Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Not Polite To Stare


In the aftermath of a midnight screening of DRESSED TO KILL at the New Beverly I feel compelled to ask one question—Great movie or greatest movie? Seriously, I’m asking. Is this an overreaction? Maybe. And truthfully, it’s probably not even my favorite Brian De Palma film, let alone the one I think is his best. But after seeing it again, after experiencing the sinuous quality of those images on the big screen and being overwhelmed by that amazing Pino Donaggio score, how can you blame me? I shot down to the theater from the Egyptian after seeing a double bill of George Raft films (RED LIGHT and JOHNNY ANGEL) at the Noir Festival’s second night and it was a good sized crowd at the New Bev, one that included a certain Mr. Tarantino sitting in the row in front of me. When Phil Blankenship made his introductions he made a point of saying that while a film like this may inspire a response in someone he asked that people hold back those responses until afterwards, which probably had something to do with the harsh words said about De Palma and this particular film on the New Beverly’s Facebook page. Which once again makes me want to ask, why are people so negative on the Internet, anyway? Do they walk around in real life this grouchy hating everything they see? Sure, being negative is necessary when you’re talking about movies directed by Michael Bay or McG but you get the feeling that some people are just looking for anything to get in a fight over. Maybe I just don’t have the energy for that sort of thing anymore. So let’s just all agree that Brian De Palma is a genius, DRESSED TO KILL has some truly remarkable stuff in it and anyone who doesn’t agree simply doesn’t like movies, all right? All right? And since I just looked to my right and saw my DRESSED TO KILL poster hanging on my wall you can probably guess where I’m coming from.


If you’ve seen the film close to as many times as I have then you know that for the sake of anyone coming to this cold I simply can’t get into the nature of the plot which involves frustrated New York housewife Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson), her psychiatrist Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine), her son Peter (Keith Gordon), Park Avenue hooker Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) and the mysterious transsexual known as Bobbi who may have stolen Dr. Elliott’s razor. Even writing something about DRESSED TO KILL feels like an impossible task to me maybe because the whole thing is so experimental, so willingly dreamlike, that to break it down in that sense feels like it would take all the fun out of it. Maybe that’s why seeing it at midnight is so ideal—after all, who needs rational thinking at that hour? Dream logic is really the only way to fully accept some of the plot turns and behavior, appropriate for a film that is bookended with dream sequences and maybe much of what happens is a fantasy that one of the characters is having anyway. Hell, maybe the whole thing is just a movie that we happen to be watching in a theater. And simply calling the director a Hitchcock imitator (as some did on the New Bev Facebook page and there were worse things said) completely disregards not only how much absolute perfection is brought to each frame, but how there does feel like a genuine tinge of the personal coming from the director throughout, whether satirical or otherwise.


With his ingenious staging (shot by Ralf Bode) using a very wide Scope frame that seems to continually make use of unexpected things going on in both the background and foreground which of course adds to repeat viewings—I particularly liked getting a look at a certain individual who can be spotted in the dead center of the frame at the 21:38 mark and there was some laughter from people who obviously knew what we were seeing there as well. And as much as Hitchcock is mentioned looked at now the film feels amazingly giallo-tinged, daring to bring a true sense of art to all that sleaze in those films, elements that usually make me want to take a shower—just where this movie begins in a sequence with its famous body double, come to think of it. How many giallos had De Palma taken a look at during the seventies? What is this film’s connection to the opening scene of THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS? Is there anything to be gained in pointing out the resemblance of white-clad Angie Dickinson to the also white-clad Anna Maria Rosati in TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE? So you really think that Autotron’s going up? Why can’t I stop staring at Nancy Allen as she runs through that subway station?


A sizable hit when it was released in 1980 (Vincent Canby in The New York Times gave it a near rave, concluding with “Even the title is good.”), its truly memorable imagery has resulted in it being De Palma’s most iconic attempt of the periodic structural experimentation in his thrillers which he also wrote—a form that was attempted earlier in SISTERS, possibly fumbled in BODY DOUBLE (I know, it has its defenders), taken to its most radical extremes in RAISING CAIN and maybe perfected for all time in FEMME FATALE. Such an approach often causes the plot of one of these films to reboot itself every fifteen minutes of so—this may have begun with PSYCHO, certainly not the only Hitchcock film he’s been inspired by, but certainly didn’t end there and even somebody like Dario Argento was experimenting with these concepts around this time. The way the structure of DRESSED TO KILL is laid out, maybe more than any of the others, almost feels like a piece of music in how it builds and holds back at times, starting with a nearly unbroken first half-hour that is essentially perfect followed by a series of interrogation scenes that more than make up for the lack of dialogue we once had. A brief period at the midway point may seem to run in place storywise for a few minutes (when the DONAHUE segment is seen by several people) but it also seems designed for us to pay attention to what’s being said, observe the characters at this seemingly non-dramatic point and maybe consider what’s really going on. Nancy Allen’s adventures in the subway (which also looks ahead to the chase in De Palma’s CARLITO’S WAY) comes pretty close to perfection as well with the rhythm of those cuts as certain parties make their way onto the train getting me to laugh out loud each time (glancing around that subway station reveals that THE JERK and 1941 featuring Allen were playing around this time).


And the presentation of its characters such as Angie Dickinson’s insecure beauty trapped forever in middle age and Keith Gordon’s young sleuth who practically gets his very own blowup doll in the living person of Nancy Allen, never more purely sexual in any film, somehow turns these two-dimensional figures into full blooded iconic characters. Little of it makes any real sense—hell, the final 10 or 15 minutes feel absolutely impossible as both we and the film try to figure out how all this is going to resolve itself. As it turns out, it really can’t but it doesn’t matter since we’ve already seen Nancy Allen in bra and garters with blood on her hands, a tableau which provides the sort of frisson that these films always seem to strive for but very rarely provide and since the film actually achieves this high point of absolute delirium very little is ever going to bring us down again. Logic certainly isn’t needed at any point, which is maybe best exemplified in the haunting beat of the girl who gets in the elevator with Angie Dickinson and won’t stop staring at her, only to be told by her mother that, “it’s not polite to stare.” She continues to do so anyway. It makes me wish that if De Palma makes another one of these thrillers (and I truly hope he does) that the lead is a dark-haired woman in her mid-30s who we could imagine is this little girl all grown up, forever haunted by the face of the woman she saw in an elevator long ago.


Angie Dickinson has been justifiably acclaimed for this performance and even if she hasn’t I’ll do it now—playing a part that is pretty much no dialogue for more than half of her screen time she commands every frame that she’s in at equal times sexy and vulnerable, in control and totally at sea. From the constant desperate gazes that emanate from her she brings some strangely relatable vulnerability, thanks to the script as well, to something that in other hands might come off as arch and forgettable. Clearly De Palma knew what he was doing in casting her and he completely knows how to use her, clothed and unclothed, but it wouldn’t have worked anywhere near as well if she hadn’t connected with this character as well as she does. Nancy Allen has what is probably her best role here, never more likable, never more endearing, never more sexy and I feel like I could listen to her yammer on about what stocks she wants to buy for hours. Coming off a few years of lousy Irwin Allen movies at this point in his career, top-billed Michael Caine has a role which at first glance may not be as showy as a few of his co-stars (surprising when you think about it) but he delivers some very sharp work which reveals more going on each time I take another look at one of his scenes. Keith Gordon makes his whiz-kid likable right from the start (kids can’t be nebbishes like this in movies anymore, can they?), Dennis Franz as Detective Marino brings enjoyment to every line of dialogue he has and is maybe only slightly less sleazy than his BLOW OUT role--I particularly love when he calls Nancy Allen a ‘whoor’. David Margulies, the mayor in GHOSTBUSTERS, plays a psychiatrist dealing with Dr. Elliott whose first scene probably only makes sense on second viewing and William Finley, also in SISTERS and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, can be heard as the voice of Bobbi.


If the genuine screams heard in the New Beverly at the point of the final scare were any indication there are actually some people out there who haven’t seen this film yet and it really is a joy to experience this film with a crowd who reacts at all the right moments. The release of DRESSED TO KILL is now coming up on its thirtieth anniversary, a concept which seems as insane as the film itself but even though we leave these characters frozen in time at the point of 1980 they still stick in the brain--Kate Miller as she insecurely comes up with things to jot down in her appointment book or repeatedly pressing those elevator buttons anxious to get back to the seventh floor, Dr. Elliott’s glances into those all those mirrors he has scattered around his office, the hooker Liz Blake musing about her stock tips and the paintings on her wall which could be worth a million dollars in ten years. I wonder if in a few years she’ll receive a letter informing her of something worse than a venereal disease, just I as wonder if years after having lunch with Liz in a fancy restaurant (shot in Windows on the World, incidentally) Peter Miller will realize that he’s never going to meet another woman like her. As for De Palma, the last film he’s made along these lines (to date) has been the 2002 thriller FEMME FATALE, one of my favorite films of the decade. In many ways it feels like a summation of all of these films resolving some of the themes that had been burrowing through his head for decades and maybe providing a happy ending where his leads no longer need to wake up screaming from nightmares with hopefully someone nearby to comfort them. In that sense it could almost be looked at as a ‘final’ film which, of course, it wasn’t (I’ve sometimes thought of writing about THE BLACK DAHLIA) and I certainly would love nothing more than to hear that De Palma was making another thriller from a script he wrote--maybe even with the grown-up version of that girl. Because even if it seems like some kind of conclusion has already occurred, that doesn’t mean it has and if anyone could possibly provide us with one more jolt before the credits roll it would have to be Brian De Palma.

19 comments:

Mike Lippert said...

As always, another excellent review.

I must say, my intial reaction to this film was like oh, another Hitchcock spin-off, but you are right, it does seem to go deeper than that and you raise many important points worth consideration.

I think the reason de Palma gets so much hate is because of how wildly uneven his career has been. For every Sisters or Blow Out we get a Snake Eyes or a Red Planet (I'm one of those Body Double defenders by the way). I think it's because of that and because of the constant homaging to Hithcock that de Palma is seen as a filmmaker who, more than the other American filmmakers who came of age in this time, never really found a true voice of his own. He always genre hopped, gave the film whatever it needed (sometimes a little more) and then moved on.

That being said, it is hard to either track the progression of de Palma over his career as he always seems to be hopping more than growing and also it's hard to see the filmmaker present in the film unless, like you have done here, you look very hard. And even then I still sturggle. My favourite de Palma film is Carlito's Way but I love it for every reason other than that it is a de Palma film because, when compared against his entire body of work, what does that mean?

Maybe I'm wrong insomuch as that I haven't put serious accidemic thought into the man's career but does Carlito's Way explore a central theme that has been interwoven into the director's entire career? Does Scarface? The Untouchables? Wise Guys? Bonfire of the Vanities? Dressed to Kill for that matter?

With that said, I completely understand the negativity that is shot de Palma's way. What I don't agree with is how it is uninformed, unenlightened and not given much depth or width. The man is a good filmmaker, but I'm not so sure he's much more than that.

J.D. said...

Count me in as defender of BODY DOUBLE also. I never understood all the hate for De Palma either. Even is lesser films still have some fantastic camerawork and I would sit through SNAKE EYES any day over a Brett Ratner or McG film.

I'm not a huge fan of DRESSED TO KILL but I do respect the craftsmanship on display here. If I had to choose, I would rather watch the aforementioned BODY DOUBLE or BLOW OUT if I wanted to get my De Palma thriller fix.

As for fave De Palma film, wow, that's a toughy. If push came to shove, I guess I would say BLOW OUT but I really love THE UNTOUCHABLES. yeah, I know, it's one of his paycheck films but man, it's so damn entertaining. CARLITO'S WAY is pretty awesome, too.

And I for one would love to read your thoughts on BLACK DAHLIA. I'm a huge fan of James Ellroy's novel and found the film to be rather disappointing but I have only seen it once and probably need to watch it again.

Nicholas said...

Great stuff. Seeing a print of this must've been terrific. As usual you have your ear open for the silliest of movie-movie dialogue and though it's been a few years since I've watched DRESSED TO KILL again I do remember the stuff about watching stocks.

I've not done any research, but I also have wondered if De Palma had been watching giallo films, or whether there was just "something in the air." Today everything is on video and references can be copied exactly, but these Italian films couldn't have been easy to see back then. John Carpenter has said he was specifically thinking about Argento when he made HALLOWEEN. Can you imagine De Palma sitting in a Times Square grindhouse watching CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS? What would he have said to whoever he was with afterward? Who had told him to see it?

Colonel Mortimer said...

Wonderful review, I really wish I made it out to the New Beverly for this, alas, midnight movies and me are not too be.

I'm with you, I love this film, and the last time I watched it, I thought to myself I know there's people out there not on De Palma's wavelength but I'd hate to be them (I feel the same way about Tarantino's detractors), cinema just drips from his every pore and is evident in every frame.

You should give Body Double another try, I know it's a sticking point for even his most ardent admirers but I find DePalma egging his critics and self referential homages (including the title that callbacks Dressed to Kill's Angie Dickinson) to be hilarious. And the porn shoot piece set to Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" is a pure delight, DePalma's version of a MGM musical number. God damn, he knows how to direct a set piece!

And you're right, he needs to do another thriller!

le0pard13 said...

This was a great examination of a truly De Palma film, Mr. Peel. It had such a great cast--none more haunting than Angie Dickinson's performance. Every time I watch this one, I can't help but be captivated and heartbroken by her. This one catches you and bounces you off the screen at the same time.

I'll admit, too, that I appreciate the director's BODY DOUBLE (though probably not as much as this one). Count me in for the director's best commercial film, THE UNTOUCHABLES, as well. CARLITO'S WAY? One of the best crime dramas of its decade, no question.

I've yet to see THE BLACK DAHLIA, and FEMME FATALE is soon to hit my home screen so this great review of yours is so timely. I especially appreciate how DRESSED TO KILL has made an impact upon you, sir. Thanks very much for this.

Mr. Peel said...

I think I should say that I absolutely do not dismiss, or even dislike, BODY DOUBLE. But while I willingly go along with the extremes in some of these films there's something I've never quite connected with in BODY DOUBLE that has always caused me to slightly resist it. But I definitely don't dislike it and I've even got the DVD close by, something I can't say for SNAKE EYES which I've always thought was a huge disappointment (and yet, I'd still like to write about it at some point). I do lovelovelove BLOW OUT, THE UNTOUCHABLES and CARLITO'S WAY more than I could possibly express here. And not everyone will agree, but I'm a big MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE fan as well.

With De Palma, cinema does drip from every pore, as Colonel Mortimer put it, but Mike Lippert raises the valid question that maybe that in itself doesn't automatically make him a great director. I think there are themes that run through his films (though not, obviously, all of them) which I honestly thought FEMME FATALE was a culmination of. Certainly there's evidence in a few titles that would argue against his greatness--THE BLACK DAHLIA is one of those yet it's the sort of bad film that only someone with his talent could make. Maybe it's unavoidable when he takes the extreme chances (tonally, visually) that he sometimes does and you can't get something as good as FEMME FATALE or DRESSED TO KILL without being willing to dive off those cliffs. All I know is he's directed more than a few films that I completely, unabashedly love which may be enough proof for me.

My thanks to you guys for the amazing comments, I really loved reading them.

Anonymous said...

This is one your best write ups yet, Mr. Peel. I've only seen "Dressed To Kill" once, on DVD, but I liked it quite a bit and I just assumed it was heavily influenced by the Italian giallos. I rediscovered my love for DePalma about a year ago when on a whim I picked up "Blow Out" on DVD. I'd seen it before, but for some reason this time it absolutely knocked me right out (as did each subsequent viewing). It's not only one of DePalma's best, but I think it's one of the all-time great American thrillers. Since then I've been scouting his films on DVD and though "Dress to Kill" is, sadly, out of print, I'll chase it down somewhere on the super human filmic strength of "Blow Out" and this write up. Keep'em coming, Mr. Peel!

- Bob

Also, I would love to read your take on "The Black Dahlia" which, as huge James Ellroy fan, I saw on the opening Friday & experienced one of my more bitter movie viewing experiences ever. That was a colossal failure of talent & material.

J.D. said...

Mr. Peel:

Ah, glad to see another MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE fan! I love what De Palma did with that film in terms of style and camera movement. It's still, easily, the best film of that franchise and I find myself watching it every once in a while.

Michael H. said...

Peel:
Thanks so much for posting this. I was going to hit that screening, but got held up and couldn't make it. Would have been so good to see it with a crowd. As to DTK and whether it's a classic, I think the fact the New Bev showed it to a good house almost 30 years after it came out, answers that question. As for the endless comparison that some folks want to make to Hitchcock. De Palma, like every great artist, has been influenced by works of other artists. FYI, how many filmmakers have 'borrowed' from Eisenstein or Griffith or Welles or Ford. It's silly to only bash De Palma for something all artists do. And I know, without even looking on facebook, that some are going to beat up De Palma for being a woman hater. Yes, and in Transformers, Megan Fox is an inspiration to everyone. The difference now is the girl is dressed in even less clothes than Nancy Allen and doesn't play a prostitute. And yet, the women now in certain movies, don't have jobs at all. Nancy Allen in DTK bought and sold stock and saw a life after her present job. The bottom line is that DTK is a first rate thriller, it's way past anything Hitchcock ever did. That elevator scene alone is something Hitchcock would have loved to have done.

Chris Voss said...

Damn, that was a great review, and it pains me to admit that I HAVE YET TO SEE IT.

Over the years I'd heard so much about the film - a "friend" spoiled it for me originally - that I felt I knew enough about the movie to skip it and move on to something else. This is the first piece on Dressed to Kill I've read that really makes me want to go and find the movie now, just skip what I'm doing and just dive right in.

And since you all have, I'll come out and also defend Body Double, as it was the first De Palma film I'd ever seen, and your first ____ (fill in the blank here) always holds a place in your heart, you know?

And Mike - I'm right with you on Mission to Mars (you called in red Planet, which was equally bad but, alas, not the same film) - I wrote about it during Tony's/Cinema Viewfinder's De Palma blogathon and I was shocked at how many people give it a pass.

Sorry for the lack of brevity. I'm just getting back to my blog after a self-imposed exile for months and this was such a treat to read!

Richard said...

Mr. Peel, I found my way to your blog via the New Beverly Facebook link to this post. I unfortunately had to bail out of attending the showing, but I regret doing so. I don't have a circle of companions who share the same love of De Palma movies as I do and for me it's quite difficult only because I do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of films in general to contribute to any real discussion. To put it in a juvenile way, I simply like what I like. And what I also like immensely is reading insights such as yours about some of my favorite films and filmmakers. I feel after reading your post on Dressed to Kill, I know a lot more than I had before about the film and about De Palma as a filmmaker.

I actually cannot pinpoint exactly when I became enthralled by De Palma's films. I vaguely remember watching Mission: Impossible in the theaters in 1996 not knowing a thing about De Palma and having the film confuse the hell out of me upon initial viewing. I was just some kid who was into action and horror movies. Yet, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it was The Untouchables, for reasons I'm still not quite sure of, that became the catalyst for my appreciation of De Palma as a filmmaker. As common as this may or may not sound, I really just simply became fascinated by the style of that film. And the more I watched it and soaked in De Palma's style, the more I saw it in the rest of his films when I went back to watching Mission: Impossible, then Blow Out, Body Double, Dressed to Kill, The Fury, and so on and so forth. The same thing happened when I was introduce to David Lynch's vis Twin Peaks, or when I was blown away by Malick's The New World having never seen any prior works by either. These filmmakers have such a distinct style that, as a fan, it's what draws me in and what I expect to see again and again. And when I don't see it, or perhaps it's just incongruent in something like Redacted and to a lesser extent Scarface, I feel a bit unsure of how to interpret them.

And as I am starting to ramble uncontrollably here, I should end by saying it is blogs such as yours Mr. Peel that helps casual moviewatchers such as myself bridge this gap of uncertainty. Not to mention it's also a great way to be predisposed to other movies.

Mr. Peel said...

Bob--

For some reason when I wrote this piece I just assumed I'd reference BLOW OUT at some point, maybe because they were only made a year apart, yet it never wound up happening. But I truly do love that film, I think it's quite extraordinary.

I had a complicated response to THE BLACK DAHLIA which also began when I saw it opening day (I'll save the story for later), but it's ultimately not all that favorable as well as a big disappointment for anyone who had read the book. Anyway, I'm very gratified that you liked this piece, thank you very much.

J.D.--

Yes, I really love MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, I just think it's a blast. Actually, I haven't watched it for some time but that's maybe because I went through a long period where I kind of watched it a lot. Sometimes you need to step away from something for a while. But I still think it's terrific.

Michael H. --

Many thanks for your thoughtful comments although there are probably a few Hitchcocks that I would rank above it. Which is hardly the worst thing you could say about any movie. Hope you'll be able to make it to the next De Palma screening when and if it happens...

Chris--

See it! See it now! What are you waiting for? As for MISSION TO MARS, well...I've seen that film a grand total of once. On opening night. Probably one of the more violent crowd reactions I've ever witnessed to a film. Maybe someday I'll revisit it but right now I just don't have it in me. Anyway, I'm very glad that you enjoyed the piece so much and now finally want to see it. Enjoy!

Richard--

What you wrote reminded me of how I felt when I first saw THE UNTOUCHABLES but it also reminds me of how great it can be to remain open to all sorts of films, to want to figure out why they sometimes effect us the way they do. Interestingly, your mention of SCARFACE reminds me that I've never had much to say about it either. I like the film but have never had much inclination in going crazy over it like most of the world always has. Anyway, thank you very much for what you wrote here, it means a great deal to me that you reacted to the piece in such a way. Sometimes I like what I like as well (so naturally sometimes I don't like what I don't like) and in writing something like this I'm really trying to figure out why. Again, many thanks.

Fred said...

It is interesting how all of the "DePalma is a Hitchcock ripoff" stuff dates back to the 70s, a time when folks were just getting out of the cinemas and into the video stores, so they weren't as aware of Bava, Argento, Antonio and the other Italian masters (not to mention the giallo subgenre). Instead, they fell back on comparing him to Hitchcock. But looking at DePalma's body of work in retrospective, I really don't think the "Hitchcock ripoff" label fits (let alone considering how crassly unfair it is). If you look at Psycho and Frenzy (Hitchcock's two films which could be considered as close to Dressed to Kill), there really is no comparison. All three are enjoyable and have their merits, but the approaches are so markedly different. The dream logic of De Palma never appears in either of Hitchcock's films. Like you pointed out in your review, Dressed to Kill has more in common with the Case of the Bloody Iris or any number of gialli than it does to the cinema of Hitchcock.

I wonder if De Palma's decision to title his next film Blowout was to yell at his critics: "Hey idiots! I'm making an homage to Antonioni here, NOT Hitchcock! Now get your heads out of your asses, go to the video store, and rent Blow Up and L'aventurra, as well as anything by Argento, Bava, Sergio Martino, and Lucio Fulci (pre-Zombie), and then come back and try call me a Hitchcock ripoff hack. Or better yet, go kiss my ass!" Well, maybe those weren't De Palma's exact words, but they should have been.

Don Mancini said...

I think what everyone's getting at is that DRESSED TO KILL is one of the most movie-ish movies ever -- self-conscious (in a great way), post-modern, and stylized to within an inch of its life.

Mike Lippert: I think CARLITO'S WAY does in fact square with De Palma's career-long fixation on the plight of the "powerless observer" (not my term, and about which much has been written). In film after film, characters watch helplessly as the people they care about are subjected to (usually fatal) violence. In CARLITO'S WAY -- SPOILER -- Carlito represents both figures, observer and observed, as he narrates the events which lead inexorably to his own demise.

Joe Martino said...

Peel,

Oh by George, you've done it again. Sellar piece.

Looks like I'm a little late to this party so I'll keep my comments short.

DRESSED TO KILL is my fav dePalma film. Saw it on opening day, with a packed theater, and the audience ate it up. Jumped at all the right places and laughed throughout.

dePalma would never make another personal masterpiece like this again - although BLOW OUT comes mighty close - and THE UNTOUCHABLES was his best "director for hire" phase.

Mr. Peel said...

Fred--

I hadn't quite thought of it that way, you may have something there. I mean, sure, the Hitchcock thing warrants being mentioned when discussing De Palma but it certainly isn't everything. You also remind me that my DVD of BLOW OUT is close at hand and it makes me want to put it in the player right now. And I've got things I have to get done today...

Don--

Yes about DRESSED TO KILL. YES.

I always felt that SNAKE EYES (flawed as it is) and FEMME FATALE represented some kind of resolution of the powerless observer theme because in those two films the protagonist figures out a way to take action and stop being powerless--Carla Gugino is saved though Nancy Allen (among others) wasn't, Rebecca Romijn prevents that gun from being fired which helps everyone in the end, herself included. That SNAKE EYES didn't work still kind of stings actually, but FEMME FATALE (I'm not sure how I could possibly write a piece on that) feels like two hours of pure joy to me and comes up with a logical, perfect conclusion that often seemed to evade De Palma in his thrillers from SISTERS on.

Joe--

Thank you very much for that. DRESSED TO KILL really is sich a perfect film for a packed house with an audience willing to go along with it, willing to scream as loud as possible. There may be a few others that I like as much as the three you mentioned but, yeah, THE UNTOUCHABLES is still such a favorite of mine. And, once, again, I'm resisting sitting down to watch BLOW OUT again right now.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Mr. Peel, I picked a hell of a weekend to go out of town, eh? My excitement at hearing Phil was bringing this to the New Beverly deflated almost instantly when I saw the date. But thank you for a great write-up on one of my favorite De Palma films. I saw it several years ago at LACMA (with Carrie) and came away thinking it was not only a great De Palma film, but a great film period-- and this after having loved it ever since seeing it on opening night during the summer of 1980.

De Palma is fascinating to me for many reasons, one of which is that he is not for me a filmmaker who I feel compelled or obligated to love in great generalities, even though it's pretty clear the way he works through similar themes over the course of his career. Something like Body Double is TOO self-conscious and, to my mind, not clearly thought through, whereas something similar like Blow Out, which I think is flawed but brilliant, works despite its lapses (which are minor indeed compared to those in Body Double.) And I don't have a lot of love for something like The Fury, even though despite its pulp paperback origins it comes off as almost pure De Palma. He's maddeningly inconsistent, and it's been since Femme Fatale that I've flat-out adored one of his movies (10 years ago?!). Yet thematically he's still one of the richest filmmakers working. I love Don's description of how Carlito's Way connects up with one of the strongest threads in his films, that powerlessness to intercede in the fate of a loved one. I'm also amazed by how Dressed to Kill expresses the fear underlying our obseesion with sex and its stylish surfaces in a way that still seems delicious and hypercinematic even as it presciently anticipated the deepening of those fears on a mass scale in the decade to come. (The tired Hitchcock complaint is, to my mind, only for those who don't care to look very closely.)

Anyway, didn't mean to ramble on. I just wish I coulda been there and been part of this discussion earlier. Nice post! See ya soon, I hope!

Mr. Peel said...

Dennis--

Thanks for the amazing comments and I'm sorry you couldn't be there! Next time I see Phil I'm going to bring up the possibility of more De Palma.

It sounds like we're on the same page with BODY DOUBLE. It might be insane as some of the others but maybe it's that there is a degree of self-consciousness in there that keeps me from getting on that train. But I should say that if given the choice right this second I would watch it over THE FURY which I also don't necessarily dislike but I honestly never felt much about that movie at all one way or the other. And I'm in absolute agreement with you in regards to your ultimate statement about the Hitchcock complaint. You pretty much said it all right there. Anyway, thanks again! I'm sure we will be running into each other soon!

Anonymous said...

Finally somebody gives Dickinson her due. One of the best and most fascinating screen performances ever. Her face, her expressiveness and her beauty were just riveting for the 30 minutes she was in the movie.