Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Vertigo/DePalma - IV

Part IV

...Another notable cinematographic trait from Vertigo [that DePalma utilized in his own films] was Novak's flashback whilst sitting alone in her bedroom. Here, the camera has framed the actress perfectly as she proceeds to write a note detailing her involvement in what we thought was her double's suicide up until now – where she admits, via her own voice-over and visualized for us (the audience) through a lengthy flashback of the bell tower scene, revealing visual information that we had not been privy to when the scene had originally played out earlier, that the “suicide” had been in fact a cover for murderous goings-ons. The mis-en-scene in the hotel room during the flashback brings to mind the excitingly framed flashback sequence from DePalma's The Fury when Amy Irving pauses halfway up an interior stairway and receives a psychic vision of her missing brother. DePalma shows us this vision as a split-screen as Irving remains frozen on the steps for us to witness her reacting to the vision – and while DePalma had played with dual-screen storytelling before in Sisters and The Phantom of the Paradise, he had never displayed it in this tricky and clever manner before – instead of the standard dividing line between the two scenes playing simultaneously, in The Fury, literally half of the backdrop surrounding Irving dissolves away into the vision she's having as the camera turns around her. Here, DePalma has displayed his most brilliant take on the dual-screen technique. The whole flashback trope also teeters over experimental territory, and although DePalma was no stranger to this form on non-linear storytelling, he wouldn't fully experiment with it until his later films, Raising Cain, wherein his seemingly overlapping flashbacks and dream sequences were viewed as too experimental for its time (1991) and DePalma succumbed to the pressure to re-cut his film into its current “theatrical release” version. Since that time, Raising Cain has been recut into a pseudo- “director's” cut where the scenes of real time, flashback, and dream fantasy have been restructured back into a form more closely resembling DePalma's original idea for Raising Cain. (This latter version is now available on a newer home video release). The epitome of DePalma's use of flashbacks had to have been his sophisticated, intricate, and suspenseful reveal of how and why Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise's) team of spies had been set-up and killed in the big-budget blockbuster Mission Impossible. This flashback sequence of DePalma's is particularly fantastic because as the sequence plays out as Tom Cruise's inner thoughts, mixing memory with gap-filling logic and circumstantial accusations, John Voight is sitting across from him simultaneously relaying a series of lies and his own false accusations, speaking while the flashback is occurring. The killing of the Mission Impossible team also happened in the first half hour of this exciting action film, literally and cinematically amping up the heroes-dying-halfway-through idea that had so intrigued Hitchcock in Vertigo and Psycho.

The ultimate experiment in non-linear storytelling for DePalma would happen a few years after Raising Cain and Mission Impossible. It would be the next decade, in fact, in 2002, when DePalma utilized a hugely extravagant flash-forward for the entire second act and continuing halfway through the third act of Femme Fatale, without even letting the audience in on it until the last few minutes of the film. At this point in his career, DePalma knew exactly how experimental he was being, he held no allusions that the climax of Femme Fatale might alienate his theatrical audiences. He was looking forward to the reaction that his film would get when it was released into cinemas.

DePalma's inspired fascination with both cinema and media serves to set up nearly every one of his key films in their opening frames. Sisters opens up with a shot on a broadcast television monitor. This was in 1973, and when DePalma returned to this idea of opening his films with televised monitors two decades later, he'd be nearly relentless with this idea. Raising Cain opens with a shot of a video baby monitor in a parents' bedroom. Mission Impossible with a shot of a live-camera monitor, monitored by a group of spies. DePalma had an obvious field day playing with interweaving video technology where a group of spies is pitted against two other groups of spies in the midst of double-crosses and doubleback twists – this is the very epitome of voyeurism quite literally blown out of proportion. In Snake Eyes, DePalma opens the camera shot on a series of new footage monitors until the camera reveals the live footage in actuality, without cutting. From this, the camera continues to weave expertly without any noticeable visual cuts for nearly the next twenty minutes, emulating Hitchcock's Rope once again as the camera follows a rowdy and rambunctious police detective played by Nicholas Cage and setting up the entire first act of the film, introducing all of the film's key ensemble players. Snake Eyes is DePalma's version of Rope on high-octane steroids. Instead of containing the fluid action to the interior of an apartment, DePalma's single-setting is an entire Las Vegas casino and hotel, his cameras gliding across casino monitors, down hallways, around a boxing ring auditorium and across the ceiling overlooking the insides of a row of hotel suites, all elaborately decorated in individual colour schemes. It's no wonder DePalma needed to hire Nicholas Cage for the role, at that time he might've been the only Hollywood actor up to the challenge of out-scene-ing the scenery. As for DePalma's key thriller trilogy of the 1980s, none of them started out with television monitors, instead, Dressed to Kill begins with an outright dream-fantasy seemingly disconnected to the rest of the film's reality, while Blow Out and Body Double both begin with the making of a b-moive, and both of those movies retain the making of the b-movies as their underlying sub-plots (both to be twisted in irony by the ends of those films). It is finally Femme Fatale (2002) that culminated and somewhat epitomizes DePalma's cinematic and media fetishes together – the opening shot, post-90s-DePalma, is of a television (going all the way back to Sisters), but this time the television is not displaying anything that is happening within the reality of the film, as the opening shots of monitors had done in every single past instance DePalma had utilized this technique – this time, the television is playing, appropriately, a scene form the classic Hollywood film noir Double Indemnity. Watching this film on television, we see as the camera fulls back, is a nude Rebecca Romijn, lying across a hotel bed. This is preamble to a diamond heist that is about to occur during a celebratory night at the Cannes Film Festival. This move fixes DePalma's own cinema with his passion for media and cinema, and these themes continue on through Femme Fatale as our other leading character, Antonio Banders, is introduced as a media photographer. Television, cinema, photography, and mass-marketing advertising all crossover each other with DePalma's trademarks: sex and crime. And like Vertigo, Rebecca Romijn takes over for an uncanny doppelganger (also played by Romijn) when the weaker double commits suicide. Not as much of a remake of Vertigo as Body Double is, DePalma's Femme Fatale regardless freely uses and twists around Hitchcock's plotpoints regarding the heroine and her double. The diamond-heisting Romijn, the stronger, more sexually outward and confident one, even gets involved with the dead double's love interest, just as Novak had done with Stewart in Vertigo. DePalma's Femme Fatale actually plays out like Vertigo from the heroine's point of veiw as opposed to the male point of view, up until the third act where DePalma's experimental intentions are finally revealed, pulling the rug out from under the audience.

(To be continued...)

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