"PLUS TWO-AND-A-HALF MINUTES OF BLOOD-CURDLING SCREAMS"
The article clipping above comes from the November 30, 1982 edition of the Mansfield News Journal in Ohio.
Angie's voice was Dressed up...
Hello and welcome to the unofficial Brian De Palma website.
Here is the latest news:
a la Mod:
Angie's voice was Dressed up...
The Video Essay is a joint project of MUBI and FILMADRID International Film Festival. Film analysis and criticism found a completely new and innovative path with the arrival of the video essay, a relatively recent form that has already its own masters and is becoming increasingly popular. The limits of this discipline are constantly expanding; new essayists are finding innovative ways to study the history of cinema working with images. With this non-competitive section of the festival both MUBI and FILMADRID will offer the platform and visibility the video essay deserves. The seven selected works will be premiering online from June 7 - 13, 2021 on MUBI's Notebook. The selection was made by the programmers of MUBI and FILMADRID.
Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk said that real museums are places where time is transformed into space. The meaning of such phrase is expanded when we admire the possibilities of filming a museum brought by Alfred Hitchcock and Pedro Costa. In their films, the museum itself is an element of such beauty and complexity as any of the pieces discussed by Straub & Huillet in "Une Visite au Louvre," whether it's a painting or nature itself.
In De Palma's film, a similar whirring sound begins as Liz turns and meets the killer's eyes in the mirror. As in Lucas' film, this sound appears to be an effect separate from Pino Donaggio's music. In fact, it sounds like the effect may have been achieved (I am taking a guess) by gradually speeding up a sound on a reel-to-reel tape player. It is interesting to note that the sound quickly fades as Bobbi's eyes turn away from Liz, breaking their gaze and then dropping the razor to the floor.
OMG! The fabulous, ageless goddess Nancy Allen (DRESSED TO KILL, CARRIE, ROBOCOP) is helping me spread the word about this great honor:
Nominated for a RONDO AWARD!
Best Article of the Year!
DRESSED TO KILL: THE INSIDE STORY
by Sam Irvin
Anyone can vote!
You don’t have to vote in every category!
Please vote here:
The DRESSED TO KILL Special Edition of BOOBS AND BLOOD No. 4 is available to order here:
56 pages! 13,000 words! 175 photos! You MUST read my first-hand inside chronicle on the making of DRESSED TO KILL on which I worked as director Brian De Palma’s assistant! This issue of BOOBS AND BLOOD No. 4 is entirely devoted to my memoir of DRESSED TO KILL! And it’s for a great cause, too!
All profits from the sale of the magazine go to the breast cancer charity Keep a Breast Foundation.
Thank you so much, Nancy, for your generous support and friendship! And thank you Jay Moriarty for snapping this great photo of Nancy! (I can see you in the reflection of the DRESSED TO KILL poster! Your Hitchcockian cameo! 🤣)
Brian De Palma’s Assistant Sam Irvin Reveals All About the Making of DRESSED TO KILL
Sam Irvin, director of ELVIRA’S HAUNTED HILLS, co-executive producer of GODS AND MONSTERS and former personal assistant to Brain De Palma, celebrates the 40th Anniversary of De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL, with the publication of his personal experiences during the making of this classic horror-thriller, starring Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson and Nancy Allen.
Having been De Palma’s personal assistant during the late-70s and early-80s, Irvin definitely has a story or two to tell about Hollywood’s last golden age This special issue of BOOBS & BLOOD magazine is entirely devoted to Irvin’s definitive behind-the-scenes account of DRESSED TO KILL. In addition to this game-changing fan favorite, Irvin also writes of his time working on other De Palma features such as THE FURY, HOMES MOVIES, BLOW OUT, and several unmade De Palma projects. Packed with photos and artwork (many previously unpublished), the issue comes out just in time for the Holidays.
As Irvin says, “Working intimately with De Palma on DRESSED TO KILL allowed me to see his unique filmmaking process unfold before my very eyes in real-time. Despite my formal education in cinematic arts, my real film school was the time I spent with De Palma. Every riveting minute of it.”
B&B editor publisher Miles Flanagan states, “We’re so proud to have Sam donate his services for free as a writer for this very special issue. As someone who was De Palma’s personal assistant, Sam’s insightful account of the making of DRESSED TO KILL and De Palma’s work during this time is invaluable.”
Continued Flanagan, “We hope this will be our biggest seller to date and be a big fundraiser for the KEEP A BREAST FOUNDATION. That would definitely make my Christmas.”
All profits from BOOBS & BLOOD magazine are donated to the KEEP A BREAST FOUNDATION. So if you buy this, it truly is the gift that keeps on giving.
The DRESSED TO KILL Special Edition is available online:
Kate’s movements are necessarily the camera’s hunt, supplanting the usual tactic of the giallo and slasher movie styles where the camera viewpoint becomes rather that of the killer. The audience is presumed to be aware that we’re watching a thriller but the hunt here has no obvious sense of suspense beyond the depiction of Kate’s blend of anxiety and excitement in seeking out a lover. The act of picking up/being picked up is transformed into a thriller experience in itself, the surging tides of contradictory emotion becoming the essence of the sequence rather than the appeal to displaced eroticism attached to the killer’s desire to tear the beautiful illusion to pieces that drives the more standard slasher movie. De Palma weaves in visual gags, some overt – Kate’s immediate position before a painting of a woman staring back sceptically at the beholder as if challenging to action, neighbouring a painting of a reclining gorilla aping her current opinion of her husband and which reminds her to write in her shopping list “nuts.” Others slyer, like positioning Kate in a frame with the bottom half of a female nude, keeping in mind both her sexual need and De Palma’s smirking satire on the disparity of painting’s sanctioned comfort for nudity and the penalisation of filmmakers who offer the same.
Kate’s dropped glove both grazes standard romantic fiction lore, the lost personal item that presents the opportunity for a gallant gesture, and giallo movie protocol, where gloves are totems of a killer’s presence. The pick-up artist touches Kate’s shoulder whilst wearing the glove, trying to make the first association work but instead provoking the second. Meanwhile photographer Ralf D. Bode’s camera tracks and moves with sinuous care around the museum corridors, illustrating Kate’s roving through a system of gates and passages, stops and permissions, at once sexual and algorithmic, echoing Peter’s computer with its capacity to both hold and carry binary numbers, whilst also recalling the jokes about computer dating in Greetings. The gestures that finally resolve the tension of the sequence as well as signalling something else in the works again involves Kate’s gloves: Lockman waves one to her from the waiting taxi window whilst the other one, the camera panning from Kate’s fce over to the captured object: only to the repeat and attentive viewer does a vital detail emerge, the sight of a long-haired woman wearing sunglasses and a black raincoat in the midst of this shot, on the pavement between steps and car. Kate has already thrown down her other glove in vexation. As Kate is drawn into the taxi by Lockman, her expression of affected gratitude smothered in a violent kiss, the dropped glove is retrieved by an unseen person.
This whole sequence might well be counted as De Palma’s single greatest achievement, a multivalent piece of filmmaking that piles up meanings as plot-enabling suspense sequence, character study, extended sex joke, essay on cinemagoing and art appreciation, and lecture on film grammar and history. In the taxi, the movement resolves with a transgressive act as Kate’s world is rocked by Lockman’s deftly seductive touch which nonetheless has a resemblance to a crime – the sudden silencing, being dragged into the cab and molested, Kate’s moans of excitement. Meanwhile De Palma weaves in the first of several nods to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), a film De Palma was initially slated to direct, as the cab driver ogles the spectacle unfolding on his backseat, part of the texture of a film that gleefully perpetuates the mythology of New York in its bad old days as a place where all kinds of human perversity spilt into the streets. “There’s plenty of ways to get killed in this city if you’re lookin’ for it,” Dennis Franz’s quintessential Noo Yawk cop Detective Marino states a couple of reels later, and Kate’s search for Eros is also naturally stalked by Thanatos.
Meanwhile, there have been quite a few podcasts focusing on Dressed To Kill of late. Two more podcasts that popped up this week mention "plot holes" and things like that, but let's face it... although these podasts produce some valuable insights into Dressed To Kill, they are full of "plot holes" of their own-- it can be tough to listen sometimes without wanting to jump in with a bit of info that the participants seem to have missed. At The Unaffiliated Critic, Michael G. McDunnah, who, for context, doesn't like Casualties Of War nor Femme Fatale, chooses to watch and discuss Dressed To Kill with his wife, who is known as "The Unenthusiastic Critic," which is the name of their podcast. It's a fun discussion, as you might imagine.
The "Sordid Cinema Podcast" at Goomba Stomp features some insightful discussion, as long as you don't get too squirmy listening to the two participants talk about how Michael Caine gives a supposedly boring performance, how the whole character of Betty Luce is "unnecessary" and could have been taken out of the script, and also some confusion about exactly where the climactic dream sequence begins (and then listening to one of them talk about how it could have been "fixed" -- when really, it sounds like he just needs to go back and watch it again). As I said, despite these sort of "plot holes" in the podcasts, there are interesting discussions and insights.
"As a fan of De Palma and a trans woman," Crets states, "I’ve always struggled with this film. Over the years, a different portrait of the trans killer Bobbi began to emerge; each new viewing led me to believe there’s more empathy towards her than other critical readings have suggested." Crets feels that while "the film has some pop psychology gobbledygook about two sexes inhabiting the same body," De Palma nevertheless did his research. "Without meaning to, he crafted a story that actually tells us important things about the way trans people were treated in the late ‘70s."
Here's an excerpt from Crets' article:
In his 2015 Daily Beast piece on the Criterion release, writer Keith Phipps quotes trans woman film critic Alice Stoehr as noting, “Elliott’s pathology—‘opposite sexes inhabiting the same body’—bears minimal resemblance to the experiences of actual trans women. Instead, it reads as a conflation of trans identity with dissociative identity disorder. At its most hostile, Dressed To Kill suggests that trans women are dangerous, unstable, and confused. Whereas in Carrie, De Palma found truth by telling his monster’s story, here the monster is incomprehensible and alien.” This was one of the nicer quotes I found about the movie from other trans women, but you get the idea.
As a fan of De Palma and a trans woman, I’ve always struggled with this film. Over the years, a different portrait of the trans killer Bobbi began to emerge; each new viewing led me to believe there’s more empathy towards her than other critical readings have suggested.
The film has some pop psychology gobbledygook about two sexes inhabiting the same body – that both Dr. Elliott and Bobbi, the trans woman, wanted control, and Dr. Elliot barred Bobbi’s transition. Liz asks Bobbi’s gender psychiatrist, Dr. Levy, about this: “You mean when Elliot got turned on, Bobbi took over?” Levy responds, “Yes, it was like Bobbi’s red alert. Elliot’s penis became erect and Bobbi took control, trying to kill anyone that made Elliot masculinely sexual.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, it was much harder for trans people to be able to transition in America. One would have to fit a very narrow criteria to be approved for the process. The Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, long one of America’s primary trans gatekeeping associations, described it this way in 2001:
During the 1960s and 1970s, clinicians used the term true transsexual. The true transsexual was thought to be a person with a characteristic path of atypical gender identity development that predicted an improved life from a treatment sequence that culminated in genital surgery. True transsexuals were thought to have: 1) cross-gender identifications that were consistently expressed behaviorally in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood; 2) minimal or no sexual arousal to cross-dressing; and 3) no heterosexual interest, relative to their anatomic sex… Belief in the true transsexual concept for males dissipated when it was realized that such patients were rarely encountered, and that some of the original true transsexuals had falsified their histories to make their stories match the earliest theories about the disorder.
An argument can be made that Dr. Elliott, who would have been familiar with these gatekeeping guidelines, would have found it impossible that he could be trans. Most of his profession would have believed this, which could have caused him to try to squash these desires. In fact, Dr. Elliot represents the psychiatric field’s gatekeeping of trans people for not fitting a very narrow definition, which came from the doctor’s own biases over what makes someone a man or a woman.
Does this make Bobbi the secret hero of Dressed to Kill? Not really, as she is still committing murder. To some extent, she represents the way marginalized communities can sometimes misdirect their anger towards other marginalized communities. It’s the patriarchal field of psychology that has prevented her from transitioning, but she instead focuses on the immediate problem: that when she sees attractive women she becomes aroused and this prevents her from reaching her goal of transition. Rather than blame the problem, she blames a symptom of the problem.
Did De Palma set out to hide all this subtext in Dressed to Kill? Probably not, but there are two things about De Palma that aren’t talked about enough. One is that the man does his research. He certainly did not set out to make a film about trans gatekeeping, but he seems to have done enough research to have been aware of its existence – and that impacted where his film went and how he dealt with the (admittedly loose) psychology in it. Without meaning to, he crafted a story that actually tells us important things about the way trans people were treated in the late ‘70s.
The second point is that De Palma, for all the talk of cruelty that surrounds his filmography, is ultimately an empathetic filmmaker.
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