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Domino is
a "disarmingly
work that "pushes
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relationship to images
and their consumption,
not only ethically
but metaphysically"
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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
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in Snakes

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"a horror movie
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in the news"

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edited by Carl Rodrigue

Washington Post
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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

"There were more than 550 television shows in contention this Emmy season," states The Wrap's Jason Clark, "a daunting task for voters to parse and the driving engine for the 'Is There Too Much TV?' chatter mill. But in the case of the Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour) category, the nominations were an impressive overlay of the evolution of the half-hour series. All six nominees, drawn from 86 eligible contenders, are technically comedy series — but more urgently, they’re a bold representation of how that genre has blended into popular entertainments that are not afraid to go to darker, more diverse places while delivering the laughs. The six nominees in this category have a distinguished range of backgrounds in television (and rather sweetly, all are rooting for each other) and spoke to TheWrap to take us inside their nominated episodes."

Here's Clark's section about one of those nominees, Ula Pontikos:

RUSSIAN DOLL (Netflix, “Nowhen,” Season 2, Episode 1)

Ula Pontikos didn’t shoot any episodes of the first season of “Russian Doll,” but she was behind the camera for every episode of Season 2. “I’ve never slotted into somebody’s work,” said the U.K.-based Pontikos, who took inspiration from mood boards and storyboards created with the directors, along with Douglas Hofstadter’s 2007 self-referential nonfiction book “I Am a Strange Loop.” “I love deconstructing the script, and part of the challenge as a cinematographer is to really figure out what the world is.”

In Season 2, the free-spirited Nadia (cocreator Natasha Lyonne, who also wrote and directed this episode) takes a subway ride back to 1982 in a new adventure that eventually finds her retracing her family’s Holocaust legacy, often while existing in the body of her pregnant mother (Chloë Sevigny), which she discovers in a mirror effect at a pivotal moment in this episode. “We really did not want to do that on a green screen,” Pontikos said. “Part of the charm of this project is to kind of make it quite lo-fi and fun.”

“Nowhen” is complete with subway scenes that span different decades, all shot in three and half days with a myriad of cost-saving techniques and with visual nods to films close to that era, including Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out” and Alex Cox’s “Sid & Nancy.” “I spent hours walking around the Lower East Side trying to figure out, on a limited budget, how we could have a key light source and yet not lose that quality of that tungsten light, which is so dominant in the ’70s and ’80s,” Pontikos said.

Posted by Geoff at 8:50 PM CDT
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Saturday, July 23, 2022

According to Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker Magazine, "Film writer and festival curator Travis Crawford, who worked extensively with various home video labels in the restoration of classic foreign-language, independent and genre work, died this week, I was saddened to learn via social media. He was 52."

"Crawford," Macaulay continues, "who for many years curated the Philadelphia Film Festival’s Danger after Dark series, wrote extensively for Filmmaker over the years, predominantly in the late aughts and early ’10s, when he headed up the print magazine’s 'Load and Play' columns." Macaulay provides a link to one of those columns, from 2011, in which Crawford writes about the then-recently-released Criterion edition of Blow Out:

The ending of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out hits you in the chest like a hammer. It’s not supposed to be this way; American studio movies don’t end like that. But of course it’s the heartbreaking denouement that has partially helped to make the film endure in the 30 intervening years since its commercially disastrous release, though one can certainly fathom how it alienated audiences at the time (for the record, some critics were passionate defenders; it’s just that most viewers don’t savor being implicated in the spectacle of violence as it is quickly transformed into tragedy). As De Palma himself has wryly observed, the studio likely just expected another erotic romp like Dressed to Kill (De Palma’s previous surprise hit for the Filmways outfit) and were unprepared for a downbeat but cinematically exhilarating last gasp of bravura filmmaking, political critique, and social cynicism that made its ’70s predecessors like The Conversation and The Parallax View seem like Oliver! by contrast. But as the greatest film ever made by one of the two or three most important filmmakers to emerge from the “New Hollywood” movement of the ’60s and ’70s, Blow Out is among the most significant films of the past three decades, and the film has been thankfully reappraised in subsequent years. Hopefully its new Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD special-edition release will also help to introduce it to a younger generation of film enthusiasts.

Of course, during the ’70s (clearly, a loosely defined era in American filmmaking), challenging audience expectations — whether socio-political or purely filmic — had become rather expected, so perhaps De Palma (much like his old friend Scorsese who artistically triumphed with the similarly commercially underappreciated Raging Bull the previous year — trivia note: it was actually De Palma who first introduced Scorsese to De Niro at a party) was unaware of the post-Jaws/Star Wars shift in the new Reagan-era American cinema. But De Palma had just come off a hit with Dressed to Kill, and had also enjoyed a pop culture phenomenon with Carrie only a few years earlier; even his less financially successful genre endeavors like Obsession, Phantom of the Paradise, and Sisters hardly seemed to exist in the same unapologetically confrontational realm as some of Scorsese’s more overtly personal work. So for De Palma to embark on a violent suspense exercise — one with stars like John Travolta and De Palma’s then-wife Nancy Allen in addition — may have seemed like a relatively safe commercial bet…no matter than the film harked back to the grim and anti-authoritarian conspiracy thrillers of the decade that preceded Blow Out’s release. But for those who mistakenly believed that De Palma’s career essentially began with Sisters, the political pessimism of Blow Out might seem like an unexpected departure indeed — yet, Sisters was actually the filmmaker’s seventh feature film, and if anything, Blow Out serves as a newfound and masterful fusion of the director’s Hitchcockian tales of mayhem and perversion, with a radical political consciousness seemingly jettisoned eight years prior.

De Palma’s first six features — Murder a la Mod (included in its entirety as a supplementary feature on this Criterion disc), Greetings, The Wedding Party, Dionysus, Hi, Mom!, and Get to Know Your Rabbit — demonstrate political concerns and counterculture beliefs that would only scarcely return in his later work, sometimes with rewarding results (the underrated Casualties of War) but sometimes with ill-advised ramifications (the misguided Redacted). If De Palma discarded a playful political sensibility in favor of equally playful approaches to film technique beginning with Sisters in ‘73, Blow Out is incredibly rewarding in the way that it combines both sensibilities. Yet it would be disingenuous to imply that this is the principal factor for the movie’s enormous impact: if De Palma’s subsequent thrillers found him experimenting with form and style to the point of gleeful and unabashed self-parody (most notably in the often hilarious likes of Body Double, Femme Fatale, and — most obviously — Raising Cain), Blow Out is played comparatively “straight,” but with no less contagious joy for the medium of filmmaking. And the political backdrop provides additional narrative gravity to a story that is, above all else, a genuinely melancholy and heartfelt tale of doomed love and shattered political idealism.

Posted by Geoff at 6:06 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, July 23, 2022 6:08 PM CDT
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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Posted by Geoff at 11:52 PM CDT
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Saturday, June 18, 2022

Criterion this past week announced its upcoming September releases, which includes a 4K UHD and Blu-ray edition of Brian De Palma's Blow Out. This edition features a new 4K digital restoration, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The package will have one 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray with the film and special features.

This past week also entered into the timeline marking 50 years since the Watergate break-in and scandal. Steph Green at Inverse posted an article Friday with the headline, "50 years ago, America’s greatest political scandal changed movies forever." Green's article begins:


The above could easily be a newspaper headline from 1974, the year Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in disgrace after being caught on tape ordering a cover-up of the Watergate scandal two years earlier. Instead, it’s the tagline for The Conversation, a movie released that same year, which dealt directly with both the ethics of surveillance and the psychological fallout of paranoia.

Political scandals have existed since politics began, and since the birth of cinema itself, the silver screen has reflected these upheavals and the mistrust they cause. Decades before Watergate, we saw film noir play upon post-war disillusionment. Then the beckoning fear of communism throughout the 1950s wound its way firmly into the cinematic conversation, where movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and Topaz (1969) transliterated the Red Scare into celluloid and blew it up onto the big screen. Throw in events like the 1963 assassination of JFK and the Chappaquiddick incident in 1969, and you already have a country increasingly distrustful of the narrative being fed to them.

But when Nixon’s administration covered up its involvement in the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s offices — perpetrated by burglars paid via a secret slush fund operated by the president’s re-election campaign — a new cinematic catnip was born. It wasn’t a neighbor that was a potential secret Red agent, or a series of unsubstantiated claims about an assassination. Nixon got caught, he confessed, and he resigned.

It seemed, for the first time, that the lid had been lifted on the most powerful organization in the entire country. From that moment, the Watergate scandal had an enduring effect on the cinematic landscape that followed. Fifty years on, it boasts the legacy of being — of, possibly, all the events in American political history — the ripest for adaptation: rich with reveals, twists, and a lingering sense of dread.

“Conspiracies involving murder by federal agencies used to be found in obscure publications of the far left,” wrote film critic Roger Ebert in early 1975. “Now they're glossy entertainments starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway.” He didn’t seem too happy about this, even if he ultimately gave the movie in question — Three Days of the Condor, directed by Sydney Pollack — a positive review. “How soon we grow used to the most depressing possibilities about our government,” Ebert mused. “Hollywood stars used to play cowboys and generals. Now they're wiretappers and assassins, or targets.”

The movie, which saw Redford star as a bookish CIA researcher, follows a classic conspiracy formula. A small fry finds himself in over his head and is determined to rise above the big dogs to expose corruption. One of many conspiracy flicks of its kind in the mid-1970s, academics saw this deluge as an opportunity for audiences to synthesize their real-life anger at political organizations into something tangible, with such movies acting as “resolutions for inadequately explained socio-historical traumas.”

Many at the time, however, saw these movies as toothless attempts to emulate the level of corruption happening in real life, unable to coalesce the economic imperatives of studio filmmaking with a genuine political message. In a 1976 pan of Condor, Patrick McGilligan decried it as “evasive, exploitative and politically vacuous.” If you look at how the plot is beefed up with a dicey Faye Dunaway romance/kidnap subplot, you can see where he’s coming from here.

While today it’s considered a masterpiece, Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View similarly failed to escape criticism. The movie starred box-office mainstay Warren Beatty as a television journalist who becomes aware of a secret organization that recruits political assassins and kills off witnesses. The Senate hearings for Watergate were in full swing during production, and members of the cast and crew would sneak off to Beatty’s trailer to watch proceedings unfold during downtime. Sure, the book the screenplay was based on was unmistakably tied to JFK trutherism, but the entire thing whiffs of Watergate jitters.

Writing in The New York Times in 1974, just three days after Nixon’s resignation, Stephen Farber disparaged the upward tick in political conspiracy movies. He criticized Parallax as “probably the most mindless and irresponsible of the lot [...] exemplifying the emptyheaded, fence-straddling approach to controversial issues that has made Hollywood's political movies such a joke.” He continued: “Today's mass audience wants to believe in omnipotent, omniscient, indestructible conspiracies.”

Two years later, Pakula would direct the definitive Watergate flick, All The President’s Men. The two films (which complete his “paranoia” trilogy, alongside 1971’s excellent Klute) differ starkly in their degree of optimism. In one ending, Nixon resigns as Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward triumphantly type up their exposé. In the other, a government apparatchik says with chilling, deceptive finality, “There is no evidence of a conspiracy.”

But both were equally astute in how the very fabric of the filmmaking makes us feel. The jarring split diopter shots in All The President’s Men force us to discount no detail, to keep an unnaturally sharp eye on the figures that operate in our periphery. In Parallax, Pakula shot his characters at a long distance, giving the effect of a sniper tracking their movement, drowning them in sparsely-populated frames that emphasized their isolation and smallness.

Some filmmakers peddling their paranoid wares distanced themselves from potential accusations of half-baked posturing by looking inward. It was certainly a stroke of perverse serendipity that Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation was written before the 1972 break-in ever occurred because it is inadvertently one of the most sophisticated and striking films about Watergate-era paranoia to come out of that decade.

“When Watergate happened,” Coppola says in a May 1974 Filmmakers Newsletter interview with Brian De Palma, “I was really frightened that people would expect it to be about spies and tapes and that sort of thing, and then be very angry that it wasn't. Right from the beginning, I wanted it to be something personal, not political, because somehow that is even more terrible to me.”

The film’s famous opening, voyeuristically surveying a crowd in San Francisco’s Union Square, cinematizes the paranoia of the time — relaying the intense feeling of an invasion of privacy. Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul, a surveillance expert, is wracked with guilt over his role in a wiretapping sting that went wrong. Drawn into a new investigation entirely conducted through the manipulation of audiotapes, the film is a chilling examination of the effects paranoid conspiracies have on our lives, shaping us into individuals who are unable to trust.

“Nobody wants to know about a conspiracy,” John Travolta’s sound engineer character Jack explains, wide-eyed and frantic, in Brian De Palma’s 1981 paranoia thriller Blow Out. “I don’t get it.” His character is also sucked into a political cover-up that plays out in a multimedia hall of mirrors: television, telephones, photographs, wiretapping, dubbing. When he thinks that he has inadvertently recorded a murder, the audio trickery — like that in The Conversation — instantly would have reminded contemporary audiences of that final nail in Nixon’s smarmy coffin: the “smoking gun” tape that proved, unequivocally, that the president had lied to the public about his involvement in the Watergate whitewash.

Blow Out uses the blue and red tones of the star-spangled banner as color motifs throughout, and the film’s finale, a tragedy that takes place at a jubilee celebration of Philadelphia’s liberty bell, is heavy irony for this so-called symbol of American justice. At its very heart, the movie epitomizes Nixonian anxiety.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Thursday, May 19, 2022

A couple of days ago, Collider's Benjamin Crabtree posted an article headlined "Blow Out, Strange Days, and the Cinema of Memory Surveillance" --
While Blow Out taps into a sound-based investigation of the central characters’ lived experience of a possible political assassination, Strange Days continues the previous film’s subversive tradition through the virtual reality-based reliving of salacious scenarios and traumatic events, eventually revealing the role of police corruption in the death of a famous rapper. Although the two films stand apart as equally fascinating and foundational artistic statements in their respective director’s filmographies, their similar invocation of Hitchcockian intrigue à la Rear Window within unique genre frameworks of political mystery and science-fiction unify the films as a cinematic bridge between the disillusioned patriotism of Reaganite optimism and the convoluted communication of the early digital age, presaging the prominence of surveillance in the twenty-first century.

Although De Palma locates Blow Out comfortably within the framework of Reagan-era nationalism and the ensuing American insularity, it is essential to acknowledge the integral role that Nixonian disillusionment and the subsequent cinematic thrillers of the 1970s played in formulating the subtext for De Palma’s masterpiece. In the wake of Watergate and the atrocities of the Vietnam War, the New Hollywood leaned into a renewed manifestation of genre filmmaking that mirrored the political paranoia and personal discontents of the era.

Releasing revisionist thrillers that bordered on nihilistic like Alan J. Pakula’s conspiracy-centric stylized statement The Parallax View and Sydney Pollack’s annihilative mystery Three Days of the Condor to incredible acclaim and box office success, the cinematic landscape of the 1970s tapped into the disturbingly relevant well of national distrust and political turmoil to draw in audiences by empathizing with their existential fears. Perhaps more elegantly and precisely than its predecessors, Blow Out equally politicizes and personalizes both the fear of being watched and the anxiety of seeing something dangerous, incriminating, and potentially life-threatening.

Opening with a “movie-within-a-movie” sequence of the b-level horror film Co-Ed Friendly, De Palma immediately establishes the poetic paranoia that pervades the film by placing the audience into the first-person perspective of the sorority serial killer villain, indicting the audience of their own cinematic “surveillance as entertainment.” Although the point-of-view cinematography from the perspective of a serial killer stalking girls in and around a sorority house foreshadows the eventual government-backed, cover-up “serial killings” by Burke (John Lithgow) in the film’s second half, the opening sequence also builds an atmosphere of dread and doubt that functions as a critique of Reagan era optimism through a tragically honest approach to political corruption and lurid criminality throughout the film.

When Jack (John Travolta) is tasked to search for new wind for the fictional film’s atmosphere and a new scream to add to the Psycho-like shower murder in the film’s first, the first-person voyeurism that the cinematography evokes also becomes an auditory construct, as John Travolta’s protagonist invites us into his sonic perspective through his recording of nature sounds and accidental capturing of audio from a car crash.

In a manner similar to the accidentally photographed murder at the center of Michelangelo Antonioni’s groundbreaking arthouse film Blow Up, Blow Out sees Jack unravel at the seams as he attempts to uncover and bring to justice the assassination of Pennsylvania Governor George McRyan through his audio recording. Echoing the first-person perspective of the “film-within-a-film” opening, a sequence at the center of the film sees the audience take on the audiovisual point-of-view of Jack as he relives the moment of recording the potential assassination, aligning the audience within the protagonist’s multi-sensory perspective as he grapples with the government conspiracy in which he is caught.

While it is entirely possible to call Jack’s unintentional surveillance of the tragedy a positive example of seeing the truth in the midst of a dishonest political yarn, the psychic and bodily fallout of the recording suggests that his accidental anti-government observation is an impossible task in the midst of the corrupt behemoth of Reaganite American politics. The film’s final sequence at the firework-laden “Liberty Festival” sees the personal and political consequences come to the forefront, as Jack witnesses and records the murder of Sally (Nancy Allen), the former governor’s escort whom he liberated from the sunken car in the film’s inciting incident, by the government-hired assassin Burke.

By juxtaposing the death of Sally against the backdrop of a joyous patriotic celebration, De Palma finalizes the critique of the American political establishment as an ironic and corrupt force of destruction that wears a mask of individual freedom and nationalistic optimism. The haunting final moments see Jack forced to surrender to his own exploitation and personal paranoia as he offers Sally’s final scream as the sound effect for the film from the reflexive introduction, emphasizing a devastating poetic continuation of surveillance and conspiracy through the cinematic form.

Building on the foundation of Blow Out’s approach to voyeurism and political intrigue, Kathryn Bigelow’s underrated and unfortunately difficult-to-find Strange Days extends the structures of surveillance into the realm of human memory, as the film’s policeman-turned-illegal memory dealer protagonist Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is forced to confront the ethical fallout of his VR-style memory archive. In a manner similar to Blow Out’s meta-cinematic opening, the introductory sequence of Strange Days showcases the first-person perspective of a restaurant robbery as recorded on the memory-sharing device. While the scene ends in the tragic death of the memory’s “protagonist,” the camera cuts from the point-of-view memory to Lenny’s shocked removal of the memory-viewing apparatus.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Sunday, April 17, 2022

(Photo at the top via thebriandepalma.archives on Instagram)

Posted by Geoff at 11:22 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, April 17, 2022 11:24 PM CDT
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Monday, January 10, 2022

"Blow Out might be the greatest film De Palma ever made," states Matt Hanson in the opening paragraphs of an article posted today at The Smart Set, "and it grows increasingly relevant in its unsentimental wariness about the potential for hidden forces at work through the highly charged space where media and politics meet. Blow Out contains premonitions galore about where conspiratorial thinking, and the technology that encourages it, ultimately leads us."

Here's an excerpt:

As a character, Terry is defined by his capacity to listen. His professional responsibility is to capture sounds that most people would either not notice or otherwise ignore. Terry’s receptivity is similar to the forever wired, content-soaked world of today, where we’re constantly getting information stimulation from everywhere, all the time. It’s been widely remarked that the ubiquity of cell phones and social media allow us all to become amateur filmmakers, eagerly posting the daily rushes of our lives for public consumption. But we shouldn’t assume that this constant videotaping of the world around us will make us wiser. As Blow Out reminds us, just because you get something important on tape doesn’t mean that people will listen.

If anything, recent history has demonstrated that, alas, mere documentation isn’t proof. Orwell once said that seeing what’s directly in front of one’s nose requires a constant struggle. If anything, that’s even truer now. Anyone can choose to see what they want to see in a certain picture or video, especially if they have an agenda or a preconceived notion of how they are supposed to respond. How visual information gets processed, and who decides how it’s interpreted, all too often ends up as more fodder for our national melodrama — another exciting plot twist in an interactive live socio-political soap opera that never ends because secretly, whether they want to admit it or not, nobody wants it to.

When Blow Out was released, paranoia and conspiracy theories tended to trend left. De Palma himself explained that he became obsessed with the Kennedy assassination and its disturbingly incomplete official narrative about who was where when: “the more you blow it up, the less clear it becomes.” Assuming that operatives are trying to influence elections and alter the country’s political life was, in hindsight, a very realistic response to the bright shining lies of Watergate and Vietnam.

The obsession with surveillance and how that purloined information is bent to the will of nefarious corporate or political actors was definitely a major theme in films of the late ’70s. Consider The Conversation, made by De Palma’s longtime friend Francis Ford Coppola, and Alan Pakula’s trilogy Klute, All The President’s Men, and The Parallax View, all of which interrogate who’s watching the watchers.

Now the tin foil hat points rightward. No doubt conspiracy theories exist on the left as well, but the right has openly mainstreamed its paranoia. Major figures promote it in campaign speeches, cite it in fundraising drives, and keep it circulating throughout their media echo chambers. Fast and loose, postmodern approaches to truth are no longer the purview of radical academics. Treating truth as a socially constructed puppet of power is a rhetorical gambit that routinely fills stadiums. “Alternative facts” will do just fine for an excited crowd that already knows what it wants to hear.

Yet maybe Terry’s solitary anguish, caught in the crossfire over who will get their hands on his recording, still contains a residue of hope. De Palma described Terry’s plight in self-sacrificial terms: “he has to sacrifice to solve this mystery that no one cares about.” Exactly. Terry loses his own peace of mind and the woman he loves precisely because of his idealistic refusal to ignore the empirical truth of what happened on that bridge.

It’s not just that Terry can’t bear to think of the darker implications of the recording, which are indeed troubling — he refuses to give up on what he knows to be true. He can’t understand why people want to accept the idea that no one else cares. Instead, Terry insists that his recording should be on the evening news. Terry’s not a particularly heroic figure — after all, he’s just a B movie hack who feels guilty over a mafia wiretap gone wrong — but nevertheless, he insists on committing to the truth even if no one else believes him or bothers to listen. This refusal to be gaslit is rather noble if a bit quixotic.

Posted by Geoff at 7:40 PM CST
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Thursday, November 11, 2021

At Bright Wall/Dark Room, Travis Woods delves through Brian De Palma's cinema and deep into Blow Out:
To watch Blow Out is to watch an artist confronting his deepest fears using the techniques and technology of the medium that had previously offered him salvation and the ability to wrest control from chaos. That artist is John Travolta’s Jack Terry. That artist is also Brian De Palma.

Recording his father taught him the power of the voyeur’s cinema; designing a decade’s worth of arch and unhinged thrillers interlaced with dizzyingly/dazzlingly visual set pieces of murderous mayhem soaked in deliciously endorphic filmmaking taught him how the voyeur’s cinema has the power to make audiences look at what he wanted them to see and how he wanted them to see it. To direct them as much as his films. And what De Palma saw, and defiantly wanted his audience to see as both a warning and an indictment, was the drain-circling, atavistic degradation of art and culture—while using the immediately decaying tools of art and culture to ring the alarm bells and focus the audience’s attention.

A decade before, De Palma witnessed the encroaching nihilism and commercialization of his generation’s desperate movement to save itself—“When I made Greetings, I found myself on talk shows, talking about the revolution, and I realized I had become just another piece of software that they could sell, like aspirin or deodorant. It didn’t make any difference what I said. I was talking about the downfall of America. Who cares? In my experience, what happened to the revolution is that it got turned into a product, and that is the process of everything in America. Everything is meshed into a product”—and that horror multiplied with his termination from Get to Know Your Rabbit, before unleashing itself in a moment of terrible clarity: standing in an elevator, and hearing that the ear-piercing tune playing was a Muzakification of The Beatles’ cinematic epic about the mutability of reality, “A Day in the Life.” That single moment generated his Phantom of the Paradise, in which an artist literally makes a deal with the Devil to preserve his music, only to hear it survive in increasingly terrible bubblegum incarnations chewed by a mindless crowd. It’s a rock ‘n roll fable in which De Palma directed his audience to witness a fate worse than selling your soul: a world buying back your commodified cultural revolution as elevator (to hell) music. But no one cared; the film died a quick death in theaters.

In 1981, De Palma was driven by the same, singular fury, now compounded by his terrible failure to make Prince of the City, the film he intended to be the defining artistic statement that would prove his seriousness as an auteur. He felt the generation that had turned its own revolution into something to be sold, growing fat on couches while watching peeping tom game shows like Candid Camera, refused to look at the world around them, at the political machinations and murders hinting at power structures operating at levels beyond their imaginations, and thus needed to be directed to see those powers-that-be rendering them impotent, whether those powers were a corrupt government or simply an impatient bottom-line-based movie studio. De Palma wanted to craft a cinematic magic bullet that would zigzag through it all, savaging power at every level and making such a percussive bang when firing from the barrel of his camera that everyone would hear. And in a moment altogether fitting for the hyper-referential De Palma filmography, the design for this bullet came from a merging of his cinema with that of a previous master:

While editing sound on his previous film, Dressed to Kill, De Palma was sorting through the “fill” in his effects tracks (“fill” being the industry colloquialism for random strips of film laced between individual sound effects on a reel) and found, wedged between sounds like “knife slices” and “woman screams” was a strip of film from David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. One of the greatest films ever made (and a De Palma favorite) was being recycled like trash and used to separate the sounds of salacious fucking and shower-killing in his sleaze-epic erotic thriller. Not only did this reinforce his obsession with the idea of all things trending towards commercialized dissolution, it jacketed another layer of lethality to the bullet he was honing—the notion that something of life-shattering importance could be buried beneath the surface of a film, between the sounds.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Thursday, October 21, 2021

A frame capture (below) from the trailer for Jacob Gentry's 1999-set thriller Broadcast Signal Intrusion reveals a "Mr. Lithgow" in an FBI report. It turns out that Brian De Palma's Blow Out is a definite inspiration, as Gentry tells Gizmodo's Cheryl Eddy:
io9: Broadcast Signal Intrusion has some very noir vibes (the score backs this up) but it’s also very much a mystery thriller about discovering something that most people haven’t noticed. How did you strike that balance in tone?

Gentry: I’m such a lover of noir in my life, and my previous film was very much in the form of a noir movie with those tropes. But for this one, it was really about ‘70s paranoia thrillers, movies which are a descendant of noir in a lot of ways — like Alan J. Pakula’s paranoia trilogy Klute, The Parallax View, and All the President’s Men, and then the other triptych of Blow Up, The Conversation, and Blow Out. Blow Out is a touchstone movie for me, it’s one of my favourite movies. I’m a [Brian] De Palma super fan. So, of course, all those things start to come together. The score, which a lot of people say sounds noirish, is actually — if you listen to some of the Michael Small music from movies like Marathon Man and Parallax View and Klute, it has very much the DNA of those, which I think pulls from the sort of prime period of film noir, and it’s almost an identifier for the audience. There’s this darkness, there’s mystery, but there’s also kind of like a sleaziness. You want to build paranoia, but you also want to kind of give the idea of loneliness and isolation and those sorts of things. Ben Lovett, the composer, obviously does a lot of that heavy lifting.

io9: I definitely thought of Blow Out during the scene where James and Alice (Kelley Mack) are listening closely to one of the tapes, trying to hear the hidden sounds.

Gentry: Yeah, there’s definitely some — I call it “process porn,” and it’s something I love. You know, whether it’s something like John Travolta forensically analysing his sound tapes to discover a conspiracy, or James Caan [in Thief] with the intricate Michael Mann shot process of breaking into a safe. I love watching that if it’s done well and it’s always fun to try to make compelling.

io9: The ending, without giving too much away, dips into a very surreal place, kind of capping off the movie’s slow descent into a world that doesn’t quite feel real. What do you want audiences to take away from that last scene?

Gentry: I think the ultimate reaction, the sort of hope or dream, would be a really good parking lot conversation, or whatever [the equivalent of that would be] if you were to watch it at home and discuss it online. Some of my best moviegoing experiences are when you have a really good discussion about it afterwards and it sticks with you. Even if you don’t like it at first, there’s perhaps things you can discover about it. Some of my favourite movies or movies are ones that I was a little bit conflicted on. We took a lot of inspiration from Zodiac, a movie I was kind of unsure about when I first saw it, or even more recently, something like Under the Silver Lake. My wife and I were coming out of that and it was like, “I don’t think I like that movie,” and then we proceeded to talk about it the entire ride home. You know what I mean?

So that’s really the goal — hopefully it will be compelling and exciting and thrilling and unsettling. But also, if you so choose, there’s interesting things that can be discussed. Some of the most interesting conversations about this movie I’ve heard are when there’s someone who was like, “I hated the end of that movie,” and another person who wanted to defend it. And I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.

Posted by Geoff at 7:57 PM CDT
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Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Posted by Geoff at 3:13 PM CDT
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