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"It was not recut.
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mix or the color
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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Aaron Sorkin's 2020 film The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (below) opens with President Lyndon B. Johnson on TV in 1969, announcing the draft lottery that would begin late that year, which had the effect of turning even more people against the war in Vietnam. Sorkin simply shows a TV screen with no surrounding context. Contrast this with the shot of the television Brian De Palma uses in the opening shot of his 1968 film Greetings (above). The focus is still on a TV showing LBJ giving a rallying speech, but the frame also shows the TV and several items around it. We find out in a later shot that this TV sits on a kitchen table, so the coffee pot, the coffee mug, the book about the JFK assassination sitting in front, and the random book open to the left, allows a bit of additional context regarding the way people (at least, some people) lived in 1968.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, March 19, 2021 2:13 AM CDT
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Monday, March 15, 2021

Posted by Geoff at 11:07 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, March 15, 2021 11:09 PM CDT
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Sunday, March 14, 2021

Late last week, a day after screenwriter Anna Klassen tweeted about being "in awe of the first Mission: Impossible" (she called the opening moments "a brilliant, beautiful deception"), No Film School's Jason Hellerman posted "8 Great Filmmaking Lessons from Mission: Impossible." Here are the first two lessons:

1. Embrace canted angles

One of the most subtle things in this movie that I don't think a lot of other directors utilize are the canted or "Dutch" angles.

This is a spy thriller, so it's the perfect genre to mess with the camera angle to make the audience feel worried and uneasy. De Palma does this all with a graceful touch.

When it comes time to do your movie, think about shaking up the camera angles from the boring norm.

2. Set pieces must be memorable

One of the best things about the first Mission: Impossible is that it set the standard for set pieces. From the opening mask switch to the break-in at the CIA, these set pieces were all perfect trailer moments. I mean, Cruise hanging from the rafters is one of the indelible images in all of film history now.

When you set out to make your movie, think about how the set pieces stand out. As the story goes, Paramount wanted more of a talky spy movie, but Cruise and De Palma said that the only way the public would embrace it is if the set pieces wowed everyone.

They were right.

Posted by Geoff at 7:45 PM CST
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Friday, March 12, 2021

News hit today
that Paramount Pictures will release a remastered edition of Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible on May 18, 2021, to mark the film's 25th anniversary. Somewhat more quietly a few weeks ago, Paramount scheduled a May 18 release for a new Blu-ray of De Palma's Snake Eyes, the film he and David Koepp made right after Mission: Impossible. Snake Eyes appears to have no extra features whatsoever. The Mission: Impossible set will include previously-released extras, as well as the newly-remastered feature, and, well, a "collectible car decal."

Posted by Geoff at 8:55 PM CST
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Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Italian website Club GHoST posted an article by Robert Frini that looks at the cinematic links between the films of Roman Polanski and Brian De Palma. Although Frini states that "there are no statements from the two directors that reveal interest in each other's work," De Palma, in fact, had included Polanski's The Tenant in his 1987 "Guilty Pleasures" article for Film Comment. "I liked The Tenant," De Palma stated, "because, I mean, Polanski throws himself out the window, commits suicide, and then crawls up and does it again. Fabulous."

Here's an excerpt from Frini's article, with help from Google Translation:

Having cleared the field, therefore, of an established and cumbersome inheritance, it is better to focus on the combination of Polański / De Palma. Similarities can be found between various films by the two authors. Starting with Repulsion, Polański's second feature film. Carol is a young manicurist who lives with her sister, Helen. Fragile from a psychological point of view, the girl is morbidly attached to her sister and suffers from Helen's relationship with her lover, whose presence she can hardly bear. Then when Helen and the man leave for a vacation leaving her alone, the young woman falls into a real state of madness, ending up locking herself in the apartment and killing both a suitor and the landlord.

Carol inaugurates a series of female characters from Polański's cinema who, with various nuances, are characterized by a whole series of problems related to relationships in general and with men in particular. Next to Carol is Sarah, the heroine of Please Don't Bite Me on the Neck! (The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck), 1967, and Rosemary, star of Rosemary's Baby, 1968. Sarah is a virgin and for this reason her father keeps her segregated, fearing that she could end up in the clutches of the vampire who terrorizes a district of Transylvania. Which in fact happens. Moving to a New York apartment with her husband, Rosemary is instead made pregnant by the devil. While in Repulsion the viewer can have no doubts about Carol's mental state (in case she wonders about the possible causes) in Rosemary's Baby Polański maintains a certain ambiguity: there really is a satanic sect or the protagonist, perhaps terrified of having a child, is he just imagining everything?

Not dissimilar from the female characters of the first part of Polański's career: one could add Simon Choule who commits suicide (and of which we learn something only through the other characters) in The Tenant, are those of the films of the seventies by De Palma. Le due sorelle (Sisters, 1972), stars Danielle, who suffers from personality disorders (she was separated at birth from a twin who died in the surgery) and who, prey to a raptus, kills a man after the adventure of one night. Danielle's relationship with her dead sister isn't much different than Carol's with Helen. The derivation from the cinemaof Polański in Carrie, which De Palma made in 1976, is evident. Not only and not so much for the diabolical theme that relates it to Rosemary's Baby (the latter also to The Phantom of the Paradise), as for the characterization of the character (you can even notice a physical similarity between Carol, Rosemary and Carrie, a certain physical fragility as well as psychological) and for how it is defined through the relationship with the others. In Repulsion as in Sisters and Carrie, the protagonists react to an attack from the outside world. In the first two in the form of a male intrusion into their private life; Carrie instead gives free rein to her telekinetic powers first against the oppressive and bigoted mother (who however is the projection of Carrie, is what she could become, as Evelyn Mulwray in Chinatown is of her daughter / sister) who wants to prevent her from attending the dance at the end of the school year, then during the party when she is made the subject of a terrible joke. Like Repulsion, Carrie is based on a narrative structure that contrasts the interior (the house, but also the physical and psychological intimacy of the two women) and the exterior (the beautician where Carol works and Carrie's college). The relationship with the others unites Repulsion and Carrie also in the way in which the male characters of the two films relate to Carrie / Carol.

The same thing regarding the interior and the exterior applies to The Tenant, who also comes out in the same year as Carrie. It must be said, among other things, that for both Polański and De Palma the interior-house does not at all mean that the protagonists are safe in the home: not the tenant Trelkovsky, obsessed with the suicide of the previous tenant, nor is Rosemary (whose husband is part of the satanic plot) nor Carrie, because of her mother.

As for The Tenant, other points of contact with contemporary Carrie should be emphasized. In both, in the main sequence (Trelkovsky's suicide, Carrie's massacre) Polański and De Palma show in subjective what the two characters see (or think they see): Trelkovsky the inhabitants of the building who hunt him, threatening and diabolical (some with a forked tongue), Carrie students and teachers laughing at her. The point of view of the characters does not exclude an objective level, alternating with the subjective in order to create a hallucinatory dimension, which sows doubt in the viewer, as already mentioned with regard to Rosemary's Baby. And it is precisely this narrative choice, practiced with obstinacy by Polański and which casts a shadow of ambiguity on the protagonists (healthy or crazy?), that represents the main source of inspiration for De Palma. In addition, the sequence in which Trelkovsky throws himself out of the window and is surrounded by apartment buildings and drags himself on the ground is also reminiscent of the ending of The Phantom of the Paradise, with Winslow agonizing as the concertgoers cheer and mock him.

But there are other characteristics that the two filmmakers have in common and that should be explored. The circularity of the narrative (in What?, Chinatown, The Tenant, and in Obsession, Blow Out, Femme Fatale), on which in 1993 Polański expressed himself as follows: "It is a form of elegance that has always seduced in the cinema. I really like works where there is a beginning, a development, and an ending in which you return to the starting point "(Alberto Scandola, Roman Polański, Il Castoro Cinema, 2002).

The use of machine movements, for example the overview on the windows of the condominium made with Louma in The Tenant (he is the first to use this articulated crane) and the equally masterful use of the dolly in the sequence of the awards ceremony in Carrie. As well as the good intentions of the characters that have a nefarious effect in The Fearless Vampire Killers, Chinatown, Tess, and in Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double. Also, in The Fearless Vampire Killers and The Phantom of the Paradise we find a common "classic" inspiration (respectively Dreyer's Vampyr and Julian's Phantom of the Opera), similar expressive choices (acceleration), the mixture of horror situations and humor, characters that are almost mirror-like (Von Krolok / Swan, Sarah / Phoenix, Alfred and Abronsius / Winslow, Herbert / Beef, Koukol / Philbin) and linked by an equally specular relationship: becoming vampires in the first and the contract with the devil and its consequences in the second.

The Tenant and Dressed to Kill share evident themes (the double, schizophrenia, the disguise of a woman) and some narrative situations that De Palma seems to take from Polański. In The Tenant, during the scene in the church, a little girl sitting a little further on stares at Trelkovski, while in Dressed to Kill a little Girl with her mother repeatedly stares at Kate in the elevator. Furthermore, when Trelkovski lets Stella entertain him, the girl wakes him up in the morning and he snaps up frightened, almost defending himself; Liz does the same in the Dressed to Kill finale. Trelkovski says he had a nightmare, but the viewer doesn't see it. De Palma, on the other hand, shows Liz's nightmare.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Friday, March 12, 2021 5:40 PM CST
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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

As Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible turns 25 later this year, A. J. Black over at 25YL considers the film as one that feels "both uniquely rooted in the 1990s and decidedly out of time."
Though it isn’t really until 2015’s Rogue Nation that Mission: Impossible directly begins to question the validity of the IMF in the modern day—much like Skyfall does with the 00 section—De Palma lays the foundations of exploring whether a concept so rooted in the Cold War showmanship, theatrics and game theory as Mission: Impossible can even exist in a world that doesn’t need it. Rogue Nation’s answer, further underlined in Fallout (which more than any of the previous films attempts to capture some of the essence of De Palma’s movie, even if aesthetically it has more in common with Christopher Nolan), is that the IMF *is* still relevant, but for one reason, and it’s the same reason as with the 00 section: in that franchise’s case, it’s James Bond. In Mission: Impossible’s case, it is Ethan Hunt.

Mission: Impossible does not sell Ethan, however, as a Bond proxy. Cruise’s charm is perfectly evident but Ethan is not a seductive, one-man killing machine, or indeed the death-defying nihilist he becomes post-MI:3. Ethan here is a touch more enigmatic and distant, which befits the colder stylings of De Palma’s approach to the material. His lens channels Hitchcock while imbuing the frame with a distinctly De Palma-level of paranoia. Behind the 90’s action beats and slicker dynamic, there remains a visible 70s conspiracy aspect to Mission: Impossible which is missing from subsequent pictures. It’s as if De Palma didn’t believe in the 60’s show, or didn’t believe it could exist beyond the 60s, and intentionally tries to revive the property within a post-70s culture, one where spooks like Kittredge reflect a government far more willing to sacrifice the lives of spies such as the IMF as part of a bigger, self-interested picture.

You only have to look at the strange character of Claire Phelps to see how Mission: Impossible doesn’t follow a traditional narrative pattern, particularly for a character like Ethan. MI:2, in trying to recast him as an American folk hero spy, immediately gives him ‘the love interest’ who you know will be disposable by the end of the picture (which turns out to be the case), but De Palma never tips Ethan and Claire into any kind of conventional romance. There is sexual chemistry and clear frisson, which almost enters into sexually aggressive territory at one point, but there is only the suggestion that Ethan and Claire may have slept together, and that Ethan may have compromised his own morals in doing so. Yet, in much the way Ethan becomes a tactical master three steps ahead of his enemies, sleeping with Claire may have been part of his plan all along, when ostensibly it seems to be part of Phelps’.

Claire, played by beguiling French beauty Emmanuelle Beart, is a strangely inert character. She is a spy yet does not seem to have any real agency about her. She is married to Jim yet this almost feels like a technicality, given we see almost no sign of warmth or connection between them. She might or might not have been complicit in murdering the IMF team; during the beautifully executed scene in which Phelps reveals his guilt to the audience yet not directly to Ethan, but which can equally be read as Ethan figuring out that Phelps is Job, Ethan actively imagines and then discounts Claire as the one who blew up team member Hannah’s car. If Ethan does have feelings for Claire, this could be his way of refusing to countenance she could be a traitor\killer, and him trying to protect her, but De Palma keeps it ambiguous. We never quite know for sure, come the end, if Claire was always just in it for the money like her husband. She is also never really defined as a rounded character in her own right.

Phelps certainly seems to believe Ethan slept with his wife and made that connection, given how in their final confrontation he quotes the Bible and the well-known passage: “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.” This plays into the odd level of religious symbolism which underlines Phelps’ extremism; he presents himself to Max as Job 3:14, which the CIA believe is code for an operation but Ethan figures out is the following Biblical passage: “with kings and counsellors of the earth, who built for themselves places now lying in ruins.”

This suggests Phelps is or was a religious man (and given Voight’s own personal leanings, very possibly a conservative), particularly in how he seems to be using Christian scripture to justify the betrayal of his nation. ‘Building for themselves’ references his own attempts to become a mercenary and profit over the deaths of many of his fellow spies still protecting their country, while the ‘places now lying in ruins’ could be how Phelps considers America: a country he does not recognise following the end of a career-defining hostility. There is a fundamentalist extremism at play here which, oddly, presages how certain Middle Eastern organisations would twist Islam to fit their own self-aggrandising interpretations as we entered the next decade.

Oddly, though, Redgrave’s Max tells Ethan, when posing as Job, that “Job is not given to quoting scripture in his communications” after Ethan does just that, suggesting Phelps is a false prophet. He doesn’t really know or understand the Bible and it could just be another example of his warped psyche when it comes to America as a nation – using the Christian belief system which underpins the land of the free against it. De Palma doesn’t take these religious notions too much further but McQuarrie certainly revisits them twenty years later in Fallout; Ethan again poses as a terrorist underpinned by quasi-religious doctrine when making deals with Max’s daughter, no less. This is no doubt an intentional homage to the first film but it does show how Mission: Impossible casts a long shadow across the rest of its own franchise.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Betty Buckley is the guest on this week's episode of the Cocktails at Table 7 podcast this week (and also next week-- they talked with her so much, they had to split it into two episodes). Around halfway through this week's episode, Buckley talks about working with Brian De Palma:
I was really fortunate. I got... how old was I, 29...? When I got Eight Is Enough, and I'd just done my first film, Carrie, with Brian De Palma. And... which was a real gift, that he gave me that role. Because I had met him on an audition for Phantom Of The Paradise, his film. And he didn't cast me, but in the old days, in New York, theater actors, and TV and film actors, were like two different things. And there seemed to be a real arrogance, that I perceived from film people and television people to theater people, which used to just really annoy me. And I didn't understand any of it.

So at some point I confronted him in my audition process with Phantom Of The Paradise. And I just, I had a lot of attitude when I went in and met him. Because I thought, "Oh, you think you're all that," right? So that just kind of radiated. And he found that interesting. [laughs] So... you never know, right? So he hired me, even though he didn't cast me, he hired me to create voices. His deal was, he would go and he would cast local people on location that had the right look for these various smaller roles. And then he would hire me to come in and create a voice for them that gave them a credible performance. And so I did this several times. I did young teenage girls and older women in that film he did with Cliff Robertson. And I did it a lot in like, two or three of his films.

And finally I was like, wait a minute, this is not right. Because there are young actors like me that are studying acting, and paying for their therapist, and their acting classes, and any one of these roles would be like a beginning, would be a start in the film business. So I actually confronted him about that. I said, "You know what, Brian?" In my last one of these voice sessions, I was like, "I'm not going to do this for you anymore." I said this is, like, not cool, I said, because there are people like me, that you're asking me to give this character a soul, and a performance, and, you know, I'm studying in acting school, and there's tons of us that are doing this, and this isn't right. And he was like, "Hmm."

So a few months later, he called me, and he sent the book Carrie to me. And he goes, "This is going to be my next film-- I want you to play the gym teacher." And I was like... because I still was just so sarcastic and, you know, in disbelief about people from the film business. I don't know what, I was like this reverse arrogance, right? So, I read the book, and I really liked the book, but the gym teacher's part was really tiny. And I was like, okay, you know, great, he's doing like I asked him to do, you know. And so then a few months later, he sends me the script, written by Larry [Lawrence] Cohen, and he had combined a lot of the action from the principal in the novel, to the gym teacher, and made it this beautiful film debut. And I remember where I was in my apartment, which was at corner of 86th and West end, and I was sitting there, I finished reading this book, and I just started crying. Because I was like, "Oh, my God, what a gift this guy's giving me," you know. So anyway, I made that movie, which was amazing. And there were like eight of us that were making our film debuts. You know, it was an incredible energy of the group, you know. And we all just had this incredible feeling that we were doing something really classic. And we were, you know. And so it turned out that way, but we all came into it with that feeling.


Betty Buckley talks about looping dialogue for De Palma

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, March 10, 2021 12:02 AM CST
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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Posted by Geoff at 4:43 PM CST
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Friday, March 5, 2021

Raising Cain, Domino, Scarface... when a De Palma film is on Netflix, it seems I'm perpetually watching it. I have about a dozen emails from Netflix asking me, "Are you enjoying Raising Cain?" That film finally left Netflix earlier this year, and now, at the end of this month (March 27, to be precise), Domino will be leaving as well. Jason Bailey at The New York Times' "What to Watch" column posted 13 titles "not to miss in March" before they leave Netflix. Domino is one of the 13:
Production issues plagued this, Brian De Palma’s most recent feature, and the filmmaker all but disowned the final result. So it’s difficult to give the picture a full-throated endorsement. But out of its messy making and compromised completion, one can still find enough traces of De Palma’s snazzy, baroque style — inventive camerawork, creative compositions, ingenious set pieces and cheerful indifference to plot — to warrant at least a curiosity peek. It’s far from top-tier DePalma, but at least it has some personality, which is more than you can say for most thrillers these days.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Saturday, March 6, 2021 8:36 AM CST
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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Today kicked off the Film at Lincoln Center's 26th edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. One of the free virtual events is a Discussion with Emmanuelle Béart. As the Rendez-Vous official Guest of Honor, Béart is interviewed by Columbia University Professor Richard Peña, who eventually asked her about working on Mission: Impossible:
Richard Peña: In addition to working with artists like Téchiné, Sautet, Rivette, Assayas, and others, you also have worked in Hollywood. Specifically on Mission: Impossible. And I'm wondering if you could talk about what your impression was when you arrived to be in a very big-budget Hollywood film, and then maybe on that, what was it like to work with another auteur like Brian De Palma?

Emmanuelle Béart: [via a French-English translator] Well, it was quite a strange experience for me. I must say that I got on this project, while I was RAISED in auteur cinema, so I had as an actor, a culture, habits of the background that I had, and the kinds of films in which I had been in. And all of a sudden, I got there, and I think Brian once told me, when it was the premiere of the film, he told me that he felt the same. That it was, when we were on set, the boss wasn't Brian De Palma. It was Tom Cruise and his team. That's what it was about. And this is something I really found hard to adjust to. I mean, for me, the director is the absolute master. He's the master and commander of the boat, of the set. And I expected this to be the same there, especially with a director as great as Brian De Palma. But it wasn't like that at all. And, it wasn't the problem of Tom Cruise, who I really got along well. And I think, for him, it was okay, it was the way it had to be, but it wasn't MY culture. It wasn't my way of engaging in a film project. So, that was quite strange.

And I was... a bit, also, I found incredible, the amount of money that was being used for ONE film. I was wondering all the time, I was obsessed with the idea of how many auteur films in France could be made with this money. Why are we putting so much money on ONE film? And when we were really too depressed, Brian and I, I remember, we would go in the evening into Italian restaurants, eat pasta, and talk about films, and talk about auteur cinema. And we had great fun, the two of us together, after, once the shooting would wrap, to go and enjoy our time together.

But for the film itself, I have mixed feelings, I would say. From one side I was like a kid. I found it funny, so, so much money, and to be able to just push a button and see a car explode. And this was a bit crazy. But at the same time, I felt quite embarrassed and not really at the place I wanted to be. That's why afterwards, I didn't stay in Los Angeles. I had an agent, I had many more offers, but they didn't make sense to me. It was too stereotyped. It was just a kind of, um, what's expected from a French actress, and really too similar to what I'd done before, and so I couldn't relate to any of these offers. And I just longed to go back home.

Posted by Geoff at 7:59 PM CST
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