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Domino is
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De Palma on Domino
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mix or the color
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Listen to
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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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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Allen Garfield, the great character actor who appeared with Robert De Niro in Brian De Palma's Greetings (1968) and again in its sequel, Hi, Mom! (1970), passed away yesterday. He was 80.

News that Garfield died due to complications from COVID-19 was posted by Garfield's Nashville co-star Ronee Blakley on Facebook last night. However, The Hollywood Reporter's Mike Barnes received confirmation of the actor's death from Garfield's sister Lois Goorwitz, and Barnes' obit only attributed the COVID-19 element to Blakley's post.

"Garfield suffered a stroke as he was set to appear in Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate (1999)," Barnes states, "then suffered another one in 2004 that led him to reside at the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills. A spokeswoman for the MPTF facility did not know if Garfield was there at the time of his death."

Garfield also appeared with Tommy Smothers in De Palma's first studio picture, Get To Know Your Rabbit (1972). That same year, he was cast in Michael Ritchie's The Candidate, which starred Robert Redford.

Between Greetings and Hi, Mom!, Garfield appeared in another influential counterculture satire, Robert Downey Sr.'s Putney Swope, as well as Woody Allen's Bananas in 1971. In 1974, he appeared in Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (a key film, of course, in the realm of De Palma's cinema), and later, Robert Altman's Nashville (1975), William Friedkin's The Brink's Job (1978), Richard Rush's The Stunt Man (1980), Coppola's One From The Heart (1981) and The Cotton Club (1984), among many others.

Before he began working at a video store, Quentin Tarantino studied acting for six years, three of them with Garfield as his mentor.

Here's more from Barnes' obit at The Hollywood Reporter:

Born Allen Goorwitz on Nov. 22, 1939, in Newark, he went by his real name in several films, including The Brink's Job (1978) and One From the Heart (1981), midway through his career.

Garfield boxed as an amateur, worked as a sportswriter and studied with Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan at the Actors Studio in New York. He appeared often onstage before making his film debut in Orgy Girls '69, followed by other big-screen appearances in 1971 in Woody Allen's Bananas and The Organization, starring Sidney Poitier.

Often playing jumpy types, he worked for Francis Ford Coppola in The Conversation (1974) and The Cotton Club (1984) and for Wim Wenders in A State of Things (1982) and Until the End of the World (1991).

He also portrayed Louis B. Mayer in Gable and Lombard (1976) and police chief Harold Lutz in Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), and his résumé also included roles in Teachers (1984), Desert Bloom (1986), Dick Tracy (1990), Destiny Turns on the Radio (1995) and The Majestic (2001).

"The reason I did [the 1988 movie] Chief Zabu is that Allen Garfield is from the Actors Studio, I'm from the Actors Studio, and we worked together there on stuff," actress Marianna Hill said in a 2016 interview with Shaun Chang for the Hill Place blog. "Allen Garfield happens to be a great actor. He's a really underrated actor. Allen was the hardest-working actor, but nobody realizes that about him because he seems to be a natural."

Posted by Geoff at 8:16 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, April 8, 2020 9:37 PM CDT
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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Jeremy Smith at Yardbarker today posted "Movies turning 50 in 2020 that everyone should see." Smith has put together a great list that includes Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom!:
Before Brian De Palma made his mark as the new master of suspense with “Carrie” and “Dressed to Kill," he made a couple of counterculture-skewing satires that hold up very well today as mischievous documents of a turbulent time. The best of these is “Hi, Mom!," a sequel of sorts to “Greetings,” that stars Robert De Niro as a voyeuristic adult filmmaker. The film is basically a collection of vignettes, the highlight being a guerilla theater performance of “Be Black, Baby," in which white theatergoers are coated in blackface and terrorized by the African-American actors. It’s a searing sequence that is as masterfully orchestrated as anything in De Palma’s impressive oeuvre.

Posted by Geoff at 11:37 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 18, 2020 11:42 PM CST
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Saturday, February 8, 2020

Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom! is screening this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, as part of the theater's "Fringe Benefits" series. "We continue the mostly monthly series dedicated to provocative and outré films that have galvanized audiences and critics alike, incited passionate conversation, and inspired devoted cult followings among adventurous cinephiles," reads the series description. Hi, Mom! screened last night, and is scheduled to play again this upcoming Thursday, February 13th.

The event description includes an excerpt from The New Yorker's Richard Brody: "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."

Below that is a description from Cameron Worden:

Before achieving notoriety as a director of formally audacious commercial thrillers, Brian De Palma found his footing in the New York independent film scene of the late ‘60s, producing a series of oddball underground features that culminated with this scabrous comedy. Prefiguring his turn in TAXI DRIVER, De Niro stars as a Vietnam vet navigating the seedier corners of New York City, first as a pornographer surreptitiously filming his neighbors’ sex lives, then as a member of a politically radical avant-garde theater company, before eventually dipping his toes into domestic terrorism. Moving freely between sitcom-ready mugging, Godardian direct address, and gritty faux cinéma vérité, HI, MOM! would demonstrate the breadth of De Palma’s gifts as a cinematic stylist and preternatural ability to stage memorable set pieces. 35mm.

Posted by Geoff at 9:16 PM CST
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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

In 2016, Lara Parker spoke a little bit about working on Hi, Mom! to Den Of Geek's Tony Sokol. Yet somehow, until now, I missed this Collinsport Historical Society article from three years earlier, in 2013. In this interview, Parker had talked about a bathtub scene that De Palma asked her to improvise. Parker was used to having lines to read and wasn't really into it, and the scene ended up being cut from the film. Here's the bit from the Collinsport article:
(Director Brian De Palma) ended up not liking me. I was very naive and not very courageous. There was a scene in a bathtub, which was cut out of the movie, where he wanted me to be nude. I didn’t want to do it. It was all improvised. He wanted me to improvise sexual fantasies ... in a bathtub … with bubbles … in the nude. It seems strange today, because actresses will do anything to get successful. But I was way too shy and way too inexperienced to come up to his standards. I couldn’t do it.

He was a brand new director. He was treading water, too. He asked us to improvise these scenes, ‘You guys just talk,’ which is hard to do when you’ve been learning lines for however long I’d been acting. I didn’t know how to do it.

In the 2016 Den of Geek interview, Parker mentions that her own children appear in Hi, Mom! Just before delving into the De Palma film, Sokol asks Parker whether she sees her character on the TV series Dark Shadows as a kind of historic symbol of Women's Lib:
I've been asked that so many times because the women's movement had begun. Looking back historically, Angelique was one of the earliest strong women characters portrayed on television. She was really the first “Bitch Witch” that became so popular later. But at the time I wasn't aware of being any kind of social figure. I just felt that I had a good part and I was happy to have a job and go to work and be an actress. It's a gift. But I certainly didn't see myself in the larger sense of being any kind of a social influence.

I think it's rare to pick up on that in the moment. I think only looking back I see that I was actually fortunate to be, in a small sense, one of the movers and shakers in the women's movement.

I see you as more than that. I happen to be a big Brian De Palma fan and you were also part of the New York City independent film revolution. At the time, were you aware of how different Hi Mom! was from the Hollywood machine?

Well again, no. 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. But, yeah, I was aware that there was an experimental film movement, very much so, yes. It was actually very politically focused.

Hi Mom! has some kind of show [in] it called Be Black Baby where the people were all dressed up in black face. I was very young and I wasn't really very aware of what Brian De Palma was trying to do. He was young too. He was experimenting but he went on to do some wonderful films.

Posted by Geoff at 7:20 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2019 7:24 AM CST
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Tuesday, February 5, 2019
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/coercivetheater.jpgPhilippa Snow writes about Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom! for ARTFORUM, as the film is scheduled for three 35mm screenings on Wednesday, February 6th, at Film Forum in New York City:
ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH Brian De Palma’s 1970 film Hi, Mom!, a white woman, dazed and recently raped, gives a fuzzy exit interview on camera. “Well, [New York Times theater critic] Clive Barnes was really right,” she says. “It was some experience. I’m gonna tell all my friends that they’ve gotta come.” The experience that she’s referring to is Be Black, Baby, an immersive opportunity (and Hi, Mom!’s film-within-a-film centerpiece) for well-heeled whites to, per the title, temporarily “be black.” If this white woman and her kin had predicted correctly that they would be given “soul food,” and be made up roughly and inelegantly with black shoe-polish, they do not seem to have guessed that they would also be robbed, gaslit, faced with furious demands to see ID, interrogated on the subject of their livelihoods and personal lives, hypersexualized, beaten and sexually assaulted, and then arrested by a white NYPD cop. The happening’s artist-cum-terrorist showrunners, who are African American but wearing whiteface, are as pale as death, and do not seem afraid to kill. The fact that the participants, if rattled, see their ritual humiliation as a dazzling work of art is owed to an embarrassing, embarrassingly recognizable strain of privileged white faux-wokeness. The fact that this scene takes place in a film both written and directed by a white man makes it doubly charged, recursive in its condemnation of white tourism in black lives.

Be Black, Baby is the third of five acts in Hi, Mom!, the fourth effort by the Hitchcock-loving, sleaze-artiste auteur. It is the perfect nucleus around which a chaotic story swirls: A Vietnam vet, broke and keen to game the sickest parts of New York’s system, becomes a peeping-tom-pornographer, then an actor, then finally a radical determined to quite literally explode the bourgeoisie. The protagonist, Jon Rubin, is played by Robert De Niro, a fact less significant in 1970 than it is now. The movie’s introduction to a grinning Rubin, yanking down a cloth that’s covering a mirror to reveal himself behind the camera, must have looked then like a broad allusion to the director’s ongoing themes of doubling and observation. In the wake of 1976’s Taxi Driver, it now functions as a meta joke, a “gotcha” shot whose punchline depends on the megawattage of its star. Meta now, too, is the scene where he auditions to appear in Be Black, Baby as the aforementioned white cop, only to be told that he looks too incapable of brutality or insanity to get the part. “I think I can play a cop, you know,” he swaggers. “I know I can. I can do anything.” Like Travis Bickle, Rubin is a firm believer in the cleansing properties of vigilante violence. His first scheme for making money is to buy a camera, hole up in his dive apartment, and then film the couples living in the opposite block through the readymade screens of their front-room windows; finding that his movies lack the necessary action, he seduces the girl living opposite in order to become the lead in his own porno, a conceit that’s more De Palma than De Palma in its invocation of the twin desires to see and be seen, to fuck and watch the action, to be both directing and directed.

When the stag film fails, he hawks his camera and procures a television. On that television, he sees the black activist group taunting white New Yorkers in a series of faintly Surrealist vox pops, and the next move in his nihilist career presents itself in black-and-white simplicity. De Palma’s love of cinéma vérité is deployed—both in the broadcast that makes Rubin first seek out the group of radicals and in the Be Black, Baby footage—to invigorating, sick effect: filmed on a hand-held camera, lit like shit and void of color, both scenes feel less like fictional exercises than like real-life powder kegs. The best thing De Palma does in the electrifying “theater” sequence is show how idiotic and banal the rich, entitled white person’s general idea of blackness is. Asked to examine the black ringleaders from head to toe by touch, the ticketholders sound like children being handed salamanders at a petting zoo. “So this is an afro!” one exclaims. “It’s like a sponge!” “It’s like angel food cake,” says the blonde white woman who ends up violated with a broom handle. “I expected it to feel like wire wool.” When she assures the troupe that “You’re the actors, we’re the audience, honey,” it is less a throwaway line than a perfect distillation of the white gaze on black bodies, even if it’s improvised. “It really makes you stop and think,” one audience member beams, his face as bloodied as if he had been at war.

In general, white men seem to love to “stop and think,” perhaps because it is the cheapest, lowest-maintenance form of “atonement.” A voyeur by nature, it is difficult to separate De Palma’s love of looking from his status as an outsider on the particularly thorny subjects of black pain, white exploitation, and police brutality, however excellent the Be Black, Baby sequence is in its inventiveness and execution. He is, in classic De Palma style, within and without, the accuser and the implicated, and his placing of a worthy, right-on bearded white man in the otherwise entirely African American activist troupe might be read as barbed self-satire. “The most Hitchcockian riff that De Palma ever examined,” Eric Henderson wrote in a 2004 reconsideration of Hi, Mom!, “is the capacity for the human psyche to harbor intense, complicated divergence.” A divergence necessarily occurs in the minds of the audience members of the Be Black, Baby skit, who simultaneously believe that they deserved the beatings and the rape by dint of the historic evil of their race, and that their willingness to be debased somehow absolves them of the same historic sin. Jon Rubin, after playing at being a cop in Be Black, Baby, marries and impregnates the girl in the building opposite, then leaves a bomb sequestered in her laundry room. He has not actually destroyed the all-American nuclear family, just like being painted black and brutalized is no real foil for white supremacy. With the imperfect and exhilarating Hi, Mom!, De Palma plants something unsafe and explosive underneath his audience, and runs.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2019 12:11 AM CST
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