* * * Part VI (The Scream/End Credits)***
Femme Fatale was the first real-feeling DePalma film I'd seen in the cinema. I had actually seen Carlito's Way and Snake Eyes in the cinema as well, but Femme Fatale was the first DePalma theatrical experience where I felt I was watching a film that could've been made during the time of his master trilogy of the early 80s. Femme Fatale was the extension of Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, and Body Double that it seemed Raising Cain had hoped to be in the 90s. Perhaps Raising Cain would have been more secured in that creative extension had DePalma been able to figure our how to edit the film in the manner that he'd originally envisioned. But with Femme Fatale, it was apparent that he had fully creative reign when it came to his experimental non-linear storytelling. Femme Fatale would be another revisiting of Vertigo themes while Raising Cain had served as a remake of DePalma's own Dressed to Kill, which of course, was a remake of Hitchcock's Psycho. Perhaps Raising Cain, then, would serve as a first offering of a post-1980s trilogy in and of itself, featuring Raising Cain, Femme Fatale, and finally Passion, which would also deal with the nightmarishly-presented ideas of Rachel McAdams having her own “double” that was haunting the thoughts and actions of Noomi Rapace. Indeed, the list of these six films undoubtedly make up the “key” and an importantly defining portion of DePalma's catalogue – Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double, Raising Cain, Femme Fatale, and Passion, which ironically (even if this was unintended) loops the modern idea of how society receives its modern media with the studio-television monitors, 16mm projected film, and newspapers of 1973's Sisters.
* * *
With all of its similarities, it was the final shot of Vertigo that really grabbed my attention and shook me out of my seat. It was the scream.
But twenty-four years before this, it was a television trailer for Carlito's Way (1993) that had grabbed my attention in a completely different fashion; it would be the first Brian DePalma movie I'd have the opportunity to see in the cinema ever and since discovering his films on VHS thanks to a handful of video rental stores in North Vancouver. My brother and I went to see Carlito's Way after it opened at what at the time was North Vancouver's only multi-screen cinema in an outdoor retail complex called Park & Tilford. Before the movie theatre opened there, Park & Tilford was a destination for families during the Christmas season because of the elaborate Christmas display of lights and decorations that were weaved through a monumental garden tunnel-path. And really, this was the only thing housed at the Park & Tilford location for years until the movie theatre went up, followed by a huge Canadian grocery store (Save-On-Foods) and soon afterwards, Blockbuster Video. I even rented Carlito's Way for a second and third viewing from this Blockbuster Video on latter occasions. Carlito's Way was really the epitome of flashback-sequence storytelling as the entire film was essentially one long flashback sequence.
The movie opens up with a shot of Al Pacino (“Carlito” in the film) being carried away, dying, on a paramedics' stretcher out of the tunnels of New York's Grand Central Station. The location immediately recalls the backdrop of important Blow Out scenes, including scenes leading up to the climax of that film. Even the reason that the two sets of leading characters from each of those two films are the same: they're catching a train out of town to hopefully outrun the bad guys. In the opening shots of Carlito's Way, we have DePalma telling us that it's the climax of Carlito's Way that is going to play out in the same locations. We also have him telling us, directly, the ultimate fate of his own leading character, and then invites us to find out if he was lying to us or not; taking us through two and a half hours of Carlito's flashback story. After the opening credits play out, with Carlito lifted from the train platform and transported away on an ambulance gurney, we see him a few months previous to this in a courtroom as his prison sentence has just been revoked due to illegal wire-tapping by the District Attorney, and so right away, we get another Blow Out reference, or at the very least another gentle reminder of that film. Again, hidden wires, microphones, and audio recordings play a minor but significant role in this film as well. The circling camera shot around Pacino and his love interest Penelope Ann Miller midway through the film reminds us of the same shot midway through Body Double (nineteen years earlier). Much of DePalma's filmography holds up years and decades after-the-fact, Carlito's Way in particular seems to get better with age, crawling up on Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas as best gangster movie. In fact, I believe one of the best scenes DePalma has ever film is the fight between Pacino and Miller, which takes place in her apartment – the two characters, arguing their own moral logic, remain separated by space, walls, and doorways until the argument reaches its heated moments – Pacino pushing his way into her bathroom, where Miller is standing, yet the two of them continue to argue without looking at each other, their heads are backside-to-backside. Finally breaking this disconnection that is coming between them, instead of looking directly at each other, they face each other in the bathroom mirror, where they are forced to face each other and themselves as slightly warped, opposite-reflections of themselves, until he finally breaks the mirror with his fist – cutting his hand. She follows him out of the apartment, like she would follow him later in her life, and she lets him go without her, as he would let her go without him at the end of the film, from the platform of Grand Central Station. Miller yells after him as Pacino disappears from her apartment: “I'm through cleaning up your blood!” – And she is through, she won't have to clean up his blood again, next time, the paramedics are going to do it for her. Unlike Nancy Allen's prostitute-with-brains-and-a-heart-of-gold character form Blow Out, Miller will get away from all the blood and crime that she'd been trapped in inside the city. Carlito's Way ends with her dancing in paradise.
Blow Out ends on a far more cynical note, made palatable only by the multi-layered irony that DePalma has brilliantly twisted it all into at the end of the story. Hitchcock himself had set-up a beautifully ironic twist at the end of his masterpiece Vertigo. At Vertigo's halfway point, as James Stewart has had to give up his ascent to the top of the bell tower, the last thing he hears is Novak's scream before the body falls, seemingly to its death, from the top of that tower. As the clues build up to a tense and wholly uncomfortable climax at the end of Vertigo, Stewart realizes that he had heard Novak's scream before seeing the body fall – only it wasn't her body. It was all a set-up to place Stewart as the only “witness” to another woman's “suicide” – all this an elaborate cover-up for the other woman's murder. As Stewart literally drags Novak back to the scene of the crime, he overcomes his crippling vertigo and manages to get them both up to the top of the bell tower, where the murder victim had been thrown. As they teeter on the edge of the tower, Novak, riddled with angst and anxiety, gets spooked by something in the shadows and accidentally falls to her death from the tower, her scream echoing once again for Stewart, but this time the scream isn't staged.
When DePalma's Blow Out opens up, we see John Travolta in a private screening room with the slasher b-movie producer, mixing the sound effects track for their horror movie. They are in need of a “good scream”. DePalma uses this detail of Travolta's background for some humourous scenes throughout the movie – as Travolta runs about the city trying to solve the apparent murder he's captured on his tape recorder, he's suddenly brought back into his everyday-world reality of having to test voice-over actresses in order to record the perfect scream for his producer. Still, they can't find the right one. The fact that the creepy villain-hitman of Blow Out (Lithgow) has ransacked Travolta's sound studio and erased every single recorded and meticulously catalogued sound-effect tape Travolta has ever created just puts him further back from ever being able to finish the work that his dayjob (and only source of money) requires. Throughout the entire film the circumstances surrounding Travolta's character only serve to push him further and further into a corner, until the climax of the film, where Travolta and Allen devise a plan to entrap the killer by wiring Allen with a hidden microphone – a plan that backfires fatally for Allen, and Travolta is left stranded and helpless, unable to help Allen as she screams harshly to her death through the headphones in Travolta's ears.
DePalma leaves us watching Travolta, in his own personal hell inside the private screening room with his b-movie producer, having to listen to Allen's death-screams over and over and over again; the only scream that he, the sound recordist, would have on tape in order that he could finally finish his job on the low-budget slasher film in front of him. That final scream would be the only thing John Travolta would walk away with by the end of that film, just like Novak's scream would be the only thing Stewart would walk away with, in spite of all his obsessions, at the end of his.
VERTIGO/DE PALMA by Vince D'Amato.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Vince D'Amato, All Rights Reserved. First published as an E-book, non-fiction, 2018. All photos are stock/promotional photos from their respective studios: Universal Studios (Vertigo), Warner Bros. (Femme Fatale), Warner Bros., MGM (Blow Out).