On March 15, 2011
Under Brian De Palma
An interesting assessment of Brian De Palma’s career recently by the hipsters over at the Onion’s AV Club. Interesting in that Phantom of the Paradise seems to have been rediscovered (or, simply, discovered) and ranks fifth in their list of “essentials”:
1. Blow Out (1981)
2. Carlito’s Way (1993)
3. Femme Fatale (2002)
4. Casualties Of War (1989)
5. Phantom Of The Paradise (1974)
In a more just world, De Palma’s camp musical would be the midnight phenomenon that The Rocky Horror Picture Show became instead, but there’s still a pocket of cultists who rightly appreciate his fiendishly clever mix of soaring songcraft and satirical jibes at the tools that run the music industry.
Naturally this set off a torrent of the usual unnecessary Rocky vs Phantom shenanigans in the comments section. Can’t we all just get along? I mean, we’re perfectly willing to acquiesce in cultural servitude to the cult juggernaut that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But meet us halfway and admit that Phantom is the superior film – is that asking too much?! (Note to self – actually watch RHPS some day.)
I made a point of watching every Brian De Palma movie I could get my hands on between Phantompaloozas, including actually paying cash money to see The Black Dahlia in a movie theatre. Here, then, is my own annotated list of Essentials:
- Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
I still think there are problems with the third act. But still.
- Femme Fatale (2002)
Probably the best thing Brian has ever done. Well cast (has Gregg Henry ever been better?), absolutely riveting, very modern, and very sexy. If Brian had hung up his ball cap after this one we would have called it the climax of a long and wonderful body of work.
- The Fury (1978)/Dressed to Kill (1980)
I combined these thrillers because both feature William Finley in scene-stealing cameos. Brian was riding a rollercoaster by the late seventies and DTK was probably his peak.
- Raising Cain (1992)
I was expecting a total train wreck but there is absolutely nothing wrong with this picture.
- Body Double (1984)
Brian got in a lot of trouble at the time for this one, and I will admit that there is one scene that goes on for about three seconds too long. Still this is another taut, sexy thriller, with a very fetching Melanie Griffith. Relax!
- Dionysus in ’69 (1970)
Presented entirely in split screen, this is a filmed performance of a stage play based on “The Bacchae” of Euripides. William Finley is totally on fire in this thing – you get the feeling that the man’s talents have no limits.
- Scarface (1983)
The story of a gangster who quits drugs to become a dishwasher. Wait, I’ve got it backwards.
- Casualties of War (1989)
I had no problem accepting Michael J. Fox as a Vietnam soldier. This is about as moving a picture as Brian has ever made. The ending is desperately powerful stuff.
That’s all I got. Discuss.