6 items from 2016
“This is a pretty good land, a fact” was proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in a television broadcast addressing the Vietnam War — the leader of the free world backing up a “humble” if contentious wording of his nation’s state with an absolute, and thus already opening up the possibility of not just satire, but images as the ultimate medium for telling lies. Perhaps it was the ultimate “prologue” for a 28-year-old Brian De Palma.
With the mission statement of setting out to make something akin to Jean-Luc Godard’s ’60s work, De Palma’s third feature, Greetings, still feels surprisingly his own; his preoccupations already so dominant that it doesn’t come off as a banalization of Godard’s aesthetics and ideas the way so many other rip-offs did. Perhaps the difference is that it’s based in a very personal milieu, situated around three New York buddies »
- Ethan Vestby
It’s difficult to talk about Brian De Palma without talking about other filmmakers. We talk about Godard, who clearly impacted De Palma’s early politicization and constant interrogation of what it means to watch. We talk about Antonioni and Eisenstein, among the most notable filmmakers that De Palma has quoted whose surnames don’t begin with “H.” We talk about Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola, and Scorsese, the bearded “Movie Brats” whose elusive club De Palma claims membership to. Most of all, we talk about Hitchcock.
Brian De Palma is almost always discussed in terms of Hitchcock. His detractors frame him as a parasitic freeloader sucking away at the master’s suspense-filled tits. De Palma’s movies owe an obvious debt to the so-called Master of Suspense, but it’s a crippling and constricting narrative to apply to his entire body of work, and one that complicates readings of his early output. »
- The Film Stage
When it comes to telekinesis and gory visual effects, the movie that generally springs to mind is David Cronenberg’s 1981 exploding head opus, Scanners. But years before that, American director Brian De Palma was liberally dowsing the screen with claret in his 1976 adaptation of Carrie - still rightly regarded as one of the best Stephen King adaptations made so far. A less widely remembered supernatural film from De Palma came two years after: De Palma’s supernatural thriller, The Fury.
The Fury was made with a more generous budget than Carrie, had a starrier cast (Kirk Douglas in the lead, John Cassavetes playing the villain), and it even did pretty well in financial terms. Yet The Fury had the misfortune of being caught in a kind of pincer movement between Carrie, »
Taking a glance over his filmography, it’s quick to surmise Brian De Palma’s lack of interest in the words “Inspired By” or “Based on a True Story.” His attraction to images leans so heavily towards their natural falsity rather than some kind of prosaic yet still wholly phony verisimilitude. But one of the few exceptions lends a tragic weight that few of his films have.
The true story in question is what’s commonly referred to as Incident on Hill 192: in 1966, an American army squad in the Vietnam War kidnapped a young village girl, then subsequently gang-raped and murdered her. Journalist Daniel Lang brought this to further public attention with a 1969 article in The New Yorker entitled Casualties of War, of which De Palma’s film would share the name.
- Ethan Vestby
Bringing up Brian De Palma as if he’s still some kind of marginalized or misunderstood figure is now heavily contentious, not just in the sense that “the discussion” has, with the presence of the Internet, become so heavily splintered that every figure has at least seem some form of reappraisal, but in that this is being discussed on the occasion of a new documentary and retrospectives in New York, Chicago, Austin, and Toronto (the lattermost of which this symposium will be timed to). Yes, the line has probably tipped past “divisive,” but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t room for debate.
It’s not hard to understand why De Palma’s work strikes a cord with a new cinephilia fixated on form and vulgarity. Though, in going film-by-film — taking us from political diatribes against America to gonzo horror to gangster films your parents watch to strange European »
- Ethan Vestby
The Carrie and Scarface director is the subject of a new film and retrospective. Here he talks about how he invented reality TV and what it feels like to be reviled
This month, New Jersey-born director Brian De Palma is the subject of two major, separate tributes. The recently opened Metrograph cinema in New York’s Lower East Side has a full retrospective encompassing his five-decade career. This body of work is markedly diverse, spanning experimental curios (Greetings, Hi, Mom!), Hitchcock-inflected thrillers (Dressed To Kill, Body Double), gruelling war dramas (Casualties of War, Redacted), and, of course, the visually spectacular, more mainstream fare for which he is best known (Carrie, Scarface, Mission: Impossible).
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- Ashley Clark
6 items from 2016
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