Yeah, for me, DePalma’s best films are those in the beginning of his career, like Greetings, Hi Mom, and Get to Know Your Rabbit where the shaggy mix of actors is matched by the shaggy nature of the films giving a sort of improvisational or open air to the proceedings, and I also don’t mind some of the more simple actioners like Mission Impossible or The Untouchables where the bigness of the projects and simplicity of the emotional arcs suit the broadness of style and acting that is in the film. Scarface also sort of treads that line, depending on how seriously you want to take it.
^^Get To Know Your Rabbit was a strange little film. no wonder the studio had no idea what to do with it.
i agree with you about Untouchables, that’s precisely why it works. When Depalma is painting in broad strokes he is usually ok. it’s when he tries to go for more that he stumbles, because, unlike his mentor Hitch, he has problems suggesting anything that is occuring beyond the frame.
That Hitchcock influence is odd, one can see it in DePalma’s films, but I can’t feel it there at all. The Giallo comp feels more accurate for his thriller type films anyway.
-I’d say Argento is more like that than Depalma, but you are right, Depalma’s standards for acting are not particularly high, and it shows.-
I think with De Palma there’s a strong tendency to make the manipulations of the medium as overt as possible, unlike many other directors where you get the opposite tendency via “realistic” storytelling, naturalistic (“good”) acting, conventional shots and editing, etc. Generally, I feel the approach to acting (in the films with performances that are typically identified as “bad acting”) is (intentionally) complicit in keeping the directorial style from being transparently virtuosic. De Palma wants you to be aware that he’s palming cards. For example, in Black Dahlia, look at the differences between the "bad acting " De Palma gets from Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank and the “bad acting” from “Elizabeth Short” (Mia Kirshner) in the audition reel footage.
DePalma isn’t an actor’s director? How to explain:
Robert DeNiro in Greetings and Hi, Mom!
Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie in Carrie
Michael Caine in Dressed to Kill
John Travolta in Blow Out
The whole cast in Casualties of War
Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way
Mia Kirshner in The Black Dahlia
the list could go on, but you get my point…
^^I don’t agree about most of those performances. Casualties Of War had poor acting imo. at least relative to the material. Fox was miscast and Penn was in Deniro clone mode at that point.
I liked Penn in C.Way—although it’s a ridiculous performance either way you look at it—Travolta in Blow Out, and Spacek in Carrie out the list you just provided, but again, none of those films represent the actors best work, not by a long shot.
MATT: Generally, I feel the approach to acting (in the films with performances that are typically identified as “bad acting”) is (intentionally) complicit in keeping the directorial style from being transparently virtuosic."
agree, but it doesn’t always work does it? hence all the criticisms of Depalma just being an empty stylist.
Keep in mind i don’t actually have a problem with his approach, so long as it works. It only bothers me when his instincts are ‘off’.
Yeah, Elvis, that’s sort of what I’m trying to get at above—trying to reconcile some of the performances you mention above with the more cartoonish performances you get in some of his other films and sometimes even within some of the same films.
DePalma, imo, did his best work in the 80s, which basically boils down to three films: Blow Out, The Untouchables and Casualties of War. The Untouchables was just plain entertaining, but Blow Out is a film you can, when looking back, really appreciate as a film in terms of craft and style. Sure, the performances of Nancy Allen and Dennis Franz (who went on to become a fine actor) were at best mediocre and at worst terrible, but Travolta’s and Lithgow’s performances made up for it in spades. Story is both taut and rich. I love DePalama’s themes of paranoia and voyeurism. The only thing that bothers me is his extensive copycatting of Hitchcock techniques.
I rewatched Blow-Out a couple of years ago over two nights. Due to this I found the first day of watching [about an hour] brilliant and engaging. But the second day when I saw the last half it was nowhere near as good, rather predictable and obvious. It seems he could not sustain the greatness throughout. I suppose had I watched it all in that one night the first half would have been so good that the second half would not have mattered.
I saw this for the first time tonight and enjoyed it, although nowhere as near as most others here. I was let down by the ending somewhat. I guess if I had seen it when I was younger I might have been more forgiving. I tend to rate films higher when they have a nostalgic element. Unfortunately for my Blow Out experience, I had seen Body Double when I was a kid several times and I didn’t like that I knew where he was going with Blow Out because he copies himself later on in Body Double. I always have loved DePalma though. I might not be a fan of all of his films, but he certainly has made a few that will stay with me forever!
Maybe one could say that De Palma intentionally shoots out the tires of the ending at lets the film go off a bridge, Matthew?
so what’s the Criterion transfer like then? and don’t post stills either people’ i’ve seen them!
the disc is worth picking up?
I love this movie and even upgraded to the Criterion release. The transfer is stunning.
I had this poster (the creepy Travolta stretched head one) hanging in my bedroom in jr. high
Just finished watching Blow Out and all the extras on the Criterion BD. I was enthralled by Baumbach’s interview with De Palma – this guy really knows camera. And I have so much respect for him when he talks about his career and wanting to challenge himself as a filmmaker. He talked about wanting to try different things and to do films that sometimes scared him. After Blow Out, for example, he dove right into Scarface, a story he knew nothing about. I think you can see those types of choices peppered throughout his career. For every Hichcockian thriller like Blow Out, there’s a war movie like Casualties of War.
I agree with others here that this is one of De Palma’s best films and is absolutely underappreciated. Since I was a kid I’ve known who Brian De Palma was but I always knew him for his bigger films – Scarface, Carrie, The Untouchables, Mission: Impossible. It’s only been over the past couple years that I’ve dug deep into his filmography and discovered real gems like Blow Out, Body Double, and Dressed to Kill. These really are superbly crafted works of cinema and I think when people are nostalgic about the good old days of Brian De Palma, they’re really talking about films like these.
And I also agree that this might be Travolta’s best film (or at the very least it certainly gives Pulp Fiction a run for it’s money).
Ari said: “You don’t even appreciate the museum sequence in Dressed To Kill, Joks? It’s a thing of beauty.”
I think it’s probably the best sequence De Palma has ever constructed. The first time I saw it, I was in awe. I knew it was brilliant.
And I also agree with people here who say his films are just silly fun. As long as you take them as trashy romps, a lot of De Palma’s films are a hoot. Yes, he never made a fully realized, serious picture that showcased his technical abilities while also crafting a wonderfully evocative, emotionally rich story. And that sucks. But so what? The more I watch his movies, the more I appreciate De Palma for what he is, not what he’s not.
I really don’t understand the love for Blow Out. Nancy Allen is incredibly annoying, Travolta is thouroughly meh leaving me uninterested in his character (or maybe that’s the script’s fault), the plot gets progressively more absurd eventually reaching a final act that is intensely dumb, the music is overblown and mawkish and the visuals were garish. Also, to me the film’s presentation of women seemed to be if not misogynistic then at the very least exploitative and in bad taste.
And it’s not that I automatically hate trashy romps. I really like the Female Prisoner Scorpion trilogy for example. But Blow Out was just irritating..
I saw “Blow Out” so many times when it was at the theater. That was before VCRs hit the mass market, and I just hit one showing after the next. I loved everything about it: it’s tricky opening, its jokey self-reflexiveness — the subtle way it makes you aware of how De Palma himself is using sound, for example — and it’s crazy ending, which is a downer, I guess, but it obviously never kept me from wanting to sit through it again. I never really thought of it as a comment on Kennedy or assassinations or all the other conspiratorial stuff that was involved, although that was obviously part of it — I loved it because it was so cinematic. It’s a bit of a mess in ways, and a lot of the critics I read at the time ripped it pretty hard. Dennis Franz is pretty terrible, De Palma’s dialogue can be lame, and that whole ridiculous final act with Travolta and the parade and the earphones and Nancy Allen and so forth just defies credibility — you could imagine De Palma just desperately writing and rewriting to make the damn thing work. But it’s such a masterfully directed and deeply cinematic film — it’s De Palma at his most assured, his most confident, his most ambitious. You could say the same of Carrie, The Fury and Dressed to Kill. To me those are his four classics. He kinda lost me with Body Double, and his work ever since has been interesting but erratic.
Yeah I never understood the hype about blowout either… Even as a trashy romp it’s not that great. Nancy Allen seriously bugged the shit out of me. The subtext about the American dream and the way de Palma calls attention to his own use of sound elevated it a little for me, but not much. The opening sequence is incredible, though!! Sisters is still my favorite De Palma… at least until I see Dressed to Kill and Body Double.