body Double (1984).

"Femme Fatale" is among many things, a revision to the figure of the fatal woman. For this reason it begins with the reproduction of Double Indemnity by Billy Wilder. Fundamental film for film noir, the characteristics of the "femme fatale" and the figure of the double.

In this close-up of the film, Laure is reflected and blurred in the screen. Establishing the mix of reality with fiction and the oneiric (which was later proposed by Brian De Palma).

In the scene he watches from Double Indemnity, he goes from general to specific (there is a close-up of the shots). In Femme Fatale the opposite occurs: De Palma uses a traveling backward, going from Laure's reflection (his double) to his presentation; backwards.

But let's detail several more particularities of this entire initial scene, which lasts almost 5 minutes and has no cuts:

The backward traveling responds to the fact that: both Laure, De Palma's own film and cinema understand that one must know the above (the history of cinema). The present and the future are built from the past (which is going to happen literally in the film).

Laure shows up and almost the whole scene is turned on her back: we understand that there is something behind it and that it will be pursued and observed throughout the story.

It is the first voyeuristic act in a double way: we (spectators) see Laure (and she does not see us). At the same time she sees Phyllis from DI (who doesn't see her). This will be maintained throughout the film (chases of 3 people) where there is someone who does not know that they are watching.

She is lying down: since she is going to dream (literally) much of the film.

In addition to the Billy Wilder movie, "Femme Fatale" will dialogue with Vertigo and Alfred Hitchock's Rear Window. Films that among many topics address the theme of women, and women and their relationship with men (and vice versa).

Black Tie enters "scene" being this, the "masculine" look of this femme fatale. This man gives you orders and takes a command position. Laure apparently subordinates herself to him.

Lastly, the clock and the mirror: the double, the gaze and the time are brought into play from the beginning.

To complete this whole scene, which as I mentioned has no cuts, curtains are opened -the curtain is drawn- which gives an idea of ​​self-awareness, representation, staging and acting (later I develop all this). And it's also a link to the beginning of Rear Window.

The entire following sequence (which lasts about 15 minutes) occurs at the Cannes festival, where Laure is going to steal diamonds and betray her companions (Black Tie and Racine): and where the following themes are going to be present (which then go to make sense).

Double: Both the film shown at the festival "East West" and "Femme Fatale" is made up of two words.

2 bodyguards // 2 women accompany the director // 2 women in the bathroom // division of the same space into 2 parts.

Reflection in mirrors // 2 languages ​​and 2 countries (France and the United States) // Number 2 in the director's passenger seat.

The circular and the fall: (relationship with Vertigo, then I return to this).

Voyeurism, the male gaze, the female gaze.

The screens:

The water, (later in the thread I explain).

At the end of this entire sequence. It is the woman who has the key (takes power) that previously passes through 3 men: she will be the protagonist / heroine of the story.

Laure is now the protagonist: therefore we see her behind the glass (screen) and the world (paris) is the one that is reflected in her. Thus reversing the foreground, where she observed a screen and reflected on it.

To hide, she will change her look (double her). Symbolically, Laure is searching for her identity.

The first split screen appears, which as is known is a resource that De Palma uses regularly. Far from being free, in a film where the gaze is a relevant topic. Viewers will have to choose and decide where to look. But this is not the only interesting thing:

De Palma uses this narratively: and shows two glances towards the woman, (in both cases they are spying on her). Laure realizes that the photographer is watching her. But he is unaware that Black Tie is doing the same. The viewer with the split screen knows everything. [A La Mod editor's note: it is not Black Tie spying here via binoculars, but his partner, Racine]

This whole scene is going to alternate different subjective of the characters, with normal planes (somehow subjective of the spectator). And it will end with (continue)

Nicolas Bardo, pasting the photo he took of Laure (reality / fiction / representation), and on the right side, a shot identical to the one that Bardo looks at, but which is not a subjective one of him.

Laure escapes from the Church and is persecuted by her (false) parents. Along the way De Palma takes the opportunity to present other characters that will appear later. Her future husband, the chief of security, the wench and Phyllips.

Very interesting that the character of the head of security is starring Gregg Henry. Actor who in Body Double plays Sam Bouchard, who represents evil and power.

Hitchcock is the master of suspense and Brian De Palma is his best student: Racine, a partner in Black Tie, is going to wait for Laure in the hotel room. The viewer knows everything beforehand and thus the tension is generated.

The attack on the woman is similar to the end of Rear Window.

Then Racine pushes her and Laure falls for the first time. Falls are essential in Hitchcock's cinema.

When Laure falls, she is "sleeping".

The photograph increases in blue tone; which is related to water and a certain trait of reverie. Through a subjective, Laure sees her (false) parents.

For the second time a television appears (beginning of the film). We already know that Laure watches and learns from what she sees in this one. In the show you watch, they ask themselves: if you could see your future, would you change it? Which is literally going to happen next.

All the movements, planes and angulations in De Palma's cinema always have a reason. Not coincidentally here, (a death) uses a zenith shot.

As in Vertigo: there is an identity replacement: (Madeleine / Judy) - (Laure / Lili) but this time it is the woman herself who decides to do it (in the form of a dream). Without neglecting that she is persecuted, by the “masculine” gaze of different men.

Anticipating us a little, Laure will reflect, (taking power): What woman does she want to be? What did you learn from the other women? What is your identity? Lili is her double but also her counterpart: she is married and had a daughter.

Let's remember the elements that appear when Laure bathes (the water, the clock). From here it is a dream of hers.

The rain of this whole scene also responds to a change, so every time it rains, Laure will change her look (identity).

Subjective of Laure that sees Lili in a kind of screen, between the kitchen frames. As we said, Lili is one of the many women that Laure observes.

Lili writes a letter saying that she is going to travel to America to start a new life. Then she loads the drum with two shots, turns it and takes aim. The first shot doesn't work but the second does (relating it like this to the scene Laure sees from Double Indeminity)

Double and circular is in every detail: De Palma makes a great ellipsis, and without showing the shot: it goes from the circular movement of the drum to the turbine of the plane. With this we already understand that Lili shot herself and that Laure took her identity.

The story jumps 7 years later where Laure returns to France and is married to Watss (the man she met on the plane)

Nicolas Bardo's presentation is repeated with the split screen. The Banderas character is going to be acting and pretending to be someone else several times. In the role play, he is also searching for his identity.

Nicolas Bardo is a kind of Scottie (Vertigo), Jeff (Rear Window) or Jake (Body Double). As these have a weakness, he has free time and is a voyeur.

On the split screen, on one side he will stay (without moving the camera) with Nicolas Bardo. On the other side, the movement from the beginning of the film is repeated: the camera moves back and goes through the church, through the deja vu poster and finally by the two women in a bar.

From the back we are presented with a woman who we think is Laure (she is not). Then Nicolas Bardo appears, posing as a blind person to take a photo of Laure.

Rear Window / Femme Fatale / Domino.

Shiff appears back, sure he wants to get Laure's photo back. Nicolas Bardo does not know that he is being watched. In this minimal conversation the double appears, the screen and the water.

Bardo enters the room performing a performance: and both are dressed in opposite colors: Laure is in white, since she simulates purity and innocence. Then when he reveals his plan, he is going to present himself in black. Also these two states coexist in it, as a double.

The cross anticipates the (symbolic) death of these two characters.

Nicolas Bardo falls in love, and Laure seduces and uses him. Like Madeleine, she appears ghostly.

In order for De Palma to tell us that Laure is cheating on Bardo, he places her in front of a mirror where she takes off her makeup (her mask).

“Femme Fatale” and film noir: a great self-conscious mystery / suicide scene and that of a detective trying to discover a case.

In Hitchcock's work: the protagonist's morality and taking charge, seeing and discovering a murder, are put into play, starting from observing the details. From a voyeuristic look, getting into the private life of another. For a photo that Bardo took, Black Tie searches for Laure

We have already discussed the role of women and the masculine gaze. Laure and Nicolas Bardo go to a bar, where they are all men and she is the center of attention.

Laure seduces Napoleon (another relationship with water) who is double of Nicolas Bardo.

Nicolas Bardo and Laure descend into "the underworld" obviously through a circular staircase.

Both men and women seek their identity, through representations. Laure stared at the Double Indeminity femme fatale. Then, I change her look and take the identity of Lili. Now before the Napoleon dance, look at another woman on the poster.

Bardo watches Laure, who unlike the close-up of the movie (from the back), is facing forward and knows that she is being watched. What it gives, a certain self-awareness within the film itself. Back the 2 masculine glances at Laure. Napoleon is here, the one with his back

Then Banderas must face and beat his double. All this shown, intelligently through shadows.

This little scene is another summary of the Femme Fatale themes. One of the protagonists (Laure) there is something she does not see, and the viewer has more information (Bardo is recording it). Both characters are acting within the fiction itself.

On the bridge, already reaching the end, all the important characters will conclude. This whole scene is reminiscent of the one Laure sees in Double Idemnity: first she cheats and kills the husband to keep her silver. Then (continue)

they both point their guns. Recall that in Double Indemnity, Phyllips shoots Neff once and does not kill him (he needs two shots), he shoots him twice and kills her.

As we already said, at any moment some of the characters are being observed without knowing it. In this case both Shiff and Black Tie watch them from a car.

Laure and Nicolas Bardo sign up, the latter has fake bullets (performance / representation).

The bridge is a symbol of union, and of power. Power, which in Veritgo invisibly has Gavin Elster, in Body Double Sam Bouchard has it. In Femme Fatale, Laure (as a woman) and Nicolas Bardo are going to try to get it. The bridge will also be the step to another life.

Symbolically, Nicolas Bardo (attention to the framing, the blood and the cross) and Laure are going to die.

Laure, like Madeleine, is going to "fall".

Water as a symbol of rebirth: If Laure dies, she will be reborn back in the bathtub.

Now, understanding that everything Laure lived through is a dream (of her future). Knowing what happens, both in your life and in the other movies, (the camera that goes backwards, relationship scene)

Laure, as a woman can decide what life to live and what identity to have. Live your own life and not that of other women.

Also, Brian De Palma, decides to give his protagonist the opportunity to redeem herself and go back. That possibility that Marion Crane did not have in Psycho.

Therefore Laure, will change the facts and her own destiny. She decides to save Lili, who gives a circular chain to a driver.

Before moving on to the end of the film, let's see how Brian de Palma, using Laure's elements in the bathtub (such as the water and the clock), leaves clues, so that the viewer, if he is attentive, knows that everything that has happened is a dream:


The clock, with the same time as the one in the bathtub.

Posters of "deja vu".

Pictures with water or referring to sleep.

The dialogues:

The Blood of Black Tie, which refers to the beginning of the film.

The double, not only seen from the plans:

The circular can be seen from objects, shapes, scenes that are repeated, or even in minute details, such as the spiral of the vase. Let me be clear, it is not just a curiosity, this is fundamental for the film and as a way of seeing life, by Brian De Palma.

Not coincidentally, with everything already explained, the characters discover or reveal situations through photos.

Now, the end: They go back 7 years and repeat the sequence already known from the split screen to Nicolas Bardo. Now it's Laure, the woman sitting at the bar.

The driver, this time is dazzled by the circular chain that Lili gave him, and instead of accidentally killing the woman, he is going to kill Black Tie and Racine. Laure changed her destiny and that of the other woman.

In the end, Laure and Nicolas Bardo instead of ending in "hell" will end in "paradise".

If "Femme Fatale" started with a fiction and "opening a curtain" it will end with Nicolas Bardo, sticking the photo of Laure on his wall, a cutout and a representation of reality, from one of his many possible lives.

Up to here the thread of "Femme Fatale" (2002) MASTERPIECE by Brian De Palma. Thanks for reading, and any doubt, contribution or suggestion is more than welcome.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, April 7, 2020 11:07 PM CDT
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Sunday, April 5, 2020

Megan Abbott is co-showrunner of the TV series Dare Me, which ended its first season last month on the USA Network. The series is based on Abbott's 2012 novel of the same name. A week ago, Abbott tweeted the above juxtaposed images from Brian De Palma's Carrie and the very first episode of Dare Me. The latter, which originally aired last December, was written by Abbott and co-showrunner Gina Fattore, and directed by Steph Green.

Back in December, Abbott talked to Refinery29's Leah Carroll about why so much of her writing is about teenage girls, and also about the visual look of the pilot episode:

Refinery29: Dare Me is adapted from from your crime novel of the same name — so many of your books are about teenage girls. Why do you think you return to that subject in books, film, and TV?

Megan Abbott: "I think we're all in some ways haunted by our adolescence. It is sort of that moment, especially for women, when you really decide who you are and what you want and what you don't want. Teenage girls are just on the cusp of adulthood and they crave experience, but might not always be quite ready for it when it comes. And it just is such a precipice age and just so ripe for drama. And I think as a culture, we so mistreated the subject and are so diminishing of young women. There’s a stereotype of these selfie-taking, vapid girls we see so much in media and in film and TV, but we know it’s obviously not true. Adolescence is a time of roaring complexity for young women. It's endlessly fascinating. I would really only write about teenage girls."

Visually the show is so stunning. The girls are shot covered in glitter but it looks like war paint. What was behind that aesthetic choice?

"Well, the 'war paint' thing comes straight from the book. And my novels are so influenced by movies. So I do think when I’m writing, I’m also creating a visual image. But it really was so much a part of a pilot director, Steph Green, who really established the look, and our director of photography on the pilot, Zoe White, who does handmade palettes. And together with Gina Fattore, my co-showrunner, we really had all these visual ideas that we wanted to use to tell a story that is very internal. We really wanted to find a way to convey these inner feelings through visuals because you're not always really able to articulate those feelings at that age.

"So we wanted to go with a slightly elevated style to reflect how it feels to be a teenage girl, where the colors are even brighter and the world is more intoxicating and mysterious. All of that was part of the very first discussion, even when we were pitching the show. we really wanted this to be, you know, Virgin Suicides-esque: that kind of dreaming, moody, murky, dark. We had this amazing production designer, Michael Bricker, who also did Russian Doll. And he had this great idea that the girls would be the one pop of color in this sort of gray, muddy-looking, weary city. And so it was this great collaborative effort to try to bring this interior life of teenage girls to a visual form."


Friday, November 16, 2012
Megan Abbott's latest book, Dare Me, takes place in the world of high school cheerleading, and has been described as Heathers meets Fight Club. Abbott is currently working on the screenplay adaptation of Dare Me for a film version in development with producer Karen Rosenfelt at Fox 2000. In an interview with William Boyle at Fiction Writers Review, Abbott discusses, among other things, the influence of David Lynch and Brian De Palma on Dare Me. Here are the first few paragraphs of the interview:

William Boyle: You cited Twin Peaks as a big influence on The End of Everything and you mentioned Laura Palmer in your article about competitive cheerleading for The New York Times a few weeks ago. I feel David Lynch’s presence in Dare Me, as well. There’s a Laura/Donna dynamic between Beth and Addy and a very palpable erotic tension throughout. Did Lynch influence Dare Me?

Megan Abbott: With me, it’s never one-to-one or conscious exactly. But this is interesting: when I had the title for The End of Everything I watched Mulholland Drive again and it’s a line in that film: “This is the end of everything.” Someone told me, “Oh, it’s also a line in your first book” [Die A Little], which I had written the year Mulholland Drive came out, so clearly that line is/was tattooed in my brain. So I think it mostly comes out in unconscious ways.

But that’s a great analogy. The Laura Palmer/Donna relationship is such a fundamental female friendship dynamic and that’s a perfect example with Beth and Addy. There’s always the one friend who takes all the air out of the room or is such a presence and the other one who is secondary and is longing to be that bigger person. There are those moments when Maddy comes and looks like Laura and then Donna realizes that she’s going to be dethroned again. There’s something about that complicated female dynamic that I think has been a pulse through a lot of my stuff.

And then sometimes I look at Lynch when I’m trying to add odd tensions to a scene. I get that a lot from him. It’s never direct either. But I’ll just sort of watch a bunch of his stuff to remind myself of why things are scary that wouldn’t necessarily seem scary. There’s a scene in Dare Me where Beth is talking about a dream she had and that definitely feels like a Lynch kind of thing. You know, when someone’s telling you the dream, but they’re telling it in a way that it becomes terrifying to the listener.

Also, in Lynch’s films everything is infused with eroticism. That’s something that’s probably characteristic of maybe all my books, but certainly the last two where it’s adolescence, so it takes over everything anyway.

William Boyle: Early in the book you confront the fetishization of cheerleaders head-on: “All those misty images of cheerleaders frolicking in locker rooms, pom-poms sprawling over bare bud breasts. All those endless fantasies and dirty-boy dreams, they’re all true in a way.” This put me in mind of Brian De Palma. It’s almost as if you’re playing a kind of trick he’d play, making us believe that’s true but yet undermining it with the portrait of the Cheerleader Real that you wind up painting. Was that your intention?

Megan Abbott: Absolutely. De Palma. I can never think of a female locker without thinking of the beginning of Carrie, which is exactly what “dirty boy-dreams” I had in mind. And it’s funny because I always feel like I go both ways with that. I love De Palma. I’m a big De Palma fan. And I want to diffuse the fantasy, but then it also turns out to be partially true. That’s always the thing—it’s the two sides of me. My Times essay is my intellectual take. I want this to be real. But when I write, it’s a different part of my brain—it also wants it partially to be a fantasy. And for it to be a fantasy part of it has to be true. So there are moments in the book where the fantasies are made real, they are kind of literal, there is a sensory pleasure the girls get from each other’s bodies even in just touching each other during stunts. I wanted that to be in there. The sort of thinking feminist part of my head wants to puncture this stuff, but the other part of me knows it is part of the Real in some ways, that all fantasies have some basis in reality. People always say De Palma’s a misogynist, but I think he’s actually really a feminist. And I think he gets to have it both ways. I mean, that’s sort of his trick. He’s making fun of it, but he’s still indulging it.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Saturday, April 4, 2020

"You liked Rocky. You loved Witness," Gary Thompson, film critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer, said to readers in an online post this morning. "And now readers have flooded The Inquirer’s 'One Movie, One Philadelphia' with excellent suggestions for other movies to watch together while we’re in lockdown — the strong favorite being Blow Out, the 1981 Bicentennial thriller with John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, and Dennis Franz (as lowlife Manny Karp, the anti-Sipowicz). But before we move on to Brian De Palma and his R-rated hooker noir, we wanted to find something appropriate for all ages to watch this weekend and weigh in on."

And so, while this week's "One Movie, One Philadelphia" will have The Inquirer's readers watching Nicolas Cage in National Treasure over the weekend, and posting their comments about that film before midnight on Sunday, it looks like Blow Out will definitely be highlighted later this month. In the meantime, two other websites included Blow Out in their lists today. At Flickering Myth, Tom Jolliffe offered up "10 essential paranoia films," a list that includes The Conversation:

Possibly the greatest paranoia film ever. Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful film sees Gene Hackman catch a suggestive conversation from two ‘targets’ he’s been asked to tap. A progressive trail of events unfold and Hackman, still haunted by the collateral damage from some of his previous jobs, believes he’s unwittingly put a young couple in danger.

The nefarious company Hackman deals with make vague threats when he questions them, and then his mental state begins to unravel. For a film that Coppola did as a kind of quickie between his two Godfather epics, The Conversation is stunningly crafted. The offsetting score really adds to this unsettling atmosphere. By the time Hackman has lost his marbles completely, and the film has ended brilliantly, you’ll be left stunned.

And of course, Jolliffe also includes Blow Out:
Back to a sound man finding himself drawn into a web of murder after recording more than he bargained for. Brian De Palma’s wonderful homage to vintage era Hitchcock (as well as no small nod to Antonioni’s Blow Up, and the aforementioned The Conversation) has everything you’d expect from his peak era work.

Travolta probably gives his best performance. Given how huge a fan Tarantino is of this film in particularly, and the surprising choice to cast Travolta in Pulp Fiction back in the day, it’s likely his work in this contributed heavily to why he ended up dancing with Uma Thurman on screen in 94. Travolta and fellow Carrie alumni, Nancy Allen are both excellent in this and the film is brilliantly shot and expertly paced. De Palma’s trademark style is in full effect, and completely effective for this kind of histrionic thriller. If Coppola dialled it all back for his thriller, De Palma keeps it all out and it contrasts beautifully with The Conversation (rather than battling it for supremacy).


And also today, Jake Dee at Screen Rant ranks Travolta's "10 best roles," with Jack Terry in Blow Out coming in at number 5...even though it sounds like Dee is actually saying it is Travolta's best...? Read on:

Travolta's best-yet-most-underrated role is almost certainly that of Jack Terry in Brian De Palma's equally unheralded 1981 thriller Blow Out. See this movie if you haven't already!

Jack Terry is a soundman for low-budget horror films. While out recording nighttime sounds, he accidentally records a car crashing off of a bridge into a lake. The car belongs to a powerful politician who dies in the wreckage. What seems like an accident is discovered by Jack to be an assassination conspiracy after he carefully studies his recording. The final line Travolta gives is truly chilling!

Jake Dee's top four Travolta roles: Vincent Vega - Pulp Fiction (#1), Tony Manero - Saturday Night Fever (#2), Danny Zuko - Grease (#3), and Chili Palmer - Get Shorty (#4).

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CDT
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Friday, April 3, 2020

Yesterday, Ariel Kates at the Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation posted their "Epic Greenwich Village Watch-List." The list includes Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, which are both on HULU right now, apparently. "It’s time to dive into our beloved neighborhoods of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo as they’re seen through the movie camera lens," Kates states in the introduction. "Presented in no apparent order, this list is full of Village locations, Villagers behind and in front of the camera, romance, action, drama, intrigue, and all the things to keep us occupied when we’re looking for something to watch.

Here's the entry for Carlito's Way:

Carlito’s Way – 17 Gay Street, Greenwich Village (Hulu)

Ten years after they made “Scarface,” Al Pacino and director Brian De Palma returned with “Carlito’s Way,” another large-canvas portrait of a professional criminal. Carlito Brigante is older and wiser, and for a time seems to be luckier… you’ll have to watch it to find out what happens to him and his luck, but *spoiler alert* our hero Pacino is arrested on Gay Street. He also watches a dance at the Joffrey Ballet Theater, and explores other sites in the Village and beyond.

And the entry for Rear Window:
Rear Window – Christopher Street and Hudson Street (Hulu)

It’s not often that a building plays a starring role in a major motion picture. But in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which premiered on August 1, 1954, that is exactly the case. Most people know that Hitchcock set the film in Greenwich Village, but did you know that the location he used as a reference for the setting actually exists? The multi-dwelling apartment building and complex of next-door buildings that share a common courtyard at the corner of Christopher Street and Hudson Street is the object of Jimmy Stewart’s obsession and where the murder in the lauded Hitchcock film takes place.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Brian De Palma's Sisters was added to MUBI UK a few days ago. Little White Lies' Tom Williams posted a review on Monday-- here's an excerpt:
What elevates Sisters above a standard Hitchcock rip-off, and makes it authentically De Palma, is its typically unsubtle and scathing social critique. Latching on to the disillusionment of late-1960s America amid the broadcasting of the Vietnam War, he makes his concerns about morbid fascination apparent. By framing the game show scene as a television studio set, De Palma positions us as the live audience, making it impossible to ignore his on-the-nose satire.

As evidenced in this scene, the act of looking is central to the plot of Sisters and is unavoidable as a by-product of its Psycho-meet-Rear Window narrative. Crucially, budding investigative journalist Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) is introduced as the lead character through a voyeuristic episode: the viewing of Woode’s murder at the hands of psychologically unhinged Dominique, Danielle’s since-separated Siamese twin and ulterior personality.

After a frenzy of blood and Bernard Herrmann’s screeching score, Collier’s identity as Danielle’s distant neighbour, and witness, is revealed via a tantalising zoom out. De Palma uses his notorious split-screening to show this ordeal unfolding from both apartments simultaneously, suggesting that no one is immune to being spied on in this twisting, slasher escapade.

This begins the reporter’s story of female crisis as distrust haunts her at every turn: whether it’s the police, her own mother, or a private investigator she hires. De Palma makes this disbelief as frustrating to watch as possible, to both point at a repressive patriarchy and indicate the dangers of her invasive, suspense-fuelled investigation.

He achieves this by frequently positioning the audience as voyeurs of the story rather than being immersed in one character’s perspective: effectively punishing them for peeping too. One excruciating split screen sequence shows Grace’s fracas with the police side-by-side with Danielle’s ex-husband Emil (regular De Palma collaborator William Finley) hurriedly covering up the murder and hiding the body in a sofa bed.

Collier’s persistence heightens upon viewing a Breton Twins exposé, reminiscent of the exploitative real-life documentaries that fed perverse curiosity in the sixties. Her own morbid fascination leads her into captivity under Emil and she is forced to witness the journey of the twins whilst sedated in a harrowing dream sequence.

This is where De Palma really flexes his directorial muscle, physically launching Collier into the perspective of Dominique through her own pupil, which transitions to become a peep hole into the twin’s nightmarish history. Switching from 35mm to 16mm, colour also ceases to exist as she witnesses life on the other side of the lens, including the invasive recording of the documentary and the neurotic behaviour of the general public.

Such an explosive crescendo rounds up what De Palma was saying all along: our voyeuristic tendencies are unhealthy, perverse, and ultimately dangerous. The final shot and the last act of looking is one of obsession and zero resolution. Through binoculars, the private investigator observes the sofa bed intrinsic to the murder. No one is coming for it and the case is dead in the water. Still, he watches on.

Meanwhile, Vodzilla reshared Anton Bitel's review of Sisters from this past January:
Sisters opens with a double-bluff. First, as the credits roll to the instantly recognisable dramatic strains of a Bernard Herrmann score, we see up-close stills (courtesy of Lennart Nilsson) of a foetus developing in utero, before it is revealed that there is a second foetus hidden behind the first. Next, in the opening scene, ad man Phillip Woode (Lisle Wilson) is shown in a changing room watching as a blind woman enters and starts undressing – only for it to be revealed that this is a sting operation, with Phillip’s moves and moral choices being filmed by hidden cameras for a television show called Peeping Toms. By turning away, Phillip passes the test of chivalry, and is rewarded with dinner for two at Manhattan’s nightspot. The ‘blind’ woman – in fact, a perfectly sighted Quebecoise model called Danielle (Margot Kidder) – puts herself forward to join Phillip at the club, and then invites him back to her apartment on Staten Island. The following morning, Phillip is murdered there, stabbed with a knife from the cutlery set that had been Danielle’s prize on the show.

These two openings, one short and one much longer, introduce what will prove key themes in Brian De Palma’s first thriller: twins (and other doubles), and voyeurism. It turns out that sweet Danielle is a Siamese twin, surgically separated from her more disturbed sister Dominique (also Kidder) as an adult, and still bearing scars (both physical and psychological) from that traumatic rupture. Linked by their otherness – he is African-American, she is French-Canadian – Phillip and Danielle are brought together by a television show devoted to wandering eyes, and as they spend the night and morning together, they are still being observed – by Danielle’s ex-husband, Emil Breton (William Finley), who possessively stalks the model, by Dominique, who lingers jealously in the next room, and by budding journalist Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt), who lives in an apartment opposite and is partial eyewitness to Phillip’s murder. Even the newspaper for which Collier currently works is called the Staten Island Panorama – that last word signifying the full view of the film’s plotting which, in the end, the audience can see even if the surviving characters remain blind.

It is no coincidence that Herrmann was hired to provide the score. For Sisters, like so many of De Palma’s subsequent films, pays homage to, even makes pastiche of, the thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock. Grace snooping from her apartment replays Rear Window (1954), while the killing and cover-up that unfold in Danielle’s apartment come with echoes of Rope (1948) and a gender-reversed Psycho (1960). If these allusions represent one kind of doubling, there are certainly others, from De Palma’s expert use of split screens to divide the film’s narrative perspective in two to the convergence of Danielle’s and Grace’s storylines until they become hypnotically conjoined. Sisters is a film of two halves, with Phillip’s murder and disappearance followed fast by Grace’s amateur sleuthing – in which she is paired with professional detective Joseph Larch (Charles Durning). Their two-pronged investigation will lead to some crazy places, and indeed to a place for the crazy, where one man’s gaslighting ways are made to coalesce with a psychiatrist’s clinical use of mesmerism, and two very different women will find themselves trapped in the same Shock Corridor.

Both Grace and Danielle are trapped. Grace may have high ambitions to pursue her career as an investigative reporter independent of any men, but voices around her, like the urgings of her mother (Mary Davenport) that she give up her “little job” and get married, keep driving her to conform to the prevailing, male-oriented system, while the policemen and Detective Larch broadly patronise and ignore her. In a different way, Danielle is even more trapped, still mentally conjoined to her now-separate sister as though she were a phantom limb, and caught in her ex’s abusive web of control. The two murders in the film are both presented as acts of revenge – one tragically misdirected – against patriarchy itself. Indeed, both begin with castrating slashes at the male groin, the seat of phallocentric power. Yet, by the end of the film, Grace has thoroughly internalised a male voice that undermines her own best interests – and prevents her from ever being able to publish her big journalistic scoop. For this is a film where sisters, and the sisterhood, are shown to fail in their bid for success or freedom, all thanks to a domineering, manipulative Svengali who gets into their heads and brainwashes them to meekness, madness and murder.

“There’s nothing simple about any of this,” complains perplexed police detective Kelly (Dolph Sweet) near the close of Sisters, unable to comprehend how or why the once determined and dogged Grace is now “just not quite herself” and insists that no crime has even been committed. Perhaps the reason is that the real criminal here, patriarchy, is able, not unlike Danielle’s twin, to continue exerting a malign influence long after it has been cut out of the scene. In any case, De Palma’s brassy, bonkers film will have you seeing double.

Posted by Geoff at 11:44 PM CDT
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Wednesday, April 1, 2020
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/snakescrop.jpg"A tawdry tale of a political fixer playing whack-a-mole with the skeletons in an oversexed U.S. Senator’s closet," WBUR's Sean Burns states in his review of Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman's Are Snakes Necessary?, "the book mixes and matches elements of the John Edwards pregnancy scandal with Rep. Gary Condit’s missing intern case much in the same way that De Palma’s 1980 masterpiece Blow Out fused Chappaquiddick and the JFK assassination into a paranoid hall of mirrors awash in awful ironies. I couldn’t put it down."

Here's more from Burns' review:

I kept seeing these characters as played by members of De Palma’s regular stock company, with roles for Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Gregg Henry and Melanie Griffith, while imagining a swelling Pino Donaggio string score to exacerbate the tension. There’s a plot turn about halfway through that struck me as DePalma’s attempt to do a second take on a twist that had been elided by studio execs who wanted a PG rating for his 1976 “Obsession.” The penultimate chapter so resembles one of the director’s distended, crosscut, climactic montages that a character even says it feels like they’re seeing it in slow-motion.

A few years ago, I went to a Coolidge After Midnite 35mm screening of De Palma’s deliriously lurid “Dressed to Kill.” Before the show, their projectionist warned me that the print was really dirty. “That’s okay,” I told him. “So’s the movie.” As you might imagine, “Are Snakes Necessary?” takes tremendous interest in the female form, mimicking the gaze of De Palma’s tumescent camera as one character is unable to so much as stop for a fast-food hamburger without staring at the girl behind the counter and imagining “a wrestling match between her breasts and the tight seams of her Ronald McDonald wear.” To quote my friend the late, great Jim Ridley’s review of De Palma’s glorious 2002 “Femme Fatale,” it is “the work of a happy, horny man.”

We can probably credit co-writer Lehman for keeping him just barely on the right side of dirty old man territory, and being a former New York Times editor, she’s presumably responsible for keeping the prose so propulsive. Billed on the back cover as “a female revenge story,” the book falls into familiar De Palma archetypes of his male protagonists being incompetent buffoons who think they’re Prince Valiant, their grand plans to rescue damsels in distress backfiring in the cruelest ways imaginable. Meanwhile, the women turn out to have it all together, with the character you’d least expect here emerging as a heroine to rival Griffith’s street-savvy porn star in “Body Double” or Rebecca Romijn’s eponymous "Femme Fatale."

What the book’s fleet writing can’t do is fill in much soul for these figures as the authors so expertly move them around the story’s chessboard. You gain a deeper appreciation for De Palma’s actresses and how much extra dimension they bring to his sometimes schematic setups. Nevertheless, this swift page-turner left me cackling with delight right through to its epilogue, the final twist being one of those easily predicted developments that De Palma allows you to savor for the whole time you can see it coming. Maybe not exactly “Necessary,” but enormously enjoyable all the same.

Posted by Geoff at 7:50 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, April 1, 2020 7:51 AM CDT
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