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Brain De Palma

     What's with Brian De Palma? Once the fair-haired director favorite of Pauline Kael and like-minded critics for Dressed to Kill (1980) and Blow Out (1981), he gradually fell out of favor because of such content-empty gangster movies as Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987), and Carlito's Way (1993), and the unclassifiably strange Raising Cain (1992). In person, he's been a strange one, too, for decades wearing what seems to be the same hideous 1970s safari jacket, marking him for a citizen's arrest from the fashion police.

     The year 2000 started badly for De Palma, with the release of Mission to Mars, which American critics of every aesthetic lambasted and ridiculed, calling it New Age mush. Only Armond White of The New York Press held out, writing polemical tome after tome in its favor and saying that any critic who doesn't appreciate Mission to Mars doesn't love cinema. (I still haven't seen it. White told me recently that "I will drag you into the movie by your legs.")

     And then there are the French...

     Carlito's Way, thoroughly tedious and mediocre, a dime-a-dozen genre picture, was voted Best Film of the 1990s by the Paris film journal, Cahiers du Cinema. While snubbing most Hollywood movies offered them for showing, the Cannes Film Festival in May found an honored spot for a special Out-of-Competition screening of Mission to Mars.

     Did that make De Palma happy? Not by the testy way he conducted himself at his Cannes press conference. A reporter asked him if some scene in Mission to Mars was an homage to Hitchcock. "Homage?" De Palma retorted. "What's that supposed to mean--stealing or something--that I'm a rip-off artist?" When a critic, who liked the movie, tried out on De Palma a Freudian reading, the filmmaker got sarcastic: "I love these long interpretations about my films. I get them all the time."

     De Palma was brought in to make Mission to Mars after the original filmmaker, Gore Verbinski, was fired from the project. A journalist asked, "Were you hesitant to fill someone else's shoes?" De Palma paused to ponder the odd question. "The director of Mouse Hunt? No," he eventually answered.

(May, 2000)


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