A New Life in Seattle

A New Life in Seattle
August, 2018

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Too Wild to Not Be Reviled: De Palma

True blue rebels even turn, now and then, on their most loyal fans. Not from ingratitude or spite, but to keep things real. A rebel who's predictable is really no rebel at all: e.g., rappers or rockers who cultivate rebel personae while carefully singing whatever will sell and protect their position on Forbes' list.

Forbes Richest Rappers 2015

But the Real Deal we have gathered to celebrate today is cut from different cloth. He is at once reviled and revered...brilliant auteur and pure bad boy...blockbuster maestro and crafter of smaller, more personal gems. His name is Brian De Palma and you're certain to have heard of or seen at least a few of his most famous films: Carrie, The Fury, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, Body Double, The Untouchables, Carlito's Way, Mission Impossible...

These are wildly disparate films, you'll agree. And De Palma becomes even more difficult to peg if you consider: he began, back in the Sixties/early Seventies, with small, subversive films (Greetings, Get to Know Your Rabbit)...he then moved on to films inspired by Hitchcock (Sisters, Obssession)...he graduated to classic De Palma-style films with now-patented camera techniques...he befuddled fans and critics by intermingling blockbusters--Scarface, The Untouchables, Mission Impossible--with smaller, more classically De Palma-style movies--Body Double, Raising Cain, Snake Eyes, Femme Fatale, Passion...and to shake things up even more, he put out the occasional misfire: Bonfire of the Vanities, Wise Guys, the Black Dahlia...

No matter what he did, though, two things could be counted on: bubble-headed critics would still call him a clone of Alfred Hitchcock with an obsessive interest in voyeurism and kinky sex,..and the hardest core De Palmians would stand by their man.

Until...Well, every story has one...Until he put out a completely non De Palma movie entitled Mission to Mars. And you'll have to travel far and wide to find a movie this reviled.

Mission to Mars (2000) Poster

I mean, really, imagine a De Palma Movie with just one splashing bloody sequence, no kinky sex and almost no trademark camera work, What is about? Well, it combines, quite wonderfully, elements of Gravity, Interstellar and the upcoming movie, The Martian. We begin, Interstellar-like, with a sequence set on earth, in which we get to know the characters. The 15 minutes are well-spent. The flight to Mars is shown in an interesting compression of time. The astronauts land, explore--and are gruesomely dispatched by--we cannot be certain if it's a force of nature or...maybe an alien presence. A rescue team is sent. Lovely scenes aboard their craft until the rocket springs a leak. Gravity-style repair work. Not entirely successful. Exquisite suspense and a heartbreaking loss as they abandon ship and try to reach the dispatched rescue vehicle. They land...search...find graves, indicating someone's still alive. And then...

Now comes the movie's first big surprise--which I won't reveal. Another, still bigger, is coming. What I will say is that, in a two-hour film, the structure and pacing are both spot-on. The acting and scripting are equally good. ('I didn't travel 100 million miles to stumble in the last ten steps.' Or: when chided because he can't dance, the hero tells his wife: 'Hey, some couples tango and some go to Mars.') The movie's inner Swiss watch ticks as we advance on schedule to the Big Reveal.

As for the last fifteen minutes...Here we come to the great I Don't Know. I didn't like the ending. I'd wanted something different. Many viewers have hated the ending and condemned the entire film because of it. Stand back, though. We can't have it all ways.

We can't have a Real Deal Rebel who's been completely housebroken and repeats all the tricks we love best, at our call. The Real Deal is subversive and loves to thwart expectations. The Real Deal will transform a kinky, borderline sleazy film like Femme Fatale into a dream, onto which he then tacks on a lush, romantic ending. The Real Deal, late in his career, with thwart all expectations with a beautifully calm thriller, Passion.

Because he refuses to 'heel' on command, we should never grow too comfortable in the presence of such an artist. The best are loving people--with a streak of junkyard dog.

But relax. They're not out to hurt but delight us as they take us by the throat. Now and then they succeed at that by showing us their hearts.

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