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Thursday, June 25, 2020

I found myself watching Passion the other night, thinking I was just going to watch the opening scenes. As happens often when I start watching a Brian De Palma film, pure enjoyment takes over, and I kept watching. The split screen sequence in Passion was just as mesmerizing and surreal as I'd remembered.

Then, today, I came across a quote from an interview with De Palma in the New York Times, published upon the release of Passion. For the article, Nicolas Rapold had wanted to sit with De Palma while the two viewed clips from older films that inspired parts of Passion, but De Palma playfully suggested they watch clips from his own films instead, saying, "I could only refer to my own films. Nobody does this but me."

As they watch the split screen sequence from De Palma's Sisters, De Palma tells Rapold, "The thing about split screen is: It’s a kind of meditative form. You can go very slowly with it, because there’s a lot to look at. People are making juxtapositions in their mind. And you can have all this exposition mumbo jumbo on one side."

The part of the quote that stuck with me was that split screen is "kind of a meditative form." It strikes me that De Palma's use of split screen has gotten more and more meditative in his later films: from the juxtapositions of fictions and truth in the complex split screen machinations of Snake Eyes, to the where-are-we-now and who's-watching-who blender of surveillance, thievery, and art in the split screen sequence from Femme Fatale. And then there is the split screen in Passion, which is so oddly beautiful and eerie at the same time. Rapold and De Palma watch that sequence for the article, as well:

Some filmmakers claim not to watch their own films, or say they only see the mistakes. Mr. De Palma displayed no such qualms as he pored over the split-screen sequence in “Passion.”

On the right-hand side, Ms. McAdams as Christine goes about her business after a party at home, showering undisturbed.

“I told her, ‘Just get yourself ready,’ and she could make that as long or as short as she wanted,” Mr. De Palma said. “I would just cut it.”

On the left, as the ballet unfolds, the image cuts from a tight close-up on Ms. Rapace’s eyes to the duet in progress. The piece is Jerome Robbins’s version of “Afternoon of a Faun,” in which a couple dance as if facing the mirrored wall of a studio. In Mr. De Palma’s hands, that means they’re looking dead into the camera.

Meanwhile, somebody’s now in Christine’s house.

“You’re lulling the audience,” Mr. De Palma said of the combination of sequences. “I had no idea how it would work. I just had an instinct about it. This is your very typical point-of-view murderer shot, but here juxtaposed against this beautiful ballet.”

The dance grows more intimate. Christine’s stalker comes closer. Art on the left, death on the right.

“And then whack!” he exclaimed.

It was a resounding end to the scene, but just another step in Mr. De Palma’s nightmarish world of suspense.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, June 26, 2020 12:49 AM CDT
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Monday, March 2, 2020

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CST
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Sunday, February 2, 2020

Ryan Swen, a freelance film critic who writes for The Film Stage and Seattle Screen Scene, among others, includes Brian De Palma's Passion at number 26 on his list, A Top 100 of the 2010s. "Among other things," Swen tweeted yesterday, along with the screen grab above, "kind of a perfect ratio of political and playful De Palma." Swen's number one film of the 2010s is Mariano Llinás' La Flor from last year, a formally-adventurous 14-hour film made up of six episodes.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Monday, February 3, 2020 12:06 AM CST
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Saturday, January 19, 2019
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/passionvenice2.jpgWith a new movie (Vicky Jewson's Close) world premiering on Netflix yesterday, Entertainment Weekly's Shirley Li talked to star Noomi Rapace about five of "her most badass roles" (Rapace plays a tough-as-nails bodyguard in the new film). One of the five movies in the article is Brian De Palma's Passion:
In Brian De Palma’s hypnotic drama, Rapace plays a woman who—six-year-old spoiler alert!—murders her boss. Production, the actress admits, was just as dramatic in some ways. “He’s more old-school, so sometimes we clashed,” Rapace says of working with De Palma. “It was an interesting, turbulent journey.”

De Palma himself discusses his difficulties working with Rapace in the 2017 revised edition of Brian De Palma: entretiens avec Samuel Blumenfeld and Laurent Vachaud (published by Carlotta Films), and was asked about it last June by Le Point's Philippe Guedj. "Ha! My worst memory since Cliff Robertson in Obsession," De Palma said to Guedj. "She refused to play certain scenes the way I asked her. In general, when I deal with this kind of reluctance, I shoot two versions, one in my own way and another in the actor's way. But there she obstinately refused to follow my instructions. I had to constantly be extra cunning to achieve my goals. I will never work with her again and I pity the next director who will hire her."

Despite all of this, as can be seen from the photo above, De Palma and Rapace remained respectful enough of each other to promote Passion and hang out together at its Venice premiere in 2012.

Posted by Geoff at 1:04 PM CST
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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Posted by Geoff at 11:52 PM CDT
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Friday, October 13, 2017

Nick De Semlyen - sidebar interview with De Palma in Sept 2013 issue of EMPIRE magazine

Nick De Semlyen has a great little sidebar interview with De Palma in the September 2013 issue of EMPIRE magazine. De Semlyen asks De Palma what we would find in his browser history cache. "They're doing live trials online now," De Palma replies, "so I've been watching the Zimmerman trial. I'm not really a YouTube guy, though I did see somebody re-edited Raising Cain into the original order in which I cut it. I looked at it and said, 'I should have left it that way.'"

Asked if he watches any TV shows, De Palma replies, "I watched Dexter in the beginning and was fascinated by it. But when they extend these shows for six or seven years, they sort of run out of ideas, so I didn't watch the whole John Lithgow series. Even Mad Men is getting a little tired now. These things are ten times longer than War And Peace.

De Semlyen then asks De Palma if he saw Hitchcock. "Yes," De Palma replies. "I bought the book to see if it was actually real, what happened. I don't remember Hitchcock having problems with his marriage during the making of Psycho. So I thought it was interesting, but is it true?"

When asked about Ridley Scott's Prometheus, De Palma tells De Semlyen, "I didn't think it was as good as the original. It's not like Godfather I and II. There's a science fiction story that I've always felt would make a terrific movie: an Alfred Bester book called The Demolished Man. It's about a society of Espers, who can read people's minds. And then a great economic titan figures out how to kill his wife and not get caught. The rights are all tied up at Paramount."

De Semlyen concludes by asking De Palma if he's a fan of Jason Statham, who he was going to direct in the remake of Heat. "Oh yes," replies De Palma. "I've always wanted to make a film with him. I've seen both Cranks and loved them. In fact, I don't think there's a Jason Statham film I haven't seen. He's been doing too much action stuff, driving cars and beating up people. He needs a more Steve McQueen-type part. But it didn't work out."

The same issue also includes a positive review of Passion by Ian Nathan, who says that during its second half, "Passion is transformed into a butterfly of hyperactive noir."

Posted by Geoff at 5:28 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, October 13, 2017 5:33 PM CDT
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Tuesday, July 25, 2017
José Luis Alcaine will be honored at the 70th Locarno Festival next month, where he will be presented the Vision Award TicinoModa in Piazza Grande. The prize is "dedicated to those who have used their talents to trace new perspectives in the world of film," according to the Locarno website. The tribute will include a screening of Alcaine's first collaboration with Brian De Palma, Passion. Here is the rest of the Locarno news item:
José Luis Alcaine, noted for his strong colors and photography that highlights shade and form while remaining always believable, even at extremely high contrast, has worked with some of the most important and influential auteurs in Spanish and international filmmaking. Among many: Pedro Almodóvar, Victor Erice, Montxo Armendáriz, Basilio Martìn Patino e Fernando Fernan Gomez. Further fundamental collaborations in his career were those with Vicente Aranda, with whom he made a dozen films, including Amantes (1991), and, again in Spain, with Fernando Trueba (El sueño del mono loco, 1989 and Belle Epoque, 1992), with Carlos Saura (¡Ay, Carmela!, 1990 and Sevillanas, 1992) and Bigas Luna (Jamón Jamón, 1992, Huevos de oro, 1993 and La teta y la luna, 1994). Outside Spain, apart from his various forays in the U.S., Alcaine worked several times with Italian filmmakers, directing photography for Alberto Lattuada (Così come sei, 1978), Fabio Carpi (Barbablù, Barbablù, 1987) and Giovanni Veronesi (Il mio West, 1998). He is currently engaged on set for Domino, the new thriller from Brian De Palma, with whom he previously made Passion (2012), and on a new project by Asghar Farhadi, with Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz.

José Luis Alcaine will receive the Vision Award TicinoModa in Piazza Grande on Thursday 10 August. He will also be holding a Master Class on Friday 11 August at the PalaVideo at 3.30 pm. The Festival tribute will include a screenings of the films La piel que habito (Pedro Almodovar, 2011), Passion (Brian De Palma, 2012), Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Pedro Almodóvar,1988) and Belle Epoque, (1992).

Posted by Geoff at 7:48 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, July 25, 2017 6:32 PM CDT
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Thursday, May 4, 2017
Noomi Rapace is the subject of yesterday's "Early Works" column at VICE. Here's the last paragraph, as she told it to Larry Fitzmaurice:
I went right into Prometheus after Sherlock Holmes, and then I worked with Brian De Palma on Passion. Ridley and Brian are filmmakers from the same generation, and obviously I grew up watching Brian's work—Scarface, Carlito's Way. When I heard that he wanted to meet with me, I was quite shocked. It was interesting to work with him, because he knew exactly what he wanted. He did very long takes, sometimes for four minutes. When he had three takes, he was like, "I'm happy. I'm good. We're moving on." Very different from Ridley's films and what I was used to. I was like, "Whoa, wait! We're not doing coverage?" But he was like, "Honey, I'm editing in my head already. No need for that. We're moving on." He's someone who knows exactly what he wants. It was very different and interesting working with him.

Posted by Geoff at 3:03 AM CDT
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Sunday, September 11, 2016
Duncan Gray has posted an essay at Fandor's Keyframe blog that examines the dream aspect of Brian De Palma's Passion within the context of movie dreams and noir expressionism. Here's an excerpt:
Passion was treated as minor De Palma, and fair enough for a thriller built from an array of elements—doppelgangers, split-screen murders, music by Pino Donaggio, voyeuristic sexuality—that De Palma had used, more memorably, decades earlier. Still, it has something that so many mainstream American movies today are lacking: an appreciation for cinema’s irrational power over its audience. And De Palma, old-school enough that he closes Passion with a title card reading “The End,” made a film that’s best understood through the psychodramatic lens of classic noir, while at the same time working a twist on his own formula.

In discussing Passion as a dream narrative, one must be careful, because that’s a game that can keep the audience guessing. The heroine goes to bed at the beginning of the film, and subsequently is shown falling asleep and suddenly waking up nearly half a dozen times. De Palma adapted his script from a French thriller called Love Crime (Alain Corneau, 2010), from which Passion gets its Euro-chic setting, the framework of its murder plot, and a battle of feminine cunning that should appeal to anyone who feels the word “bitch” may be used admiringly. But Love Crime plays the material relatively straight, with a very different ending. The feverish dream angle belongs to De Palma’s version alone.

So the best place to start is the one sequence I can say with confidence is “real,” the opening scene. Isabelle (Rapace) and Christine (McAdams), two coworkers at an ad agency, are meeting at Christine’s apartment after hours to discuss the latest campaign. As they share a drink and a few laughs, it’s instantly clear which of the two is dominant. Christine has perfect confidence, perfect style, perfect taste, a perfect apartment. Isabelle is much more timid and repressed. Buttoned-up in an asexual black pantsuit (which she’ll wear for most of the film, despite Christine’s many colorful costume changes), Isabelle is clearly in the thrall of her mentor, and thrilled that such an alpha-female would keep her as a confidante. She admires Christine—is it just professional, or something else? Then Christine’s perfect boyfriend arrives, and Isabelle, sensing that she’s become a third wheel, excuses herself and goes home. We see Isabelle drifting off to sleep, and then the story begins in proper: a tale of intrigue and murder as convoluted as any of Alfred Hitchcock‘s—and much clammier than Richard Wanley’s.

As a thriller, Passion has too many implausible twists to name. But as a glimpse into Isabelle’s psyche, it’s a hypnotic clash of identities. Isabelle competes with Christine. She sleeps with Christine’s boyfriend. Christine suddenly kisses Isabelle—a moment they scarcely dwell on—then teaches her to undo her top buttons to hook a male client. (“You’re more like me than you think,” Christine teases her.) And throughout this, the film’s style tilts towards insanity. Rapace plays Isabelle as a perpetually stunned figure, acting for most of the film like a helpless spectator, even to her own actions. The script is often daftly illogical; in one scene, Christine goes from threatening Isabelle to inviting her to a dinner party within a few seconds. Midway through, the film suddenly shifts into full-blown noir expressionism, with wall-to-wall canted angles and Venetian-blind shadows. The plot mechanisms by which someone may or may not get away with murder are as complex as they are irrelevant. Passion is more a series of anxious fantasies: to be Christine, to fuck Christine, to kill Christine. Though of course, in a nightmare, can you count on someone to stay dead?

The crowning moment, where Passion adds something valuable to De Palma’s canon, is the final set piece. This scene is De Palma in overheated form, the sort of ludicrous sequence that gets excruciating suspense from being so drawn out, and it involves a murder taking place in Isabelle’s apartment late at night, just as a police inspector drops by to “pay his respects.” There are numerous things that are logically “off” with this scene, not the least of which is why the inspector, who by this point in the contorted plot has been thoroughly fooled, would choose to pay a social visit in the middle of the night. But the sequence builds to a fever pitch, and then climaxes with the money shot: Isabelle convulsing awake, in the same bed she’d drifted off to sleep in after that opening scene—only now with a crucial, impossible detail.

De Palma is self-aware filmmaker, not above referencing himself as well as his predecessors. The final shot of Passion, a high-angle view of the heroine waking up from a nightmare, is nearly identical to the shots that closed Carrie and Dressed to Kill. But here, De Palma adds one of his most mischievous touches: When Isabelle wakes up, the murder victim is still there, lying on the floor next to the bed, perfectly preserved from the prior sequence. As a finale, it’s a bonkers paradox: the construction of the editing means that this final sequence (if not the entire plot of the film) simultaneously must be a dream and can’t be a dream. There is no logical explanation, nor can there be, nor should there be.

This kind of gamesmanship may turn some audiences off, as if the chain has been yanked a little too hard. But for such a modest, apparently trashy film, it’s also a sophisticated touch, and it relies on an audience willing to be subservient to the pure sounds and images that envelope them. It goes back to Richard Wanley’s epilogue, regaining his bearing after his feature-length nightmare; or to the hero of Caligari, confronting his horror back in real life; or to anyone who’s seen a scary movie late at night and finds it difficult to shake the unease. What De Palma’s Passion toys with, in a modern, old-fashioned way, is an idea both dreamlike and quintessentially cinematic: the fear (or hope) that what you’ve seen will be waiting for you on the other side.


By mere coincidence, The Film Stage concluded its "Summer of De Palma" collection of essays that same day by posting Brian Roan's essay on Passion...

Here is where De Palma, formerly so sedate and conventional, throws off his cape to reveal the cinematic mad genius underneath. The first act’s rote dramatics melt away, leaving behind a mad dancing skeleton that begs to be witnessed. In line with Isabelle’s deteriorating sense of security and mental stability, the film morphs into an elaborate and expert exhibition of neo-noir and Old Hollywood tropes, both stylistic and thematic. Canted angles, deep shadows, split screens. What began as a tired retread of ’90s-style potboilers becomes what only De Palma can make: a stirring melange of modern edge and classical styling.

This is the power of De Palma and the thing that makes him, for all the world, one of the most interesting American directors. Most of what he does is nothing that hasn’t been done before. He’s using techniques that have permeated the history of cinema from the very beginning. But he employs these tricks with so much skill and nonchalance in execution that their very being within a movie becomes bold. Unlike Tarantino, who trucks in homage that verges on parody (to great effect), De Palma works entirely in earnest creation. He isn’t doing these things to signal his cinematic bona fides, but to more eloquently get across his point. The point, in this case, being that Isabelle has completely broken mentally.

Passion‘s mounting dream logic is almost Lynchian, bizarre things occurring and resolving with seemingly no impact on narrative. The bafflement of the audience rises with the paranoia and franticness of the protagonist. It’s an operatic, arch transposition of mental state onto aesthetic presentation. It is, as previously stated, Lynchian in narrative, but more akin to Irving Rapper in terms of tone and aesthetic, making it at once seemingly more accessible while also forging an even deeper wedge between the film and a more modern audience.

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 12, 2016 12:13 AM CDT
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Monday, April 11, 2016
Jim Ridley, the Nashville Scene writer and editor, died April 8. "He had collapsed after suffering a cardiac event in the Scene offices on March 28, and never regained consciousness," stated Nashville Scene's Jack Silverman in a post. "He was 50 years old." Ridley was one of the sharpest film critics around, and his review of Brian De Palma's Passion, from 2013, cuts deep into the movie with insightful wit to spare. Here's an excerpt:
Passion is a Brian De Palma movie for a world chilled by narcissism and held rapt by its own reflection. The director has devoted his career to the warping impact of surveillance culture, where everyone is a watcher or passive voyeur — in front of the big screen, the TV, the computer monitor — and conversely, everyone is watched. Long before the laptop, the iPhone and Skype, there was De Palma Nation, a place where everybody was either on camera or behind one. Because of the bulky, prohibitively expensive equipment, the latter group was limited — either to professionals, like John Travolta's sound engineer in Blow Out, or obsessives, like Keith Gordon's gadget-prone amateur sleuth in Dressed to Kill.

But technology has surpassed the spycam society forecast in early De Palma classics like Hi, Mom! and Sisters. Anyone with a cellphone can be both star and director of his own YouTube-documented life, which sounds like nothing so much as the setup for one of De Palma's loopy, sinuous erotic thrillers. In fact, it's a pretty apt description of Passion, a wickedly funny exercise in the audience misdirection and technocratic hoodwinkery that's been this filmmaker's stock in trade for nearly five decades. Its corporate milieu is an orchard of gleaming little trademark Apples, most of them concealing worms.

De Palma borrows the hothouse plot of Alain Corneau's 2010 French thriller Love Crime — its co-writer, Natalie Carter, gets a dialogue credit here — but gives it a cold-to-the-touch sheen and a clammy metallic palette that's at ironic odds with the title. (It was shot on 35mm but transferred to digital, which mutes the steamy lushness that marks De Palma's thrillers.) When color bleeds through this sterile environment, it's typically the siren-red lipstick worn by Christine (Rachel McAdams), a coolly kinky executive at a Berlin advertising agency where the glass planes and slashing angles suggest the Apple Store of Dr. Caligari.

So self-obsessed she likes her lovers to wear a doll-mask facsimile of her own features, Christine is grooming an avid protégé, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), who covets her boss's power and modernist digs down to the upholstery on her sofa. De Palma poses them in the frame like mirror images, and Christine can't help but try shaping her underling into a human selfie. "You need some color," she coos to Isabelle, applying her lipstick as well as her lips.

But Isabelle isn't such an eager apprentice once Christine hogs the credit for her viral smartphone ad campaign — a spot that only looks like an updating of the reality-TV "Peeping Toms" gag that opens De Palma's 1973 Sisters, but is in fact a replica of an actual guerrilla YouTube ad. The ad mixes the director's favorite ingredients, sex and spying — and so does the mad soap-opera-on-steroids revenge fantasy that follows, as Isabelle sleeps with Christine's shady colleague-lover (Paul Anderson) and her boss rigs a nasty public payback.

Each step of this battle is registered on screens, even screens within screens, creating a hall of mirrors that fires the gaze back at the gazer: the "ass cam" that secretly films leering gawkers, the sex tape where the parties stare into each other's eyes only when they watch themselves on a monitor. Imagine what this plethora of recording devices means to the man who once called film 24 lies a second. De Palma plays this mediated alienation for queasy-funny effect, as when Isabelle lies in bed with her hands in masturbatory position — only they're poised over her laptop rather than her lap. The two women's fight is personal, all right, but so much of it is waged on a digital playing field that they might as well be videogame avatars. But some things you still have to do the old-fashioned way. That's when a knife comes in handy.

Shot by Almodovar's longtime cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine — the Spanish director's resolutely De Palma-esque melodrama The Skin I Live In was good practice — Passion shows De Palma reveling in the blatant craziness of his contrivances. (This features perhaps the quintessential De Palma line of dialogue: "You have a twin sister?") Rapace's Edvard Munch cheekbones and startled eyes do the heavy lifting of her performance, but McAdams, firmly back in Mean Girls mode, delivers her vicious lines with venomous zest. De Palma introduces more and more variables into the scenario, leading to a split-screen showstopper where high art and low crime compete for the viewer's attention. Guess what wins.

Posted by Geoff at 12:55 AM CDT
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