I’ve never been much of a fan of the work of Brian De Palma. From Carrie to The Untouchables, his films, punctuated with heavy-handed moments, just plod along. But more to the point, he is a relentless visual plagiarist.
Body Double is a poorly rendered sensational take on Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Blow Out a dull reimaging of Antonioni’s Blow Up, and The Untouchables climactic scene a trite frame-by-frame reproduction of Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps.
All of this is just fine. Each to his own. That is until I read a De Palma quote in Julie Salmon’s book The Devil’s Candy, a exhaustive blow-by-blow account of the disastrous production of Bonfire of the Vanities.
“Take an idea that has to be told in visual images. That’s what I always tell my students. It can be Super 8. Take any cliche – somebody killing somebody. Pure action, but make it original.” Original was the word he used. Original. Whatever you want to say about De Palma, love him or not, the guy just isn’t that.
Which made me realize the simplest of things, a truth that emanates around the world today: Truth is anything you want it to be. You think it, and that’s what it is. So, here’s to that.
Oscars 2017 Best Live Action Short. This year’s Oscar nominations for Best Live-Action Short are all European: The Woman and the TGV (Switzerland), Silent Nights (Denmark), Time Code (Spain), Enemies Within (France) and Sing (Hungary). And while all have obvious merits, most fail at the short format, striving instead to be an abbreviated feature. Aske Bang’s Silent Nights is the most flawed in this regard – cramming in a passionate on-again-off-again affair, a mugging, death of a parent, deportation and sudden pregnancy into 30 minutes. Timo von Guten’s The Woman and the TGV, although entertaining and meticulously shot,suffers from a kind of Amelie envy. Kristof Deak’sSing andSelim Azzazi’sEnemies Within briefly focus on the key of the short format – that of a specific and intense relationship – but both lose focus in the end. It is only Juanjo Gimenez’s Time Code – the shortest of the entries at fifteen minutes – that understands the structure of short films. It delivers from beginning to end with humor and insight into the human condition while never overshooting its mark – people are happier when they accept themselves.
Ava DuVernay’s Academy-nominated documentary 13th exposes the intrinsic flaw of America’s 13th Amendment. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
While abolishing slavery is well and good – how did it ever happen in the first place?! – the amendment allows for the practice to continue through the penal system, a system that systematically incarcerates black males in America, a population that, only 4% of the overall population, accounts for 40% of prisoners. DuVernay outlines America’s dismal history of discrimination and servitude, citing Jim Crow laws as well as the systematic targeting of black leaders such as Angela Davis and Black Panther Fred Hampton.Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Clinton are all indicted for the role in the morass as well as So-Called President Trump. Most insidious of all is the monetization of the mass incarcerations – corporations such as WalMart and Time Warner directly profiting from these policies – as well as the understanding that another iteration of the racist laws awaits us all. DuVernay’s film needs to be seen. Okay, so what are you doing? Watch it now!
Just finishing the third draft of Paint, the second part of a trilogy of coming-of-age screenplays, and this scene had to be switched out: DAVIS, coming down off a bad mushroom trip, is sitting with his crush, ELLEN.
DAVIS: Let’s watch Swiss Family Robinson.
ELLEN: Really? It’s the Disney film, right?
DAVIS: I love that film.
ELLEN: You watch it with your father?
DAVIS: No. (Pause) I don’t know. He read us the book. I remember that. He sat in his old rocking chair. It creaked as he stretched back, the light over his shoulder.
ELLEN inserts the tape and sits on the other side of the couch.
DAVIS: He had a deep voice. It was good for the book.
Dramatic orchestral music plays on the television. A ship drifts across the screen in a hurricane winds and high seas.
DAVIS: (Watching the film intently) I had my first existential moment watching this film.
ELLEN: (Sleepy) Yeah?
DAVIS: When they finish the tree house and they take the mother upstairs. (Pause) It was so amazing, so perfect. It looked like a perfect place. DAVIS: (Looking at ELLEN, who sleepily looks back) And then it wasn’t. It was the opposite. It was fake or something. I don’t know. I had to the leave the room. My step-mother made me go to bed because she thought I was sick.
The Swiss Family Robinson is revealed trapped below decks, yelling for help but still looking orderly and respectable. The ship grounds out on a rock.
DAVIS: (Pause, sighing deeply) You don’t remember doing something amazing as a kid – your absolute favorite thing in the world – and then feeling like it was pointless? You thought it was this thing. And then it isn’t.
DAVIS continues to watch the film.
MR. ROBINSON (On Television): Hans, help your mother!
HANS: If I had been captain, I would have fought the pirates instead of running into storm. The Swiss Family Robinson climbs to the top of the ship’s decks and sees that the ship is grounded near an island.
Close up on DAVIS as he watches intently.
MR. ROBINSON (On Television): At least we’re not too far from land.
MRS. ROBINSON: Then there’s hope.
FRITZ: Maybe we could build a raft. There’s enough wood.
DAVIS: Of course they can build a raft! Of course they can.
Smiling, DAVIS looks over at ELLEN and sees that she is asleep. He stares at her naked shoulder, moves forward and looks as if he is about to kiss it when she opens her eyes.
ELLEN: Just watch your movie.
DAVIS awkwardly looks back at the television screen.
KEVIN ROBINSON: Look what I found! The captain’s dogs! Are they glad to see me!
The Robinson Family begins to cut barrels and wood and construct a raft to go to shore.
DAVIS looks around at ELLEN again, who looks angelic in her sleep, and considers touching her shoulder again, but pulls the blanket over her instead. He turns back to the film and watches as a raft is built and lowered into the ocean from the ship. DAVIS falls asleep.