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Brian De Palma
Robert De Niro,
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Keith Gordon is a creative young man who films the oddball doings of his family and peers. "The Maestro" appears frequently to give him pointers on his techniques. It's almost a film about a young man making the film. Written by
David Spalding <http://korova.com/film>
Shot by students of DePalma's Independent Filmmaking course at Sarah Lawrence College. Intended to be a "learn by doing" experience for the students and grad students, the goal was to budget, finance, shoot, and edit the film using primarily students, with DePalma overseeing. See more »
Ordinarily I'd masticate these vegetables, but I had a little accident with my jaw.
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This film is totally unlike anything I've ever seen from De Palma. It's a dysfunctional family comedy filmed with purposely shoddy production to get over the premise that we are really watching a home movie shot by the main character.
Kirk Douglas plays The Maestro, a film instructor who starts his new class off by showing his recent failure to make Keith Gordon the star of his own movie. Gordon is one of those people who exist without anyone really knowing it. He doesn't appear to have any friends and his family doesn't give him the time of day. His father (the late Vincent Gardenia) is a quack doctor who cheats on his wife with his nurse (and probably his female patients). His mother (Mary Davenport) is too concerned about this, continually wavering on whether to divorce him or accept all the blame for not being able to satisfy him. The rest of the time, she's interested in what her good son that she's so proud of even though she doesn't understand him in the least is up to. Gerrit Graham is an elitist who essentially lives and teaches naturalism and sexism at Now College. He'd rather plant his seed in the ground than in Nancy Allen, but since it's not possible for man to do that yet, he decides he'll marry her if he can convert her to his ways. Allen is an interesting choice for him to try to convert because she's a whore who drinks, smokes, and eats evil fast food. She totally worships him so she attempts to give it all up for a life with him that's, all things considered, less of a life than she had before because a woman in his world essentially can't do anything.
Since Gordon's life is an utter bore, Douglas gets him to film things that the average Joe would pay to see. Thus, Gordon decides to try to catch his father in the act to help his mom get the divorce and to steal Allen away from his brother, who has always been the center of attention and one that won in the past, by convincing her that she's fine as she is.
The movie is absurd, but generally in a way that's humorous without going overboard. It's definitely somewhat farcical in its look at filmmaking by the inexperienced and this quirky family.
Graham does an excellent job of playing his wacky character that considers himself to be of the utmost knowledge, but can't convey his points in a way where anyone understands them (he explains with lines like those who know know). What makes it even funnier is that he's held in such high regard, yet his disciples consist of about 5 rejects that just pretend to understand and buy into his philosophies to his tirades and/or being verbally berated.
Allen has a tougher role than in her other films with De Palma, as she tries to be a good girl but she's constantly being tempted, so she gets to have some interesting personality shifts. She's been in better films, but this is the one where she really stands out as someone that could really act.
The thing with the style is De Palma seems to waver between whether he wants us to believe it's all a home movie or not. At some points we see Gordon going under cover in a Soul Man kind of outfit to spy on his father, but most of the time it's obvious that Gordon isn't filming and, based on the camera angles, not believable that anyone else could be without being seen. To make things more bizarre, Douglas just appears out of nowhere, even popping up in a tree at one point while Gordon is failing to catch his dad in action. The only true breaks in the style are a few dreamy shots of Allen that make her look really beautiful, perhaps so the filmmakers in the film can be described as hacks that luck into a nice scene once every couple of days.
In terms of style, the animation opening is what steals the show. Not that the animations are technical in any way, but it sets up the whole movie by introducing all the characters and the caricatures of them are quite humorous.
It seems like De Palma was just having fun with this one. If you take this at face value than it's easy to rank on because it's got its share of implausibilities. If you don't focus on who is filming the movie then it's solid because the actions of the characters are believable (considering what the characters are like) and the progression is logical. As a whole it's a mess, but an enjoyable one that was years ahead of its time. It's out there, but if you like movies with weird families such as Some Girls and didn't find the production of Blair Witch to be a detriment then this is another to check out. I'm glad this isn't De Palma's regular style because we would have been robbed of some great, highly stylish films, but as a one-time experiment it's successful enough and a cool kind of different. I think most people would like his far more conventional comedy Wise Guys better, but I found this story far more humorous and a lot less goofy. 7/10
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