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a la Mod:

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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Scarface: Make Way
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De Palma a la Mod

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A note about topics: Some blog posts have more than one topic, in which case only one main topic can be chosen to represent that post. This means that some topics may have been discussed in posts labeled otherwise. For instance, a post that discusses both The Boston Stranglers and The Demolished Man may only be labeled one or the other. Please keep this in mind as you navigate this list.
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Monday, April 27, 2020

Richard Brody, The New Yorker:

This independent film, which Brian De Palma made in New York in 1970, is an exuberant grab bag of mischievous whimsy that blends radical politics, sexual freedom, racial tension, and emotional hangups with the director’s own catalogue of artistic references, from Hitchcock and the French New Wave to cinéma vérité and avant-garde theatre—and adds a freewheeling inventiveness and an obstreperous satire all his own. It also showcases the explosive, sardonic young Robert De Niro, as Jon Rubin, a cynic on the make who creates reality-based porn inspired by “Rear Window” and, finding that reality needs his help, seduces one of his subjects (Jennifer Salt) for his camera. De Niro brings unhinged spontaneity to Jon’s Machiavellian calculations, especially in wild and daring scenes involving a militant theatre group that preys violently on its spectators’ liberal guilt. De Palma offers a self-conscious time capsule of downtown sights and moods, especially in his rambunctious, hilarious, yet nonetheless disturbing parodies of public television. In his derisively satirical view, the well-meaning media depicts the day’s furies and outrages in an oblivious objectivity that misses the deeper truths that this movie’s own theatrical exaggerations are meant to capture.

Posted by Geoff at 8:22 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, April 28, 2020 12:14 AM CDT
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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Another article this weekend from The Independent's Clarisse Loughrey? Sounds good-- today, for the weekly "Indy Film Club," Loughrey looks at Brian De Palma's Blow Out "as the perfect counterargument" to Jean-Luc Godard's maxim that "cinema is truth at 24 frames per second."

"A good scream is hard to find," Loughrey begins. "Tears can be switched on like a tap. A smile is just a twitch of the muscles. But a scream isn’t produced. It erupts, deep from within the fleshy caverns of someone’s lungs. Blow Out’s notorious shriek, let out by Nancy Allen’s Sally in the film’s final reel, is no ordinary sound. It’s a death cry – a final expression of utter hopelessness, which her lover Jack (John Travolta), a sound designer, then adds to the tacky slasher film he’s working on. 'Now that’s a scream!' his producer exclaims. But the result feels uncanny. A slasher film isn’t reality. It’s an illusion, a ritual. We never connect it to the idea of real human loss."

Loughrey the moves on to explore how Blow Out "questions film’s ability to show us the truth"...

Jack rewinds and replays the tape, trapped in an endless loop. When he gets his hands on a set of photographs of the incident, he attempts to fuse sight and sound together in perfect harmony. But De Palma repeatedly uses his own camera to remind us that Jack will never find the objective truth. He’ll manipulate our view by shooting overhead or using a split-diopter lens – where both the foreground and background are given equal focus. These techniques direct us where to look. They instruct us on how to think and feel. A dizzying 360 shot of Jack’s studio, filled with whirring mechanics, injects a sudden sense of dread. No one has to speak a word for us to sense that something’s gone terribly wrong – his tapes have been erased by an unseen hand.

Blow Out was a surprisingly sober, reflective film for De Palma at this juncture in his career. His early films were often politically flavoured – Greetings (1968) features a JFK conspiracy theorist – but he’d grown more provocative over the years. Blow Out’s opening sequence, which jumps into the film Jack’s working on, is a Steadicam shot from the point-of-view of a stereotypical slasher killer. It’s wall-to-wall tits. While it’s primarily a parody of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), there’s a nod, also, to De Palma’s own history of lurid eroticism, in the likes of Dressed to Kill (1980) or Sisters (1972).

Despite an estimated budget of $18m, the same as Raiders of the Lost Ark, released that same year, Blow Out flopped at the box office. Quentin Tarantino had a big hand in salvaging the film’s reputation – he listed it as one of his all-time favourites and the reason he cast John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. That’s despite the fact that Vincent Vega is nothing like Jack. Travolta is at his sweetest and most vulnerable here. His baby blue eyes are always clear and attentive.

Audiences had expected more lurid eroticism, what they got was a thriller moored in the paranoia of post-Nixon America, packed with references to the Watergate scandal, the JFK assassination, and Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick incident. Add to that, a drop of (not-so-subtle) irony: the film takes place in Philadelphia during the run-up to the fictional Liberty Day. There are brass bands, fireworks, and American flags several stories tall. It creates a cacophony of sound that nearly drowns out Sally’s piercing, haunting scream – she’s killed to cover up her involvement in the crash. One image of America, a patriotic burlesque, obscures a more truthful one. Jean-Luc Godard may have labelled cinema as “truth at 24 frames per second”, but De Palma himself used Blow Out as the perfect counterargument. As he put it: “The camera lies all the time; lies 24-times-per-second.”

Posted by Geoff at 8:54 PM CDT
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Saturday, April 25, 2020

As Al Pacino turns 80 today, several sites have been posting articles and rankings of the actor's roles. The most interesting of these is at The Independent, where Clarisse Loughrey looks at Pacino's "10 greatest films, from Scarface to Serpico" --
Michael Mann thinks of Al Pacino as like the greater painter Picasso, who creates his art through “a series of brushstrokes”. Take 1995’s Heat, which Mann himself directed, and the actor’s infamous delivery of the line: “She’s got a GREAT ASS!” It’s odd, ludicrous and entirely unexpected – just as Picasso would allow a sudden intrusion of colour or an eye to drop halfway down his subject’s face.

Pacino has always been a kind of jack-in-the-box actor. He stores a world-devouring rage deep behind those hungry, coal-black eyes, then turns the crank. Sometimes it explodes out of him; sometimes it’s left to vibrate beneath the surface. He’ll oscillate between the extremes of complete control and complete loss of control – ideas he can apply equally to the roles of criminal, lover, or addict.

A few of Pacino’s characters, such as Tony Montana and Michael Corleone, have become embedded in popular culture. His work is so visible that it’s strangely easy to ignore. He’s won an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony (known as the “Triple Crown of Acting”), but also has a history of being snubbed by his peers.

The Academy didn’t reward him for The Godfather, Serpico, or Dog Day Afternoon, but chucked him a conciliatory Oscar in 1993 for his aggressive “hoo-ah”-ing in Scent of a Woman. It’s also led to a tendency to focus on his blips – there’s no talking about Pacino now without bringing up the ironically cringeworthy (and also non-ironically cringeworthy) Dunkin’ Donuts rap he did in 2011’s Jack and Jill.

But the trajectory makes sense. So early on in his career did he perfect his craft (with an incredible run between 1971 and 1975) that he’s spent the following decades in desperate search of something new. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” wrote Robert Browning, in his poem “Andrea del Sarto”. Pacino has quoted it often. The lows have always been worth the highs.

He’s had his own mini-Renaissance of late, thanks to his work in The Irishman, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, and Hunters. It’s a formidable string of performances from an actor who turns 80 tomorrow (25 April), though he doesn’t intend to retire anytime soon. There will surely be more great performances to come.

Loughrey then goes on to rank Pacino's "best so far," beginning with Jerry Schatzberg's Scarecrow (1973) at number ten, and Pacino's role as top closer Ricky Roma in James Foley's film of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross at number nine. Then we get to the next three on her list:
8. Scarface (1983)

It’s a stark indictment of Hollywood’s diversity phobia that Pacino, an Italian-American, was cast by Brian De Palma as a Latinx immigrant not once, but twice (more on Carlito’s Way later). But the actor’s take on Tony Montana, a Miami drug dealer who climbs to the top and immediately loses the plot, is the stuff of legend. Cocaine flows through this man’s veins. His delusions have cemented into gilded kitsch. He thinks of a firearm as his “little friend”. Pacino delivers Tony in the same erratic cadence as Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman, but his exorbitance here is justified. Tony isn’t a man; he’s a symbol of total moral corruption. The fact he’s since been adopted as an entrepreneurial cult hero is telling – so is the fact that the decade’s consumerist worship was so absurd that many critics failed to realise that De Palma was operating firmly in the role of satirist.

7. The Irishman (2019)

If the past couple of decades have seen Pacino dip into self-parody, The Irishman was his chance to reassert himself as one of the greats. The same was true of co-stars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci – even director Martin Scorsese went out and proved he’s still the undisputed master of the gangster genre. It’s a deeply reflective, muted film that works both as a throwback to the golden era of these men’s careers and a critical re-examination of their own legacies. Pacino, playing union president Jimmy Hoffa, reignites his firebrand charisma only to immediately ground it in a complex web of righteousness and moral indignation. It might not be the showiest performance of his career, but it’s a sublime return to form.

6. Carlito’s Way (1993)

Carlito’s Way never deserved its reputation as Scarface’s little sibling. Yes, the surface similarities are there – they’re both De Palma-directed stories that star Pacino as a Latinx criminal type. But they’re tonally alien to each other. Scarface is the parody of masculinity, while Carlito’s Way tackles the idea with far more sincerity. Its main character, Carlito Brigante, has vowed to go straight, but finds that the past is near-impossible to escape. And so Pacino’s approach here is to go softer and more understated, underpinned by a sense of tragic inevitability. When harassed by Benny (John Leguizamo), a cocksure younger gangster, you can feel Carlito’s old impulse for violence rear its head. But he tries to push it down. He fumbles a little. His eyes flit around the room, suddenly filled with uncertainty. Carlito’s clearly uncomfortable with this new skin he’s crafted for himself. When his newfound dedication to morality backfires, audiences are sure to come away with a bitter taste in their mouth.

Loughrey's top five, then, are Schatzberg's The Panic in Needle Park (1971, #5), Sidney Lumet's Serpico (1973, #4), Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972, #3), Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon (1975, #2), and...
1. The Godfather Part II (1974)

Michael Corleone is, undeniably, the greatest role of the actor’s career. What makes the difference between his performance in the first and second Godfather films (the third is probably best left unmentioned) is the extent of his transformation. He starts to fall in Part I, but becomes unrecognisable by Part II. He’s a man now willing to murder his own family in order to keep its sanctity. When he gives his brother Fredo (John Cazale) the kiss of death, his emotions shift so quickly between raptorial fury – there’s a moment you think he might just crush Fredo with his own hands – and a profound sense of loss. It’s heartbreaking to see anyone so utterly consumed by darkness. Coppola inserts flashbacks to the crimes of Michael’s father, Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro), to hammer home the cyclical nature of violence. It’s one of Hollywood’s great tragic arcs. And Pacino commits like his life depends on it – those eyes we’re so used to seeing filled with fiery rage are now also flecked with deep guilt and regret. Pacino was nominated for an Oscar for The Godfather Part II, but lost the award to Art Carney for Harry and Tonto. It remains one of the Academy’s most outrageous blunders.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Friday, April 24, 2020

Earlier this week, Wonders In The Dark posted an article by J.D. Lafrance, which takes a fresh look at Brian De Palma's film adaptation of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities. It turns out this is a slightly updated repost from J.D.'s own blog, Radiator Heaven, where the article was posted three years ago. We missed it then, but glad to see it now.

Lafrance opens with a quote from De Palma, speaking to EMPIRE magazine in its December 2008 issue: "And I think if you look at the movie now, and you don’t know anything about the book, and you get it out of the time that it was released, I think you can see it in a whole different way."

Lafrance goes on to suggest that taking a fresh look at the film, having never read the source material, might be "a good thing as it allows the film to be judged on its own merits." Here's an excerpt from his findings:

The main problem the film has is the miscasting of [Tom] Hanks as a ruthless Wall Street trader. The actor can do many things but ruthless and unlikable is not among them. Even in his darkest roles – Punchline (1988) and The Road to Perdition (2002) – there is always an inherent empathy. He can’t help it as it is in his DNA. This goes against the character of Sherman McCoy who is supposed to be an unpleasant son-of-a-bitch and the casting of Hanks was clearly a move to dilute the character and make him more relatable. What he does do well is sweaty desperation when the cops come calling and casually grill Sherman.

Morgan Freeman kills it as a tough-talking, no-nonsense judge in the South Bronx who schools a naïve assistant district attorney (Saul Rubinek) on how things work in his court via a fiery and masterful monologue – the kind that Samuel L. Jackson usually gets in Quentin Tarantino films – that is a sight to behold and makes me wish the veteran actor would get juicy roles like this again. This is merely a warm-up for the film’s climax where it goes all Frank Capra as Freeman delivers a powerful speech condemning all the parties involved, calling for decency as the judge represents the lone voice of reason.

At the time of The Bonfire of the Vanities, Bruce Willis was at the height of his Die Hard (1988) / The Return of Bruno smarmy charm phase and this role lets him lay it on thick while also showing his willingness to play a deeply flawed character in search of redemption. He’s also not afraid to play up the less likable aspects of Fallow, the high society suck-up and the alcoholic lush.

The Bonfire of the Vanities works hard to make Sherman sympathetic when it should be roasting him. He embodies entitled white privilege, which was big during the materialistic 1980s and is making a comeback with Donald Trump as President of the United States. In one scene, De Palma makes a point of juxtaposing the African American protestors outside Sherman’s apartment building with the dinner party inside populated by his white rich friends as they metaphorically circle the wagons and show support for one of their own. These people are portrayed as arrogant racists that don’t care about anyone but themselves. If they get into any trouble they just make it go away with money.

The film also exposes the hypocrisy of the justice system. The D.A. doesn’t want to punish Sherman because he’s guilty but because it will help him get re-elected. He’s an opportunist that sends out his minions to do his bidding. Then there is the media that are portrayed as a mob of vultures feeding on the latest story of misery, adhering to the ago old credo, if it bleeds, it leads. Sherman is just the latest headline to sell papers – nothing more, nothing less. If Freeman’s climactic Capraeseque monologue seems too gee whiz of an idealistic ending, De Palma ends things with a brilliant visual punchline that hints at how great the film could have been if the studio hadn’t messed with him behind the scenes.

The Bonfire of the Vanities is a cynical take on modern society with everybody available for a price, from the D.A. vying for re-election to the mother (Mary Alice) of the young man in a coma suing the hospital for $10 million. Divorced from its source material, De Palma’s film is a biting satire that attacks the rich, those that exploit tragedies, and the media. At times, it is also a light farce and, as a result, the film is all over the place tonally as it can’t make up its mind what it wants to be. Yet, for all this sloppiness and the miscasting of Hanks (who actually does get better as the film goes along), Bonfire is not the complete disaster it is commonly portrayed as and is actually quite entertaining. It deserves to be re-visited and regarded on its own merits.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, April 25, 2020 8:39 AM CDT
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Thursday, April 23, 2020
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/videorewind.jpgIn the "Video Rewind" column this month at Morbidly Beautiful, Jason McFiggins recalls discovering Raising Cain on VHS back in 1992:
As someone who primarily knew John Lithgow as the lovable goofball dad in the 1987 family film Harry and the Hendersons, seeing his face on the VHS of Raising Cain in the video store was a shock. Lithgow’s face is slightly angled and tilted down, his eyes looking up from a shadowed face torn down the middle with one side blackened, only the eyes and mouth an electric white like an eerie photo negative.

It’s a jarring image made more dangerous on the poster by two people in a passionate embrace below Lithgow’s frightening image, giving the feeling that these two lovers are in for a world of trouble. The wonderfully cheeky tagline above the two lovers explains the tear dividing Lithgow’s face: “When Jenny cheated on her husband, he didn’t just leave… He split.”

Pulpy psycho-thrillers were how Brian De Palma made a name for himself as a filmmaker, but he also had mainstream Hollywood success with The Untouchables (1987) and would hit big in 1996 with Mission: Impossible starring the biggest star on the planet, Tom Cruise. In 1991, De Palma was coming off The Bonfire of the Vanities, one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history, and searching for his next project. Perhaps looking to right the ship, De Palma returned to familiar ground with a film in the suspense/thriller genre, the director’s first since 1984’s Body Double.

De Palma had an idea from years before when a friend who was a child psychologist took time off from his practice in order to observe the development of his own child full time. This friend planned to write a book about his experience and observations. And while De Palma found this to be strange, he began thinking about the situation from the angle of a mystery/thriller movie.

He started to craft a story in his head about Dr. Carter Nix and his wife Jenny, an oncologist who worries about the fascination her husband has with their daughter Amy, unaware of what is really going on inside his head. De Palma titled the movie Raising Cain.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, April 24, 2020 7:52 AM CDT
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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

"In 2016," Adam Nayman explains at The Ringer, "the Toronto-based author and my friend Kevin Courrier was working on a book proposal based on a lecture series he had started entitled Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors, an examination of the past six decades of American cinema organized by various presidential administrations. Kevin passed away in 2018 after a long illness without writing the book, by which point I had taken over the lecture series. It is out of respect to him and the many long conversations we had on the topic that I’m introducing a monthly essay series at The Ringer that looks at the direct and subtextual representations of U.S. presidents and their social and political impact, beginning in 1960 with the campaign and election of John F. Kennedy and continuing through October to the Age of Trump—ending on a cliffhanger that may or may not have a sequel. By integrating some of Kevin’s film selections with more of my own, it is my hope to simultaneously reexamine a series of classic American movies and call attention to some neglected titles to further the idea of cinema as a fractured funhouse mirror that distorts and reflects in all directions."

The second part in the series, "States of the Union, Part 2: A Failure to Communicate," covers 1964-1967, "as Lyndon B. Johnson took office—just after JFK’s assassination and just before the Vietnam War." Even so, Nayman finds space in there to touch on Brian De Palma's 1968 film, Greetings:

Both box office hits, neither In the Heat of the Night nor Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was necessarily an explicit shot across Johnson’s bow: For that, you’d need to survey the margins of American moviemaking, where subversives were marshalling a belligerent resistance to LBJ’s efforts. The president’s central role in forming the Warren Commission to investigate the Kennedy assassination—and identify Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone shooter—was critiqued in Emile de Antonio’s 1967 essay-documentary Rush to Judgment, an adaptation of a book by lawyer Mark Lane that stands at the epicenter of subsequent conspiracy theories. De Antonio, the son of Italian immigrants who attended Harvard alongside JFK, would grow to be a thorn in the side of two consecutive U.S. presidents, lambasting Johnson via selectively edited clips in 1968’s scabrous In the Year of the Pig, which castigated American involvement in Vietnam, and 1971’s Millhouse: A White Comedy, which the filmmaker claimed earned him an (unofficial) place on Richard Nixon’s famed enemies list. In tackling JFK’s death and Vietnam, de Antonio distinguished himself as a genuinely contentious documentarian, adopting the fragmented, fractious filmmaking language of the French New Wave and applying it to his home turf.

Occupying an even more formally audacious space—and drawing direct parallels between Kennedy’s death and America’s overseas quagmire—was the young Brian De Palma, whose 1968 comedy Greetings was styled as a faux-vérité picaresque about three draft dodgers (costarring an impossibly young, handsome, and game-for-anything Robert De Niro) traipsing around New York City, hooking up, pulling scams, and getting off on their own voyeurism. The film opens with television footage of Johnson proudly addressing the country, proclaiming “I’m not saying you’ve never had it so good, but that is true, isn’t it?”—a dubious claim of prosperity rebuked by the remainder of De Palma’s wild counterculture farce. In the film’s incredible centerpiece sequence, a conspiracy aficionado played by Gerrit Graham pores over a photo spread of the Zapruder film and traces the trajectory of the fatal bullet on his half-conscious girlfriend’s body, a bit of choreography conflating sex and violence (and physics and pornography) in such a full-frontal manner that the movie was branded by the MPAA with a dreaded X rating. In a way, De Palma’s broad, politicized version of sketch comedy anticipated Saturday Night Live by a decade even as its style and tone were closer to the contemporaneous provocations of Jean-Luc Godard, who skewered Johnson and his policies in 1967’s La Chinoise, about a group of young Maoist revolutionaries plotting in Paris.

Already ensconced as the great modern auteur of French cinema by 1967, Godard had been lobbied by Warren Beatty to direct his upcoming gangster-Western hybrid Bonnie and Clyde; he declined, and Arthur Penn—a devotee of the French New Wave with Hollywood-style chops—stepped in and delivered one of the most influential American movies of the era, if not of all time. No less than the staunch hero of Cool Hand Luke, Bonnie and Clyde’s namesakes (glamorously inhabited by Beatty and the stellar, statuesque Faye Dunaway) took aim at the status quo, albeit as career criminals rather than misunderstood martyrs. What gave the film its power—and marked it as a piece of work closer in spirit to Godard, De Palma, and de Antonio than to In the Heat of the Night or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—was its reluctance to flatter its audience.

No sooner has the viewer come to accept the Barrows’ thefts as bloodless, Robin Hood–style high jinks than the senseless, bloody death of a bystander recalibrates our moral compass; by the time the movie reaches its indelible finale, our judgment is once again rerouted by the excessiveness of the pair’s execution by an FBI death squad, a blood-soaked set piece collapsing the gap between Psycho’s shower scene (quoted via Dunaway’s desperate reaching out at the moment of her death) and the Zapruder film, with a little bit of Fail Safe in the form of birds taking flight right before the shots are fired. If it’s possible for a film’s ending to feel at once ambiguous and definitive, Bonnie and Clyde leaves the viewer feeling torn apart without necessarily knowing why. Its mix of lyricism, brutality, and ambivalence would seep into other landmark titles of the late 1960s, as the impending changing of the political guard only deepened the ideological fault lines at the center of American life—and cinema.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, April 23, 2020 3:57 AM CDT
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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Nick McLean, the cameraman who, early in his career, worked frequently with Vilmos Zsigmond, discusses his work on Brian De Palma's Obsession and Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot in a new book he has co-written with Wayne Byrne, Nick McLean Behind The Camera:
Obsession was one of those rare opportunities, it was a chance of shooting in Florence, Italy, and in New Orleans, plus it meant getting to work with Vilmos again. It starred Genevieve Bujold, who i was already friends with because I had dated her sister back in the old days; they looked very alike but her sister really had her head together, unlike Genevieve, who was a bit of a maniac back then.

Cliff Robertson was another really good actor who made that film a pleasure to work on. He used to have this really smart ritual before each scene in order to get an idea of how he was going to be lit: Once the lights were set up, he would take a mirror to his face and he would walk exactly where his character was due to walk during the scene, and he did this in order to get a reading on the kind of light we would be using. I've never seen anybody else do that. If he found out that something was overexposed or there was something he didn't like, he would have us get on it and change it. I remember another great actor on that film who was just starting out: John Lithgow. He has gone on to have an amazing career and was an absolute professional.


De Palma has a lot of interest in the framing of his films and he can be very meticulous when he's working out a scene with the camera department. We would have a lot of discussions with Brian talking about the look of the film and he would give a lot of input into the compositions; he is the kind of director who likes to know exactly what you are going to shoot. But despite all the planning and precision, there's always the risk of something going wrong, especially when you are away on location and you are working with foreign crews. As such, we were presented with various problems. There was one scene where we had an incredible natural light from the sunset and we were rushing to set up the equipment and capture the scene with this amazing light, but the Italian crew were taking their sweet time and just said, "Don't worry, the sun will go down again tomorrow." We were going crazy trying to get the camera ready to shoot but the Italians didn't care, but with Vilmos and De Palma working on it, we got it. Another scene we had some difficulty with was the church scene with Genevieve. We really wanted the interior of that church but couldn't get permission and kept trying different ways of going about getting it, and then on the last week of shooting in Florence this Catholic nun came in and said, "I will get it for you." We said, "What do you mean? We've tried everything!" and she replied, "For 100,000 lire I will get it for you." It turned out she was the bishop's mistress, so with the money and with the connection, she got us into that church. That's the kind of stuff they don't teach you in film school!


De Palma went on to have an amazing career. It's like when I worked with Spielberg, you don't know beforehand that these guys are going to turn out to be major directors. The way I chose a lot of these films is just based on whether I liked the people; if I got along good with them in those first couple of meetings, I'd do it. It just so happens that they end up becoming these huge figures in Hollywood. But there was one director that I did make a deliberate effort to work with and that was Alfred Hitchcock. A lot of people were saying De Palma was the new Hitchcock but I actually got to work with the original Master of Suspense on Family Plot [1976].


I was a pretty hot camera operator at the time, a lot of people liked my work and so I was in demand quite a bit. One day I got a phone call from Hitchcock's cinematographer, Lenny South, and he told me that they had fired their camera operator. Now this guy was a very good cameraman but something was getting lost in communication between Hitchcock, Lenny and this guy, so they had to let him go. Lenny asked me if I would come in and audition for Hitchcock, which is something you don't do, but for Hitchcock I said, "I'll be there in a flash!" So I went in the next day. We were up in the mountains and Hitchcock would stay back and watch us setting up from the front seat of his car, a Lincoln Continental. He wouldn't get out of the car so Lenny would go up to the car to speak to Hitchcock about the shots, the car window would be cracked just enough for them to converse with each other. So seeing as the first camera operator got fired because he wasn't listening to what Hitchcock was saying to Lenny, I would make sure to go along and listen in so I knew exactly what he wanted. Hitchcock was very precise and would tell you exactly where he wanted his frame lines: "Lenny, I would like a close-up with the top of the frame line here and bottom of the frame line here"-- that was the kind of thing that the original camera operator wasn't listening to and therefore wasn't framing his compositions to the exact instructions that Hitchcock wanted, which meant he didn't last too long on the film. But I did listen in on these conversations between Hitchcock and Lenny so i knew exactly what to get and he was very happy with that.

You had to dress well on a Hitchcock film. I'm not talking suit-and-tie kind of deals, but a nice coat and neat pants-- and here I come, a Levi's guy. But for Hitchcock, I dressed up and looked the part. So I'm on the set and I'm told about the scene that we're going to shoot, which is a car going down this winding road and off a cliff. I say, "Okay, that's fine, but where's the other cameras?" And I'm told, "You're it! Hitchcock hires the best, and here you are, so you better get it!" Now I'm thinking, "Jesus, what if I miss this shot?" Most directors would have ten cameras on a shot like that, but we had one and that was me. I hadn't spoken to Hitchcock all day, and I'm getting ready to shoot when I hear the shuffling of feet and a chair pulling up beside me and it's Hitchcock; he says into my ear, "I presume your machine is functioning properly." In other words, "You better not screw this up!" So we start rolling, the car goes off the cliff, and we get the shot ... perfect! So Hitchcock gets up and walks away, never says a thing to me, he didn't even look through the camera lens because he knew exactly whether you got the shot or not just from observing how you moved the camera. He trusted that I got the shot and then got up and walked back to his Lincoln Continental when it was done. He never said a word, he just got up and shuffled away. Hitchcock really was the Master of Suspense because, boy, was I sweating it!

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, April 22, 2020 7:03 PM CDT
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Monday, April 20, 2020

Josh Lewis, co-host of the Sleazoids podcast, tweeted the other day that he was watching Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars for the first time. Posting images from the film's twister scene, of an astronaut being spun and ripped apart in the eye of the storm, Lewis tweeted that "this seems like a less than optimal way to go all things considered." In a followup tweet, Lewis wrote, "lotta replies to this are traumatized people saying their parents or school had them watch this because it was technically a disney movie lol."

Boredom Cultivator then responded, "Everyone says this movie is terrible but I watched it as a kid and there were multiple scenes that stuck deeply in my memory. I actually haven't re-watched it since but if it accomplished that I'm assuming it did something right." Lewis then added, "I liked it a lot!"

More responses followed:

Mark Asch: "a beautiful masterpiece, god-tier filmmaking, one of the greatest movies ever made"

DJSCheddar: "there are movies that I saw as a kid long before I ever knew anything about anything, but that despite not being big business or whatever, really stuck with me. this is one of them, to this day. really special"

quarantined fka ☕️ , fka ☕️: "I distinctly remember watching this with a friends family and all of them HATING it whereas I was p onboard"

the bane (the ape 🦧 parody): "dunno if the whole thing works but it goes hard"

Grafton Tanner: "Loved it when it came out. Haven't seen it since but looks like I need to"

Michael Snydel: "Remember being traumatized by this exact scene in the theater."

Will Mavity: "Man and he someone got that thing under the wire with a PG when you were having stuff stamped with a PG13 for 'thematic elements'"

Jake: "Best De Palma movie based on a theme park ride. At least until Disney drops their BLOW OUT attraction next to the Hall of Presidents."

Alex: "Haha oh man, I remember watching this as a little kid and the shot of Woody getting his face insta-frozen still sticks in my mind."

Jesse Hawken: "A handful of good scenes! Also: Guyliner Gary Sinese"

tsai ming-lad: "this goes so hard. great movie"

The Hipster Llama: "Ah I love this movie!"

Logan: "my favourite DePalma!"

Tyler Harford: "movie’s kinda underrated. has some of De Palma’s brilliant camerawork and i enjoyed its campiness and unintentional comedy."

OnryFans: "My high school had a series (8 - 12, can’t remember exactly) of bomb threats fall of my junior year. They’d check the auditorium first then stuff us all in there until it was over. We watched this once."

Chloe: excited to see how u feel about this one. moved me a lot."

Jesusfreak!: "Don Cheedle doing peek Cheedle before it was a thing."

billy: "Saw this in theaters at like age 8 and that scene ruined me"

The Scenic Route: "Still haven't forgiven this movie for mixing up chromosomes and base pairs."

Smarter than Every Economist: "Hahah this traumatized me as an 11yo"

Paresh Maharaj: "I remember seeing this movie in theaters but this is the only thing I remember (except maybe the ending)."

Collector of Unwatched Blurays: "Just watched this scene, and yeah, how did this get past not just the classification board, but also DISNEY?!"

C reel: "Man I saw this in the theaters when I was 10 this scene fucked me up"

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 8:26 AM CDT
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Sunday, April 19, 2020

"Live from my living room, surprise Saturday stream starting in a few minutes," Sasha Grey tweeted last night. "Vinyl only starting with salsa & Latin then maybe some funk on http://twitch.tv/sashagrey". The twitter post included the image above, which shows Grey sitting in her Los Angeles living room, in between two very large framed posters for Jean-Luc Godard's La Chinoise and Brian De Palma's Blow Out. The latter appears to have been signed by De Palma himself. A recording of Grey's live Saturday stream can be viewed on her Twitch TV channel.

In 2014, Grey starred with Elijah Wood in Nacho Vigalondo's Open Windows. When The Daily Beast's Marlow Stern told her that Open Windows "seems to combine the voyeuristic Rear Window conceit with the whole 'cam girl' phenomenon," Grey responded: "I think Blow Out was more of an inspiration. But with the cam girl thing, it’s interesting because there were a few girls who did this in the ‘90s when no one was doing it, made millions, and retired. But now, with the advent of Internet porn, people can see professional-quality material online, and now we’re regressing and going back to not caring about the quality. But the fascination goes back to having a connection with the person you’re watching and having this “intimate” experience. It’s a need to satisfy the soul. The Internet has brought us together globally, but also separated us. And people now don’t have that intimacy in their real lives, so they go online."


Sasha Grey in the house of Body Double

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, April 20, 2020 12:23 AM CDT
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Saturday, April 18, 2020

At Le Devoir, François Lévesque discusses how the split-diopter, or bifocal lens shot, "constitutes a real balm at a time of social distancing." The bifocal "makes it possible to play with distance via the simultaneous development of two elements, however isolated, in the front and in the background," writes Lévesque.

The article, with the headline, "So far, so close, the secrets of proximity in the cinema," includes image frames from Brian De Palma's Carrie and Blow Out. Lévesque discusses De Palma as "the undisputed master of the bifocal" --

The key is there, in the juxtaposition. De Palma’s work is replete with examples where the bifocal has not only narrative but psychological value. In Carrie, you can see the reaction of popular student Tommy (William Katt) at the front of the classroom and that of the ostracized Carrie (Sissy Spacek) in the back after reading a poem. Here, the bifocal makes it possible to “unite”, literally and figuratively, two students who seemingly separate everything.

In Pulsions (Dressed to Kill), Peter (Keith Gordon) sits in the police station waiting room while, beyond the bay window behind him, Detective Marino (Dennis Franz) and Doctor Elliott (Michael Caine) discuss the murder of his mother. The teenager, using a listening device, hears everything that is said in the office, and De Palma visually expresses this sound concept by using the bifocal: in the foreground, Peter listens, and in the background, the two men distill useful information without the sequence appearing explanatory.

A similar scene and intent can be found in Blow Out when Jack (John Travolta) in the hospital listens to two hard-pressed political advisers. In the left part of the plan, the profile of Jack in close-up, and in the right part, the advisers who are plundering further: in the ambient hubbub, Jack concentrates on a conversation concerning him; we hear what he hears, we enter his head. Note: a great montage of fifteen bifocals that the film contains was produced by Vashi Nedomansky (vashivisuals.com).

In Mission: Impossible, there are several segments filmed in bifocal, but one of the most memorable is that where the operator of the computer kept in a Langley vault returns earlier than expected: we see him from below, in the foreground, while Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) hangs just above him. Will Hunt be caught in the bag? Suspense by amplified proximity...

In short, the bifocal gives more information in a single plane, in addition to highlighting the nature of the relationship between different characters, whether friendly or antagonistic. Or in love? Certainly. We think of the magnificent Paris, Texas, of Wim Wenders, and this sublime passage where Travis (Harry Dean Stanton), having found the elusive Jane (Nastassja Kinski), talks with her on the phone without her, on the other side of the peep show booth where she works, knowing who he is.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, April 22, 2020 7:08 PM CDT
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