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Best of Brian De Palma

September 8, 2011

This post is being published by me for the Best of Best Blogathon   at  Potpourri of Vestiges,  The post is dedicated to one of my favorite directors Brian De Palma here.Brian De Palma has always been one of my  all time favorite directors. From gangster dramas like Scarface, Carlito’s Way, The Untouchables to action thrillers like Blow Out, Body Double to horror movies like Carrie to war dramas like Casualties of War he has covered it all. Add to that some stunning visual montages be it the Odessa steps scene in The Untouchables or the pool room shoot out in Carlito’s Way. These are my favorite movies of Brian De Palma here. A brief summary, and a link that takes you to the main post.

 
Ted  Kennedy,  Chappaquidick  incident,  Conspiracy  theories,  all  of  them  making me  recall  Brian De  Palma’s  1981  thriller flick, Blow  Out.   While Blow  Out,  is  not  based  on  the  Chappaquidick  incident  per  se,  the  movie  contains  numerous  references  to  the  political  events  in  the  era,  with a  conspiracy  thriller  background.  In  fact  the  80′s   was  the  time  when Hollywood   and   Capitol  Hill,  two  entities  with   no  love  lost  for  each  other,   came  together,  with a movie  actor,  Ronald Reagan  entering  the  White  House.   1981  saw  John  Hinckley Jr making  an  assassination  attempt  on  Ronald Reagan, in  LA,   to  make  an  impression on Jodie  Foster,  with  whom  he  was  obsessed  ever  since he saw  Taxi  Driver.   Come  to  think  of  it, a  guy   making  an  attempt  to  assassinate  a  movie  actor  turned  President,  to impress  a  heroine, who  acted  in  a movie, which  incidentally  was  about  a  loner,  obsessed  with  the  heroine,  plotting to  assassinate  a Presidential  candidate.  This  surely  has  to be one  of  the  craziest  coincidences   ever,   a  collision  of   the   real,  the  reel,  the  political,  whew.
 
Quite often when i go through some of the best anti war movies that have been made, i can’t help noticing one thing, in a vast majority of the cases, the anti war movies come out after the actual war is over. I take a look at some of the more well known anti Vietnam war flicks, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and then i see that all these movies have been released after the end of the war, post 1975. Even when anti Vietnam war protests were raging across the US, and many Hollywood stars voiced their opposition to the war, there were actually no significant anti Vietnam war dramas comming out from Hollywood. The only Vietnam war drama released around the time was John Wayne’s propagandist The Green Berets, which tried to drum up public support in favor of the war. Is it due to the fact that Hollywood was afraid of adverse audience reactions, some kinda backlash? Then again i see the slew of movies about Iraq in recent times,In the Valley of Elah, Lions for Lambs, Jarhead, Redacted this while the war in Iraq still shows no signs of an end. Was it that Hollywood finally took up the courage to take a stand? Were the stridently anti war postures of Sean Penn, George Clooney, Jane Fonda, Nick Nolte having an effect? Would want to think so, but a catch here, most of these movies started to come, only in the later half when the war went horribly wrong, the American public’s mood turned against it, more against the Bush Govt’s mishandling of the situation. One more interesting thing i notice is that most of Hollywood’s anti war dramas center around Vietnam and now Iraq, rather than WW2, barring some like Catch 22. Again i feel its cause Vietnam and Iraq, make it easier, both of them wars in which the US has lost badly, not too popular with the public, so easier to weave an anti war message around them. Just some thoughts in the head, as i started to draft out my take on Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War.
To  just  look  at  the  tale  of  Carrie,  as a  ”scorned  woman”   taking  revenge  on  the  world,  would  be  to  overlook  it’s  deeper  meaning,  its   rather  unsettling  look  at  the  ”normal”  world,  and  how  we  treat  the  ”different”  and  ”others”.   Carrie  is  not  just  another  ”horror”  flick,  its  Brian De  Palma’s   look  into  the  minds  of  people,  a  look  at  the  world  through  the  eyes of  Carrie.  In  a  superbly  filmed  opening  scene,   De  Palma,  plays  the voyeur,  allowing   the  camera  to  wind  it’s  way  through  the  girl’s  shower   room,   lovingly  gazing  at  the  nubile  bodies  of  the   young  nymphets,  some  of  whom   are   half   naked, and  some  of  whom  are  fully  nude.   The  camera   tracks  in  deeper,  the  voices  of  the  young  women,  shots  of  their  naked bodies,  the  steam and  mist, giving  it  a dreamy  effect,  as  the  credits  flash on the  screen.  Away  from  all  the  other  girls,  is  Carrie  White(  Sissy Spacek), taking  her  bath  all  by  herself,  soaping  herself  up,  having  a rare moment  of   hapiness  in  her  life.  And  then  she  begins to bleed,  the  blood  trickling  down  her  legs.   As  she  screams  out   in  shock,  clutching  her  towel,  running  for  help,  one of  the girls  gives  her a  tampon  to  stop the bleeding  asking  her  to  “Plug  it up”. The  girls  around  seem   to  revel  in Carrie’s  plight,  as  they  chant  in  unison  ”Plug  it  Up!! Plug  it Up”,  as  Carrie  by  now  becomes  hysterical.
 
 
In  Scarface   Brian  De  Palma   took  an  ironic,  twisted  up    view  of  ”The  World  is  Yours”   funda,   tracing  the  rapid  rise  and fall  of  its  lead   character.    In  Body  Double,  Brian  De  Palma,  takes  the  tagline  ”You  Can’t  believe  Everything  You  see”   and  crafts  a thriller   where   nothing  is   what  it   really  seems.   And   the   fact  that  the  entire  movie  is  set  against  the  ”illusionary”  movie  world  backdrop,  adds   that  much  more  meaning  to  the  tagline.   Body  Double  is  not  a masterpiece,  nor  is  it  the  kind  of   mind bender thriller,   where  you  could  spend  your  time  figuring  out  everything  and  still  not  be  clear.    In  fact  at  the  end  of  the  movie, when you  join  the  dots,  everything  seems  plainly  obvious.   What  Brian  De  Palma   has  done  here  is  to take  all  the  standard  Hollywood  cliches,    pack  them  together,  and  layer  them  over   with  dollops  of  cheese,  giving  us  a  movie  that  screams  out  every  moment“LOOK  AT  ME, I AM CHEESE”. If   you   are  seeking  subtlety,  understatement  you  sure   won’t  be  finding  them  here,   but   then  Brian De  Palma  has  never  been   associated  with  such  virtues.
 
 
In  1983,    Brian  De  Palma  and  Al  Pacino,  came  together  in Scarface,  a  movie  that  polarized critics  and  audiences  alike.  After  his  turn  as  the  suave  Michael  Corleone in The  Godfather  Series,  Pacino,  again  lit  up  the screen as  Tony Montana,  a  foul mouthed,  hot headed,  illiterate,  cocaine  snorting  gangster  who  makes  it to the top,  and  has an  equally  sudden  fall.   A  decade  later in  1993,  Brian De  Palma,  takes  up  the  issue,  “Now  what  if  Tony Montana wanted to go  straight?”.    So  he  gives  Tony  Montana, a  makeover,  renames  him  Carlito Brigante,  and   again  gets  Pacino,  who  by  now  had  become to the  gangster genre,  what  John  Wayne  was to the Westerns.   Ah  yes  Tony  was  Cuban,   and   Carlito  is  Puerto Rican.   Incidentally  the book  on  which  the movie  was based  was  called  After  Hours,  but  De Palma  had  to  change  the title,  to avoid  the  confusion  with  Martin  Scorcese’s  1985  black comedy  of  the  same name.
 
Between April 15 and Oct 31, 1980 there as a mass migration of people from Cuba to the US. It was called as the Mariel boatlift after the name of the harbor from where these people departed. Ostensibly done by Cuban President Fidel Castro to improve relations between US and Cuba, it was ended when President Jimmy Carter , realized that a large number of the refugees were jail inmates or those from asylums. By that time, 125,000 Cubans had migrated to US, or more specifically to Florida, which even to date has a large Cuban population, especially Miami. Of these exiles, around 2% were discovered to be violent criminals, whom Castro had released from Cuban jails. And these people would make Miami the center of a profitable drug trafficking network.Just as New York is famous for it’s Italian Mafia , Los Angeles for it’s Mexican mafia and San Francisco for it’s Chinese mafia, Miami would become the center for the Cuban mafia as well as the notorious Colombian Gangsters .This incident is the backdrop for Brian De Palma’s 1983 Gangster flick Scarface , which centers around the Cuban mafia .
 
 
In the 1920’s and early part of 1930’s, prohibition in US, led to the rise of illegal liquor or what is called in common terms as bootlegging. Mafia gangs fought pitched battles for the control of the trade, and none more serious than Chicago , which emerged as the focal point. The notorious St.Valentine’s Day massacre highlighted, this dangerous trend. The law enforcement agencies choose to look the other way, as gangsters merrily plied their trade. And of all the gangsters, one name struck terror alike in the hearts of cops, civilians and rival gangsters alike. Alphonse Gabriel Capone or more commonly known as Al Capone .The Untouchables is a 1987 movie that takes its inspiration from a real life story of a Fed agentEliot Ness who along with his incorruptible team, took on Capone, and managed to nail him for tax evasion.
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