Sunday, October 26, 2008

DRESSED TO KILL... What is it?

De Palma, shake well before understanding

Watching DRESSED TO KILL again this past week with a great audience got me thinking about what a really strange film it is. It's like a scrapbook of shock and detection.

In a sense all movies are about movie-making. Especially movies made by the movie-mad. So maybe the kill - when the movie goes into the red - is the representation of Hitchcock's mighty peak of visual invention and style. And the follow-up detection by Keith Gordon, playing a character who, like teenage De Palma, builds computers for his science fair and toys with cameras and voyeurism; is like De Palma's attempt to cope with and understand his own fascination with the magic. And his teaming with Nancy Allen (Mrs. De Palma in real life) is kind of like entering into a gender-balanced collaboration to explore these themes.

As De Palma says in this incredible interview, he is a visual stylist and that's the first and foremost motivator of his work. It's easy to understand why people would take the murder personally, since the filmmaker is thought to build a doll house that delights him. The furor is a furor against De Palma for refusing to be god or a moralist. Is the death punishment for transgressing against marriage and family, against seeking fullness and joy? It would be hard to find other expressions of that in De Palma's work so I doubt it. Can we take him at his word when he says that he prefers watching women on the screen and finds the sight of a woman in peril more emotionally engaging than the sight of a man in peril? Unless a filmmaker is as skillful at obfuscating these kinds of tensions by creating a harmonic framework of other tensions around them, he or she is walking a long wire. That high-wire act is yet another source of the intricately engineered tension of DRESSED TO KILL.

His bisecting of the frame, either with a true split screen, or with a subtly artificial split-diopter (allowing foreground and background to stay in sharp focus) replicates both the split in Caine's personality and in the filmmakers perspective, as does the very active shade between point of view and omniscient views of the action. Here De Palma shows his mastery of Hitchcock's greatest lesson - never let them go. In a suspense film, the screw shold be kept turning. And this is a screwed and chopped suspense film.

I was very happy to hear from Bryan Poyser of the Austin Film Society that AFS will have an Early De Palma Essential Cinema series in the spring. It will stretch from GREETINGS through CARRIE and I'm pretty pumped up about it. Also, if you haven't seen PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, it should be your Halloween night movie, no doubt about it.

Next week (this week?) we'll have the incredible Rosalba Neri (remember how she steals the show in 99 WOMEN?) in THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT. It is a triumphantly Euroambient film and Neri is like a goddess or a celestial phenomenon. See it!

Rosalba Neri


Pete R. said...

I love DTK! I look at it as DePalma's own take on the giallo. Pure cinema bliss!

Blake said...

Yeah, Dressed To Kill is great. Vulcan on 29th has an old big box unedited version (official, not a boot)on VHS. SISTERS is where it's at though!