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Domino is
a "disarmingly
work that "pushes
us to reexamine our
relationship to images
and their consumption,
not only ethically
but metaphysically"
-Collin Brinkman

De Palma on Domino
"It was not recut.
I was not involved
in the ADR, the
musical recording
sessions, the final
mix or the color
timing of the
final print."

Listen to
Donaggio's full score
for Domino online

De Palma/Lehman
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in Snakes

De Palma/Lehman
next novel is Terry

De Palma developing
Catch And Kill,
"a horror movie
based on real things
that have happened
in the news"

Supercut video
of De Palma's films
edited by Carl Rodrigue

Washington Post
review of Keesey book


Exclusive Passion

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
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AV Club Review
of Dumas book


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Saturday, November 4, 2023

Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom! is playing this weekend at The Trylon Cinema in Minneapolis. Nick Kouhi writes about the film on the cinema's blog:
Hi, Mom! (1970), was De Palma’s fourth feature, yet I’d argue it was the first to showcase his shrewd ambivalence toward the construction of politically and culturally charged iconography. Not least among these images is the recognizable visage of the film’s then relatively unknown star: Robert DeNiro.

Hi, Mom! was the third collaboration between filmmaker and actor (17 years would elapse before they reunited for the comparatively slicker prestige picture The Untouchables [1987]). Indeed, De Palma was the first American to direct DeNiro in a movie after two uncredited cameos in a pair of French auteur Marcel Carne’s films. Their second feature (the first to receive a theatrical release), was Greetings (1968), a hangout movie akin to a sleazier version of Fellini’s I Vitelloni (1953), where three friends listlessly wander New York City avoiding conscription into the Vietnam War. This film marked the first appearance of DeNiro’s character Jon Rubin, who he’d reprise in Hi, Mom!. In the earlier film, he works in a bookstore and goads an attractive customer into shooting a short film whose voyeuristic perversion is hardly elided. By the film’s end, we see Rubin tromping through Vietnam, confronting a suspected female Vietcong fighter, and ordering her to remove her clothes in front of a war correspondent’s cameraman.

While too lackadaisical for its own good, Greetings does pack a bitter punch in not only linking popular media with patriarchal imperialism but also ruthlessly identifying how such an ideological incursion is made possible by performativity. Rubin’s sharp commands are those of a soldier and film director, both roles the man can mimic without a shred of conviction beyond his own narcissism. De Niro’s chameleonic assumption of archetypes as armor makes him the protean De Palma protagonist in a corpus riddled with men (and in some cases, women) whose external appearances, and their social roles by proxy, are transformed by choice or force vis-à-vis media apparatuses.

De Palma wisely elevated Rubin to a leading role for the sequel, and Hi, Mom! thrives from De Niro’s deeper entrenchment into performativity, commensurate with the film’s sociopolitical ferocity. Back in the United States, Rubin has settled in a dilapidated apartment whose major draw is the view it provides into apartment windows across the street. He hatches a prurient scheme to initially film his neighbors before opting to woo one of them (Jennifer Salt) into unknowingly participating in a sex reel that he’ll sell to a porno producer (the reliably unsavory Allen Garfield, reprising his part in Greetings).

Rubin’s moral repugnancy is made queasier by DeNiro’s impish buffoonery. The scant pleasure afforded by watching his machinations fall apart is offset by how De Palma foregrounds this anti-hero’s perspective, right from the opening POV tracking shots of Rubin interacting with his apartment’s cantankerous landlord (another character actor giant, Charles Durning). I’d contend Rubin isn’t a surrogate for the audience but for De Palma, who weaponizes his repressed scopophilia into self-incrimination. Yet DeNiro’s presence contrasts with other De Palma-esque cuckolds and patsies, partially due to the foresight of the former’s cinematic legacy. Watching him play a bespectacled “nice guy” over dinner with his neighbor and prey, it’s impossible to neglect other predatory De Niro characters in his work with Martin Scorsese, up to his most recent turn in Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) as the avuncular capitalist casually overseeing the systemic slaughter of the Osage community.

There’s a reflexive quality to De Niro’s performances in the Scorsese and De Palma pictures, which is largely lacking in his mostly execrable output in the new millennium. It’s telling, for example, that the most quoted line of De Niro’s career has been spoofed so often that revisiting Travis Bickle’s ad-libbed monologue is genuinely frightening. In an age where the Internet has enabled incels to indulge and promote their misogynist narcissism, Bickle’s corrosive form of self-actualization is only six degrees of separation from Rupert Pupkin. Jon Rubin prefigures those troubled men as a uniquely disquieting fusion of clown and terrorist.

That latter title is horrifically realized after Rubin takes the part of a cop in a radical activist group’s interactive theatrical production, Be Black, Baby!. The kernel of Rubin’s creative process we glean is his rehearsing in front of a mop before he disappears from the film for a surprisingly lengthy period. Meanwhile, we’re thrust into a performance of the play that immerses and subjects its affluent, white audience to mounting shows of degradation and violence. Filmed on a handheld Arriflex, the Be Black, Baby! segment of Hi, Mom! has been justly praised as one of De Palma’s supreme accomplishments for its visceral (and provocatively political) intertwining of reality with artifice. When Rubin reappears, he viciously beats the patrons painted in blackface, his presence an affirmation of systemic brutality turned against its beneficiaries.

The vicious irony of the piece is subsequently lost on the audience as they exit the warehouse, showering the violable pyrotechnics with bourgeois kudos. It isn’t a stretch to link this disengagement with a depoliticized view of a medium subsumed within a label of “content.” De Niro and De Palma realize a precarious dynamic of separating the real from the fictive through to the film’s climax, where Rubin assumes a dual identity as a middle-class husband and covert operative for the organization. The motivation of his final, destructive act bleakly ties into the film’s title, but this salutary punchline is amplified by how its deliverer modifies his message to the medium. It’s a prophetic vision of myopic image-making that anticipates the echo chambers of social media, where everyone can be a star if they know how and when to wield a camera. Who would think that, at the ground zero of our nightmarish cultural present, we’d find standing there Brian De Palma and Robert De Niro?

Posted by Geoff at 11:39 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, November 4, 2023 11:41 PM CDT
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Monday, October 16, 2023

Lara Parker, who played a housewife making a film diary in Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom! (1970), has died at 84. Her daughter Caitlin told The Hollywood Reporter that Lara died in her sleep this past Thursday.

Known for her role as Angelique on the ABC soap opera Dark Shadows, on which she appeared from 1967 to its final episode in 1971, Parker worked on Hi, Mom during a production break. Having scripted lines to read on a daily soap opera, Parker was not accustomed to the improvisatory nature of De Palma's film. In a 2016 interview with Den of Geek's Tony Sokol, Parker said, "Brian De Palma cast me and they actually put in my two children. He was doing improvised theater. We were improvising on film, without lines, without a character to play. It was a whole different thing and I actually was not very good at it." Parker had a bathtub scene that De Palma had asked her to improvise, but it ended up being cut from the film. "I was very naive and not very courageous," Parker said in 2013. "He wanted me to improvise sexual fantasies ... in a bathtub … with bubbles … in the nude."

In an interview conducted after only the first day of filming, De Palma described the housewife character for Joseph Gelmis, in Gelmis' book, The Film Director as Superstar:

I got the idea for a housewife making a film diary of her life from David Holzman's Diary. She starts out with home movies. It gets more and more obsessive. She's very concerned with things. She has a scene where she talks about her body the way she talks about chairs and objects. Everything becomes an object for her.

Here's an excerpt from the Hollywood Reporter obituary by Mike Barnes:

Mere days after arriving in New York in 1967, the green-eyed Parker auditioned for Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis, who cast her as Angelique in a story arc that would detail the origin of the tortured vampire Barnabas.

A soldier and the son of a shipping magnate, Barnabas in 1795 seduced and abandoned a servant girl from Martinique not realizing she was a witch. That girl was Angelique. “He just dallied with her and then dismissed her, and she was not to be dismissed,” Parker said in an undated interview for a Dark Shadows home video release.

An enraged Angelique would damn Barnabas to enteral life as a vampire, kicking off a battle between the two that would continue through different time periods.

“I played her as somebody who was much more of a tragic figure, who was desperately, desperately in love,” Parker said in 2016. “And her heart was broken. That’s much more sympathetic than just being a mean old witch. I felt that her acts were acts of desperation, not acts of evil.”

Though Angelique and others she would inhabit would perish, she would remain with the daytime serial through its April 1971 demise.

“Dan Curtis [would call Parker and say], ‘You’ve been great, kiddo, but we’re going to kill your character. Thanks a lot for everything,” she recalled in 2020. “Of course I was very sad, but about two months later they called me and said that they wanted me back.

“We were kind of the first team, and the fans seemed to watch it more when Angelique and Barnabas were fighting it out. That seemed to be the most popular part of the show, so [Curtis] brought me back many, many times.”

Parker was born Mary Lamar Rickey on Oct. 27, 1938, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her father, Albert, was an attorney, and her mother, Ann, was active in civic groups.

She graduated from Central High School in Memphis and attended Vassar — she roomed with Jane Fonda there — and Rhodes College in Memphis, where at 19 she served as Wink Martindale’s assistant on his WHBQ-TV show, Dance Party. She then earned a master’s degree from the University of Iowa.

After a busy summer acting at the Millbrook Playhouse in Pennsylvania, Parker left her husband and two kids in Wisconsin for a spell to see if she could find work as an actor in New York. “By the time the children were 6 and 7 years old,” she said in a 1972 interview for Mid-South magazine, “I knew that I just couldn’t sit there and look at those fields for the rest of my life.”

In New York for her second-ever professional audition, she was cast as Angelique. “I think my only reaction to it was paralyzed fear,” she said.

Dark Shadows, which had debuted in June 1966, received a viewership jolt when Frid was introduced as Barnabas in April 1967. Parker arrived in the fictional town of Collinsport, Maine, seven months later.

“We realized [the show] was popular,” she said. “Everywhere we went [the cast was] recognized. There was a huge crowd outside the [Manhattan] studio when we finished in the afternoon of autograph seekers. People would show up, the same people every single day, day after day. They worshipped some of us and would walk us to the subway.

“I can remember standing on the subway when school got out and seeing 200 or 300 kids all waiting to take the train. They would see me and start screaming and run to the other end of the platform! They were so terrified because I was so evil.”

Meanwhile, feminists admired Parker because of her character’s strength, she said. “She was coming in at the beginning of the women’s movement and she was very independent,” Parker noted. “They sort of missed the fact that she was obsessed with her love for Barnabas and that was destroying her.”

On Facebook, her Dark Shadows co-star Kathryn Leigh Scott wrote Monday that Parker’s death left her “heartbroken, as all of us are who knew and loved her. She graced our lives with her beauty and talent, and we are all richer for having had her in our lives.”

During breaks in production, Parker acted on Broadway in September 1968 in Woman Is My Idea, which lasted just five performances, and in the early Brian De Palma film Hi, Mom! (1970), starring Robert De Niro.

Posted by Geoff at 8:15 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, October 16, 2023 8:18 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Flashback ten years ago to 2013 - in an introduction to a 2014 De Palma retrospective at Chicago's Doc Films, Dan Wang recalls a packed house for a Passion-related De Palma Q&A which had taken place the previous summer:

When Brian De Palma was to give a Q&A at Lincoln Center in Manhattan this summer (on the occasion of the wider release of his latest film, Passion), I asked the guy at the ticket office if he expected a long line. He doubted it. "De Palma isn't really relevant anymore," he said. I ended up sitting on the floor at the back of the hall behind a concrete pillar, despite showing up an hour and a half early; half the line was turned away.

One can see what he means. De Palma's favorite themes--dangerously erotic women, voyeurism, psychological horror--seem like the titillations of faded era. Compounding these obsessions is his insistence on an extremely smooth, controlled and virtuosic style that's hopelessly far from current anti-formalist vogues. Recent hits like Aronofsky's Black Swan (2010) and Soderbergh's Side Effects (2014) tell De Palmian stories but dress them up in camera and video production styles currently in fashion (i.e. on YouTube); hence the rejection of De Palma's importance is also the rejection of a particular, classical way of making films.

De Palma is still relevant because his films remind us of the exhuberant joy of intelligent filmmaking--of an attitude to film worlds that Godard called, in reference to Hitchcock, the "control of the universe." Even his worst films have moments that leave one gasping at their beauty; his best ones feel like a confirmation of everything movies ought to be. In this partial retrospective (De Palma has an output that sprawls in genre and ambition of some thirty films), we feature a mix of De Palmas: movies of psychological horror (Sisters, Raising Cain), gangster films (Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito's Way), a musical (Phantom of the Paradise) and, of course, classic, pervy, Hitchcockian, joyous De Palma (Hi, Mom!, Body Double, Femme Fatale).

Let me give the final word to Pauline Kael, famed New Yorker film critic, who appraised De Palma's place in the American filmmaking pantheon this way, in the early eighties: "De Palma has sprung to the place that Altman achieved with films such as McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Nashville and that Coppola reached with the two Godfather movies--that is, to the place where genre is transcended and what we're moved by is an artist's vision."

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, March 29, 2023 10:18 PM CDT
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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

A 35mm print of Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom! will screen next week at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon. According to the screening description for March 28,, "The Grindhouse Film Festival presents the only known 35mm print of this overlooked 1970 Brian De Palma masterpiece!" Willamette Week's Chance Solem-Pfeifer highlights the film in a column about what to see this upcoming week at Portland’s repertory theaters:
In the earliest work of any storied filmmaker, you’ll likely glimpse the raw elements of masterpieces to come. But rarely are those nascent films so brazenly unrefined that the audience is treated to arguably greater extremes than what the later movies offer.

So it is with Brian De Palma’s iconoclastic Greenwich Village beginnings, especially Hi, Mom!, a satire of media obsession and radicalism-as-fashion. An eerily fresh-faced Robert De Niro (still pre-Mean Streets) stars as an erotic filmmaker who peeps endlessly on his neighbors before planning his move in front of the camera.

Many of De Palma’s trademarks are present: the unabashed Hitchcock iterating (Rear Window in this case), the self-consciously voyeuristic camera, holding up the filmed image as the ultimate instrument of perverse arousal. But Hi, Mom! also toys with sitcom hyperbole, on-the-street journalism and bracingly committed satire wherein performance artists (many of them white) try to simulate “the Black experience” for unsuspecting New Yorkers.

It’s both a critique and a comedic experiment—to the point of near-gleeful disdain for reality. De Palma certainly gained skill, balance and the familiar comforts of genre in all his classics to come, but rarely got his Robert Downey Sr. freak on quite this way again.

Posted by Geoff at 11:32 PM CDT
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Friday, November 11, 2022

Posted by Geoff at 8:46 AM CST
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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

"Few shows are so obviously designed to be talked about," states The Ringer's Adam Nayman of the TV series Atlanta. "Or annotated: Over the years, Donald Glover and the rest of the show’s creative team have told anybody who will listen about an extensive list of influences—some obvious, some arcane, some more convincing than others. Consider the list below a kind of Atlanta syllabus, including a few key stated reference points, and some that may be more unconscious or incidental but resonate all the same." A few paragraphs down from there, Nayman writes about Hi, Mom!:

Early reviews of Season 3 hint that Atlanta will extend its queasy fascination with racial masquerade even further than the dark conceptual jokes in “Helen”—in which Earn is mistaken by a partygoer for a white man made up as a Moor—or “Teddy Perkins,” with its disturbing, dessicated spectacle of whiteface. One possible primer for the show’s gutsy satire is Brian De Palma’s 1970 comedy Hi, Mom!, whose immortal centerpiece sequence depicts a group of bougie New York theatergoers attending an experimental performance in which they’re roughed up, slathered in grease paint, and subjected to racist abuse by Black performers hiding behind artificially pale complexions. The title—and devastatingly double-edged thrust—of the show is “Be Black, Baby!” and like all of De Palma’s finest provocations, the scene is designed to push characters and audience alike outside of their comfort zones and into the line of fire. The brilliant punch line: After being hectored, harassed, and threatened with arrest by real-looking cops, the patrons express gratitude for their fleeting glimpse at how the other half lives … before heading back to their brownstones.

Posted by Geoff at 11:20 PM CDT
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Monday, July 12, 2021

Near the start of the above video, Rutanya Alda tells Robert Bellissimo, "A friend of mine, he said, 'I was just at this guy's, he's holding some auditions and he wants people that like to do improv, and I know you're good at improv.' I had done some improv. I had fun, I loved improv. He said, 'He's looking for these people that can do improv.' And to 'go over there, his name is Brian De Palma.' So I said, 'Oooh, good, thanks, I'll go over there right away.' So I went over there, and, you know, it was like an open door, you didn't have to... so I just waited, next one. I said, 'Well, I'm good at improv.' He said, 'Let's see. Let's play around a little bit.' So I played around a little bit. He said, 'That's great. You're great. So I think there's a part in this movie for you, called Greetings.' And then the second film, Hi, Mom! Which, by the way, I ran into Quentin Tarantino last year. He was out, you know, doing the Academy rounds, and screening. And so Quentin said to me, 'Rutanya, you're in the best scene in film history.' And I went like, 'What is he talking about? What does he mean, "You're in the best scene in film history"'?" I must have had this puzzled look on my face. He said, 'The "Be Black, Baby" scene in Hi Mom! was the best scene in film history.' I was like, 'Ooooh...' I was speechless. Good thing my girlfriend ... was with me, otherwise, nobody would have believed it."

Bellissimo then asks Alda about how the scene was shot. "Because I know it was improvised, right? So what did you know before the cameras rolled?"

Alda replies, "It's about these people going to the theater, that no matter how bad or how, maybe, violated you're going to feel, because a critic said that 'This is great theater!' these people are going to go because the critics said that this is good. So we're going to go up there to journey to see this show called 'Be Black Baby.' And we have no idea. Brian just said, you know, just react how... we're going to have things happen and react. So Quentin was shocked. Shocked that we filmed that scene, and it was a one-take, and we filmed that scene in probably an hour. Brian had found this-- because that time he didn't, we didn't have much money. There was no money. He found this building that's kind of a... in the west 60s, that his friend had, it was a super long, it was like an industrial kind of building. So we had like an afternoon there. He snuck us... his friend just opened up the building for us and didn't tell anyone. And so he snuck us in and we started the improv. And that was improv. It had to be one take because we had no luxury of going and reshooting. It wasn't a studio that was a real set. And so that was the scene that came out of there."

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, July 13, 2021 6:29 PM CDT
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Sunday, March 28, 2021

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Friday, November 27, 2020

Posted by Geoff at 8:58 PM CST
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Monday, April 27, 2020

Richard Brody, The New Yorker:

This independent film, which Brian De Palma made in New York in 1970, is an exuberant grab bag of mischievous whimsy that blends radical politics, sexual freedom, racial tension, and emotional hangups with the director’s own catalogue of artistic references, from Hitchcock and the French New Wave to cinéma vérité and avant-garde theatre—and adds a freewheeling inventiveness and an obstreperous satire all his own. It also showcases the explosive, sardonic young Robert De Niro, as Jon Rubin, a cynic on the make who creates reality-based porn inspired by “Rear Window” and, finding that reality needs his help, seduces one of his subjects (Jennifer Salt) for his camera. De Niro brings unhinged spontaneity to Jon’s Machiavellian calculations, especially in wild and daring scenes involving a militant theatre group that preys violently on its spectators’ liberal guilt. De Palma offers a self-conscious time capsule of downtown sights and moods, especially in his rambunctious, hilarious, yet nonetheless disturbing parodies of public television. In his derisively satirical view, the well-meaning media depicts the day’s furies and outrages in an oblivious objectivity that misses the deeper truths that this movie’s own theatrical exaggerations are meant to capture.

Posted by Geoff at 8:22 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, April 28, 2020 12:14 AM CDT
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