PICTURED: IN NEW YORK CIRCA 1977-ISH; WITH DE NIRO & LINSON IN DEAUVILLE ON SEPT 11, 1987; WITH SUSAN LEHMAN LAST MONTH IN EAST HAMPTON
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After its momentous debut in The Black Cat, modernism did not appear as a villain’s lair again until Hitchcock brought it back in the mid–20th century with North by Northwest. The return of high-end modern designs on film corresponded with a critical shift in the portrayal of evil characters, morphing from a frazzled Dr. Frankenstein into a handsome Captain Nemo. Using cultivated gentility to cover malign intentions required an equally sophisticated architectural expression. One of Hitchcock’s first experiments with this portrayal is seen in The Secret Agent, in which he unveiled a villain who was “attractive, distinguished,” and “very appealing” to audiences, according to his biographer François Truffaut. Hitchcock moved forward from there with the belief that “the best way” to make a thriller work was to “keep your villains suave and clever—the kind that wouldn’t dirty their hands with ordinary gun play.”
The building that changed movies forever makes its first appearance almost two hours into North by Northwest and is onscreen a mere 14 minutes. Filmic structures are “evanescent as a flicker of light,” as noted by historian Alan Hess. Nonetheless, this design had a penetrating and lasting effect in the public consciousness. The Vandamm House itself is now a movie star with its own dedicated legion of fans. The high-quality production design of the film, and the hybrid mixing of recognizable locations with studio sets, led to many inquiries as to the “real” location of the home. Explorations in the area behind Mount Rushmore would prove futile, however, as the building is entirely conjectural, a set created by production designer Robert F. Boyle at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios in Los Angeles.
In the decades following the release of North by Northwest, filmmakers enthusiastically adopted Hitchcock’s architectural precedent, crafting fictional modernist structures and rediscovering designs in Southern California that could host a score of film villains introduced in the 1960s and ’70s. Architect John Lautner designed many houses during this period that later found fame as villain’s lairs. His tactile, sensuously curved, concrete spaces exude power in their boldness and unorthodox approach. Filmic creators also appreciated the cinematic scale and the ambitiousness and improbability of the designs. Ken Adam, production designer for the James Bond series of films including Dr. No, Goldfinger, Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker, featured the Lautner-designed Arthur Elrod House in Palm Springs in Diamonds Are Forever. Bond (played with finesse by Sean Connery) tracked billionaire Willard Whyte to his lair in the hills, protected by the acrobatic Bambi and Thumper. The women swing from the modern lighting, leap from the living room boulders, and attempt to drown Bond in the sky-high swimming pool. The perfect hideaway for a villain.
Director Brian De Palma selected the Chemosphere, another cliff-hanging Lautner design, for Body Double, a murderous homage to both Vertigo and Rear Window. The film, and the building, draw upon prevailing narratives of voyeurism, identity, and complicit shame explored by Hitchcock. Jeannine Oppewall, an Academy Award–nominated production designer for L.A. Confidential (featuring the Richard Neutra–designed Lovell House in its own villainous star turn), noted that in her line of work, “the best architecture [goes] to the film’s worst characters.”
Hitchcock manipulated our collective memory and the language of building design to create constructed expressions of human emotions, including love, envy, and the killer instinct. He was driven by an intense engagement with location and architectural form, picturing buildings not only as scenic devices but as interactive participants. For Hitchcock, the parts of a structure represent humanity and all its complications: Windows are the eyes into the soul, a stairway is a spine between the heart and mind, and a door permits entry into subliminal perceptions. His buildings—including the maternal Victorian mansion and naughty motel along the old highway in Psycho, the honeycomb of Greenwich Village apartments in Rear Window, the avian-infested Bodega Bay schoolhouse in The Birds, and the deadly skyscrapers and towers of Vertigo—illuminate the uncertain relationships we hold inside our own minds, with the built world around us, and between each other.
DEADLINE: You talked about finding common ground in your work. But the way you’ve explored this sense of otherness has been distinct each time. Are you purposefully seeking out new stones to turn over, even if they belong to the same garden?
GUADAGNINO: I think the thing that most excites me as a filmmaker and a director is the possibility of fully exploring the craft, and really playing with the set of tools you have in your hands within the language of cinema. The more conscious I become about cinema, through the way I work and through learning the formal language of cinema in its many, many layers, it’s something that’s truly amazing.
I respect so much the work of filmmakers who repeat their same movie over and over again. It’s actually reassuring and beautiful to see that. But at the same time, that’s not who I am and how I am. I like the idea of trying things, as you said, to turn different stones in the same garden. I don’t know if the garden is my garden, the garden of my imagery, or what the great historian of cinema Georges Sadoul said in his seminal Histoire générale du cinema, Tome 1, which is that cinema is about human beings because it’s about telling the story of human beings. That might sound parochial, banal, or old-fashioned, again, but I think he was right. Even the most experimental work of Pat O’Neill, which I adore, or the great experience of the underground cinema in the ’60s and ’70s, still reflects on that.
DEADLINE: Equally banal, perhaps, but that idea that the universal can be found in the specific is something mainstream cinema often neglects.
GUADAGNINO: Every-size-fits-all is Walmart. Every-size-fits-all is an artificial concept that belongs to the practices of capitalism, and the execution of a dull idea of capital. A smart idea of capital comes with the notion of prototype; it comes with the idea of finding new territory in order to expand even more.
The reiteration of something that has been set in stone and repeated and repeated over and over again is a bad practice because it’s pollution. It’s the pollution of imageries, of the world, and it makes the environment less livable, and thus less consumable. It’s a strange contradiction.
Billy Wilder said that show business is show business because without business it’d be show show, which from his perspective was the greatest sin of all. I’m not sure I’m totally in agreement with Mr. Wilder. Still, let’s hold on that, because this is Deadline Hollywood. But at the same time, you have to make prototypes because you have to re-create again and again the possibility of excitement in the investment of an audience toward something truly new.
Even Top Gun: Maverick, which is a movie that trades very deeply with nostalgia and repetition, comes with the novelty of happening 25 years later. The idea that a sequel comes after a quarter of a century is, in its way, a very smart, intelligent, and thoughtful way of doing business. Because now, even if the movie holds very deep nostalgia in the audience—the nostalgic gaze of Tony Scott and the idea of the world in the way it was in 1986—you are there for the ride of Tom Cruise’s Maverick being a man now, not a boy. So, I would say there are always ways to create something that is surprising and interesting.
DEADLINE: And yet, the industry revels in its love of data.
GUADAGNINO: Yes, but we’re not working on parameters that are set in stone, like chemistry or physics or mathematics. We are working with something that deals with the unconscious, and we have to allow that to be cunning. If we trade in the unconscious for the algorithm of it all—whether it’s the algorithm itself or the expectations that come from it—that is where you fail. “You can’t do that because our data tells us the audience wants this.” Well, that way you would never have had The Godfather. You would never have had GoodFellas. You’d never even have had Mission: Impossible, the first movie by Brian De Palma.
And by the way, that’s true of The Godfather: Part II, and Part III, which I love. It’s my favorite of the three. I’m using this platform to say it: it’s a masterpiece. I go back to the Godfathers over and over, but I go back to Part III every six months. I wish I could have done a movie like that; it’s beautiful. Coppola is a forger of prototypes. Even now, with Megalopolis. He’s not doing it in a cheap way, he’s making a big movie out of it.
DEADLINE: The question is whether the industry that allowed for films like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now still exists, or whether the data is too powerful now.
GUADAGNINO: Probably not as a system, in the way the system worked back then. But definitely, it exists as individual personalities finding their own ways into the business. We have to see what happens and how things morph, and not be too disheartened by the present because there are new ways to find and be excited about.
That’s what I say to young filmmakers when they ask me how to break into filmmaking: just do it. And don’t allow anybody to let you down or lecture you about what to do and how to do it. Just do it. A filmmaker has to be a very obsessive person who must refuse to let people f*ck with him, her, or them. It’s a director’s medium.
When I spoke with De Palma, I asked him why he thought there was this trend of filmmakers turning to novels. Action flick auteur Michael Mann released Heat 2: A Novel this month and screenwriter David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, Panic Room) released his novel this June. He said that during the pandemic lockdown many filmmakers that usually had access to sets, studio budgets, and large casts and crews were forced to get back to the basics and write in a solitary way in their homes. I’ve spoken to movie junkie friends recently who rarely pursue novels who have told me that they can’t wait for the new Heat book or De Palma thriller. It’s a fascinating trend in a time when teens and young adults spend more time on digital media and less time reading; is it possible that the pandemic-induced disruption of film production caused a temporary youth literary revival?
When I spoke with De Palma, I asked him about his use of the split diopter shot. He said it was inspired by the deep focus shots of Citizen Kane where Orson Welles (and cinematographer Gregg Toland) held things in the foreground and far background in equal focus, granting the film these epic and vast spaces captured in a single frame. Shot on 35mm celluloid with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, these deep focus shots were often used to place symbolic value on characters like the famous blocking of the young boy outside in the window frame while his family discusses his fate inside (This shot is studied in Film 101 classes all over the world).
De Palma, meanwhile, wanted to juxtapose two images in striking contrast in the same frame, and collaborated with his cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond to use a technique called the split diopter shot to pack the frame with bursting color and multiple, deep focus-like layers of composition. An example of this can be seen when Travolta stands on a bridge listening to an owl in a far away tree top and yet they are sandwiched side by side, their heads occupying equal halves of the frame.
Another example is when a woman walking alone at night through the back door of a supermarket is thrust together with a shot of a man far behind her pulling an ice pick out of a seafood display next to a fish head.
These kinds of inventive visuals are why De Palma is so often concerned with the position of the camera as much as the subject. In a 2011 interview, De Palma said, "A dirty word to me is coverage... two-shot, over-the-shoulder. You know, stuff you see all the time drives me crazy because this to me is not directing." This is a common critique you'll hear from auteurs, like when Michael Mann criticized the kind of passive filmmaking where an action is going on and someone just happens to be there in the room to shoot it. Real directing, real filmmaking — if it exists — is this kind of brilliant visual storytelling that actively organizes and manipulates the interplay of striking images to evoke something from a viewer.
Spiritually similar to 2016’s Beat the Champ, an album that is about his love of professional wrestling, Bleed Out is head to toe inspired by his love of the cheese and the sleaze of revenge thrillers. “When people say ‘it’s so bad it’s good,’ that’s not correct. That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s that there’s, in a sense, obviously, not anyone can make a great movie, but sort of anyone with the capability can make a great movie, but every ‘off’ movie is off in its own way, and there’s real humanity …” (He interrupts himself to talk about Carnival of Souls).
The album’s tone is set by its opening track, “Training Montage”, in which he declares quite decisively, “I’m doing this for revenge! / I’m doing this to try and stay true! / I’m doing this for the ones they had to leave behind! / I’m doing this for you!” This song lets you know exactly what you’re getting into here, in much the same way an action movie needs to set its tone in the first five minutes, lest it is mistaken for a romance.
Keeping things upbeat and amped up, “Wage Wars, Get Rich, Die Handsome” embodies the glory of the action hero, maybe the leader of a heist gang, maybe not the kind of guy you’d want to invite to a dinner party, but certainly one you’d enjoy watching blow shit up on-screen. Even its liner notes stay on theme.
The album is a rocker with some flares of saxophone and accompaniment by Alicia Bognanno from the band Bully, who also served as producer. Darnielle is a master storyteller, and Bleed Out is a kind of short story collection of heists, gang wars, car chases, and shootouts (less about plots and more about the feelings of the humans doing the action), utilizing all of the themes and tropes from his favorite titles. It is an album made up almost entirely of bangers, but it closes with a sigh of relief as its protagonist prepares for death. Reflecting on the ephemeral nature of existence, the narrator sings, “There’s gonna be a big spot where I once lay / And then there won’t even be a spot one day / Bleed out / I’m going to bleed out.”
The first movie John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats saw in a movie theater was The Wizard of Oz. It was 1971, and he was four or five. “That night, I very solemnly announced to my parents that I was going to marry Judy Garland when I grew up.” Aside from remaining a lifelong, dedicated Judy Garland fan, the screening of Oz left a lasting impression on him. “It was a very big experience for me,” he says. “I was utterly bowled over.”
This relationship with film would continue into adolescence during the late 1970s when parenting was less strict and he would get dropped off at the movies after school by himself. One standout from this time was 1977’s Orca, about a killer whale that gets revenge on a fishing boat that killed its pregnant mate. This thirst for stories of revenge started early. Of course, there were the daytime monster movies that would come on TV when they were living briefly in Milpitas, California (a location that appears in his latest novel). A favorite at the time was The Crawling Eye, a film that would appear two decades later on Mystery Science Theater 3000. A number of these elements would influence Darnielle’s more lurid cinematic tastes.
His entry into foreign films came courtesy of his stepfather (a character fans will remember as the villain of the Mountain Goats’ Sunset Tree album) and a recurring Sunday night film series at Pitzer College. Of his stepfather, Darnielle tells me: “He had grown up in a small Indiana town and aspired to be greater and learn things, and he would take me to foreign movies and teach me about Bergman, Pasolini, Fellini—those were his, sort of, big names.”
Darnielle favored Andy Warhol and was able to see his film, Trash, as a teenager. “It was a big night for me when I was 14,” he says. “If you wanted to see a Warhol movie, you just couldn’t; they weren’t around. He was, for those of us who listened to the Velvets, this legendary figure. You wanted to see what his movies were like. And Trash was a big, big thing for me.”
The programming at the Pitzer College Sunday night film series in Avery auditorium was every Sunday night for Darnielle. This is where he saw Kurosawa‘s Ran and Rashomon, Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, Wim Wenders’ Paris, TX, and of course, Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. These were formative, taste-making years. He was hooked—a certified cinephile. “We would all go, me and my friends Tom and Steve, the would-be intellectuals. We’d go to movies from seven to nine and then at nine go out for coffee and argue about what we’d seen.”
On its face, Spin Me Round, out August 19, is about Amber (Brie), the assistant manager of Tuscan Grove, an Olive Garden–like knockoff, who gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she's invited to Italy for a company training program. But, you may have guessed, things are not quite as magical as they seem, and every time you feel like you've got things figured out—or even know what kind of movie you're watching—the rug gets pulled out from under you.
"I guess I'm drawn to things that are hard to categorize," Baena told Newsweek in a separate interview. "I think if you can easily categorize or describe it, why make it? So my instinct has always been to go somewhere that feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar. And so the consequence of that is that it's indescribable."
In addition to Brie, repeat Baena collaborators Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Lauren Weedman, Debby Ryan and Baena's wife, Aubrey Plaza, also star. Alessandro Nivola, Lil Rel Howery, Zach Woods, Ayden Mayeri, Ego Nwodim and Tim Heidecker round out the cast.
"I think that after having worked with certain people, I'm just drawn to working with them again," Baena said. "My movies tend to not fit neatly into any kind of box, and going through that experience of shooting it and kind of knowing how I work, it's definitely a benefit to be able to go back and do something else with those people since they already have a sense of how things are. But more than anything, I love actors, I think whenever I work with new people, I try to incorporate them into the next movie...I think it's mostly that I fall in love with their performances and them themselves."
For Baena, one of the biggest highlights was getting to collaborate with legendary film-and-TV composer Pino Donaggio. "I've always been a massive fan of his and honestly reached out to him on a lark, not expecting him to accept the offer," Baena says of Donaggio, whose work includes collaborations with director Brian de Palma on the 1976 Stephen King adaptation of Carrie and1984 thriller Body Double.
"He's such a warm and lovely person, and being able to go to Italy after we finished editing and sitting with him and arranging the score and literally collaborating with this genius master was one of the most invaluable experiences I've ever had. It was one of the ultimate highlights. When I first set out to write this as a movie, in the back of my mind, I always had the Body Double score playing in my head for what I was going for. It was an insane boon to have Pino as a collaborator."
“In 1976, Brian de Palma directed Carrie, the first novel and adaptation of Stephen King’s work. Since then, more than 50 directors have adapted the master of horror’s books, in more than 80 films and series, making him now the most adapted author still alive in the world.
“King on Screen features an inside look with the majority of directors who have adapted Stephen King’s work for screen, showcasing the unique relationship as they reimagine his work for film. The documentary, which interviews the lion’s share of the filmmakers who have adapted his work to screen, includes Frank Darabont, Mick Garris, Mike Flanagan, Greg Nicotero and more.
“Directed by Daphné Baiwir (The Rebellious Olivia de Havilland), King on Screen is an intimate look at the unique relationship between Stephen King’s vast body of work and the directors famous for reimagining it for the screen.”
The documentary is produced by Sebastien Cruz for Les Films de la Plage, Jean-Yves Roubin for Frakas Productions and Zoe Salmon for Mr Salmon Films, with the participation of OCS.
Hugues Barbier, Co-Founder from YVP said: “King on Screen gives a great insight in the mind of the filmmakers adapting King’s work, and Daphné did an incredible job capturing the essence of the process. We are really excited to bring Daphné’s vision to Fantastic Fest and its crowd of film connoisseurs.”
Filmmaker Daphné Baiwir said: “I’m so glad we managed to gather such stellar names for King on Screen, who gave such insight into King’s work and its journey to the big screen. With illustrious directors and the celebrated actors who collaborated with us to recreate some of the iconic look and situations of King’s adaptations as an introduction to the documentary including Jeffrey DeMunn, James Caan, Tim Curry, Amy Irving, Dee Wallace and Carel Struycken, the experience was unbelievable!”
The later two films Hassenger is talking about, of course, are Femme Fatale and Passion. However, I would argue that Body Double would surely be the prototypical "palate cleanser" films for De Palma. The 1984 film came on the heels of De Palma's ratings battles with the MPAA, as well as the heatedly negative reception to Scarface - which itself followed the financial failure of what is widely considered to be De Palma's finest film, Blow Out. As such, Body Double is a complete letting-loose, a chance for De Palma to get it all out of his system, wild, funny, and fearless, before getting back to the back-and-forth business of Hollywood compromises.
Here's a bit more from Hassenger:
De Palma had done feature-length dream-logic freakouts before Raising Cain. But what separates Cain from Dressed to Kill or Body Double, besides a number of years spent on non-thrillers for big studios, is how much it feels like a valve being turned on, releasing his pent-up indulgences. Its predecessor, The Bonfire of the Vanities, offers the awkward spectacle of De Palma occasionally applying virtuoso technique to material that’s at once grotesque and defanged—a limping monster of a seriocomic adaptation, where the serious performances don’t fit and the comic notes are held long and loud. Despite his experience working with big stars (The Untouchables), big budgets (Scarface), novel adaptations (Carrie) and dark comedy (take your pick), De Palma feels out of his element in Bonfire. He engineers a thrilling single-take opening scene featuring a drunken Bruce Willis, with screwball timing applied to dirtbag flair, and it barely feels connected to anything else in the movie. Even at its choppiest, in the original theatrical cut, Raising Cain feels all of a piece.
The pattern would repeat, under different circumstances, ten years later with Femme Fatale in 2002, and then ten years after that with Passion in 2012 (not released commercially until 2013, but surely the 2012 New York Film Festival audience that cheered in delight for Passion was as good as it was going to get for that movie). Femme Fatale, which turns 20 this autumn, is best of De Palma’s palate-cleansing trilogy, embracing dream logic to such a degree that it actually tightens the movie up, and enriches De Palma’s obsession with watching others and ourselves, processing events through a camera. (No accident that the opening shot is Rebecca Romijn’s character reflected in a TV screen as she watches Double Indemnity.) Meanwhile, Snake Eyes and Mission to Mars, the De Palma movies that preceded Femme Fatale, only have brilliant passages, fighting against the invisible restraints of big-studio moviemaking.
It’s unlikely that De Palma designed (or De Signed?) these three movies as neatly separated once-a-decade events, but in retrospect it makes them each look like an “erotic thriller” (the designation often applied to De Palma’s thrillers, and even moreso to their imitators) grown progressively more tangled and less recognizable. On paper, Raising Cain looks vaguely in step with other summer 1992 thrillers like Single White Female or Unlawful Entry, where domestic space is violated by an interloper in disguise. Cain is ultimately less reassuring: The threat comes from inside the family, and the disguise becomes literal, with the movie ending on Lithgow popping up from nowhere in drag as one of his character’s alternate personalities. Further down the line, the drift away from sexuality in American cinema is visible when setting Femme Fatale against more popular 2002 thrillers like Panic Room or Enough. (Unfaithful is the exception that proves the rule: A sex-saturated hit that was director Adrian Lyne’s last movie until earlier this year!)
By the time De Palma got to Passion in 2012, this style of movie had fallen so out of fashion that the opening section feels particularly stilted, despite the presence of Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace. Passion is its own hoot, replete with split-screens, knowing references to twins and opportunities for McAdams and Rapace to uncork—and looked positively alien in its day. None of these movies got especially sterling reviews when they were released; all of them look more comfortable next to each other. Cain and Fatale even share a particularly memorable image of a figure materializing behind a character, as well as a pet phrase (“cat’s in the bag”) and the threat of impalement by truck.
Notably, Raising Cain is the only movie in the palate-cleansing trilogy to be followed up by more mainstream triumphs: Next up for De Palma was Carlito’s Way, one of his best movies (by his own estimation, too), and Mission: Impossible, one of his biggest hits. These movies aren’t necessarily better, or, for that matter, less De Palma (Mission: Impossible and Raising Cain both open on surveillance video). But the ability to make a successful and satisfying movie in the studio system can be fleeting in the best of circumstances, and De Palma’s later-period genre workouts really do feel like he’s working something out. Femme Fatale may be the purest expression of De Palma’s sensibility; Raising Cain may be his purest exorcism.