The Brian DePalma Film Club

by Sara Gran
phantom of the paradise

I hereby bring to order the first meeting of the Semi-Official Abbott Gran Medicine Show Brian DePalma Movie Club.

I love Brian DePalma. But the first thing I want to say about Brian DePalma, just to get this out of the way, is that he’s made some abysmally awful movies. In addition to brilliant little nightmares like Blow-Out and Body Double, it’s true he’s also responsible for Phantom of the Paradise, a movie so awful it’s hard to believe it’s real. I mean, if you were to watch in a theatre with friends and drugs it might be good-awful, but if you try to watch it home like a regular movie it’s just so awful you’ll think you took drugs. Bad ones. And of course there’s the big Hollywood mistakes like The Black Dahlia.

That doesn’t make him a lesser filmmaker to me. Instead, to me, it makes him a brave and admirable artist. You can’t make art/entertainment that matters unless you’re willing to take risks. And when you take risks, by definition, you sometimes fail. It takes courage to do that, and I admire courage. I also know, from experience of working in the arts for nearly twenty years now, that a willingness to fail is the only way you come to create anything worthwhile. I respect and learn from Brian DePalma, with a few incredibly shitty movies under his belt, about a thousand times more than Steven Spielberg, who has delivered us a lifetime of mediocrity and safety (thanks, Steven!).

I will start with THE FURY, which I have at home now from Netflix and will watch over the weekend. Unfortunately it looks like some of his best films are hard to come by on DVD, but we will soldier on nonetheless. Film Club Members, we will meet up one day here next week to discuss the Furyand the awesomeness of DePalma in general. Decoder rings and badges to follow. Any takers?

24 Responses to “The Brian DePalma Film Club”

  1. Count me in! Huge De Palma fan! Though I do have to say, BLACK DAHLIA broke my heart on so many levels and it wasn’t because I got the sense that he was taking risks that I didn’t understand, or being otherwise wild and gutsy….it just seemed like a compromised, troubled film that had been made by a committee like so many films and that’s sad. It was bad in a completely different way than something like PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE was great/ bad….it was like Hollywood lazy bad, like I just give up bad.

    But for Christ’s sake, one person made CARRIE, SCARFACE, THE FURY, DRESSED TO KILL, SISTERS, BODY DOUBLE etc?? He’s one of the greats

    • From 1976 through 1987 the man was ON FIRE! Think about it, you’ve got

      CARRIE, THE FURY, HOME MOVIES, DRESSED TO KILL, BLOW OUT, SCARFACE, BODY DOUBLE, WISE GUYS (ok, ok) and THE UNTOUCHABLES

      then, well….but still that’s more amazing work than some “great” filmmakers’ entire career output

      • I can’t believe I left out OBSESSION! Genevieve Bujold, what a shockingly brave and beautiful actress! See also DEAD RINGERS…..maybe later we can talk about Cronenberg, as De Palma and Cronenberg seem to have followed a very similar trajectory….with (arguably) Cronenberg landing in far more bold and interesting territory of late, but similar paths

        Genevieve Bujold making me think about COMA and about the awesome early work of Michael Crichton, the whole medical gross out sci fi thriller genre he kind of made up….my fave being LOOKER, so amazing and WAY out ahead of it’s time thematically

        But back to De Palma!

  2. I guess I don’t understand what’s wrong with Phantom of the Paradise. OBSESSION! We haven’t talked about that! And SISTERS! And FEMME FATALE! And I can’t think of the name of the one with John Lithgow in a dress at the end…

  3. Sounds great. I look forward to the Fury-ness to come. BTW, as a fan of De Palma you might appreciate author John Kenneth Muir’s <a href='http://reflectionsonfilmandtelevision.blogspot.com/search/label/Brian%20De%20Palma&#039;.series on the director from last year. Thanks, Sara.

  4. the only one I think isn’t on DVD is Home Movies—which is the only DePalma movie I’ve never seen, and I know I’d love it!
    Jack,I have to admit, I kinda love Phantom of Paradise too!
    My tops are (I’m not counting Carrie, because it’s the only DePalma movie I can talk about my love for without people getting into arguments with me):
    1) Sisters
    2) Blow Out
    3) Dressed to Kill
    4) Body Double
    5) Raising Cain (!!!) — what I have found is you have to watch Body Double to watch Raising Cain to watch Dressed to Kill and you really have to watch Obsession to watch that, which depends utterly on Vertigo, of course (and to watch Raisng Cain you also have to watch Peeping Tom, which then requires another viewing of Dressed to Kill)–it’s this hallucinogenic obsessional vortex from which one never wants to escape…

  5. DePalma gets so little respect compared to the rest of the Film Brats of the 1970s. Even his failures are fascinating to watch. Plus, this is that man who made The Untouchables. God, I love that movie. He isn’t afraid to play with the camera, and in turn play with the audience. He is most definitely a visual director who knows who to manipulate the medium and create stories that no other artist could duplicate. While others cling to their auteur label that get slapped onto anyone that says “action”, DePalma actually deserves the distinction.

    • I so agree, Stephen—even his movies which seem utter disasters (Black Dahlia, Femme Fatale) I find strangely riveting. They have this quality I can’t name. And he can do hollywood-hollywood perfectly–Untouchables best of all, but also the first Mission Impossible.

  6. Megan & Sara, Count me in…I’ll get started on my homework “The Fury”. Thanks Rod

  7. Wow, thrilled with all the great responses. Thanks! I’ll watch FURY tonight and we can start with that on a few days! So far my fave is either BODY DOUBLE (That house alone is worth the price of admission!) or BLOW OUT, but I’m way behind and haven’t seen all of them by far.

  8. Talent runs in the family. His brother, Barton, was my art teacher in college.

  9. Re, bad De Palma: No one has mentioned the Vietnam movie CASUALTIES OF WAR — a really lame movie. It has a bunch of good ingredients: director De Palma, screenplay by David Rabe, based on a New Yorker article, etc. Maybe the stark reality of the topic put De Palma off his game.

  10. My favorite is BODY DOUBLE, but I have to say THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE really creeped me out. I was only a kid in the early seventies but the film seemed to capture so much of the creepy vibe of that era, when peace and love turned into Black Sabbath.

  11. Nice club! Good idea! Carlito’s Way is probably my favourite. I still haven’t seen some of his earlier films and am really looking forward to it (e.g. Obesession, Sisters(and I still haven’t seen Redacted!)) I hated Carrie when I saw it as a teenager, but love it today. I’ve only seen The Fury once and I remember liking it, but I’ve got it on DVD and will rewatch it in the next few days. I just watched Phantom a month ago and it feels like an aquired taste film. I think I might learn to like it, once the music sinks in. Brian De Palma is my favourite director, and as you’ve said, he can make crappy movies, but you can always find something interesting. And it is so much fun to watch his movies and be able to say “This scene is pure Brian De Palma!” There aren’t that many directors with such a distinctive style.

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