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AV Club Review
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Friday, July 2, 2021
DE PALMA RECALLS WORKING WITH ELFMAN, & MORE
AS PART 2 OF DE PALMA/LEHMAN INTERVIEW HITS TODAY ON 'LIGHT THE FUSE' PODCAST
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/mimondobackcrop.jpg

"We are once again joined by the legendary filmmaker, Are Snakes Necessary? author and director of the first Mission: Impossible film Brian De Palma and his co-author Susan Lehman," begins the description of the new episode of the podcast Light The Fuse, which is hosted by Charles Hood and Drew Taylor. "In this episode we discuss the unmade prequel films to some of his earlier projects, why he isn’t interested in Mission: Impossible sequels, and what happened with the musical score (with Alan Silvestri replaced by Danny Elfman). We also get into some potential future projects, which is really exciting."

As you can imagine, there is a lot to digest from this episode (the YouTube version is embedded below). For now, let's look at the episode's discussion of Elfman/Silvestri:

Charles: So the music -- obviously, Alan Silvestri was on, and then was taken off. And then Danny Elfman came on. And you've worked with so many incredible composers in your career. I would love to hear how that whole process went down, and then also would love to know why never again with Elfman? because the two of you seemed like a match made in Heaven.

De Palma: Well, you know, the great composers, the problem is, you know, they're not always available. Because they're working all the time. With Alan, it was just, we were recording, and it just didn't work. And Tom was very unhappy with it. And I'm used to working with composers and going in and changing this, and moving this around, and it just... there was no sort of chemistry between Alan and I. And when we saw that Danny was available, we immediately snapped him up. And I, as Paul, I know, has detailed, explained to you, I mean, I literally spent four weeks sitting next to him, going over every cue in Mission: Impossible. In order to get us ready to record in four weeks. And he did an amazing job.

Drew: So you wanted to work with him again?

De Palma: Who?

Drew: Danny.

De Palma: Oh, of course! I mean, I've worked with all the great composers. I've missed a few, but, you know, I started with Bernard Herrmann, so...

Charles: Ha ha ha, not too shabby.

De Palma: Yeah, you can't start any better, basically.


Here's how Paul Hirsch describes the Silvestri/Elfman switch in his book, A Long Time Ago in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away:
The first day of recording the music was exciting, as always. This day, however, was special, because the famous theme of the Mission: Impossible TV series, originally composed by Lalo Schifrin, was the star, more so than any other element. The orchestra performing the theme was being videotaped for the press kit. After the hoopla of laying down a good take of the main title, Alan began recording the first cue for the Prague sequence. After just a few notes, Brian turned to Cruise, who was sitting next to him, and said derisively, "It sounds like the 'Song of the Volga Boatmen.'"

I knew then that we were in trouble. Tom picked up on Brian's unhappiness and seemed to share it. Once a negative comment like that is made, it can poison everything,

As hard as it is to believe, not once since Brian and Alan first met had they spoken again. Brian never called up and said, "Hey, Alan, I was wondering if you could play me some of what you are writing, just to make sure we are on the same page." And not once had Alan called Brian to say, "Hey, Brian, I'd like you to hear some of what I have in mind for the film, just in case you want to make any changes."

So here we were on the day, and Brian was unhappy. He huddled with Cruise and the head of music from the studio. The next thing I knew, the rest of the recording session was canceled and Alan was being replaced. We had used a track from Dead Presidents for temping the CIA scene, and as is often the case, the temp led to hiring the composer. It had happened on Sisters and again on Steel Magnolias, and now it happened again. Danny Elfman, a brilliant composer, had written that track and was available. All of a sudden, Danny was in.
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Once the deal was in place, Brian asked me to go with him to Elfman's house in Topanga Canyon. We waited while Danny was finishing up a phone call in another pat of the house. The room was decorated with strange, creepy objects, of which I remember two. One was a foot-high human skeleton in a jar. The other was a cat lying on the sofa, seemingly asleep, but when I stroked it, I realized that it was dead and stuffed.

In his studio, Danny had a large monitor in front of a keyboard, and he and Brian settled in to look at a scene together. We didn't stay long, and the next day Brian told me that Elfman had asked him not to have me accompany him to the house anymore. Brian went back and worked with him every day for weeks. He confided to me that he had never worked so hard with a composer in his life.

I couldn't resist pointing out, "If you had worked like this with Alan, he would have written you a great score."



Posted by Geoff at 5:05 PM CDT
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Saturday, June 26, 2021
DE PALMA TELLS HOW GEORGE LUCAS HELPED WITH 'MI'
TALKS TO 'LIGHT THE FUSE' PODCAST ABOUT 'STAR WARS' & OTHER 'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE' DETAILS
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/herestheplot.jpg

The set of images above comes from a set of motion gifs posted at the Light The Fuse page for episode 158. The episode features part one of the podcast's interview with Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman. After talking about De Palma and Lehman's novel Are Snakes Necessary?, hosts Charles Hood and Drew Taylor steer the discussion toward Mission: Impossible:
Drew: Did you send any early drafts or run any of the ideas by your buddy and neighbor David Koepp?

De Palma: No, not really. I think we sent... yeah, because he read the book and gave us a quote. Yes, only when we were finished.

Drew: Okay.

De Palma: Basically.

Lehman: Here's a trade secret: Brian is very big on don't show your work to anybody until it's finished.

Drew: Oh, really. But you famously have chimed in on other people's work in progresses, like, correct me if I'm wrong, but you really, uh, heckled Lucas on using [begins to laugh while talking] "The Force" in that early Star Wars screening.

De Palma: Will we never live down this meeting over the first screening of Star Wars. Everybody's.. I mean, when I talk to everybody that was involved in that movie, everyone has a different version of what happened.

Lehman: Well, give your version.

Drew: Yeah.

De Palma: But my version-- I mean, my version is pretty close to... I was just watching Steven's, um, the biography they did of Steven. And he related how he saw it. Everybody, you know, they always portray me as the guy that says the worst thing that drives everybody crazy. But if you're gonna to show me something, I'm gonna tell you what I think about it. Why am I there unless I'm gonna give an honest appraisal of what I've seen? And in this case, you know, the fact that Steven says that only he saw the possibilities of Star Wars, that's not really true. We all saw it as a terrific thing that George had done. And you know, we were well aware of where the special effects weren't there, and how they had cut in all these planes from other movies to be things they were supposed to be-- you know, the ships and stuff like that. But I did make a joke about The Force. That's true. [everybody laughs]

Lehman: Tell us what your opinion of The Force was.

De Palma: I just thought the idea of The Force was like, you know, "THE FORCE!" I would say, but I kept repeating it, you know. But, it doesn't seem like a great name for this kind of spiritual guidance. So, "The Force." So, needless to say, I had a lot to say about The Force, which obviously I was terribly wrong about. But the other thing was that no one knew what was, you know, the movie starts in chapter 3, we're in a world nobody's ever... knows anything about, he's got all these funny names for people, and I said, "George, you've gotta set this up somehow. Like those scrolls in the Flash Gordon movies." You know, George had that idea, but it was all gobbledygook, basically. So I and Jay Cocks went over the crawl and basically rewrote it. So it made some sense. And that was our contribution.

But, I mean, I said some things very direct to my director friends about their movies that went on to be extremely successful. Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong, but they did the same for my movies. I mean, I think when George saw Mission: Impossible, he said, you know, "There's no set-up for this thing. You've gotta set this thing up. 'You're gonna do this. You're gonna do that.You're gonna do that.' You gotta have that scene where they're all sitting around the table and everybody gets their instructions about what's gonna happen." In the beginning, we had this very strange scene. It's hard for me to remember now. But with Voight, and somehow the jealous thing with the wife and Tom and then we got into the first mission and when George saw the movie, it's the first thing he said: "What are these people doing? You know, this is Mission: Impossible, a group of guys going to do stuff. So you've gotta get 'em all around a table and tell the audience what they're supposed to do." And that's what we did. We went back and re-shot it. So that was an example of us helping each other.

Drew: Wow.

Charles: And so is that scene with Jon Voight at the head of the table and Kristin Scott Thomas is off to the side, was she not able to come back for scheduling? It kind of seems like she was sort of isolated in a corner?

De Palma: Correct. An astute student of cinema. In fact, Kristin could not come, so I had to shoot her over to the side, and we doubled her in the master shot with her back to the window.

Drew: Wow.

Charles: I don't think I can take credit, I think someone else pointed that out for me, but...

Lehman: Go ahead, take credit.

[laughter]

Drew: I don't know if you know this, Brian, but we have done, like, over 150 episodes on the Mission: Impossible franchise, and talked to many of your collaborators on the first movie. And they told us everything. No, I'm kidding. So we were wondering, you know it's the 25th anniversary now, and you had an interesting sort of history with writers on this one, too, which is why I'm glad Susan's here to hear about your relationship with other writers.

Lehman: No, I've heard this before.

[laughter]

Drew: Did you use anything from that original Katz and Huyck draft of the movie, or was that just...

De Palma: Which draft are you talking about?

Charles: Supposedly there was a draft that Willard and Gloria Katz did...

De Palma: Correct.

Charles: And did you end up using anything from that?

De Palma: No. What happened was Sydney Pollack worked with them originally. He worked for a year on a draft that was set in the midwest. There was a storm. I don't even remember what it was. But Tom was unhappy with it. And when the head of CAA said to me, "Would you be interested in doing Mission: Impossible with Tom Cruise," and I said, "You bet," and they sent me off to... because Sydney wanted to do Sabrina. He wanted to get out of the Mission: Impossible situation. Because it wasn't going well. So Sydney went on to Sabrina, and they plugged me into Mission: Impossible. So I proceeded to work with the Huycks, who I knew way back from working with, you know, George many years ago. And we worked on a version still all set in the United States. I think the... and I don't even quite remember what the mission was, but it had something to do with a storm. And I knew Tom was not gonna like this. I was forced to go through with another draft of this thing where everybody was looking around for new writers to start all over again. And then Paramount had a commitment to Zaillion, and Zaillion and I went off to his office, we smoked a lot of cigarettes, I think we ate a lot of, well, I ate a lot of popcorn, and we worked for a couple of weeks, and we worked out this ten-page treatment of what ultimately became the basis for Mission: Impossible. But then Zaillion had other things he wanted to do so he bailed out. And then I ran into David, who was about to do a remake of something. And I said, "Don't do that! Come over and let's do Mission: Impossible." So he said, "Great." So I handed David this ten-page treatment, and he and I worked out the initial script for Mission: Impossible. That's act number one.

Act number two is, I'm trying to convince Jon... all Paramount wanted to do was make Mission: Impossible. To get Tom Cruise into Mission: Impossible was all they cared about. What the script was, who cares, as long as Tom is in Mission: Impossible. Tom was always having problems with characters or something. And I said, "Tom, you gotta go in and tell Sherry that you're gonna make this movie or we're going nowhere." So ultimately, Tom said okay, we're gonna make this script. And everybody said good, we have a go picture, we're going to London, we're starting to build all the sets. But I got a call the next day, and it was from Paula Wagner. And she said, "The good news is we're all go. The bad news is you have to fire David Koepp." I said, "What?!?" "Because Tom wans to bring on Bob Towne." "Fire David Koepp??" David's never been fired in his life. He's an old friend of mine, and I said, "You've gotta be kidding." "No. That's what Tom wants to do." So I had to call up Dave, I said, "Dave, the good news is, it's a go, the bad news is, you're fired." So what I did was keep David in the loop, let him know what we were doing, when we were starting to go into production, and Towne was up in the hotel for about six weeks, writing God-knows-what. Tom and I used to come in from rehearsals and act out these scenes in front of him. And he would work some more and smoke a few more cigars, and...

Lehman: Are there any tapes of that? Of you and Tom acting out the scenes?

De Palma: I don't think so. Finally, when he had to submit a script, the new script, Paula was appalled. I mean it just didn't work at all. So I said, "We've gotta bring David Koepp back on. And we've gotta take some of the good stuff, the good scenes that Towne had done..." See, what Towne did, he re-wrote the whole script. That's not what needed to be done. The characters had to be fleshed out a little bit. There have to be some clever lines. That's what he did. And then I brought David back on, I made them pay him a lot of money for two weeks. He took what Towne had done and integrated it into his script, and that became the script we shot. Of course, until the famous story about pulling off masks in the boxcar. Which we had a big fight over that. I said, "I've got this big helicopter chase in the tunnel! Him on the train, Voight on the helicopter..." And then Towne looks at me and says, "Oh, one of those, you know, helicopter-going-into-a-tunnel sequences." I said, [sarcastic] "Oh, okay, maybe you're right. Let's do pulling off masks in the boxcar. That's how we'll wrap it up. Great!" And I left it at that. I walked out of the room. And Tom came around and thought that maybe the helicopter thing would be better than pulling the masks off in the boxcar as a finale.

Drew: So how much of the Towne stuff ultimately made it in, would you say? Not much?

De Palma: There were some good Towne lines in there, but basically it's David's script. And I was very disappointed with Towne. But, you know, he has such a great reputation. I was very disappointed in what he did, and then look what he did to the next Mission: Impossible. It's a mess!

[laughter]

Drew: That's true.

De Palma: That is the... no good.

Drew: He was riffing on Hitchcock, though. I mean, did you have any sympathy in that?

De Palma: You mean in the one he did after mine?

Drew: Yeah. It's Notorious.

Charles: Basically, it's Notorious.

De Palma: Yeah, you know, I heard that idea so many times, "Let's do Notorious," blah-di-blah-di-blah. That's what he did, and it was not good.

Charles: When you say you heard that idea so many times, do you mean Tom Cruise was saying to you, "Let's do Notorious"?

De Palma: No, no, this was an idea that Towne had about doing a kind of Notorious element.

Charles: Oh, okay.

De Palma: We all love Notorious, but it didn't work for Mission: Impossible. As you've probably heard.

[laughter]

Charles: You know the sequence in the diner with Jon Voight, when he's revealed to be alive, and Tom Cruise is seeing the truth while Jon Voight lies. I think that Paul Hirsch had some hilarious comments about how critics were dumbed-down from Twister coming out a couple of weeks before [laughing]. He told us about that. But I'm wondering where that... that sequence is so brilliant, and I just love it so much. I'm wondering when did that come about? Was that with Koepp, or was that, you know, when in the process?

De Palma: Now you're getting into an area that I don't quite remember. I remember the way I shot it. And the idea of... I think it must have come from me and David. Because I had this idea that Voight should be saying one thing and Tom should be thinking what the truth was. And then, you know, I had laid out the sequence like that. But I think that's something we had right in the beginning of the script. I guess you can check in the versions David has on his website.

Charles: Yes.

De Palma: In the initial script, and how it changed in the final version.

Lehman: I think those are all included in the De Palma archives, by the way.

De Palma: [laughs] No, they're in the David Koepp archives.

Charles: In one of his earlier scripts, there was a great set piece with a military wedding. Where, you know, Ethan is tricking Kittridge by showing up, and he does a quick change of his outfit to, like, fit in with this whole military wedding that comes out of the church. Do you recall that?

De Palma: No.

[Laughter]

De Palma: We had a great sequence where they got one of the members. I think it was...

Charles: Ving Rhames?

De Palma: Ving? I think it was Ving, where he was in prison, and they break him out of prison. We had a great sequence with a, breaking him out of prison, in which they give him a shot so he looks like he's dead, and they bring him up to the roof, and they're gonna incinerate him. And then the helicopter arrives and it saves Ving, you know, from being incinerated, and he becomes... Otherwise, we had the, you know, this, The Seven Samurai recruiting the group.

Charles: Right.

De Palma: We kind of lost all that. We just stuck 'em all on the train, and they were all there. But we had sequences for each one where they're recruited.

Charles: That was never filmed, was it?

De Palma: No. Though, I laid out that sequence at the escape from prison. We were even starting to build a set for that. Which was, it was too much, too expensive. You know, we gotta cut this thing out.

Drew: Wow. But you seem to have had a relatively good time on this movie, all things considered. Correct?

De Palma: [sarcastic] A good time?

[laughter]

Drew: [lughing] Maybe hindsight is making it... yeah, I've heard you talking very warmly about the move recently. I don't know if maybe time has colored your perception of it, but...

De Palma: [ponderous] A good time...

Charles: You made a comment recently about how Carlito's Way and Mission: Impossible might be... I forget the exact phrase that you said, but it was something about you being at the top of your game, you had the biggest, you know, sandbox to play in, and...

De Palma: I had all the, you know, all the great things that you [want to have] when you make a big studio movie. You know, all the great technicians, all the great...all the money, you know, big stars. Yeah! you know, you can make something extraordinary. But it was like, after it was over, I said, get me outta here. Talk about stress in order to get the thing done.



Posted by Geoff at 3:55 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, June 26, 2021 4:11 PM CDT
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Tuesday, June 22, 2021
PODCAST WANDERS ABOUT 'MISSION IMPOSSIBLE' ETC.
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/wthitf.jpg

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, June 23, 2021 8:03 AM CDT
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Wednesday, June 2, 2021
BILGE EBIRI DIGS INTO 'MI' ON 'LIGHT THE FUSE' PODCAST
AND THE HOSTS ANNOUNCE DE PALMA/LEHMAN INTERVIEW COMING SOON
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/tweetbilgemi.jpg

In the intro for the May 21st episode of the "Light The Fuse" podcast, hosts Charles Hood and Drew Taylor announce that they have interviewed Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman for an upcoming episode, timed around the publication of the paperback edition of De Palma and Lehman's novel, Are Snakes Necessary? (release date July 13). Meanwhile, this episode features part one of the podcast's interview with Vulture film critic Bilge Ebiri, which was conducted a few days prior to Ebiri writing his great article, "The First Mission: Impossible Is Still the Best". It's a fun episode in which Ebiri delves even more into why he believes the world of Mission: Impossible is perfect for De Palma's cinematic sensibilities and obsessions.


Posted by Geoff at 11:38 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, June 2, 2021 11:40 PM CDT
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Thursday, May 27, 2021
'A STAR VEHICLE WITH A DEEPLY WEIRD SENSIBILITY'
BILGE EBIRI ON 'WHY DE PALMA MADE SUCH AN IDEAL DIRECTOR' FOR 'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/clairefrisk45a.jpg

Vulture film critic Bilge Ebiri posted an anniversary article today with the headline, "The First Mission: Impossible Is Still the Best" -- here's an excerpt:
If you told those of us who saw Mission: Impossible in theaters in 1996 that, 25 years later, the series would still be going strong, with Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt having outlasted two James Bonds, two Supermen, and three Batmen, we probably would have called you an idiot. It’s not that the movie (which, to celebrate its anniversary, has just been rereleased in a remastered new Blu-ray edition) wasn’t a sizable hit — it was — but it was also initially held at something of a remove by critics and audiences alike. It was the kind of smash-and-grab blockbuster that made a huge chunk of its box office in its opening few days and didn’t seem to care about word of mouth. That type of hit is, of course, pretty much all we have nowadays, but back in 1996, it wasn’t exactly a mark of quality.

Critics, who’d always been divided on the work of director Brian De Palma, saw Mission: Impossible as a movie that showcased his expertise with suspense, but one that didn’t have much personality to it. The action setpieces (mostly) received their share of praise, while the screenplay (credited to Robert Towne and David Koepp, and reportedly revised constantly throughout production) got knocked for being confusing or nonsensical. Many fans of the original series were disappointed that this new version was less about teamwork and spycraft and more about Tom Cruise jumping off exploding trains. (Some were also upset that this film decided to make Jim Phelps, the ostensible hero of the original show, a villain.) The then-small-but-growing ranks of the Extremely Online chuckled over the picture’s representation of how the internet works. Its CinemaScore grade was a mere B+ … which, in the world of hyperinflated CinemaScore grades, is generally cause for concern.

No, there was definitely something uncool about Mission: Impossible. It was somehow both too smart for its own good and also, weirdly, not smart enough. Besides, Tom Cruise: action star? What? It’s hard to remember now, but Mission: Impossible was an odd choice at the time for the actor, who had built his stardom through a savvy combination of mainstream prestige pictures and pop hits but had never really been an ass-kicking action hero. In Top Gun, he flew jet fighters, while in Days of Thunder, he raced cars; in those movies, the action came from the machines, not the people. And despite his incredible box-office run, Cruise avoided sequels. Mission: Impossible, which he produced, seemed very much like the type of flick designed to establish a franchise, an odd choice for a performer whose white whale at the time was not so much box-office success as Oscar glory. (At the time, he’d only been nominated for 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July, though he’d starred in numerous Oscar-anointed films, such as A Few Good Men and Rainman. However, he’d soon be nominated for that year’s Jerry Maguire and, not long after, Magnolia. He still hasn’t won that Oscar.)

That odd choice would soon prove prophetic. It didn’t seem likely at the time that the industry would one day mostly abandon the star-driven, medium-budget hits that had been so important to Brand Cruise — that everything would eventually become subsumed into franchises and so-called IP, and that a star’s earning potential would become wedded to their ability to play the same, extremely familiar character over and over again in multiple installments of the same film series. Did Cruise himself recognize that this would become the way of the world? Probably not. He still had a good decade of star turns ahead of him. Jerry Maguire was still in the future, as were Minority Report and Collateral and War of the Worlds (and, of course, Magnolia, arguably his greatest performance). But one day, after his public image exploded, he’d wind up needing Mission: Impossible to help him claw back to relevance — and to some modicum of public affection.

In the period following the original’s release, however, you could sense the series struggling to find its footing. Mission: Impossible II, which came out four years later, was tonally very different from the first one. Director John Woo went for straight-up action ballet, with Cruise doing acrobatic gunplay while performing elaborate motorcycle stunts, the rest of his team essentially reduced to bit parts. Six years after that, the third entry, directed by J.J. Abrams, went dark and shaky-cam, entertainingly upping the explosions and the personal backstories. I would argue that the series didn’t fully hit its stride until 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which in many ways restored the central idea that had made the original so effective.

So, what was that idea? And how has it endured so long? Is it just, you know, stunts?

Not quite. Mission: Impossible delivered a new spin on properly utilizing what was then Cruise’s thermonuclear star power. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the actor represented a fresh-faced, can-do macho ethos; this was a far cry from the musclebound strongmen and grizzled wiseasses who dominated action cinema. But by the mid-’90s, the Age of Irony was fully upon us, and Cruise’s all-American appeal needed some complication. A little of this guy went a long way: Let Cruise be too confident, too capable, too smirking and cool, and you ran the risk of silliness and annoyance. (This is why Mission: Impossible II, by the way, for all its financial success, kind of stinks.) The man could no longer grin his way through his challenges.

The trick, it turned out, was to add a bit of slapstick. Tom Cruise was a handsome, physically gifted supernova with a thousand-watt smile, but the key to making him a relatable action star was, well, to humiliate him a little. The first Mission: Impossible gave us a hero whose confidence gets him into ridiculous situations that make him look foolish: What makes the infamous Langley break-in sequence so immortal isn’t the intricate derring-do of the heist itself; it’s the fact that Ethan Hunt winds up anxiously hovering two inches off the floor, desperately flapping his arms about — because there are few things more satisfying in modern mainstream cinema than the sight of Tom Cruise looking like a total dork. And weirdly, he seems to know it. For all the theatricality of his performances, Cruise is great at deadpan.

This might also be why De Palma made such an ideal director for this material, and for this star. No auteur was better at undercutting his protagonists, at turning his heroes into marks, cuckolds, dupes, and dopes. Mission: Impossible is much more of a Brian De Palma film than it gets credit for being. Certainly, the director loves the demonic artifice of cinema — his work simultaneously mines it for aesthetic power while purposefully highlighting its inherent phoniness — and with their vast array of costumes and masks and breakaway walls and falsified surveillance images, what are Ethan Hunt and his colleagues but a bunch of amateur filmmakers who also happen to be professional spies? Tied into this embrace of artifice is also a dedication to the old-school suspense setpiece — silent, carefully choreographed, focused on details — of the kind that these movies have deftly woven in with the more typical big bang-boom of modern action spectacle.

Ethan even becomes, for a while, one of De Palma’s classic sexual marks. The film isn’t just about Ethan and his team’s betrayal by their leader, Phelps (Jon Voight); it’s also about Ethan’s betrayal by Jim’s wife, Claire (Emmanuelle Béart), with whom he clearly has a romantic connection. By the end, when Ethan discovers that Claire has been working with Phelps all this time, the deception genuinely stings. A sex scene was reportedly shot and then cut from the finished film, but the point still comes across: It’s in Ethan and Claire’s longing glances, in their gentle kisses and caresses. Mission: Impossible played a little demure in 1996. Today, it feels downright heated.

Perhaps it’s this hybrid quality — as an action flick with a flair for the perverse and the intimate, a star vehicle with a deeply weird sensibility — that makes the first Mission: Impossible hold up so well. Perched at that moment, when everything in the industry began to change, it’s a surprisingly slippery movie, not quite one thing and not quite the other.



Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, May 28, 2021 12:15 AM CDT
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Saturday, May 22, 2021
'A SUBVERSIVE RAGE' - 'MISSION IMPOSSIBLE' TURNS 25
ENT. WEEKLY'S DARREN FRANICH GETS IT - VOIGHT IS THE FILM'S 'MONSTROUS SOUL'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/micredits1.jpg

"25 years later, Mission: Impossible has a crucial subversive lesson for every franchise," reads a headline from yesterday at Entertainment Weekly. Although the article by Darren Franich steers toward discussion of franchise, the "subversive rage" he mentions is there in the film from Danny Elfman's opening crescendo of percussion over the Paramount logo, and quietly simmers as Jon Voight's Jim Phelps is asked if he would like to watch a movie, and replies, "No, I prefer the theater." The theater, indeed-- Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt, full of his own angst after the death of most of his team, will take a deep dive into Phelps' rage by putting himself in the shoes of Phelps' secret identity, Job.

It's no wonder Ethan Hunt looks so troubled as he's offered a movie to watch on the plane in the film's final shot. His mentor had perversely turned traitor, and now Ethan knows the story inside and out. Would Ethan ever allow or find himself to be as corrupt as his mentor? As if being woken from a De Palma-style nightmare on the plane at the end (remember Jim Phelps' bloody Carrie-and-Deliverance-like hand coming toward Ethan in a dream?), Ethan's troubled look leaves the question hanging. A ghost, as Kittridge might call him, and yet obliged, like Besson's Nikita, to "consider the cinema of the Carribbean," or "Aruba, perhaps?"

Here's more from Franich:

Jon Voight was 57 when Mission: Impossible hit theaters 25 years ago, but everything about Brian De Palma's movie renders him older. Gray-haired Jim Phelps wears suspenders that are painfully '80s — and May 22, 1996, was one of the last times in history nobody wanted to look '80s. Quite a contrast with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Jim's fellow secret agent, a walking smirk whose leather jacket shines brighter than his hair gel. Everyone else in Jim's Impossible Mission Force is cool: stylish European women, brash American dudes, thirtysomethings right at that perfect midpoint between being Young and being In Charge.

They just got done running an op in Kiev. Jim missed it, taking an expense-account job-cation to run recruitment out of the Drake Hotel (oooh!) in Chicago. "Guy's getting soft in his old age!" Ethan says. It's just a bit of ribbing, because Jim is his mentor. It's also a generational threat. Jim's wife, Claire (Emmanuelle Béart), is on the team, too. She's younger than Ethan, and when he makes his joke about old man Jim, Claire flashes her husband an unreadable glance. Does she feel sorry for him? Is she seeing him the way the boys do — a good man, yes, but a bit paternal? In the opening scene of Mission: Impossible, Ethan injects an unconscious Claire with a syringe and then cradles her cheek. Part of the job, of course, yet De Palma's romantic framing demands subtextual perversion. Don't these two just make more sense together? And then Jim dies in the first act: a tragedy, unless you're a human with a pulse who came to a Tom Cruise movie for Tom Cruise.

Jim Phelps was a main character on the original Mission: Impossible, played by Peter Graves across a couple iterations from 1968 through 1990. It's not clear whether Voight is literally the same character; canon barely mattered in 1996 outside the Star stuff, and Voight was a decade younger than his predecessor. But the general audience carried the memory of Graves' silver-haired monotone right into the movie. What was that memory, exactly? The other day, I went to Paramount+ to find a random Mission episode from February 1971 — almost as far from the movie as the movie is from us. In "Kitara," Jim's team goes to "the African nation of Bocamo," where "a colonial minority" practices "severe racial segregation." What this means, in dramatic terms, is Jim goes undercover with a ridiculous accent, because the bad guys speaks Villain English. Meanwhile, his crew uses a special pill on the malevolent military governor (Lawrence Dobkin) that turns his white skin black.

It's crazier than it sounds, with a plot that requires the Leonard Nimoy character to say (undercover, but still): "I am 1/16th Black." I don't bring this up to demand a cultural reckoning with a half-century-old TV episode (which was anti-apartheid in spirit if helplessly tone-deaf in execution). The thing to notice is how Graves' expression doesn't waver once. Here's Jim Phelps in an off-key racial-hysteria cartoon — walking around a corner of West Africa that looks like some producer's Beverly Glen courtyard — and he greets every incident with the same indifferent newsman grimace.

Elsewhere in the early '70s, Voight was going river-mad in Deliverance, and De Palma was putting Hitchcock under the knife with Sisters, and screenwriter Robert Towne was busily composing Chinatown. The fact that all three New Hollywood-ers wound up working on a TV adaptation about Tom Cruise's fitness regimen was end-of-cinema talk in 1996. But there's a subversive rage in the first Mission: Impossible, totally absent from the later films in the franchise. Everything goes wrong in the opening embassy mission. Nerdy hacker Jack Harmon (Emilio Estevez) gets skewered in an elevator — a heart-dagger for any Mighty Duck kids who saw Coach Bombay laughing with Cruise in the trailer. The rest of the team dies, too. It's one of the best first half-hours in any thriller. You only gradually realize how many different counter-plots were playing out in front of you. There's the embassy party, and a traitor stealing valuable information, and the IMF team stopping that traitor, and another IMF team setting up this whole operation to smoke out a mole in the agency.

At the center of this mystery maze is the mole: Jim Phelps, legendary hero of Mission: Impossible, a friend-killing backstabber who sells out the entire global security apparatus for some retirement cash. Between Jim's "death" and his surprise reappearance, the movie loses a step. Everyone remembers the hanging computer hack, which is a blast. But the screenplay is officially credited to Towne and David Koepp, plus a "story by" credit for Steven Zaillian and rumors of script doctoring by everyone in town. You feel Mission's many cooks, the sense that Cruise's star power is gluing together some missing motivation. The dynamic between Ethan and Claire doesn't land anywhere it should: not romantic, not sexual, not suspicious, really nothing. They stitch together a renegade squad with Luther (Ving Rhames) and Krieger (Jean Reno). They fly to America, to London. They prepare a final sting to flush out the real bad guy.

And then Jim finds Ethan. He peddles an alibi, blaming the team's death on Kittridge (Henry Czerny). Ethan doesn't buy it. He can see the truth. We watch Jim's shooting from another angle. The old man fires his own gun, and reaches for blood packs. The look on Voight's face is astounding: a primal scream, a smile unlike any smile Tom Cruise has ever grinned (except maybe amid Interview With the Vampire's erotic vanquishment). He is getting away with something awful. He loves it.

In this late Ethan-Jim conversation, Mission rediscovers all its layers. They're both fooling each other, and their lies ring true. Why, Ethan wonders, would Kittridge have done all this? "Why, Jim?" he asks, "Why?" Jim's response has the quality of confession:

When you think about it, Ethan, it was inevitable. No more Cold War. No more secrets you keep from everyone but yourself, operations you answer to no one but yourself. And then one day, you wake up, the President of the United States is running the country without your permission. The son of a bitch. How dare he? Then you realize it's over. You're an obsolete piece of hardware not worth upgrading. You've got a lousy marriage and 62 grand a year.

"It was inevitable," says the hero of an old Mission: Impossible who is now the monster of the new Mission: Impossible. Every franchise gets the religious treatment now, so it's hard to think of any comparable event in recent years. Imagine if Luke actually was a bad guy in the new Star Wars movies, or if a Harry Potter sequel in 10 years finds Hermione peddling Ministry of Magic secrets to some breakaway Durmstrang alumni. A cosmic perspective on the last 25 years of movie franchises might declare that movie sagas have gotten more serious. But that's mostly cosmetic. James Bond keeps saving the world, and even Evil Superman is just a prophecy. (One Terminator turned John Connor into a bad guy, a decision offset by how Arnold Schwarzenegger's robot keeps getting nicer.) There are exceptions, and cultural reckonings nudge recent franchise expansions to reconsider their heroes in a broader context. But according to original series star Martin Landau, one original plan for the first Mission movie was to kill off the entire TV show cast in the opening reel. Today there would be social media scandals, actors and fans uniting with anxious executives to ensure a proper nostalgic celebration. In 1996, Mission: Impossible could still reserve its fan service for bleak jokes. "Good morning, Mr. Phelps," Kittridge says when the jig is up. That greeting started almost every episode of the show. Here, it sounds an awful lot like Gotcha, sucker.



Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, May 23, 2021 5:56 PM CDT
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Thursday, May 20, 2021
VIDEO - TOM CRUISE TALKS 14-HOUR DE PALMA MARATHON
RE-WATCHED & CRASH-STUDIED DE PALMA'S FILMS AFTER MEETING HIM AT SPIELBERG'S HOUSE

Collider's Adam Chitwood shared a Collider-exclusive preview today of a chat between Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie. In the video clip, Cruise talks about how Steven Spielberg "lived down the street" from him, and how Cruise would go and have dinner with him ("as one does" McQuarrie jokes), and the two would talk about movies.
Tom Cruise: I remember one night I went over and there was Brian De Palma. And so we had dinner. The three of us had dinner at this place up the street. And we were just talking about movies, and there was Brian, and I’d seen all of his films, and I went home that night – you know, Mission was on my mind; I was actually preparing, also, I was prepping Interview With The Vampire at that time, and working on a few other things. And I went home that night and I stayed up for about 14 hours and I just got all of De Palma’s movies and I restudied all of his films.

Christopher McQuarrie: For De Palma movies, we're talking about Carrie, Blow Out...

Tom Cruise: Yes.

Christopher McQuarrie: Dressed To Kill...

Tom Cruise: Untouchables...!

Christopher McQuarrie: Untouchables.

Tom Cruise: Okay. And... I just went, "Oh my gosh," that... "he’s gotta direct Mission: Impossible."


MORE 25TH ANNIVERSARY 'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE' ARTICLES PROLIFERATING AROUND THE WEB...

Ryan Parker, The Hollywood Reporter
Tom Cruise Nailed Classic ‘Mission: Impossible’ Stunt on Final Attempt

One of the most iconic shots from the first Mission: Impossible film nearly did not happen because Tom Cruise was having a difficult time pulling it off.

In a series of snippet interviews the star did with director-screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie for Paramount’s anniversary Blu-ray of the 1996 film that kick-started the billion-dollar franchise, Crusie explained that he kept falling too far when he was suddenly lowered via a cable into CIA headquarters vault.

Cruise said he was unable to balance fast enough on the cable.

“We were running out of time, and I kept hitting my face and the take didn’t work,” the actor said, explaining he finally asked crew members for British pound coins to put in his shoes as counterweights.“[Director] Brian [De Palma] said, ‘One more and then I am going to have to cut [into the moment] and do it,'” Cruise said. “I said, ‘I can do it.’ And I went down to the floor, and I didn’t touch. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh. I didn’t touch.’ And I was holding it, holding it, holding it, holding it. And I’m sweating and I’m sweating. And he just keeps rolling.”

Cruise said he realized in that moment that they got the shot and De Palma was now just messing with him. Finally, De Palma began to laugh and called cut.

In another interview section, Cruise said he was stuck in a traffic jam in Japan while marketing another film when he got the pitch call from De Palma for Mission: Impossible.


Bryan Alexander, USA Today
Mission: Impossible at 25: Tom Cruise raised the action movie bar by breaking into the CIA vault

Yet as "Mission: Impossible" turns 25 on Saturday, the scene in director Brian De Palma's thriller that continues to shock and awe is Cruise's controlled aerial stunt as Hunt breaks into an impossibly secure CIA vault in Langley, Virginia.

The 11-minute scene – with Cruise floating from lines in the ceiling as Hunt avoids sound, touch and temperature monitors – turbo-boosted the $3.6 billion "Mission" franchise and set the blueprint for action films to come.

The instantly recognizable CIA heist remains the most iconic moment in a franchise that boasts an overabundance of spectacle (naturally, the cover art for the anniversary remastered Blu-ray features Hunt's vault break-in).

"It's the precision, the timing and the daring," says film historian Leonard Maltin, host of the "Maltin on Movies" podcast. "Actors doing their own stunts is a Hollywood cliché that's not literally true. But Tom Cruise wants you to know that's him doing the stunt, and he throws down the gauntlet to other filmmakers and audiences."

There was no hiding who was on the wires with close shots from three cameras on the austere set. No stuntman, but Cruise in a black, short-sleeved t-shirt. The body control commands respect.

"It's very difficult to hang straight out like that," De Palma said in a 10th anniversary "M:I" interview. "It takes a tremendous amount of muscle control. Tom was able to do this and bring a kind of reality to it and really grab the audience. You see the tremendous tension he's under."

The tension is enhanced by De Palma's slick direction in the scoreless scene, as he flashes over to cohort Franz Krieger (Jean Reno) silently straining to hold Hunt's pulley system from the ceiling air duct.

The reality wasn't far from the film version. At Pinewood Studios outside London, two set workers behind the fake CIA walls utilized weights with carefully marked ropes to control Cruise's movements, moving the actor up and down.

"That looks effortless, but that's a really difficult stunt. If you drop him too far down, that's not good," Sherry Lansing, then CEO of Paramount Studios, said in an interview for the film's 10th anniversary. "That's one of the hardest stunts Tom's done."

Cruise, producing his first film from the 1970s TV series, and De Palma worked out the vault break-in details over a small model of the CIA set. These included Hunt's inverted ceiling entrance and potential heist problems to amp the drama — such as a rat in the air duct that startles Reno's Kreiger, who lets the rope loose, lurching Hunt towards the wired floor.

But the near-drop was problematic to shoot as Cruise had trouble keeping his body balanced on the ropes with the sudden stop inches from the floor.

"I kept going down to the floor and bam, I kept hitting my face. And the take didn’t work. And we’re running out of time," Cruise explained in a 25th anniversary interview from the set of the upcoming "Mission: Impossible 7" with director Christopher McQuarrie. "And it’s very physical, I’m straining."

Cruise said he asked the English stunt crew for heavy pound coins which he placed in his shoes for needed equilibrium. Naturally, in Cruise's re-telling, De Palma gives his star one more chance to pull the stunt off.

"I went down to the floor, and I didn’t touch. And I remember thinking, my God I didn’t touch! And I was holding it. And I’m sweating and sweating," Cruise recalled, explaining the strain seen on Hunt's face onscreen. "(De Palma) just keeps rolling. And I was like, I’m not going to stop."


Jason Bailey, The Playlist
Mission: Impossible At 25: Revisiting The Franchise’s Auteurist Roots

In fact, Cruise and crew have so thoroughly redefined the title that it’s easy to forget that “Mission: Impossible” was a TV series to begin with – so one of the delights of Brian De Palma’s initial entry in the series is how eager he is to remind us of those origins. He starts his film as if it’s a TV show, with a clever, fake-out cold open that moves into what is, by any measure, a television opening credit sequence: the familiar theme song scoring thrilling moments from the show/movie we’re about to watch, many of which would be spoilers if they weren’t coming at us so rapidly. It’s a big, broad wink from the filmmaker – he knows exactly what he’s making – while also falling right in line with similar medium-blurring tricks throughout his filmography, like the dating game show that opens “Sisters,” or the ‘60s-style street theater performance documentary embedded in “Hi, Mom!” (It also feels like a casual reminder that he’s done this sort of thing before; De Palma presumably got the gig on account of his fine direction of “The Untouchables,” one of the most critically and commercially successful TV-to-film crossovers to that point.)

Like many a mid-‘90s blockbuster (or, well, many a blockbuster, period) the script was the film’s lowest priority; De Palma and Cruise (making his debut as a producer) went into production without a finished screenplay, but with a pricey crew of scribes on the payroll to Scotch-tape one together. As a result, critics then and now insist it doesn’t make much sense, which is both accurate and irrelevant; for my money, it’s one of those movies where it’s less important that it all makes sense to you than that you get the feeling it made sense to someone, somewhere along the line. (“Tenet,” for the record, is the same way.)

But the plot doesn’t really matter much anyway. De Palma reportedly devised his big set pieces first, and advised his screenwriters to build a plot that would get him from one to the next; his idol Alfred Hitchcock worked the same way, and it didn’t harm his movies a bit. (The climax, with Cruise atop a fast-moving train with a helicopter in pursuit into a tunnel, was said to be Cruise’s baby, and you can feel De Palma checking out during that one.)

It’s clear that the sequence De Palma was most invested in was, not coincidentally, the picture’s most memorable: the Langley heist, in which Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his makeshift crew of fellow “disavowed” agents have to extract an identity list from a hyper-secure computer terminal inside the CIA headquarters. It is, well, an impossible mission, but that’s what they do: slipping into the building in disguise, and lowering Hunt into a sound- and temperature-sensitive chamber. “Krieger, from now on in: absolute silence,” Hunt whispers, and (as in “Rififi,” the sequence’s clear inspiration), the filmmaker follows the instructions, eschewing both dialogue and musical accompaniment, providing only the most agonizing of sound effects. I saw this scene with a packed crowd on opening weekend back in 1996, and the impact was astonishing – the audience follows the film’s lead, holding their own breath and their own sounds in, lest they break the spell. In this scene, we see De Palma following Hitchcock’s modus operandi to a tee: he’s playing the audience like a piano, from the close-up of the approaching mouse to the push-in on the bead of Hunt’s sweat to the cutaways to the sound monitor and finally, thrillingly, the slow-motion close-up of the knife tumbling through the air.

What’s most striking about “Mission: Impossible” is how thoroughly it is, above all else, a Brian De Palma movie. From frame one, he’s having a great time putting his camera wherever the hell he wants and moving it every which way; he fills the picture with snazzy zooms, low angles, circling camerawork, point-of-view shots, attention-getting overheads, split diopters, and more Dutch angles than you can shake a stick at. (The playfulness of Hunt’s relationship with Vanessa Redgrave’s “Max” also feels like a De Palma touch – he loves a sexy lady of a certain age.)


David Crow, Den of Geek
The First Mission: Impossible Still Has One of the Greatest Action Set Pieces

In 1996, Mission: Impossible was all about the crafting of a sleek and wonderfully knotty thriller that tied itself up in circles while delivering perfectly calibrated thrills. Even for all the script’s high pedigree, with talent like Steven Ziallian (Schindler’s List), Robert Towne (Chinatown), and David Koepp at the peak of his post-Jurassic Park glow working on the screenplay, this movie only ever wanted to be a basic framework on which to hang one De Palma showstopper after another.

And the payoff of that approach is never clearer than in the buildup and execution of “the vault” sequence in the original movie. Narratively, there’s some mumbo jumbo reason for Mission: Impossible suddenly turning into a heist movie: Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has been burned by the CIA after a frame job suggests he killed his own team to steal half of the NOC List—a data file that comprises every undercover American agent operating in Europe. But for reasons that are never exactly clear, the list is worthless without its other half, which is stored in the belly of the CIA beast at Langley.

To clear his name, Cruise is basically going to have to double down by actually stealing the other half of the NOC list. If you’re wondering why, you’re asking the wrong question. The entire appeal of the Mission: Impossible movies is how. And the how is a wonder to behold here.

Five years before Steven Soderbergh got credit for reinventing the heist genre with his Ocean’s 11 remake, many of the conventions were implemented by De Palma first: a voiceover narration by the protagonist, listing the obstacles and worst case scenarios his team is about to face? Check. The film then cross-cutting the actual mechanics of the heist with the team still discussing how they’ll pull it off? Yep. And an emphasis on a mark whose life they’re about to ruin? Just look at that poor bastard played by Rolf Saxon, a nine-to-five schmuck who after letting himself be momentarily distracted by Emmanuelle Béart (it happens) spends the rest of his screen time vomiting in trash cans and being banished to the North Pole by superiors.

It’s all here, but most of all there is an almost giddy embrace of filmmaking craft and tension-building. For most of his career, De Palma has chased the long shadow of Alfred Hitchcock and his masterful cinematic games of suspense. While this particular Mission: Impossible scene doesn’t dabble in doppelgangers and murder—two other De Palma motifs taken from Hitch that recur elsewhere in M:I—he nonetheless achieves one of his greatest suspense sequences inside the CIA vault, and it feels wholly original.

As Saxon’s CIA analyst struggles with repeated emergencies in the bathroom, Cruise is forced to dangle from an air vent over a CIA vault with such high security that in addition to the floor being pressure sensitive, he must keep as still as possible or risk his body raising the overall temperature in the room. Meanwhile if a sound louder than a whisper is made, the computer Ethan is hoping to hack will be shut down, and all the exits in the building will be locked.

So Cruise dangles from the air for a grueling nine minutes, floating with graceful, willowy precision in a cold, sterile vacuum. With a binary color scheme of white walls offset by Cruise’s tight black shirt and silvery gray gloves, the visual palette is as intentionally muted as the characters’ lips. There is no score, almost no dialogue, and each time the decibel counter on Ethan’s wrist rises, or the temperature in the room increases by a fraction of a degree, the audience gasps.

In the same summer movie season that gave us aliens blowing up the White House in Independence Day, and a tornado roaring like it’s a goddamn lion in Twister, the restraint and intelligence of this Mission: Impossible showstopper was shocking. It still is, as the commercial side of the industry continues to go the other way—to the point where the idea of a blockbuster starring scientists chasing a tornado seems downright highbrow.

Similarly, action spectacle has leaned with an ever heavier hand on computer generated nonsense. Perhaps it’s a key reason that the Mission: Impossible movies remain a generally celebrated breath of fresh air in the Hollywood tentpole landscape. Twenty-five years since the original movie’s release, Cruise is still doing these Ethan Hunt adventures, and narratively they’ve only gotten better, with the most recent two written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie being the best in the series. Their commitment to in-camera stunts and sophisticated action set pieces that put the focus on Cruise doing dazzling feats, however, feels even more vital now than then, as action sequences costing tens of millions of dollars, with digitized superhero sprites fighting hordes of animated robots, has come to dominate multiplexes more than ever before.

By contrast, Cruise’s memories about the difficulties of shooting the vault scene in 1996 are illuminating.

“I wasn’t really balanced that well [in the air],” Cruise said in a junket interview at the time. “So there were a few times where you hit the ground and you’re holding that position. It was exhausting. Brian was ready to finally say, ‘Okay, I’m going to have to divide this into two different shots.’” Today, it’d be worse: they’d say they could do it all on a computer. Yet it was Cruise’s idea (at least by how he tells it) to turn his body into a proverbial scale, and use British currency coins as his counterweights.

“I had them hook me up, hang me, put a couple of pounds in each shoe to balance myself, because I kept falling and smacking my head on the floor,” Cruise said. “I couldn’t balance it, physically. Finally, when we did it and I got the balance right… it worked, and Brian just left me hanging there just to get all of it. We had three different cameras going.”


Posted by Geoff at 5:10 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, May 20, 2021 6:29 PM CDT
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Thursday, May 13, 2021
HENRY CZERNY TALKS TO /FILM ABOUT MISSION IMPOSSIBLE
FISH TANK SCENE, WORKING WITH DE PALMA, TOM CRUISE, DALE DYE, ETC.
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/kittridge1.jpg

Josh Spiegel at /Film has posted a terrific interview with Henry Czerny, looking back at his role in Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible:
What was the audition process like for the first Mission: Impossible?

I met with Brian de Palma [and] read for him. I’d already done Clear and Present Danger. This was another Paramount movie, so they had an idea of what happens when I’m playing [a character from] the CIA or whatever head. Anyway, I auditioned for Brian, and then I went off to do a film in Brazil. Halfway through that film, I got a call that Brian and Tom and the rest of them wanted me to come in and [play] Kittridge for them.

Did you have any connection growing up as a fan of the original TV show?

I did indeed.

As I rewatched the film, I was reminded that you get to deliver some very memorable dialogue associated with the show, such as “Your mission, should you choose to accept it”. How did it feel for you to bring this iconic dialogue to life on the big screen?

I was very tickled. My brother and I used to watch the show, so it was fun to share that with him specifically. Just the idea that, lo and behold, in the journey that [I’m] on, you’re going to be guy that says, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it” in this Hollywood blockbuster? OK. OK, cool. That’s another flavor that I’ll enjoy.

What was it like to work with Brian De Palma?

For me, he was a visualist. One of the things he’s known for are his setpieces. Some would say [they’re] derivative, but everything’s derivative on some level. In terms of creating tension in a Hitchcockian way, he’s terrific. The break-in to the CIA is extraordinary, I think. And the lead-up to trying to find Ethan Hunt in the [apartment] building that we were in, in Prague where that was shot, was terrific. And of course the sequence in the Chunnel is extraordinary. You put Tom Cruise and Brian De Palma together, and you’re in for a good show.

Is it true that there wasn’t a finished screenplay when the film began shooting?

Kind of, yes. As a matter of fact, I went in to do the “Your mission, should you choose to accept it” prologue, I think, three times. I went up to Lucas’ ranch [Skywalker Ranch] just outside of San Francisco to [redo] voiceover for that. They were just trying to clarify some of the mission that people were confused about in some of the screenings. As a matter of fact, this one [Mission: Impossible 7] is even more fluid than the original, I remember. It’s pretty hard to imagine that on such a large-budget film, but one of the great things is that you get to go with a certain flow, depending on what’s showing up that week, to do with weather or locations or what actors are bringing. Both Tom and McQ [Mission: Impossible 7 writer/director Christopher McQuarrie] are extraordinarily adept at capturing something that seems to be more interesting than what might be on the page.

Going back to the first one, with the idea that the script might be constantly changing, do you roll with that as an actor?

No, I certainly don’t just roll with that. [laughing] I like to dig down. When action is called, I don’t want to have to be remembering my lines. I want to just forget that I even learned them and they show up in the moment. I’m not exactly Method, but I want the thing to fall out, as if you were that person. So that was a challenge. The aquarium scene, the “Red light/green light” scene – obviously, there was a lot of dialogue for Kittridge in that. The dialogue came not too far away from the day we were supposed to shoot it.

It was changing a little bit here and there. The gist of it was pretty much locked down a few days before we shot it. So I just spent a lot of time with the script, going over and over and trying to figure out where the nuances were. And why [Kittridge] was saying what he was saying, and all the sort of great stuff one normally does, just in a truncated amount of time.

What was Tom Cruise like as a scene partner?

Very focused. He was and always is. He’s profoundly focused, not just as an actor but as a producer. In anything he does, he commits to it 110% as it’s happening. You can see that in the stunts he does, in the preparation for the stunts he does. He doesn’t mess around. There is a certain playfulness about it, but when action is called, there’s no messing around. We’re gonna jump in here, as deeply as we can given the genre. So that was thrilling. It was great to act opposite that.

You mentioned the Hitchcockian tension, which comes to a head in the aquarium scene, as your character makes it clear that the opening setpiece was a mole hunt, and Ethan’s the presumed bad guy because he’s the only survivor. How did you work on achieving that tension – with dialogue coming so soon before the shoot – as the audience realizes Ethan’s on the run for the rest of the movie?

First of all, you have to lay in a belief that you have found the problem in the situation. And it’s your job to deal with that problem expeditiously and thoroughly. That’s the first thing, which is at absolute odds to what Ethan brings to the scene. Ethan’s point is, there’s a problem here. Kittridge’s point is, there’s a big problem here. And by the end of the scene, they both realize that each other is the problem. All the characters to a certain extent create heat for Ethan. Kittridge’s job is to put a fire within Ethan’s mind to solve what’s going on. He can’t use the CIA or the Impossible Mission Force to do it. He’s got to do it on his own. I had to come in with a surety, and make it clear to Ethan that his days as a mole are over.

You mentioned DePalma as a visualist in terms of your experience as an actor. I’m thinking about the canted angles he prefers, especially in this scene where the camera must have been placed at your feet looking up at your face.

Definitely. It was up the nose, [so] we made sure that there were no nose hairs that were going to keep people’s attention away from the scene.

That goes against the traditional shot/reverse shot angle for dialogue scenes. What was it like for you, knowing that you’re focused on the tension with the camera not in a normal location for the actor or the viewer?

That was weird, for sure, because one’s never been shot from that angle. But you know why he did it? To keep the aquarium in the frame at all times, to help with that tension. Ethan may be sinking in a pool; he’s a fish in a fishbowl. And of course what happens at the end is a [big] payoff. But basically, you just focus on what’s going on, what your character wants, what they’re getting back. Focus on that and let that fly.

And if there’s a problem with the delivery, or if the particular angle isn’t working or, or what you’re doing is not working given the particular angle, hopefully you have a director [who] will be able to explain it to you in a way that you can have somewhere in the back of the mind. So the next time you do it, you’re aware on some vestigial level that there’s a different approach necessary, even though the endgame is still the same.

I don’t want to play to the camera. Some people do. “You want my face? I’ll give you my face more.” And some people say, “Well, no, I wouldn’t do that.” Sometimes you’re in the midst of that usually in a television show.

While the first chunk of the film was shot in Prague, that restaurant with the aquarium was a set, right?

Yeah, it certainly was. It was in England. That was Pinewood Studios. That was not in Prague.

At the end of the explosion, it looks like you ducking over as the water is let loose – was it you or a stuntman?

Yes, that was just a big barrel of water. I think we reset the main event twice. There are bits and pieces that you pick up along the way. Once you’ve got the scene, all the essentials, then you go in and pick up what you can or what you want. If you have the time – and on these films, usually you do have the time. So, Kittridge being overwhelmed with water was basically a close-up again, of almost the same angle, camera protected, and a big bucket of water, a big barrel of water just off camera, coming down over some stuff and onto Kittridge.

What was that like? What was the feeling of having that barrel of water dumped on you twice?

Well, you’re part of the team. If you look at what Tom’s doing, and now that we have the franchise to look back on, this was just the beginning of what he was going to do over the next 25 years. His commitment and his wanting to be in the octagon, if you will, as the stuff is flying has become his trademark. That’s something he wanted to do. He doesn’t say “Yeah, I’ll be in my trailer while the stunt guy does my stuff.” No, [he] wants to do as much of it as [he] possibly can because that’s the thrill of it. There’s something about doing [stunts] in real time, as opposed to in the studio, months later with CGI and Tom is very much like that. So if he’s doing it, you know, I’m going to take a bucket of water, big deal.

As I was watching the film again, I was really struck by, as you said, this being the start of Tom Cruise doing something death-defying. I have to imagine that was pretty intense.

Yeah. And frankly, I don’t know how they got insurance to do some of the stuff. The stunts are becoming so incredibly amazing and require a great deal of precision. They prepare for months for some of the stunts he’s doing now. I’m not sure how long they prepared for [the aquarium], but certainly as he’s running out of the restaurant, there are any number of things that could not go the way they have gone in rehearsals and in preparation for the week ahead of it, and that’s Tom doing it. So there’s a lot of nail-biting when action is called and dude’s got to do the thing and run around the glass. They try and pepper it with rubber glass, but still. One slip and we’re not shooting for a few weeks. But they make sure [stunts] are as safe as they can be, but there’s always an element of risk to them. The outcome may be somewhat contrived, but the particulars within the road to the end of that outcome can be quite painful. And if not executed well, could send you to the hospital.

You spent a lot of time on the film with actor and ex-military man Dale Dye. What was it like to have him by your side, especially since your character has a kind of a love/hate relationship with Barnes?

Well, these are the colors that you bring to the rainbow of Mission: Impossible. You know, Kittridge gets bested by Ethan. So Kittridge tries to best somebody else. You know, generally in life, you’ve got a manager who’s being barked at by the CEO, and then he or she comes in and starts barking at the people under her or him to get rid of that feeling. I mean, Dale was terrific. I loved having him around because here’s the guy that – you know, do we have guns in the scene? Yes. How do we hold them? You know, we went through training to a certain extent, but to have somebody who’s been through it, on this fantastical ride – this is not the way the CIA operates generally, of course – but to have someone who’s been in the real field to just tweak it here and there within the genre that we’re shooting is invaluable. Yeah. It was lovely.

There’s so much dry humor to how you bring the dialogue to life. In terms of the direction, was there a sense of how the character’s personality would come to life? Or was that a choice that you made?

I think that’s a choice I made [laughing] because of my sense of humor to a certain extent, which can be overwhelming sometimes for other people, never for me. But also because I try not to deliver people who relish being bad guys. I think everybody wakes up in the morning thinking they’re not going to do that today, or if they are, there’s going to be something they love about what they’re doing. And the people who are the other end of the stick deserve it on some level. But the genre demands that we have good and bad to a certain extent. But one tries to flesh it out, as much as you can without tipping the genre. So, humor, if I can, will go in there.

I know that this iteration [Mission: Impossible 7] has perhaps more depth, but at the same time, a little more humor in it. Simon Pegg brings a beautiful color of humor to the franchise. It was lovely to see that nourished and blossom in the franchise. But…what’s the word I’m looking for? [The humor was] infused on purpose, let’s say. It was a conscious effort.

When the film opened, it was a big success. Was there any hope or expectation you had that Kittridge would find his way back in the second movie?

Yes, there was. How candid can I be here? Let’s see. Not that it’s all that important because it’s about something that’s in my imagination. I’ll give you a long story. So, [on] Clear and Present Danger, there was no time [to prepare]. When this came up, I thought, “Well, I best go to the CIA and see what the heck these guys really do if I can.” So I made appointments and I went to Langley, visited people and chatted about Clear and Present Danger.

And they basically talked me through how stuff might work. Of course, nothing classified, nowhere near it. I know it’s a fantasy project to a certain extent. This is not the way it works, but it’s kind of the way it works. So [they said] “Here are the particulars that we can share with you. We’ve got a liaison that will walk you through.” So that was great. So I put that in my pocket thinking when I come to the next iteration where I’m supposed to portray someone from that agency or the like, I’ll know more about it.

So I got the [Mission: Impossible] script, which was somewhat fluid. And I was new to Hollywood. This was my second big film. I thought, “Well, that’s my job.” And it has been my job in the past. I was in the theater for 10 years. You know, when you’re doing a new play, a workshop, you go away, you study up on who you’re playing and you bring bones to the writer. You dig them up and you bring them in. Some are used, some are, “No, thank you very much.” I tried that on Mission: Impossible, and of course it didn’t fit because it was not that kind of film. And it took me a while to figure that out. So as a young and full-of-it actor, I [thought] “Well, that’s interesting. They’re not really using all the stuff I brought them.”

We shot the film. That was all fine. That was great. Afterward I had a meeting with Paula Wagner [Mission: Impossible producer and Cruise’s former agent]. Even if I went on for 30 seconds, that would have been too long, given where I was in Hollywood at that time, about how we might really want to revisit Kittridge, given this and that. I have a feeling I just dumped a lot of dirt on top of me at that lunch.

So they moved on to Anthony Hopkins, thank heaven. And they had a different Kittridge each [film] and I think that was part of the plan. I think everybody was going to go, including Ving [Rhames]. They decided at some point to hold on to Ving’s character, as a part of the maypole, if you will, around which the rest of it dances. So I kind of burned my own bridge there. And lesson learned. Not “Don’t do your homework.” By all means, do your homework as much as you can, pack your bags, bring them, open your bags. And if anybody’s not interested in what you’ve packed, fine, just close them up and enjoy that you’ve learned a bunch of stuff. Just deliver as much as you can in the genre that you’re in.

With Mission: Impossible 7 delayed again, it’ll be 26 years for you between appearances. What was it like getting the call to return?

I got the call, by the way, 25 years to the day, practically.

Wow.

25 years almost to the day. I was in Brazil in mid-January in 1995 [when I got the first one]. And in 2020 in mid-January, I got a call from my representative saying that McQ wanted to talk about bringing Kittridge back. “What do you think?” [I said,] “Where are the clowns?” And they were serious. So I had a chat with McQ and he was very candid. “Look, I don’t know exactly, but I do know I wanted this character back. I want to dig around with Kittredge. Are you up to it?”

I thought about it for a couple of minutes and said “Let’s do it.” One of the cool things is, what has [Kittridge] been doing all these years? McQ wasn’t all that concerned about that. I was. I decided that he’d been to all the agencies on some level or other, had a good idea now of how the game is played and what his place is in this mechanism of national intelligence. I figured he’d been through all of them at this point, and he’d been schooled by Ethan 25 years ago. He’s known Ethan, he’s known he’s done these things, and he knows that Ethan is someone to go to, but he also feels that it’s not ever good to have one person controlling anything.

So that plays out a little bit. There’s a respect, but at the same time, it’s like fire. We need fire because we’ve got to cook, but you got to be careful with it. If you let fire do what it wants, you’re in trouble. The relationship that they had in the first one, Ethan schooling Kittridge on who the mole really was and catching the mole, was the springboard to 25 years of Kittridge going through different agencies so he wouldn’t be schooled again.


Read more of the interview at /Film.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Monday, May 10, 2021
/FILM LOOKS BACK AT 'MISSION IMPOSSIBLE'
"AS MUCH A DE PALMA FILM AS A CRUISE FILM"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/mipremieremag.jpg

"As much fun as the film continues to be," states /Film's Josh Spiegel states in his look back at Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible, "its handling of Claire as…well, anything really, is its greatest miscue, and one that gets grosser with time, as in a moment near the end where Jim refers to his wife as 'the goods.'" Is this a weird FASHION OF THE DAY sort of criticism? "Gets grosser with time"?

A villain is a villain, and Jim Phelps is a particularly bitter and jealous one here. After quoting the Bible to Ethan Hunt, he (perhaps desperately) tries to dig it in that he purposely sent Claire to do the dirty work with Ethan. Whether Ethan is buying everything his mentor is trying to boast to him is another matter altogether. Calling it "gross" is perhaps this article's most questionable miscue.

Claire's involvement in the whole scheme is compellingly vague and mysterious, as she seems genuinely torn by competing impulses. Perhaps she's "living life at the gut level," with tragic consequences.

Aside from all that, an interesting look back at the film, I suppose. Here's an excerpt:

That’s the first 25 minutes of the tightly wound and constructed Mission: Impossible. But just as you might figure a film starring Tom Cruise – especially at this stage of his career – would really be about Tom Cruise, you might figure that a thriller directed by Brian de Palma has something up its sleeve. Just as it appears that the mission has gone off without a hitch, one by one, the members of the team are offed – by bomb, by knife, by strange sharp object descending from the top of an elevator. (Hasta lasagna, Emilio Estevez.) De Palma, the New Hollywood cohort of Coppola and Martin Scorsese (each of whom had directed Cruise a decade earlier), had long balanced his distinctive tendencies and influences, complex and often adult sensibilities, and mainstream success. So in the same vein as his being selected to direct the tense 1987 adaptation of another TV series, The Untouchables, De Palma got to try his hand at this one too, quickly making clear that the TV inspiration didn’t mean he wouldn’t make Mission: Impossible as much a De Palma film as a Cruise film.

So about 25 minutes into Mission: Impossible, the team of many turns into a team of one. The task at hand – recovering a list of undercover agents’ fake and real identities before the list gets into the hands of terrorist organizations around the globe – is completely ruined…until Ethan learns that the whole mission was a mole hunt to rifle out the sole survivor. The scene in which Ethan realizes he’s been set up as the IMF mole, and must go on the run to clear his name, is a perfect balance of Cruise’s sensibilities and De Palma’s. It’s a relatively simple back-and-forth, as supercilious CIA director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) lays out what seems like a pretty airtight case against our hero. But the dialogue, growing more suspenseful, is a buildup to a watery climax, as Ethan employs a useful gadget: a stick of gum that can be used as an explosive when smushed together, here detonating an explosion in a swanky Prague restaurant with aquariums aplenty so he can make his escape.

Some of the hallmarks of Brian De Palma’s work are absent from Mission: Impossible. It’s one of the least lurid films of his career, far less sexy (either intentionally or subtextually) in its depiction of a kinda/sorta love triangle between Jim, Ethan, and Jim’s wife Claire (Beart). As much fun as the film continues to be, its handling of Claire as…well, anything really, is its greatest miscue, and one that gets grosser with time, as in a moment near the end where Jim refers to his wife as “the goods.” But that scene with Ethan and Kittridge both visually and verbally, tracks with many of the helmer’s predilections. The true setup of the film, even as it favors Cruise, is a pitch-perfect way for De Palma to pay homage once again to Alfred Hitchcock; Ethan Hunt is the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time, accused of crimes he didn’t commit and forced to clear his name with increasing desperation. And the way De Palma films the scene is vintage, with the camera not only closing in on both Cruise’s and Czerny’s faces, but doing so via canted angle, as if the camera was placed at their feet, not over their shoulders.

Though Mission: Impossible is the rare PG-13-rated film in the director’s career (a few of his efforts, including Mission to Mars, were rated PG), the visual elements throughout the film mark this as a true De Palma effort. There are touches like the canted angles at the aquarium restaurant, split-diopter shots, and the constant use of disguises – not just a hallmark of the show, but of films like Phantom of the Paradise and Dressed to Kill. (And nowhere else in the franchise can you find the truly odd image of Tom Cruise in disguise as an old Southern-accented U.S. Senator arguing with political gadfly John McLaughlin.) And then, of course, there’s the centerpiece sequence of Mission: Impossible, in which Ethan, Claire and their new cohorts, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno), break into the headquarters of the CIA to retrieve the real list of agent names and aliases right underneath the agency’s collective nose. That sequence takes place, as Ethan hisses while in an air vent, in “absolute silence.”

Each Mission: Impossible film has at least one truly indelible image in which Tom Cruise either re-cements his status as a movie star or tries to reshape it ever so slightly. There’s no doubt what that image is in the first film: it’s the sight of Ethan Hunt dropping spread-eagle to the floor of a highly secured CIA vault housing the aforementioned list of agent names. By holding out his arms and legs, it’s as if Ethan (by which it’s more accurate to say Cruise himself) can stop himself from hitting the ground by sheer force of will. Tom Cruise’s career is marked by images of him in movement, from sliding across the floor of his house in his skivvies to flying a fighter jet because he feels the need for speed. But Ethan’s ability to be relaxed and desperate all at once, in such a fraught situation, may be the most unforgettable image associated with the performer.

That piece of action goes hand in hand with Ethan’s explosive escape from the aquarium restaurant in establishing an important piece of the puzzle of this series: Tom Cruise doing his own stunts. On one hand, the stunts in this film don’t seem as death-defying as that of climbing up the side of the tallest building in the world or hanging on the wing of an in-flight airplane (as we will see in later films). But those stunts only became possible after Cruise dangled from a wire and literally saved his own hide by catching a bead of his sweat in a gloved hand. The sense of the thrilling is communicated here, as it is in the other films in the series, specifically because the audience is visually informed that an extremely famous person has put himself in harm’s way for entertainment.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, May 11, 2021 5:25 PM CDT
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Tuesday, May 4, 2021
THE BIG PICTURE PODCAST - TOP 5 SPY MOVIES
TWO OF THE THREE HOSTS INCLUDE DE PALMA'S 'MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE' IN THEIR TOP FIVE
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/misuspendedshot.jpg

On this week's episode of The Big Picture podcast, hosts Sean Fennessey and Amanda Dobbins are joined by Chris Ryan to bounce around each others' picks for top five favorite spy movies. Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible makes a strong showing on both Fennessey's and Dobbins' lists, and is discussed with enthusiasm. Other films mentioned include Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest, Carol Reed's The Third Man, Alan J. Pakula's The Parallax View, John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate, Frankenheimer's Ronin, Sydney Pollack's Three Days of the Condor, Martin Ritt's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man, Terence Young's Dr. No, Sidney J. Furie's The Ipcress File, and more.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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