Monday, August 28, 2006

THE BLACK RHAPSODIES OF BRIAN DE PALMA



There does seem to be a bit of Brian De Palma blowing in the cinematic winds these days leading up to the release of The Black Dahlia, and it’s taking form in a lot of interesting posts and comments on the director and his films on some very smart blogs. I’ve already mentioned Slant’s Auteur Fatale series, as well as well-considered observations from That Little Round-headed Boy (whose piece on Mission to Mars even gets a mention from the oracle at De Palma a la Mod), Girish and Peter Nellhaus. Now you can add Peet Gelderblom’s two cents to the coffers of fine writers checking on De Palma. Peet muses about paradox in De Palma's work on his blog, Lost In Negative Space, an off-shoot of his excellent film criticism site 24 Lies A Second. (Peet also points to Soundtrack.net where snippets of Mark Isham's score for The Black Dahlia can be heard.)

(If anyone knows of any other good writing on De Palma that could use a link, please let me know!)

There’s so much interesting going on about De Palma that I had been regretting not picking up the ball and running with it myself. But then a message from Peet this afternoon reminded me that, actually, I had. I’d just left everything in the comments column of my recent post, "Brian De Palma: Critical Black Mass." The comments there, from Maya, Tom Sutpen, TLRHB, all add up to an excellent consideration of how this director functions (and sometimes doesn’t function), especially in a critical world that seems to value someone like Sam Mendes more than it does a true soaked-in-cinema provocateur like De Palma. But it was SLIFR reader Cerb Chaos who posed a query that finally got me into the fray:

”I not only dislike (De Palma’s) work, but am confused over the reception he has been given by critics whom I mostly agree with wholeheartedly. True, I have not seen such films as Carrie, Scarface, and Sisters, which are more often cited as his masterpieces, but after my experience I am not so excited to see them. Are they that much better?”

I hope that my own thoughts, intended as a response to Cerb Chaos, can function on their own as a general consideration of why De Palma’s films most often (but sometimes do not) work for me, and therefore might be considered a worthy contribution to the snowballing impromptu blog-a-thon-style discussion of this great director. But I also want to highlight those comments that I received that really serve to illuminate this director, who is so confounding and exasperating to some, and so exhilarating and compelling to others. To start, Maya connects the dots between Antonioni and Blow Out, a connection that goes well past a similarity in titles:

Blow Out… reminded me of Antonioni, both in its forensic epiphany and the reference to what Girish has already identified as a ‘cinephiliac moment’: when the night wind blows through the trees, replicated almost with tenderness in the scene where Travolta is recording the night wind.”

Then Cerb Chaos checks in, reacting, I’m assuming, to the collection of rhapsodic writing referred and linked to in the “Critical Black Mass” post:

”I have seen three of De Palma's films, and in all likelihood they are not a correct representation. But I don't get the love he's gotten on the film sites I visit. Mission to Mars, which as mentioned has an essay by the always articulate LRHB, is quite simply the worst movie I have ever seen in theaters, and one of the ten worst movies I've seen. Period. This was the first De Palma movie I saw. It did not leave a good impression. I saw The Untouchables, which is entertaining, but nothing that I feel any kind of love for.

After discussing this with my father, he persuaded me to watch
Dressed to Kill, which deemed to devolve into a game of “spot the homage.” De Palma's homages seem to me too obvious and take me out of the movie watching experience. After watching the movie my dad asked me what I thought about it. I admitted that I didn’t like it. He replied that he thought it had aged badly, losing what novelty it had when first released.I not only dislike his work, but am confused over the reception he has been given by critics whom I mostly agree with wholeheartedly. True, I have not seen such films as Carrie, Scarface, and Sisters, which are more often cited as his masterpieces, but after my experience I am not so excited to see them. Are they that much better?”


Then it was Tom’s turn:

”I'm not as great an admirer of DePalma's as some (though what films of his I like I have very high regard for), but I do understand why other cinephiles find much in his work to rhapsodize over.

There are few filmmakers, after all, who evince as complete an affection (albeit a critical one) for Cinema as Brian DePalma; and his engagement with it, as reflected in the films themselves, is never less than fascinating. At worst, yes, there are times . . . I number much of
Dressed to Kill among them . . . when he overborrows and the whole thing sinks to the level of empty homage, but far more often he takes this prior material and redeploys it in extremely intriguing ways.
In
Blow Out, for example, DePalma doesn't simply use the Antonioni material to create what Girish righteously calls a 'cinephiliac moment', he fully absorbs it into his own sensibility (a sensibility I think one can find in its purest state in his early comedies) and subtly transforms it in the same breath. He re-claims it in the name of the cinephile, if you will. On these occasions, DePalma's construction of the Thriller becomes as purely cinematic as Jerry Lewis's construction of visual gags; and far more personal. How could a cinephile not go gaga over it?

A brief word on
The Black Dahlia: I can think of few artists who could more profitably collide than DePalma and James Ellroy (Ellroy, in his crime novels, applies a technique similar to DePalma's suspense numbers), but personally I would have liked to see what DePalma could do with a dense, maddening, gruesome novel such as Ellroy's The Cold Six Thousand. Black Dahlia seems almost too easy a challenge by comparison.”


And finally, That Little Round-headed Boy, celebrated and eloquent defender of Mission to Mars:

“I'm not blind to DePalma's weaker pictures, but what he creates on film (in his best films, at least) is something akin to a dream state, where you completely lose track of being a viewer engaged with a piece of celluloid and just become one with the experience (That's the same reason I don't dismiss Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, which has many clunky passages and a bad performance by Cruise, but also has moments of haunting hypnotic poetry.) Any director who can do that with film simply cannot be dismissed so handily, or thoroughly rated in an up/down thumbs system. I understand consumer criticism that needs to rate the movie on all its elements, but the beauty of what we can do on blogs is explore films for more than that. Basically, it doesn't matter to me if a film is good or bad in sum, but whether it's interesting enough to stay with me, rattle in my head, or make me want to see it again. I think those are equally valid ways to discuss and understand film.”

Thanks, Maya, Tom and TLRHB. And thanks too to Paul C., who is a champion of both Phantom of the Paradise and Raising Cain, and to Peet for encouraging me to go back and make this an “official” unofficial blog-a-thon contribution. (Some might call it shameless recycling. But not you, right? Right?!)

But mostly, thanks to Cerb Chaos for being forthcoming about your disagreement with what seems to be (in this instance anyway) some kind of critical consensus that you're honestly seeking to understand. I’m not saying that the comments, above or below, will necessarily change your mind or anything. But I do appreciate the spirit in which they were put forth, and I’m glad to be able to say that they were, I think, received in the same spirit— one of furthering understanding of all points of view on a figure as complex and controversial as Brian De Palma. It was your comments that finally inspired me to try to briefly (ha!) put into some shape or form what it is about the director that I find so personally transfixing. That attempt is what follows here.

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De Palma is one of those filmmakers who seems to inspire either fierce devotion or fierce hatred-- there doesn't seem to be much middle ground when considering his films. (And considering his subject matter and his insinuating, exploratory, personally implicating way with the camera and story structure, should this be so surprising?)

I've always found De Palma to be a compelling filmmaker, particularly coming, as I do, from the point of view of a cinephile, even when I've found his work off-key or ill-advised. But since the release of Femme Fatale, I've come to realize with just how much esteem I hold this director-- he's surely one of my favorites now, and perhaps one of the two or three best American directors currently working. Yet I've never felt bound to look at his work with a blindly approving eye and, indeed, there are several movies in his oeuvre that, despite their clear thematical relationship to the rest of his work and to the history of cinema he draws upon, seem fundamentally uninspired, tired, atonal.

I'm thinking primarily of movies like Obsession, and also Body Double, which I recently revisited-- I revised my opinion upward slightly, but still don't think much of it-- and the absurdly overestimated Scarface, which Pauline Kael called "a De Palma movie for people who hate De Palma movies."

I also think less of The Fury than most De Palma enthusiasts do. To my eye, it's filled with images of sinuous, beautiful rage and the poetry of emotional agony, and it sports some terrific performances-- John Cassavetes, Charles Durning, Carol Rossen, Amy Irving. Yet at the same time it seems rather misshapen at times as a narrative, hurried and choppy in moments where it should be languid and seductive, and I think it fails to build up a true head of black steam by its conclusion, despite the memorable dispatching of Fiona Lewis and, of course, Cassavetes. It's clearly a classic De Palma in its concerns and its approach, and compared to just about any other similar effort from just about anyone else it's clearly technically superior. But compared to some of De Palma's other works from the same period I just don't think it's as perfectly crafted or consistently imagined. All that said, I still enjoy revisiting The Fury every couple of years or so.

But ask me what De Palma films I'm over the moon for, either with the kind of minor reservations I'd have for any filmmaker, or with none at all, and the list is much longer: Hi, Mom!, Sisters, Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Casualties of War, Carlito's Way, Mission: Impossible and Femme Fatale, with a second tier occupied by Phantom of the Paradise, The Untouchables and Raising Cain. Cain, in fact, is on my short list of De Palma titles I'll be revisiting soon, along with Snake Eyes, Mission to Mars, The Bonfire of the Vanities and hopefully even Wise Guys before The Black Dahlia bows.

As Tom says, it's De Palma's engagement (hugely key word) with cinema and cinema history that, plainly enough for me, places him outside and above the class of copycats with whom he's so frequently grouped. He's using key influences (Hitchcock, of course, but Antonioni, Godard, Chabrol and Kubrick as well) not as signposts to clue movie eggheads in as to how smart and crafty he is, but as seedlings for the progression of his vision over the course of his career, as the foundation of a structured, astringently clear-eyed, yet sometimes subtly hallucinatory way of visualizing the world through the cinema. The audiences "sees" the cinema, but De Palma also uses the cinema itself to see, to reflect back on the world, on the audience, in a meaningful and not always comforting fashion.

De Palma's movies, sometimes because of their excessive stylization, can seem uneven, to have not "aged well." There are moments in both Dressed to Kill and Blow Out that seem thin, less well thought out. (Is it coincidence that they seem to be those scenes that feature Dennis Franz and Nancy Allen in one-on-one situations?)

But each movie, even within scenes that may not seem to be "working" for sensibilities that have have moved 20-25 years down the road, relies on relevatory visual strategies and cues that can often help the viewer past the occasional lumpy exposition or weak performance by engaging him or her in the film's structural purpose-- I'm thinking here of how De Palma uses the multilayered framing and levels of sound in the interrogation scene in Dressed to Kill to tickle our imaginations and stimulate our perception during an otherwise banal scene-- Keith Gordon eavesdropping on Franz's questioning of Allen-- seen through layers of windows, and through various and subtle deep focus/split screen techniques.

I think you're right on the money, Tom, regarding Blow Out as well. De Palma absorbs the Antonioni material, all right, and I'd suggest he goes far beyond what Antonioni was able to achieve, or maybe even what h was interested in achieving, in Blow Up by embracing the crude "plot" elements of the witnessed murder. Where Antonioni abandons this narrative line, for reasons either based in existential malaise, or perhaps a disinterest in exploring the possibilities of mere melodrama, De Palma grounds his film in it and expands the elements Antonioni abandons into a vision of political paranoia and personal responsibility that is far more potent today than are his fellow Italian's mod London mind games.

I cannot imagine sitting through the first 20 minutes of Blow Out and not being completely glued to the screen to see the rest. That's an opening 20 minutes that holds within it the gruesome, salacious comedy and fake-out gimmickry of the movie-within-a-movie; the stunning logo of the movie itself (scored with near-subliminal, prescient use of some of the most integral and agonzing sounds that will be heard later in the film); the enthralling split-screen under the opening credits, which contrasts expository information setting up the importance of the Liberty Bell Parade and the emergence of the Kennedyesque political figure with Jack (Travolta) preparing to record sound out in the field; and of course, that absolutely perfect sequence in which De Palma heightens every sound (the owl, the overheard pedestrians, the faint squeal of tires) in anticipation of the recording of the sounds of the horrific event that will kick the film's primary mystery into gear. You're damn right, Tom-- this cinephile is definitely gaga over it.

And it's impossible for me to see Blow Out and imagine coming away, despite the apparent influences of Antonioni and Hitchcock, thinking of it as anything but a De Palma film, a work of art that couldn't have originated from anyone else. To downgrade an artist because he acknowledges the whole of the history of his art form, and specific avenues of interest that have sparked his creativity in the creation of his work, would be to deny the manner in which artists in every medium have taken previously known works and expanded on them, turned them inside out, filled old wine husks with new wine. De Palma is a polarizing artist whose output has never taken a straight line-- he gets better with age, it seems to me, even if there are disturbing, uneven zags and zigs from film to film. And even his work for hire (Mission: Impossible, Mission to Mars), while sometimes hit and miss, is shot through with this director's fury, deftness with chronology, visual confidence and, in the case of Mars, belief in the lyricism and power of the image to overcome the occasional insufficiency of the spoken word.

I have no idea where The Black Dahlia will land on the scale of Brian De Palma's career, but I'm hard pressed to think of another director in 2006 whose work I'm so much looking forward to seeing.

21 comments:

Jeff Duncanson said...

Nice post. DePalma films are a mixed bag with me. There are a couple I sorta like (Carrie, The Untouchables), 2 that I like a lot (Blow-Up, Scarface) , but there are a vast number that I haven't seen and don't really consider myself the worst for it. The problem that I have with DePalma is the same one I have with Tarentino - It's that show-offy film nerd thing. "I've seen a ton of movies, and here's a bunch of homages to prove it!!!!"
The Coens are guilty of this a bit, too, but I can give them a pass, because they do put their own stamp on things even as they borrow, like dropping Preston Sturges into "O Brother" , or Hitchcock into "Blood Simple"

Jeff Duncanson said...

D'Oh!!! I meant Blow-OUT, of course.

Christian said...

Discovering the De Palma love on the Web ahead of "The Black Dahlia" has been invigorating. I've spent years defending much of the guy's work to other film fans who deride him. To now see so many bloggers and Web-based film writers extolling De Palma is encouraging.

That said, the comments I've been reading have failed to address one charge against De Palma that, although it might seem "dated," still sticks, at least for me: The shabby treatment of women in his films.

I'm no feminist, but didn't have to be to see how De Palma objectifies females, often using them as shapely props to be oogled and disaptached, rather than treating them as full-blooded characters, with lives of their own.

OK, De Palma doesn't treat his MALE characters with much more depth -- characterization not seeming to be De Palma's strong suit. And I'm sure someone will try to make the case that De Palma's women are tough-as-nails -- great examples of feminine strength.

I don't buy it. It's tough to watch "Dressed to Kill," "Blow Out," and "Body Double," in which female characters meet ugly, perverse ends. (I own copies of the first two and have seen the third more than a few times.) I know De Palma was quoted as stickin' it to his feminist critics with "Body Double," but I don't feel like he ever adequately answered the charges against him.

Reading "The Devil's Candy," and of De Palma's affairs with one female assistant and then another, the impression of him as a philandering jerk is tough to shake. I wish it weren't so, but this continues to bug me.

That's why I have some trepidation about a De Palma-directed film involving starlets and murder. I hope my fears are unfounded, but part of me wants De Palma to stick to stories about men.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Christian, I'm getting ready for vacation, so I don't know if I'll be able to take time tonight to revisit your comments more specificially-- I hope I will. But for now, I actually did address what I consider the myth of misogyny in De Palma's films in my post on Body Double, a De Palma movie I don't particularly like. You can click on the link and read it if you care to, but just to address your concerns, either superficially or not until I can take more time, I thought I'd just excerpt a bit of what I said in that post. There's more to my argument, in general and regarding Body Double in particular, in the full post, but I thought this might at least throw some light on how I approach the question of De Palma's alleged misogyny:

"One of the major revelations for me upon this viewing of Body Double was how little water those time-honored and quite tired accusations of misogyny seem to be able to hold. I’ve never felt that the charges made much sense in regards to De Palma anyway. Films like Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise, Carrie, Obsession, The Fury, Dressed to Kill and Femme Fatale are erotically charged, to be sure, and it would be silly to insist that De Palma hasn’t an appreciation of the sensual quality of many of the women in those films. But, as SLIFR reader Blaaagh has observed, De Palma’s films have always featured interesting women, women who have been subjected to as great a variety of directorial attitudes as one would expect they would encounter in the real world, a quality they share with the male characters in his films. Not many film artists working in the suspense genre, perhaps not even Hitchcock, have approached a variety female characters as rich as Carrie White, Margaret White (Carrie), Daniele Breton/Dominique Blanchion (Sisters), Kate Miller (Dressed to Kill), Sally (Blow Out) or Laure Ash (Femme Fatale). To say that De Palma is a misogynist, or even a sadist, because some of these characters meet horrific fates, or are the cause of horrific violence, or are the victims of some fairly sardonic jokes orchestrated by the director, is to dismiss all the other levels on which these women operate dramatically and emotionally, and quite satisfactorily so."

Also, David Edelstein, in his preview of The Black Dahlia in this week's New York weighed in on those same misogyny charges that seem to dog De Palma. Here's Edelstein:

"In prospect, The Black Dahlia is a disturbingly perfect marriage of filmmaker and subject: Brian De Palma, the virtuosic director who raised feminist hackles with the elaborate murders in Dressed to Kill and Body Double, and Elizabeth Short, the aspiring movie star and barfly found in 1947 in a vacant Hollywood lot, her body cut in half, her innards removed, a hideous smile carved from ear to ear on her broken face. I can already hear the cries of outrage: Who let this ghoul near the Dahlia?

The charges of misogyny against De ­Palma have always struck me as unjust. Well, okay, Body Double was a big “Suck on this” to feminists, but the film that first inspired their wrath, Dressed to Kill, was a nightmarish fantasia on the desire to punish women, not a manifestation of that desire. De Palma’s females—from Carrie White to the Femme Fatale babes—tend to be more sympathetic than his males. No film demonstrates De Palma’s understanding of the male gaze and its pinned-and-­wriggling quarry more than his neglected 1989 masterpiece, Casualties of War, a clear-eyed anatomization of a real-life atrocity, the rape and murder of a Vietnamese girl. (It’s the otherworldly image of that girl that came to mind when I heard about the soldiers accused of a similar crime in Iraq.)"

I like that allusion to Casualties of War in particular.

Anyway, thanks, Christian, for the input. Feel free to continue the conversation. I hope to get back to it myself tonight.

Oh, and by the way, there are some outstanding new photos and some reviews of The Black Dahlia taken from the Venice Film Festival available now at De Palma a la Mod that are, of course, worth checking out.

Christian said...

Great post, Dennis. Thanks for the back-and-forth.

Gosh, I didn't suspect I'd be fighting this battle with David Edelstein, one of my favorite critics. But I tend to agree with him on the motivation behind "Body Double." Of course, De Palma himself copped to this, as I mentioned earlier, so it shouldn't come as a surprise.

It's most gratifying, however, to see Edelstein trumpet "Casualties of War" so soon after Charles Taylor reviewed the recently released DVD of the same in the New York Observer, also calling the film a masterpiece.

I should've mentioned that, despite my later misgivings about the few De Palma films I mentioned earlier, it was this movie that forever sealed my love of De Palma and his work, and which was the first film that forced me to seriously consider the charges of misogyny against De Palma. (Well, I suppose I HAD considered them in some sense earlier, but "Casualties" was released when I was 18 years old, and any earlier "considerations" of De Palma and his treatment of women wouldn't have amounted to more than a passing teenage daydream.)

A flop financially, I remember seeing the movie opening weekend, at New River Valley Mall in Blacksburg, VA. My film professor, who saw most films through the lens of the Vietnam War, dismissed the film as chalking up the Vietnam experience to nothing more than a " bad dream," so he couldn't countenance the film.

Most critics, of course, dismissed the film BECAUSE of the by-then embedded expectation that De Palma was a misogynist. The brutal treatment of the villager played right into this, in their eyes. But they were wrong then, at least as far as this film goes -- and I say that realizing that I'm defending some of the very same charges, from the very same people, in regard to certain other films from De Palma. Because the film was so far from titillating, I simply couldn't align myself with its feminist critics, nor with the other critics who so casually dismissed the movie.

The incident with the villager was illustrative of a larger dehumanization brought on by that particular military engagement. That's what I thought De Palma was trying to say.

Well then, why, you might ask, did I like the film? I suspect much of my admiration for this film and "Raising Cain" in particular, and for "Carlito's Way" to a lesser extent, has to do with Stephen Burum's cinematography. Yes, Burum was the cinematographer for a few De Palma films that aren't my favorites, but for so many of De Palma's great works -- heck, even for those LESSER works -- I find it difficult to separate the director from the cinematographer, for it's the visual style of the pieces more than anything that remains with me.

Maybe this is a separate topic: The extent that De Palma, who's known as a grand visual stylist, influenced, or was INFLUENCED BY, each of the cinematographers with whom he's worked.

Sorry to throw so much on the table, Dennis. I don't want to keep you from your vacation. Maybe other readers want to chime in?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Christian, thanks so much for all your thoughts. You're not delaying my vacation one bit! (Although I do have a deadline this afternoon that is in a bit of danger!)

I agree, Casualties of War was misread by a lot of writers I can remember reading at the time who clearly had their own agenda regarding the way the war "should" be presented on film, and also as to whether or not De Palma and David Rabe were absolving American soldiers (and by extension, American involvement in the war) by the measure of "forgiveness" that they saw being dealt to the character of Eriksson at the film's conclusion. And many of those same writers used the fact that De Palma staged the death of the Vietnamese girl using all the cinematic gifts he has available to him as evidence that he was somehow enjoying her misery and desecration. I find Edelstein's correlation between the film and recent events in Iraq illuminating, and I wonder if the movie might have more of a chance of being accepted and understood during this latest dark chapter in our nation's history.

(If you haven't yet, I highly recommend reading That Little Round-Headed Boy's excellent consideration of the film.)

As for your idea about Burum, I love the idea of exploring that avenue. De Palma has always worked with great cienmatographers, some, like Vilmos Zsigmond and Burum, more well-known than others, like Ralf Bode. But the relationship between the cinematographer and the director is, as you suggest, perhaps more intimately entwined that a lot of people realize. I'm looking at a documentary right now called Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One and the subsequent Take 2 1/2, and both films deal directly and subtextually with this question-- how do these two powerful forces coexist and work with each other, and whose vision is it?

What a great idea for further commentary. I really would like to talk more about it. I hope others will too. I'm still crossing my fingers that I can devote some time tonight. Otherwise, it's a good idea for a separate post. Thanks again, Christian.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Jeff: Didn't mean to ignore you! As I hinted, I think De Palma's integration of influences goes way beyond "that show-offy film nerd thing," although it'd be silly to suggest that his movies don't appeal, on a very basic and a very sophisticated level, to film nerds (like me). I just think they're far better, richer, more suggestive experiences as a whole than just empty "spot-the-reference" exercises.

DVC said...

I stumbled across this blog from Scanners a while back, and I'm enjoying this De Palma discussion. I've been a huge fan of his for years, though I have to agree with Cerb Chaos that Mission to Mars was one of the worst movies I've ever seen in a theater. (I guess I'll have to check out LRHB's defense of it.)

At NYU, my best friend and I would always argue about him. We saw a double feature of Blow Up and Blow Out, and I remember his look to me afterwards as if to say, see how much better the Antonioni film was, but of course, I didn't at all agree.

I think one of the reasons De Palma is so divisive among cinephiles is his seeming reliance on craft over all else. As Tom said, "DePalma's construction of the Thriller becomes as purely cinematic as Jerry Lewis's construction of visual gags." It is pure filmmaking to such an extent that it could be dismissed as a magic trick or a roller coaster ride. De Palma is a manipulator on a grand scale, and many people don't like to be manipulated, especially if there is not some edifying end in view. Others, like myself, enjoy giving themselves over to the hands of a master.

To chime in on the misogyny, I don't think it holds up for the very reason Christian gives in his first comment: "De Palma doesn't treat his MALE characters with much more depth -- characterization not seeming to be De Palma's strong suit." Whether he is or not, the sensibility displayed in his films seems to that of a misanthrope. All the characters (male and female) are subject to his will and whims, and grisly deaths abound, but we as an audience are less sensitive to the violence perpetrated on male victims--like in The Untouchables.

Chris Oliver said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris Oliver said...

All this talk about DePalma has made me go rent a few of his films. I'm halfway through Body Double (seen once before) right now, with The Fury (never seen) on deck. Since you asked for links to DePalma writing on the web, I thought Mr. Beaks' coverage of a DePalma retrospective from a few years back was pretty great. I'll just link to this, which has links to all four chapters (plus his review of Femme Fatale) in the first line:

http://www.collider.com/entertainment/news/article.asp?aid=2739&tcid=1

Maya said...

Great thread! I'd forgotten that "Casualties of War" was DePalma's! I love that movie. I even went to a seminar about it. I'll have to dig out my notes and work it up for you.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Maya: Now, you've got me excited! It's a brilliant, brilliant movie, but it's so difficult for me to watch. I'm steeling up my nerve, because I finally got ahold of the Extended Version on DVD and I'm driven to see it again. And to be able to read your stuff on it, that would be a pleasure indeed. I can't wait to see what you have to say about this De Palma masterpiece.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Chris: Thanks for the link! It seems a bunch of us are on a real De Palma jag right now (I'm driving my wife crazy with it-- she's a charter member of the De Palma Haters Club). But what better time for such a jag? I look forward to hearing what you think of the movies you're going to see. I've got Raising Cain, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Mission to Mars and, of course, Casualties of War on tap for my time off.

Edward Copeland said...

I don't hate DePalma, but it always seems to me that he thinks out a handful of sequences for his movies and then blows off the rest. I have old reviews of mine of Bonfire of the Vanities, Carlito's Way and Casualties of War up at my site under the DePalma heading in the sidebar, if you are interested.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Absolutely, Ed. Thanks for the tip on the links to your reviews of Bonfire, Carlito's Way and Casualties of War.

Your comment is well taken. I think I've heard just as many people, in arguing against De Palma, however, say that his movies are often overthought, too pre-planned , hermetically sealed. But when I think back on Body Double, and Bonfire in particular (a movie I'm relishing revisiting), that observation about his movies sometimes not being thoroughly considered seems way appropriate. Body Double is a sloppy movie in a lot of ways. But I think Blow Out and Dressed to Kill, just to name two, more than make up for it.

Peet said...

Body Double's sloppy? Don't get me started again, Dennis... ;)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Heeheehee! He took the bait, ladies and gentlemen!

What do you think of Bonfire, Peet? I found a very inexpensive DVD while I was in Oregon earlier this year, so I bought it. I've been told by more than one person that it's definitely worth another look, and I felt like seeing it far removed from reading The Devil's Candy, and hearing from each and every reviewer in the country just how bad it was, might be a valuable experience.

Peet said...

I'm not fond of Bonfire, Dennis. I feel the farce-like comedy of Tom Hanks's performance, for example, doesn't sit well with the black satire storyline and De Palma's dramatically baroque visuals.

Cerb Chaos said...

Sorry I'm so late, I've been in London for the past week or so, and computer access was not on my priorities list.

My copy of the Film Snobs Dictionary (actual book) has this to say on DePalma:

DePalma, Brian. Newark-born director with powerful ability to polarize Snobs, some dismissing him as a hack Hitchcock homagist and others fulsomely praising his masterfully vulgar thrillers-such as SISTERS (1973) BLOW OUT (1981) RAISING CAIN (1992) and FEMME FATALE (2002)-as the apex of cinema, awesome in their preposterous plots, giddy camerawork, doppelganger motifs, hot babes, and prodigious use of slo-mo. (Cahiers Du Cinema rated DePalma's CARLITO'S WAY, from 1993, as the best film of the nineties). What all Snobs agree upon is that his mainstream, moneymaking flicks-such as THE UNTOUCHABLES, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, and even the behemothic pop-culture reference point that is SCARFACE-do not merit serious consideration.

Of course this is an oversimplification, but touches on some key points. I’m going to try to elaborate on my previous statements.

The only movie I’ve seen from DePalma that I can say I’ve enjoyed is The Untouchables, the beauty of it being it’s ability to take the realism of the plot and add a stylistic flourish that maintains an almost perfect balance during it’s entirety. Plus, the Odessa Steps homage is the only use of slow motion in a movie that works I can think of off the top of my head. The movie was fun, but not a sign of a true visionary.

Mission to Mars is a weird one, I hated that movie. However I was around ten when I saw it. The fact that images of it remain in my head may be a sign of it’s success, but the images I remember for their faux profundity. After reading LRHB’s review I’m thinking of giving it a second shot, but not for a long time.

Dressed to Kill I’ve seen more recently, and I feel like I can defend my (hate?) for the film. It’s not that it’s stylistic, it’s not the homage, there are movies that use both to wonderful effect, but the fact that many times I knew what was going to happen simply by the virtue of having seen Psycho. I knew the first scene would end in a death in the shower, knew that the killer would actually be a man in a dress. I admittedly didn’t know what the final twist would be, but by that time I had totally lost interest, and as I really didn’t care about the characters, the revelation was moot.

Dennis, your post didn’t change what I thought of those films, but it did give me hope about things to come. I’m now looking forward to watching Carrie, Sisters, Blow Out, and even Scarface. I hope to pack these all in before I see The Black Dahlia, which I probably will be seeing, so to better grasp the entire auteur that is DePalma.

Eric Henderson said...

Great stuff, even if we probably don't quite see eye-to-eye on The Fury, Body Double and The Untouchables (which, far more than Scarface, is the film I'd chose for the ultimatum Kael attached to that film).

Dan said...

Wow, Dennis! As only a sporadic blogger, I'm way too late for the 'thon, but I'll be posting my own .02 on 'Phantom' and one other De Palma fave soon.
- Dan Aloi