DE PALMA (2016) – Controversial Director Reflects on His Career

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de palma

Brian De Palma tells his story in DE PALMA (2016).

Brian De Palma has a lot to say about his career.

And in DE PALMA (2016), the new documentary on the acclaimed movie director by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, he gets nearly two hours to do just that.

The film is actually footage from an interview Baumbach and Paltrow shot with De Palma back in 2010.  They liked the footage so much they added lots of film clips and turned it into a documentary.

DE PALMA pretty much plays like a one person movie panel.  Brian De Palma is front and center speaking to the camera for nearly the entire movie, with appropriate film clips thrown in to highlight his points and stories.  As such, it’s not going to win any awards for creative cinematography.

Back in his heyday, in the 1970s and 1980s, Brian De Palma was a polarizing and controversial movie director, infamous for his ultra-violent yet stylish movies, especially for over-the-top scenes of violence against women.  He was also known for his Hitchcock homages which critics often slammed as simple knock-offs.

In DE PALMA, Brian De Palma takes us through his entire career, beginning with his early years, when he used to operate in close circles with his best friends and fellow filmmakers Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Paul Schrader, and Steve Spielberg.  De Palma also worked with a very young Robert De Niro and directed De Niro’s first movie, GREETINGS (1968).

De Palma continues with how he began to make a name for himself with films like SISTERS (1973), PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974), and OBSESSION (1976).  He called Genevieve Bujold’s performance the best part of OBSESSION, and Cliff Robertson the worst part, explaining that Robertson, once he saw that Bujold was stealing the show, tried to sabotage the movie by making things as difficult as possible for both Bujold and De Palma.

Later that same year De Palma was offered the project which would launch his career, CARRIE (1976), based on the novel by Stephen King. De Palma lamented that the studio really didn’t get behind CARRIE since they viewed it as just a gory horror movie, but to his delight, both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie were nominated for Oscars.

After the success of CARRIE, De Palma received a huge budget for his next movie, THE FURY (1978) which happened to be the first Brian De Palma movie I ever saw.

After THE FURY, De Palma entered his Hitchcock period with such films as DRESSED TO KILL (1980), BLOW OUT (1981), and BODY DOUBLE (1984), films that critics complained were too derivative of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. DRESSED TO KILL was modeled after PSYCHO (1960) and BODY DOUBLE was modeled after VERTIGO (1958) and REAR WINDOW (1954).

De Palma said he was heavily criticized for power drill murder scene in BODY DOUBLE, especially for making the drill so big, but as he explained, the drill was gigantic because in order for the scene to work, Craig Wasson’s character had to see it coming through the ceiling, and for that to happen, the drill had to be huge.  As De Palma explains it, it made perfect sense to him because it was simply part of the story.  He said he never intended to create extra violent scenes against women, but that those scenes existed only to satisfy the stories he was telling.

In the middle of these films came SCARFACE (1983), starring Al Pacino.  De Palma tells the story of how he was so annoyed at the ratings board for not giving his film an “R” rating even after all his edits, especially to the chain saw scene, that once he did receive the “R” rating, he went back and released the unedited version anyway.

He also said, and it’s true, that the way he edited the infamous chain saw scene, you never see the chain saw cut into the victim’s flesh.  I recently re-watched SCARFACE for the first time in years and I was surprised at how little De Palma showed in that scene.  It’s really not that gory at all.

After the comedic flop WISE GUYS (1986), De Palma made the movie that once more resuscitated his career:  THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987), which just might be De Palma’s most popular movie, but strangely, it’s one of my least favorite films that he made.   Oftentimes I find De Palma’s camerawork overbearing.  The famous “shoot-out with the baby carriage falling down the stairs” scene in THE UNTOUCHABLES, for example, I find almost unwatchable because of the pretentious slow-motion camerawork.  Some see it as cinematic genius, but for me it’s just cinematic overkill.

Likewise, in his discussion of CARRIE, De Palma talks about the complicated shots he conceived for the end of CARRIE and how the producers were unhappy with the results, to which De Palma says they just didn’t get the genius of his work.  While this may be true, the climactic bloodbath in CARRIE is another example where the camerawork gets in the way of the story.  To me, and this is why I’m not the biggest De Palma fan, if you’re going to use the camera creatively, you have to do it in a way where it empowers the story, not detracts from it.  Spielberg does this all the time.  De Palma does not.

His next film was CASUALTIES OF WAR (1989), the gripping Vietnam movie starring Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn.  This one I did like, and it’s probably my favorite Brian De Palma movie of all time.  I remember seeing it at the movies and being blown away by its potency.

De Palma tells some interesting anecdotes from the set of CASUALTIES, specifically of how Sean Penn used to torment Michael J. Fox.   At one point, Penn was supposed to whisper a line in Fox’s ear about payback, but De Palma heard Penn say, “TV actor!”  De Palma felt Penn’s antics caused Fox to feel alienated and defensive on set, which ultimately helped Fox’s performance since his character was supposed to feel the same way.

This was followed by one of De Palma’s biggest flops, THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (1990), a downward trend that would continue over the next few years.  After a brief surge from the Tom Cruise vehicle MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (1996), De Palma’s career bottomed out with the woeful MISSION TO MARS (2000) which was the last movie to date that De Palma shot in the United States.  His subsequent films have all been made in Europe.

DE PALMA is not the most riveting documentary I’ve ever seen nor even the most informative.  Its style is simple.  De Palma speaks directly to the camera the entire time, and when he’s not on screen, we’re treated to appropriate movie footage, which is  used here effectively.

De Palma also isn’t the most animated speaker around, but he does provide plenty of stories and anecdotes. He also asks questions.  For example, De Palma points out that although people have praised Alfred Hitchcock as a cinematic genius, no one else except for De Palma himself has ever tried to use Hitchcock’s style.  He asks why more directors aren’t making movies like Hitchcock did?  It’s a fair question.

Maybe part of the answer is that De Palma’s homages to Hitchcock never really worked all that well.  Part of the reason they didn’t work was they were too closely based on the Hitchcock movies they were paying homage to. Had De Palma used Hitchcock’s style in stories that were original and not derivative of specific Hitchcock movies, he may have had better results.

For Brian De Palma fans, DE PALMA is must-see viewing.  For the rest of us, it’s a chance to see and listen to a film director reflect back on his entire body of work.  And whether you’re a fan of De Palma or not, you have to give the guy credit for his persistence and for sticking to his guns when it came to making movies the way he wanted to make them.

De Palma is currently 75 years old and still making movies in Europe.

—END—

 

 

 

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THE HORROR JAR: MUSIC BY BERNARD HERRMANN

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THE HORROR JAR:  Music by Bernard Herrmann

By Michael Arruda

Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann

 

 

Welcome to another edition of THE HORROR JAR, that column where we feature lists of odds and ends about horror movies.

Bernard Herrmann, the prolific film composer who composed music for some of Hollywood’s biggest movies during the 1940s-1970s, especially for director Alfred Hitchcock, wrote some of my favorite genre film scores.  He scored nine of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, including his most famous for PSYCHO (1960), and interestingly enough none of his Hitchcock scores were ever nominated for Oscars.

Herrmann started in radio, scoring Orson Welles’ radio shows in the 1930s, including his infamous “The War of the Worlds” broadcast in 1938.

Herrmann’s final film score was for Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER (1976).  He was supposed to score Brian De Palma’s CARRIE (1976) but died of a heart attack just before he was start work on the film.  He was 64.

Here’s a partial look at the movies Herrmann provided music for, focusing mostly on genre films:

CITIZEN KANE (1941)

Directed by Orson Welles

Screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz & Orson Welles

Kane:  Orson Welles

Jedediah Leland:  Joseph Cotten

Susan Alexander Kane:  Dorothy Comingore

Emily Kane:  Ruth Warrick

Mary Kane:  Agnes Moorehead

Running Time:  119 minutes

Bernard Herrmann’s first movie score. Not a bad way to start one’s career, scoring music for arguably the greatest movie ever made.

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941)

Directed by William Dieterle

Screenplay by Dan Totheroh and Stephen Vincent Benet

Daniel Webster:  Edward Arnold

Mr. Scratch:  Walter Huston

Running Time:  107 minutes

Herrmann’s second movie score earned him his first and only Academy Award for Best Music Score.

THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942)

Directed by Orson Welles

Screenplay by Orson Welles and Booth Tarkington

Eugene Morgan:  Joseph Cotten

Running Time:  88 minutes

Working with Orson Welles’ again in this troubled production which suffered from major studio meddling and last minute edits and changes.

THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947)

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Screenplay by Philip Dunne, based on the novel by R.A. Dick

Lucy Muir:  Gene Tierney

Captain Daniel Gregg:  Rex Harrison

Miles Farley:  George Sanders

Running Time:  104 minutes

Herrmann’s personal favorite music score.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)

Directed by Robert Wise

Screenplay by Edmund H. North, based on a story by Harry Bates

Klaatu:  Michael Rennie

Helen Benson:  Patricia Neal

One of my favorite Bernard Herrmann scores.  His music completely captures the otherworldly mood of this classic science fiction masterpiece about an alien, Klaatu (Michael Rennie) who travels to Earth to warn humankind that unless they give up their warring ways, they will face destruction by a superior race, and to give credence to his words Klaatu brings along his all-powerful robot Gort.  This thought-provoking drama is science fiction at its best.

Herrmann’s score here was later used in several episodes of the TV series LOST IN SPACE.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD poster

Directed by Nathan Juran

Screenplay by Kenneth Kolb

Sinbad:  Kerwin Mathews

Princess Parisa:  Kathryn Grant

Sokurah the Magician:  Torin Thatcher

Special Visual Effects by Ray Harryhausen

Running Time:  88 minutes

This just might be my all-time favorite Bernard Herrmann music score.  Rousing and adventurous from start to finish, it’s the type of score that’ll stick with you long after you’ve seen the movie.  Some of Herrmann’s best work is in movies featuring the special animation effects of Ray Harryhausen.

VERTIGO (1958)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor

John Ferguson:  James Stewart

Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton:  Kim Novak

Midge Wood:  Barbara Bel Geddes

Running Time:  128 minutes

Provides the music for one of Hitchcock’s best films, the tale of a retired San Francisco police detective (James Stewart) suffering from acrophobia (fear of heights) who becomes entangled in a bizarre murder plot.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Ernest Lehman

Roger Thornhill:  Cary Grant

Eve Kendall:  Eva Marie Saint

Phillip Vandamm: James Mason

Running Time:  136 minutes

With apologies to his work on PSYCHO, this just might be my favorite Bernard Herrmann score for an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  His rousing music in this film also ranks among his best work, period.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959)

Directed by Henry Levin

Screenplay by Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett, based on the novel by Jules Verne

Sir Oliver Lindenbrook:  James Mason

Alec McKuen:  Pat Boone

Carla Goetabaug:  Arlene Dahl

Count Saknussemm:  Thayer David

Running Time:  132 minutes

Another of my favorite Bernard Herrmann scores, but seriously, I can say that about nearly every score he wrote.  This fantasy film adventure based on the work of Jules Verne is 1950s filmmaking at its best:  colorful, elaborate, and entertaining throughout.

PSYCHO (1960)

Directed by Alfred HitchcockPsycho poster

Screenplay by Joseph Stefano, based on the novel by Robert Bloch

Norman Bates:  Anthony Perkins

Marion Crane:  Janet Leigh

Lila Crane:  Vera Miles

Sam Loomis:  John Gavin

Detective Arbogast:  Martin Balsam

Running Time:  109 minutes

Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous shocker, and arguably Bernard Herrmann’s most famous music score as well.  Likewise, it contains Hitchcock’s most famous and most studied scene, the shower scene, which also contains Herrmann’s most famous piece of music, the loud shrill of violins as the shadowy murderer strikes down poor Janet Leigh in the shower.  Hitchcock originally wanted no music in this scene, which actually makes a lot of sense and would have worked, making the scene raw and brutal, but Herrmann argued that it needed music, and how can anyone argue with the end result?  A rare example of one brief scene capturing the finest instances of artistry of two separate artists at the same time, as both Hitchcock and Herrmann produce their signature moments in this scene.

Arguably the most famous and recognizable horror movie score of all time.

THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960)

Directed by Jack Sher

Screenplay by Jack Sher and Arthur A. Ross, based on “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver:  Kerwin Mathews

Gwendolyn:  Jo Morrow

Elizabeth: June Thorburn

Running Time:  100 minutes

Once again providing music for a film with special animation effects by Ray Harryhausen.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961)

Directed by Cy Endfield

Screenplay by John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, and Crane Wilbur, based on the novel by Jules Verne

Captain Cyrus Harding:  Michael Craig

Lady Mary Fairchild:  Joan Greenwood

Herbert Brown:  Michael Callan

Gideon Spilitt:  Gary Merrill

Captain Nemo:  Herbert Lom

Running Time:  101 minutes

Once again reunited with Ray Harryhausen, and once again one of Herrmann’s most memorable scores. This entertaining adventure about Civil War soldiers stranded on an island with oversized creatures is must-see viewing.  The first twenty minutes, involving a daring escape from a Confederate prison, is riveting and suspenseful, complimented in full by Herrmann’s rousing music, and this is all before they even land on the island!

CAPE FEAR (1962)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson

Screenplay by James R. Webb, based on the novel by John D. Macdonald

Sam Bowden:  Gregory Peck

Max Cady:  Robert Mitchum

Peggy Bowden:  Polly Bergen

Running Time:  105 minutes

Classic thriller about murder and revenge was a financial flop upon its initial release.

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

Directed by Don Chaffey

Screenplay by Jan Read and Beverley Cross

Jason:  Todd Armstrong

Argos:  Laurence Naismith

Running Time:  104 minutes

Reunited once again— and for the last time— with Ray Harryhausen, and yes, once more, another exceedingly memorable film score.  This one contains the classic sword fight between Jason and his men and Harryhausen’s animated skeletons.  The scene also includes some of Hermann’s best music.

THE BIRDS (1963)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Evan Hunter, based on the story by Daphne Du Maurier

Melanie Daniels:  Tippi Hedrin

Mitch Brenner:  Rod Taylor

Annie Hayworth:  Suzanne Pleshette

Running Time:  119 minutes.

But, there’s no music in THE BIRDS.  True.  Herrmann served as a sound consultant for this movie.  Supposedly it was his idea not to have music in THE BIRDS.

MARNIE (1964)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen, based on the novel by Winston Graham

Marnie:  Tippi Hedren

Mark Rutland:  Sean Connery

Running Time:  130 minutes

This Hitchcock drama was considered a misfire on its initial release, but its reputation has grown steadily over the decades.

FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966)

Directed by Francois Truffaut

Screenplay by Francois Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, based on the novel by Ray Bradbury

Clarisse/Linda Montag:  Julie Christie

Guy Montag:  Oskar Werner

Running Time:  112 minutes.

Classic novel; not so classic movie.

SISTERS (1973)

Directed by Brian De Palma

Screenplay by Brian De Palma and Louisa Rose

Danielle Breton/Dominique Blanchion:  Margot Kidder

Joseph Larch:  Charles Durning

Running Time:  93 minutes

Early Brian De Palma thriller.

IT’S ALIVE (1974)

Directed by Larry Cohen

Screenplay by Larry Cohen

Frank Davies:  John P. Ryan

Running Time: 91 minutes

Campy horror movie about a killer baby was a hit in the summer of 1974.

OBSESSION (1976)

Directed by Brian De Palma

Screenplay by Paul Schrader

Michael Courtland:  Cliff Robertson

Elizabeth Courtland/Sandra Portinari

Robert Lasalle:  John Lithgow

Running Time:  98 minutes

De Palma thriller with shades of Hitchcock’s VERTIGO.  Herrmann’s score was nominated for an Oscar.

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Screenplay by Paul Schrader

Travis Bickle:  Robert De Niro

Iris:  Jodie Foster

Running Time:  113 minutes

Classic Scorsese film earned Oscar nominations for stars De Niro and Foster, as well as Bernard Herrmann who was nominated twice in the same year. Herrmann lost out to Jerry Goldsmith for his score for THE OMEN.  Herrmann’s final movie score.

Herrmann died of a heart attack on December 24, 1975, just hours after he had finished the score for TAXI DRIVER.  He was 64.

Bernard Herrmann enjoyed a long and prolific career.  For me, I will always associate his music with the fantasy films of Ray Harryhausen and the thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, and if I had to pick my three favorite Herrmann scores, they would be NORTH BY NORTHWEST, PSYCHO, and THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

Bernard Herrmann

June 29, 1911 – December 24, 1975

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: PSYCHO (1960)

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Anthony Perkins has some things to say as Norman Bates in PSYCHO (1960)

Anthony Perkins has some things to say as Norman Bates in PSYCHO (1960)

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES:  PSYCHO (1960)

By

Michael Arruda

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

 

So says Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in PSYCHO (1960), Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece shocker, the film that changed the way people take showers.

Welcome to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, the column where we look at memorable quotes from the movies.  Today we look at PSYCHO, the classic thriller starring Anthony Perkins as everybody’s favorite cross-dresser and knife-wielding maniac, Norman Bates.  The film also stars Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, and John Gavin.

There are a lot of neat quotes in this movie, most of them coming from Perkins’ Bates.  So here are some of the better ones for your reading pleasure, quotes from PSYCHO, screenplay by Joseph Stefano, based on the book of the same name by Robert Bloch.

Some of my favorite exchanges are between Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates and Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane, after she makes the fateful decision to stop and spend the night at the Bates Motel.  Speaking of which, she should have known immediately that the place was trouble, as soon as she asked Norman her initial question.

MARION CRANE:  Do you have any vacancies?

NORMAN BATES:  Oh, we have twelve vacancies. Twelve cabins, Twelve vacancies.

 Run for the hills!  Run for the hills!

But alas, Marion doesn’t run away.  She spends the night.  Her last night alive, as it turns out.

But before she takes that fateful shower, she accepts Norman’s invitation to join him in his office for a small simple dinner.

NORMAN:  You eat like a bird.

MARION (looks at the stuffed birds in the room):  And you’d know, of course.

NORMAN:  No, not really. Anyway, I hear the expression ‘eats like a bird’ is really a fals-fals-falsity. Because birds really eat a tremendous lot. But  I don’t really know anything about birds. My hobby is stuffing things. You know – taxidermy.

Run for the hills!  Run for the hills!

Just before this dinner get-together, Marion overhears an argument between Norman and his mother up at the main house.

MOTHER:  No! I tell you no! I won’t have you bringing some young girl in for supper! By candlelight, I suppose, in the cheap, erotic fashion of young men with cheap, erotic minds!

NORMAN:  Mother, please…!

MOTHER:  And then what? After supper? Music? Whispers?

NORMAN:  Mother, she’s just a stranger. She’s hungry, and it’s raining out!

MOTHER:  Mother, she’s just a stranger! As if men don’t desire strangers! As if… ohh, I refuse to speak of disgusting things, because they disgust me! You understand, boy? Go on, go tell her she’ll not be appeasing her ugly appetite with my food… or my son! Or do I have tell her because you don’t have the guts! Huh, boy? You have the guts, boy?

NORMAN:  Shut up! Shut up!

And then later at dinner, Norman tries to explain his mother’s behavior to Marion.

NORMAN:  It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?

Run for the hills!  Run for the hills!

Some of the more intriguing exchanges occur when Marion’s boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin) and sister Lila (Vera Miles) talk to Sheriff Chambers, as they investigate Marion’s disappearance.

SHERIFF:  Your detective told you he couldn’t come right back because he was going to question Norman Bates’ mother. Right?

LILA:  Yes.

SHERIFF:  Norman Bates’ mother has been dead and buried in Greenlawn Cenetery for the past ten years!

SAM:  You mean the old woman I saw tonight wasn’t Bates’ mother?

SHERIFF:  Now wait a minute, Sam, are you sure you saw an old woman?

SAM:   Yes! In the house behind the motel! I called and I pounded, but she just ignored me!

SHERIFF:   You mean to tell me you saw Norman Bates’ mother?

LILA:  It had to be, because Arbogast said so too. And the young man wouldn’t let him see her because she was too ill.

SHERIFF:  Well, if the woman up there is Mrs. Bates… who’s that woman buried out in Greenlawn Cemetery?

Who, indeed?

And of course my favorite quote of the entire movie might be its last line, as Norman sits in a prison cell, thinking thoughts in his mother’s voice.

NORMAN (as Mother):  They’re probably watching me.  Well, let them.  Let them see what kind of a person I am.  I’m not even going to swat that fly.  I hope they are watching— they’ll see.  They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly!

 

Well, that’s it for now.  Thanks for joining me on MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, the PSYCHO edition.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.