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Days of De Palma Returns!

I am a sucker for series.  Whether we’re talking about novels, comic-books, TV shows, or movies, I love long-form story-telling.  When it comes to stories, I love continuity rather than one-offs.  I’m also something of a collector/completist at heart.  These qualities combine to give me a special joy in reading or watching different works that share some sort of connection, whether it be of theme or a common creator.  Often when I read or watch something, I like to continue on and read or watch similar works, or other works by the same artists/creators.  Recently I was reading some Hellboy/B.P.R.D. comic-books by Mike Mignola, and I was seized by a desire to go back and re-read the entire series from the beginning.  (Thus launching my Great Hellboy Re-Reading Project series of blogs.)

A couple years back, I re-watched Terrence Malick’s WWII film The Thin Red Line after picking it up on a beautiful Criterion Edition DVD.  Re-watching it made me curious to go back and see some of Mr. Malick’s earlier films, the ones that earned him such acclaim.  And so I launched a brief series of blogs which I called “Days of Terrence Malick” (playing with the title of one of Mr. Malick’s famous films, Days of Heaven).  I watched and wrote about The Thin Red Line, Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Tree of Life.

I had fun with that series, and decided it would be fun to launch another, similar series, watching or re-watching the films of another filmmaker.  After batting around some ideas, I settled on Brian De Palma.  Mr. De Palma seemed a good choice as he was a filmmaker of some note, but also one about whom people’s opinions are often split, so it’d be fun to see where my thoughts landed.  I had seen several De Palma films that I was eager to revisit, and there were many other famous films of his that I had never seen.  I figured it’d be fun to dive into his lengthy filmography and write about the films as I went, and at the end I’d have defined my opinion about Mr. De Palma’s work over-all.

I wrote about six of Mr. De Palma’s movies: Carrie (1976); The Fury (1978); Dressed to Kill (1980); Blow Out (1981); Scarface (1983) and Body Double (1984).

But then the series hit something of a snag.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what happened.  I got busy with other things, and watching the next De Palma film kept getting pushed back and back and back on my “to-do” list.  It probably didn’t help that I wasn’t that excited about watching the next de Palma film, 1986’s Wise Guys.  I’d never seen it, but it looked dumb to me.  I kept deciding that there were other movies I’d rather watch instead of Wise Guys.  And though I always intended to return to my “Days of de Palma” series, before I knew it, two years had passed.

D’oh!

Well, I am happy to report that I am back in the Brian De Palma saddle.  I have watched Wise Guys, and I’ll have my full review posted here on Friday.  I have also seen the next three De Palma films: 1987’s The Untouchables, 1989’s Casualties of War, and 1990’s The Bonfire of the Vanities.  And I have the next one, 1992’s Raising Cain, sitting right here on my desk.  So over the next few weeks my “Days of De Palma” series will be back in force as I write about all those films, and I hope to be able to continue on quickly, making my way through the rest of Mr. De Palma’s films.  There are a few films that I haven’t seen in years that I am eager to re-watch (like 1998’s Snake Eyes, which I saw and enjoyed in theaters but which I’ve never seen since), and some big films that I have never seen and am eager to get to (such as 1993’s Carlito’s Way).

So I’ll be back here soon with my thoughts on all of those films!  For now, here’s a look back at “Days of De Palma” with some excerpts from my reviews:

Carrie (1976): The opening scene in the girls’ locker room encapsulates everything that works, and doesn’t work, about this film.  Stephen King’s original idea, of taking the terror inherent in a young girl’s first steps into puberty, and using that as a jumping off point for a horror story, is incredibly clever, and Mr. De Palma shapes that scene into a truly tense and powerful sequence.  The moment when Carrie first notices blood dripping down her leg is jaw-droppingly graphic, and launches the viewer head-first into a cacophonous sequence of terror in which the spinning camerawork and the shrieking soundtrack and Ms. Spacek’s manic performance all combine into an escalating build-up of horror.  It’s a hell of a way to start a film!  The problem is that, despite how great that moment is, it’s preceded by a gauzy, slow-motion pan across the locker room in which we watch semi-nude and, in some cases, completely nude young girls frolicking around.  We then arrive at Ms. Spacek in the shower, and we see a fairly long series of shots in which the naked Ms. Spacek caresses her breasts and rubs soap suds all over her glistening body.  I could hardly believe what I was watching!  Are we supposed to take this film seriously, when the opening minutes seem like something out of a late-night soft-core porn film?  Click here for my full review.

The Fury (1978): I enjoyed watching this non-super-hero take on kids with special powers unfold, and I enjoyed how the script and (by John Farris, adapting his novel) and Mr. De Palma’s direction treated the story seriously, without camp.  The Fury is structured like a spy/suspense film, and I think that was a very successful choice… The momentum does start to lag, though, in the film’s second hour, and the story-threads don’t all wind up fitting together quite a smoothly as I had hoped.  Click here for my full review.

Dressed to Kill (1980): Over-all, I found Dressed to Kill to be engaging, and the mystery suspenseful, right up until the final twenty minutes or so.  Then things take a sharp left-hand turn into loony-tunes land… I’m starting to get a sense of the qualities that are admirable in Mr. De Palma’s films, as well as the aspects of his predilections that rub me the wrong way.  Click here for my full review.

Blow Out (1981): Blow Out contains some of the most effectively tense sequences of any of Mr. De Palma’s films that I have seen so far.  The whole film is a powerful slow-build of tension and suspense… I think this is the most through-and-through successful of Mr. De Palma’s films that I’ve seen so far, and the first one in this watching/re-watching project that I can wholeheartedly recommend.  Click here for my full review.

Scarface (1983): Just as I felt that Blow Out was a large leap forward for Mr. De Palma from his earlier films, Scarface represents another huge jump in his prowess as a filmmaker.  Of all the De Palma films which I have seen so far, Scarface is the one that has aged the best.  There are a few moments when the somewhat over-wrought soundtrack dates the film, for me, but otherwise this movie feels just as vital and dynamic as a film made this year, rather than one that is almost three decades old.  Click here for my full review.

Body Double (1984): Body Double is basically an R-rated retelling of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. That actually sounds like it could be a decently entertaining idea, but I found Body Double to be a complete bore from start to finish.  Click here for my full review.

OK, that’s all for today.  I’ll be back here on Friday with the long-delayed Days of De Palma part seven, with my thoughts on 1986’s Wise Guys starring Joe Piscopo and Danny DeVito!

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