Archive for Brian De Palma

The Chicago Way

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , on February 14, 2019 by dcairns

SCARFACE stars Louis Pasteur; Molly Louvain; Pendola Molloy; the Duc de Richlieu; Surat Khan; Spats Colombo; Fishbone; Hjalmar Poelzig; Count Mancini; Freedonia’s Secretary of War #1; with Kitty Packard, Montague L. ‘Monty’ Brewster, and Sandoni.

THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE stars Cable Hogue; Quiller; Mike Hammer; Freeman Lowell; Dr. Eldon Tyrrel; 2nd Lt. Michael Shannon O’Rourke; Armand Duvalle; Seymour Krelborn; Walter Paisley; Jake Gittes; Sweet Sue; and the voice of Colossus.

THE UNTOUCHABLES stars Wyatt Earp; Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein; Robert ‘Duke’ Anderson; Farley Mowat; Terry Benedict; Ava Paige; and Sheriff J.W. Pepper.

The St. Valentine’s Day Podcast:

 

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Mars Needs Work

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2018 by dcairns

De Palma’s MISSION TO MARS is the nearest thing to a De Palma film De Palma doesn’t like in DE PALMA. De Palma De Palma De Palma. But it’s not clear that he doesn’t think it’s a masterpiece along with all his other films, he just didn’t enjoy making it. All those special effects, taking forever.

The stuff on Earth is very recognizably De Palmaesque, with long Steadicam shots and so on. The stuff in space is more anonymous, I suspect because effects weren’t quite at the stage where he could rove about as he liked. There’s one very good spacewalking suspense bit, subsequently borrowed and improved upon in GRAVITY, and there’s a weirdly counterproductive Morricone score, and too many scenes where actors slowly, casually do things they should be doing in a desperate hurry. I can’t quite account for that. De Palma does talk about how he likes slow set-pieces with few sound effects, to make room for the music, but this is the only film of his where whole scenes are dragged out that really NEED to be played fast.There’s a certain class of actor who play astronauts, isn’t there? THE RIGHT STUFF established Ed Wood Harris (WTF?) in particular as NASA’s representative on Earth, so he turns up in APOLLO 13 and as the voice of Ground Control in GRAVITY. APOLLO 13 then brought Gary Sinise into the fold, and here he is again. Matt Damon is a space guy in INTERSTELLAR and a different one in THE MARTIAN. If you’re making ALIEN or something you can cast anyone, but for realistic or near-future spacey shows there’s this limited pool.

Sinise is his old reliable self here, Connie Nielsen is lovely — you’d want somebody who smiles like that on a space mission — Tim Robbins and Don Cheadle add character, There’s this guy, Jerry O’Connell, who’s like the comedy relief astronaut — you expect him to whip out a harmonica. I didn’t enjoy him much but by the end I kind of dug him. There’s an unbelievable exchange where they’re looking down from space at the Martian base they’ve lost contact with, and he gets excited because there’s only three graves, so one guy must be alive, right? Then it’s pointed out that the guy probably couldn’t bury HIMSELF.But it’s quite diverting — of course the effects have dated curiously (I haven’t looked at TITANIC lately, but those seas NEVER looked real) but not offensively. And then it all goes to shit at the end when the CGI alien shows up. “We just ran out of money,” De Palma hints, though he doesn’t specifically list the ET as a casualty of this. It’s one cheap-ass-looking alien. The decision to do a bunch of things that could only be done with CGI — which seems to make sense, on the face of it — results in something that looks like nothing else but CGI. It should have been played by a human in prosthetics, maybe a tall African like in ALIEN, but I guess this was too soon for CGI enhancements to actors — they could just about erase Sinise’s legs in FORREST GUMP but Frank Langella’s subtractive scar in THE BOX was a ways away. Was a ways aways away.

There’s just not enough of De Palma’s bravura technique and obnoxious personality in this. BLACK DAHLIA looks kind of anonymous too — but I recently acquired REDACTED and PASSION so I’m curiously about those. Maybe it’s time for a De Palma Week, or would my skepticism get wearying?

Ways of Seeing

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2018 by dcairns

Watched two film documentaries — SIDE BY SIDE and DE PALMA.

Christopher Kenneally’s SIDE BY SIDE (2012) is the better show, exploring the pros and cons of digital vs. film. Hosted by the affable Keanu Reeves, it’s a;ready wondrously dated: they’re talking about digital “largely” taking over from film in the next ten years. The budget seems to have been impressive — whenever they want a clip, there it is, whenever they want to talk to somebody, there they are. Great cinematographers and editors, several of them no longer with us (Michael Ballhaus, Vilmos Zsigmond, Anne V. Coates), top directors on both sides of the debate (Lucas, Lynch, Nolan, Cameron, Soderbergh, Scorsese), key figures and early adopters of digital shooting (Von Trier, Anthony Dod Mantle), all contribute engaging bits, and Keanu is so likeable he can get away with saying “Yeah, but it looks like shit.”

The most worrying thing covered is the issue of storage — digital files on drives are potentially MORE vulnerable to being lost than silver nitrate ever was. Someone cheerfully says this problem will be solved if we want to solve it, and since we have to, we will. But in the history of cinema, we’ve ALWAYS solved our preservation problems too late, and substantial amounts of important work has slipped through the cracks/crevasses.

Overall, a very relaxed, enjoyable experience — educational and interesting. It might trigger some more blog posts from me…

DE PALMA (2016), from Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, would benefit from other voices. The directors are occasionally heard asking questions, but De Palma dominates so utterly that we never learn, for instance, why the documentarists are interested in him. He just takes us through his career, film by film, and we learn that BDP thinks all of his movies are good, even WISE GUYS and BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES — he admits the late Tom Wolfe’s book is better, but he has a solution: “Just don’t read the book.”

We open with VERTIGO and De Palma talking about how the movie shows the film director at work. And one thinks, Uh-oh. I’m not convinced we’re supposed to take the film as an instructional video, and Jimmy Stewart’s make-over of Kim Novak as a lesson in how to do it, which Brian is basically saying we should and he does. BDP has undoubtedly learned from Hitchcock, but has he learned the right things?

Fascinating to watch De Palma with Scorsese on Dick Cavett in the seventies (which I can no longer locate on YouTube). In those days, De Palma was an ebullient, goofy guy, and Scorsese was intense, detached, aloof. De Palma was clean-shaven and Scorsese had a beard. Today, De Palma is a growling, surly bear in a beard, and Scorsese is clean-shaven, charming, avuncular. Does this say something about the psychological effect of beards, or the psychological meaning of beards? Of the effect of forty years of De Palma being beaten up critically for his bravura depiction of graphic violence, and Scorsese being lauded critically for his (admittedly very different) bravura depiction of graphic violence?

DE PALMA could work as the gruff maestro explaining his rules of filmmaking — he’s good at this, and his rules make sense, though of course they aren’t everybody’s rules. Or it could work as a psychological exploration of the peculiar obsessions driving his cinema — De Palma is happy to supply all the clues, including the personal stuff about bugging the girl’s sex ed class when he was a schoolboy, and stalking his father’s mistress, and so on. We definitely get material that helps bring his work into focus. And these twin prongs of the movie do work in parallel, to an extent. But De Palma isn’t remotely interested in discussing meaning — understandably, I guess, since throughout his career these discussions have come back to accusations of misogyny, exploitation, which are perhaps harder to bear than the stylistic conversations which always come back to ripping off Hitchcock.

The solution to De Palma’s reluctance to delve deep and actually think about what his films are exploring — ironically, he wants to be considered an artist, but resists anyone finding anything to think about in his work, beyond the level of “cool Steadicam shot!” — would be to talk to someone else. Scorsese might have been helpful, but he’s not really one for deep analysis either — his appreciations of cinema are strongest when focussed on technical achievement. I think whoever you got, it would be helpful if they were female. Misogyny is the rampant bull elephant in the room. Two guys are making a documentary about a third guy, and THIS is their closing image ~