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Thursday, July 15, 2021


Eternality Tan posted a review of Redacted a few days ago:
I’m actually surprised how good Redacted is, considering the general critical disdain accorded to it back in 2007. It, however, won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival and was listed as the best film of the year by the respected Cahiers du Cinema. Well, it seems like they were right on the money.

Seeing the film now, it almost feels like a relic of a distant past—the burgeoning digital era as it were, with shoddy aesthetics, gimmicky transitions and DIY-style content creation.

To think that director Brian De Palma was shrewd enough to capture not just a snapshot of America’s controversial involvement in the Iraq War but also using the tools of the trade of the time that reflect the medium’s affordances and audience-implicating effects.

As such, Redacted, a satirical ‘found footage’-style fiction feels like the last word on the failed war. Based on the true incident of a young Iraqi girl raped and murdered by US soldiers, Redacted investigates the notion of truth by blurring the lines between reality and fiction.

Because De Palma’s mode of address is in the form of a constructed documentary (that, at the same time, is meant to be deconstructed by the viewer’s active engagement with a variety of visual stimuli, including websites with disturbing embedded videos, and footage of a French woman engaging in reportage), it gives us an acute sense of immediacy that while staged produces a rare authenticity that puts us right there in the chaos.

Yet, because of the distance provided by its staging, we aren’t necessarily conditioned to be emotionally involved… until we are by the end of the whole experiment.

Redacted is not an easy watch, but it tells us how America lost the war without telling us how America lost the war. In that sense, De Palma was far ahead of his time.

Grade: A

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Thursday, July 1, 2021

At the Instituto Moreira Salles Cinema Blog, José Geraldo Couto writes a few words about Brian De Palma's Redacted. Here's a Google-assisted English translation, including a brief introduction from a version posted at Outras Palavras:
Cinema: a dizzying leap into the horror of war

In Redacted (2007), Brian De Palma portrays real crime by US troops in Iraq. But instead of elegant fiction, the filmmaker bets on the shattering of the real — and on the aesthetics of precariousness as a narrative power in the era of YouTube

By José Geraldo Couto, at the Instituto Moreira Salles Cinema Blog

Winner of the Silver Bear for direction in Berlin, elected by Cahiers du cinéma the best film of 2008, Redacted, by Brian De Palma, never commercially released in Brazil (only shown at the Rio Film Festival, with the title Guerra without cuts), arrives now to streaming, on the Mubi platform. It was worth the wait: it's an extraordinary job.

The dramatic core is inspired by a real fact: during the occupation of Iraq by US troops, a group of soldiers rapes a 15-year-old girl and kills her family (including the teenager herself).

But unlike Kathryn Bigelow's films on analogous themes (Zero Dark Thirty, The Darkest Hour), Redacted does not offer a fictional reenactment of events to create the illusion of a given, univocal, and unambiguous reality. Instead, it scrambles partial and fragmented views, presenting a “real” that is much more problematic, unstable, full of edges. Instead of catharsis, it delivers the annoyance, the perplexity. It's up to the viewer to deal with that later.

Precarious construction

Anyone who is used to the exuberance, precision and elegance (even in the heart of violence and horror) of De Palma's cinema will find strange the collage of rushed images, rough framing, poor lighting, visual and sound “noises” and disparate textures that compose Redacted. What was sought there was to simulate, as if they were documentary records, a series of sources: an “image diary” produced by a soldier, newscast scenes, a French documentary, videos produced by Al-Qaeda, etc.

This method of construction virtually abolishes all “objective” narration in third person. Everything is mediated by some interested gaze, partial in both senses of the term, that is, incomplete and biased. The spectator is asked to fill in the gaps, the “outside the frame”, and to confront different perspectives.

As a result, the dramatic density is built not through the usual narrative artifices, but through a skillful orchestration of the fragments, in addition to the shrewd use of the musical score (Handel, Puccini), a terrain in which the music lover De Palma has always been a master. The emotional climax takes place on the only actual documentary images (I won't say which ones they are), soaked with the ravishing music of Tosca's third act.

To Godard's famous formulation, according to which “cinema is the truth at 24 frames per second”, De Palma usually responds with a joke: “No, cinema is the lie at 24 frames per second”. And he himself was always a great conjurer, who played with the status of the image and problematized the reality of what we think we see and hear, in films like Body Double, Dressed to Kill and Blow Out.

Impotence of speech

In Redacted, it is as if De Palma took this game to another level, making a film that is a serious reflection on his craft (narrating with images and sounds) and the denunciation of a reality that does not fit in any audiovisual discourse: the horror of war and the dehumanization it produces in executioners and victims. Once in a lifetime, the advertising slogan doesn't lie: "In a war, the first casualty is the truth."

It is, in a way, a film that (re)revolts against its own impotence, its own impossibility. Hence the anguish it produces. Hence, perhaps, its difficulty in being marketed and consumed. Mortal sin for an industry increasingly powerful materially and dwarfed morally.

Also a brief recommendation for Redacted on Mubi from Tymon Smith at The Sunday Times:
Critically panned and hugely divisive when it was released in 2007, maverick director Brian De Palma's docudrama about the injustices of the Iraq war and its manipulative representation in the media holds up to be more interesting and inventive than many gave it credit for at the time.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, July 4, 2021 1:57 PM CDT
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Thursday, October 1, 2020

Adam Nayman's monthly series for The Ringer focuses on "the direct and subtextual representations of U.S. presidents and their social and political impact" from the past six decades. The latest entry, posted yesterday, delves into the George W. Bush years:
[Steven] Spielberg was one of several reigning elder statesmen to weigh in during the Bush era, most powerfully in his heavy-artillery remake of War of the Worlds, which envisioned America under attack before reversing the terms of the metaphor to suggest that the Martians and their machines had a distinctly imperialist appearance. Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York was gestating for a decade before its completion in 2002, at which point its NYC creation myth had extra resonance (and its own subtle World Trade Center cameo). In The Departed, Scorsese had Alec Baldwin’s shady Boston cop Captain Ellerby invoke the Patriot Act (“I love it! I love it!”) as a symbol of ostensibly good guys doing very bad things.

Unsurprisingly, the ’70s survivor who confronted Iraq head-on was the indomitable Brian De Palma, whose Redacted adopted the same polemical hybrid of style as Moore, Cohen, and Range. The film is loosely based on a true account of U.S. military personnel raping a civilian girl, and unfolds as a series of video diaries, surveillance tapes, and YouTube clips that replicates an entire online multimedia landscape around recreations of the horrific event at the story’s center. By returning to the incendiary approach of his sardonic anti-Vietnam films Greetings and Hi, Mom!, De Palma transformed the recency of an ongoing catastrophe into an artistic strategy. Redacted proved so controversial that its producers insisted on recutting it for its New York Film Festival premiere, leading to a war of words with a filmmaker unafraid of biting the hand that feeds him. At one point, De Palma volunteered to buy the movie back and release it un-redacted, at once savoring and savaging the irony of the situation.

As images of distress go, Redacted’s photo-realistic final tableau of a broken, bloodied casualty of war was true nightmare fuel, while Paul Haggis’s money shot in 2007’s other major Iraq War movie, In the Valley of Elah, was constituted of simplistic semiotics: an American flag turned upside down. The film’s tale of a father learning the hard truth about his son’s activities while overseas earned Tommy Lee Jones an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, although he was better that year in a different role—as the reactionary, benevolent, and finally ineffectual sheriff in Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country For Old Men. The film’s long, clean narrative lines, biblical severity, and setting in Bush’s old gubernatorial stomping grounds begged the questions of whether or not the Coens had instrumentalized Cormac McCarthy’s drug-runner thriller into a State of the Union address; critic Jonathan Rosenbaum interpreted the movie’s “gorgeous carnage” as an indirect mediation on the violence of the Iraq War.

No Country was a hit, but the Coens’ more incisive Bush-era commentary was their follow-up Burn After Reading, a delirious mashup of screwball stupidity and cloak-and-dagger paranoia featuring John Malkovich as a past-his-prime spy struggling to adapt after the thaw of the Cold War. It’s a funny movie set in a cruel universe: Its best scenes feature J.K. Simmons and David Rasche as CIA operatives performing a heartless, hilarious audit of the story’s ever-escalating body count—a callback to Dr. Strangelove minus the apocalyptic ending. Even as the film’s seemingly anachronistic analysis of tetchy (if hypothetical) U.S.-Russia collusion proved eerily prescient a decade after the fact, the dismissive dialogue in the movie’s ruthless coda couldn’t help but connect to cycles of foreign-policy fuckups and the political buck-passing that went with them.

“What’d we learn, Palmer?” queries Simmons’s high-ranking intelligence agent to his underling.

“I don’t know, sir.”

“I don’t fucking know either … I guess we learned not to do it again.”

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, October 2, 2020 12:59 AM CDT
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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Today, The Ringer's Adam Nayman posted an article with the headline, "1917 and the Trouble With War Movies." Feeling that the cinematic "immersion" of Sam Mendes' 1917 ultimately leaves the viewer too passive, Nayman turns to Francois Truffaut's statement that "Every film about war ends up being pro-war" as a guiding paradox. His article looks at several key war films throughout the history of cinema, including films made by Brian De Palma:
It’s telling, perhaps, that the movies associated with the Iraq War have less of an aesthetic legacy than those associated with World War I or II or even Vietnam. In 2005’s Jarhead, Mendes even deferred to Francis Ford Coppola by showing Marines watching Apocalypse Now for inspiration, conceding to the older film’s (and older conflict’s) hold on the collective imagination. For the most part, post-9/11 American war movies have been more attuned to politics and aftermath, with spectacle either miniaturized—as in the tense, horror-movie-like bomb-defusing sequences in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker—or else eliminated altogether. The most formally innovative Iraq War movie, Brian De Palma’s Redacted, avoids the battlefield altogether, focusing instead on a panoply of multimedia perspectives to get across themes of division and disinformation; where his 1989 Vietnam film Casualties of War favored a dreamlike, lyrical detachment evincing distance from its subject matter, Redacted’s surveillance-style textures and artful integration of documentary material were evidence that the director was trying to speak to the here and now.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Friday, September 16, 2016
Armond White reviews Oliver Stone's Snowden for National Review, bringing Brian De Palma's Redacted into the discussion to say that Stone and De Palma have "succumbed to political clichés and liberal nostalgia" since their Scarface days. Here's an excerpt from White's review:
Stone’s Snowden is cynical without wisdom — just righteousness. Falling for the contemptuous line “You’re only protecting the supremacy of your government” doesn’t jibe with his supposed interest in protecting the U.S. after 9/11. Stone indulges this specious optimism then teases with it when geeky Snowden chooses the Internet as his “sin of choice” and CIA brass tell him, “You’ve come to the right whorehouse.”

Stone confuses sexual exploitation with the idea of the U.S. as a Super Spy nation that rapes its own citizens. This resembles the disillusionment that Brian De Palma displayed in his anti–Iraq War movie Redacted. A scene in which Snowden is reprimanded by a wall-size video projection of his boss — he’s symbolically dwarfed by the looming Big Brother government — is so over-obvious that it made me wish De Palma were applying his voyeuristic, techno-geek satire to this story (and to the sexual complicity of Snowden’s relationship with his ambitious girlfriend Lindsay, an anti-American fellow traveler played by Shailene Woodley).

When De Palma and Stone collaborated on Scarface (1983), they were more politically challenging. Unfortunately, both De Palma and Stone have since succumbed to political clichés and liberal nostalgia. They no longer challenge themselves. In Scarface, it was always clear that Al Pacino’s Tony Montana, the drug-dealing illegal immigrant, was a criminal; his gangster “hero” had slipped in through the cracks of U.S. diplomacy and capitalism. Yet here, Snowden’s betrayal of his employer — which might be considered criminal in the private sector — is justified as virtuous. “You’re running a dragnet on the whole world!” Snowden petulantly objects. (Stone then cuts to footage of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez as an example of an “ousted Third World leader who would not play along.”)

In Stone’s 2013 drugs-sex-class feature Savages, home-grown criminality was thrillingly understood as a warped version of American values. Perhaps Stone needs to work from fiction in order to be a dazzling artist — as he was in making JFK, Any Given Sunday, and Alexander. But when borrowing semi-documentary style in Snowden, Stone forgets he’s telling a story of sedition, and he loses both his sense of human nature and his cinematic dazzle. The smug final image of Snowden taking asylum in Russia (“I’ve gained a new life”) shows him in heroic profile, completely overlooking the fact of his (and Poitras’s and Greenwald’s) seditious radicalization. Stone abets these traitors’ pride. His skill as a filmmaker and his virtue as a disgruntled American are the immediate casualties.


Stone talked through some of his filmography with the Los Angeles Times' Josh Rottenberg. Here's what he said about Natural Born Killers:

“That hurt. Warner Bros. never really supported the film. When I showed it to them, I had never seen such shock on the faces of the execs. It was like, ‘How are we going to release this movie?’ I think they never got their hands around it.

“That was a depressing time for me because the attacks were mean-spirited. It’s a unique picture, I think. It’s not normal. It’s a sensory overload. It was going back to my ‘Scarface’ days. It was, ‘OK, let’s ramp up the coarseness and the vitality.’ It’s a love story wrapped in a horror film.”

Posted by Geoff at 9:38 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, September 16, 2016 9:41 PM CDT
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Friday, March 20, 2015

Posted by Geoff at 1:05 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, March 20, 2015 1:07 AM CDT
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Monday, March 3, 2014

Posted by Geoff at 12:56 AM CST
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Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Brian De Palma's Redacted had its world premiere at the 2007 Venice Film Festival, yet never opened there theatrically. It gets a rare public screening tonight at the Palazzo Strozzi's Strozzina in Florence, where it will play for free, in its original version with Italian subtitles. The Strozzina website describes Redacted as "an ingenious, uncomfortable and difficult work, in which the director takes up the American war in Iraq not from the objective perspective of the camera, but by making the 'images' speak directly."

Posted by Geoff at 6:14 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 6:15 PM CDT
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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The full interview segment of Brian De Palma's appearance on CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight last night is now available to watch on the program's web site. The segment with De Palma is at the start of the show, and lasts about six minutes or so. De Palma talks about Passion, plays around with the idea of texting during dates, discusses the lack of a current counterculture in film, Robert De Niro, and quotes from Scarface.

Strombo: "You came of age in the cinema when you guys were picking big fights with society, the counterculture movement was in fact not about just looks."

BDP: "No, no, no."

Strombo: "It was the opposite of that."

BDP: "And we had another war we shouldn't have been in: Vietnam."

Strombo: "Is that what it was, you think the war's..."

BDP: "Oh, absolutely."

Strombo: "Because then where are the countercultural films today, then?"

BDP: "That's the problem! Because you don't see many sort of political films other than the... I mean, obviously, you don't have to make political films all the time, but when you see a lot of stuff going out there that's annoying you, you would think that, you know, your blood would be stirred. That you'd go out and make a movie about it saying, 'This is not right'"

Strombo: "You obviously have to keep busy, but you also said there isn't enough anger in American cinema anymore."

BDP: "Well, I was very upset about the whole war, and what the Bush administration was doing, so that's why I made Redacted. Because I didn't think that they were telling us the truth. What else is new? Your government is lying to you, what else is new? But I felt we were doing some very bad things in far away places."

Strombo: "And you didn't think that was the right coverage of it."

BDP: "Oh, I knew-- an embedded reporter? That's like having somebody on the payroll."

Posted by Geoff at 7:40 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, July 19, 2013 6:56 PM CDT
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Friday, June 1, 2012

ARTFORUM's summer issue includes a conversation between Brian De Palma and Taryn Simon, the photographer who created the staged photo, seen above, that comprises the final, devastating image of De Palma's Redacted. Zahra Zubaidi, the Iraqi actress in the photo, has had to seek political asylum in the United States, because her family accused her of participating in pornography (she portrays Farah, the girl who gets raped in the movie), and she was receiving death threats as a result. In the article, Simon and De Palma discuss this photo at length. De Palma tells Simon that "Zahra’s story is fascinating because she comes to audition in a movie. She plays the character of a girl who is raped and killed and set on fire, which sort of dramatizes the whole involvement of America in Iraq, and the penalty she has to pay for it is she is a pariah in the Muslim world. They want her dead because of the fact that she portrayed this character." Simon has presented the photograph at the Venice Biennale, and included three progressive annotations as its context was altered. Each of these annotations is presented in full in the ARTFORUM article. Simon explains it this way to De Palma:

The photograph began as a fictionalized rendering of a real event. The resulting image of Zahra, an Iraqi actress, playing the role of this young girl led to the second annotation associated with the image. That text highlights the response to Zahra’s portrayal—the death threats from family members; the criticism from friends and neighbors, who considered her participation in the film to be pornography. The photograph was completely recontextualized by these accusations. It became evidence of a new reality—a reality in which Zahra had to pursue political asylum in the United States. In the third and final annotation, written in 2011, I cite her legal defense, which used the international exhibition of this photograph at the Venice Biennale as a factor contributing to her endangerment. The photograph and its exhibition were used to reveal a continued threat and, at the same time, to support Zahra’s case for political asylum, which was granted in 2011. She couldn’t go home because of the images. You could see an image’s very real influence on an individual life from start to finish: from a casting call with you in Jordan to ending up in the United States and receiving political asylum.

The conversation begins with Simon asking De Palma if he thought his aesthetic was conscious or unconscious as he shot his early documentary The Responsive Eye. This leads De Palma into an illuminating discussion of his process, as well as his recent work on Passion...

BDP: Look, the hard thing—I’m sure you’ve experienced this, too—is that once you have a project, you think about how you’re going to photograph the scene until you actually do it. I have always felt that the camera view is just as important as what’s in front of the camera. Consequently, I’m obsessed with how I’m shooting the scene. When you’re making a movie, you think about it all the time—you’re dreaming about it, you wake up with ideas in the middle of the night—until you actually go there and shoot it. You have these ideas that are banging around in your head, but once you objectify them and lock them into a photograph or cinema sequence, then they get away from you. They’re objectified; they no longer haunt you.

TS: The haunting can be torturous. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed the making of my work. It’s a labor. Do you find pleasure in getting to that point of objectification?

BDP: You know, there is no rest. That’s the problem. I haven’t directed a movie in several years, and I’ve forgotten what it’s like. Now I’m doing a remake, a film based on Crime d’amour [2010], which was directed by the late Alain Corneau and written with Natalie Carter and starred Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier. It’s about two executives fighting for power. One humiliates the other, and one kills the other. It’s basically a murder mystery. In the new version, the two leads are Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace. They are extremely formidable characters. It’s all about the women—the guy is just manipulated by them, like a trained animal.

So I have basically been in this hotel room in Berlin since, I don’t know, January 6, working on this shoot. I don’t go anywhere except when I go to the set or when I have to look at a location or work with an actor.

I’m a very solitary figure on set—I just walk in. I don’t want to say hello and kiss everybody. I’m completely uninterested in that because—I’m sure you have the same feeling—when you go to shoot a movie, you’ve assembled hundreds of people waiting for you to tell them what to do. For the first time, you’ve got the actors. You have the location. You have the cinematographer. You have the weather, the light, the emotional stance of the various people around you, and it’s catching lightning in a bottle. You’re there to maximize the moment on film. And you’d better be very alert and watching everything constantly, because once you shoot it, it’s gone forever. If you make a mistake or haven’t thought everything through correctly, you will look at that mistake for the rest of your life.

TS: Yes—there’s enormous pressure on the day of shooting. And photography’s history is bound to the mistake, to the accident. But I’ve never been one to embrace surprise. I think the invisible lead-up to the point of actually taking a photograph is, in many ways, my medium. Years of research, accessing, organizing, and writing are behind the construction of a single piece. But no matter how prepared and calculated the details of the shoot days are, its imagined form always seems to crumble and mutate.

BDP: I guess a lot of people shoot alternatives. I never do that. I spend months planning it all out, and then we actually edit as we shoot. I know exactly where the camera should be and how all the film fits together.

TS: Yeah, me too.

BDP: But if something happens on the set that’s different, I immediately accommodate it. You don’t want to go in with such a rigid idea that this is the way it should be. You have to see what is there. These are living creatures in front of you.

TS: But accommodation can be dangerous. It’s important to remind yourself of what you want and not get lost in the noise of it all. Sadly, one has to do a lot of interacting, which I find distracting. I avoid lunch and conversation as much as possible. There is no time or space for anything other than the work. But there’s a perceived cruelty in that focus.

BDP: I’m exactly the same way. I never talk to my driver while going to work. I never eat lunch with anybody.

All of the above are discussed in this fascinating conversation, which is best read from start to finish-- click here to read the whole thing.

Posted by Geoff at 9:40 PM CDT
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