Friday, March 18, 2005

It's the Muppet Show....



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Brian DePalma - Brian Russell De Palma

Once touted as "the American Hitchcock," De Palma remains one of the most controversial filmmakers on the contemporary screen; the merits of his work are violently debated by critics and scholars, some of whom believe him a talented craftsman who has successfully synthesized the styles of earlier directors, some of whom believe him a manipulative misogynist whose go-for-the-gut style sacrifices the intellectual for the visceral. He was educated at Sarah Lawrence College, where theatrical director Wilford Leach was his mentor. De Palma's early features were 1960s satires; The Wedding Party filmed in 1963, got fitful release in 1969-its only distinction was the casting of young Robert De Niro and Jill Clayburgh in leading roles; while Greetings (1968) has dated badly (although it does afford viewers the opportunity to see De Niro cavorting in Central Park), his follow-up, Hi, Mom! (1970), still has some punch. The hallucinogenic, cutting Sisters (1973) set the tone for De Palma's subsequent features; his Hitchcock homages culminated with Obsession (1976), virtually an uncredited remake of Vertigo that reportedly did not please the thenliving Master of Suspense one whit. (His 1974 Phantom of the Paradise had taken its grand guignol less seriously.)

De Palma invented the telekinetic-teen horror genre with 1976's Carrie which contains both genuine shocks and clever humor. The Fury (1978) takes the premise to the point of ridiculousness but contains some impressive cinematic and specialeffects pyrotechnics. In 1979 he took a break from high-profile Hollywood filmmaking to teach a master class at his alma mater, Sarah Lawrence, which wound up as a feature film-albeit a threadbare one-called Home Movies it starred his then-wife Nancy Allen and Kirk Douglas. 1980's Dressed to Kill De Palma's take on Psycho was jolting for both its violence and sexual content. The extreme critical reaction to it convinced him to keep pushing the envelope further, resulting in the paranoid conspiracy shocker Blow Out (1981) and Body Double (1984), a thriller set in the porn industry, featuring a scene in which a woman is drilled into the floor. He also updated the 1930s gangster classic Scarface (1983) to contemporary Miami, with Al Pacino as a profane, drug-crazed Cuban hero. But a gangster comedy, Wise Guys (1986), was an even worse financial failure.

Just as his career seemed commercially irredeemable, he directed the popular hit The Untouchables (1987) from a script by playwright David Mamet. This Prohibition-era morality tale also catapulted lead Kevin Costner to superstardom. De Palma then made the wrenching Vietnam war drama Casualties of War (1989), a box-office flop, and a painfully heavy-handed adaptation of Tom Wolfe's popular novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), which left him in dire need of another hit. He returned to familiar territory (with John Lithgow, who'd worked with him twice before) for the shocker Raising Cain (1992), and then took on a more ambitious project, with Al Pacino, Carlito's Way (1993).
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