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 Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?

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JohnDrake
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Sun May 08, 2011 10:46 am

For me, De Palma's best films were Carrie, Blow Out, Scarface and The Untouchables which had undeniably exciting set-pieces, but didn't at all deserve an Oscar for Sean Connery's turn as an "Irish" cop IMO. This was a year after playing the Spanish mentor in Highlander which is actually one of my personal cult favourites.

You can compare De Palma with someone like Paul Verhoeven. The Italian director has been often labelled misogynist because of the way women are treated in his films (Blow Out, Dressed To Kill, Body Double, Casualties Of War) whereas in the Dutchman's movies, men were shown to have it just as bad and brutal as women (Spetters, The Fourth Man, RoboCop, Basic Instinct). Also, De Palma's female characters were sometimes weak and twisted whereas Verhoeven's were generally very strong and determined.

Carlito's Way is another good one. Set in 1975, it's a real retro-thriller with Al Pacino doing fine as the gangster trying to go straight, but as many will point out, Sean Penn steals the show as Kleinfeld. Even comedy actor Paul Kaye paid homage to this character with his spaced-out creation Mike Strutter.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Sat May 14, 2011 5:15 am

"Obsession" is now available on YouTube for free, and legally:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLgQz6VBYvs&feature=watch-now-button&wide=1

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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Sat May 14, 2011 5:31 am

Thanks, though I got.

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The uploader has not made this video available in your country.
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For non-yanks, use Hide My Ass! to watch any blocked video proxy-free - no national restrictions.

Edit: still isn't working.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Sat May 14, 2011 5:46 am

Eh, that's bullshit. :x
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Thu Jun 02, 2011 2:51 pm

I have to work tomorrow morning, and I'm too tired to finish it, but I've just seen the first 45 minutes of DRESSED TO KILL on Netflix Instant.

My thoughts? Well, aside from still wanting to fuck Angie Dickinson when she was nearly 50 (I know that scene had a double), I like it. It seems to lack something at it's core, but I admire it as a piece of filmmaking. De Palma has a grasp of the Hitchcock tone, and a strong sense of visual storytelling. It's just a shame that the narrative could be more compelling.

Can't wait to see the rest.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Tue Aug 09, 2011 4:03 am

As a new member of this illustrious gentlemen's club I'm not allowed to post links, so I'll just say there's an interesting revisit to Femme Fatale at avclub.com. (Couple of years old, but new to me at least.) It's surprisingly cordial in tone - at this rate Brian De Palma might be critically rehabilitated before he dies. I'm sure he can't wait.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Tue Aug 09, 2011 8:51 am

The White Tuxedo wrote:


My thoughts? Well, aside from still wanting to fuck Angie Dickinson when she was nearly 50 (I know that scene had a double), I like it.

one day you'll be 50 too and then it will seem quite natural
laugh
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Tue Aug 09, 2011 11:14 pm

Avarice wrote:
As a new member of this illustrious gentlemen's club I'm not allowed to post links, so I'll just say there's an interesting revisit to Femme Fatale at avclub.com. (Couple of years old, but new to me at least.) It's surprisingly cordial in tone - at this rate Brian De Palma might be critically rehabilitated before he dies. I'm sure he can't wait.

I think that bug may be fixed now, if you still have the link on hand. I'd like to check it out.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Wed Aug 10, 2011 12:02 am

Nope.

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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Wed Aug 10, 2011 12:10 am

So much for watching Czech Streets 15 tonight.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Wed Sep 28, 2011 7:01 am

Found this on Wayback Machine. A thoughtful and critical assessment of De Palma's career.

Fascinated by the comparison to R.Crumb. Hadn't occurred to me that he and De Palma mined the same territory.


Quote :
The director's craft: the death-deifying De Palma
By Peter Rainer
LA Times, 24 Sept 2006

"Nothing stays buried forever," says a cop in the new Brian De Palma thriller "The Black Dahlia." This basic rule of homicide investigation also applies to De Palma's career. One of his very first movies was called "Murder à la Mod," and the murders have continued almost unabated ever since. So have the exhumations.

In De Palma's House of Pain, corpses have a way of springing back to life, if only in fever dreams. In "Carrie," Sissy Spacek's blood-soaked prom queen exerts her revenge from beyond the grave — or, to be more exact, from inside it. At the end of "Blow Out," Nancy Allen's throttled death scream, recorded on a surveillance tape, pulls apart the psyche of the man who failed to save her, a sound recordist for cheapie horror movies played by John Travolta. At the end of "Casualties of War," a slaughtered Vietnamese girl, or her look-alike, beckons Michael J. Fox's Pfc. Eriksson, the man who failed to save her. In movie after movie, De Palma keeps returning to the scene of the crime — he digs up his obsessions and buries them and hauls them up again.

At 66, De Palma has been at it a long time, since the mid-'60s. While the other major directors of his generation — Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola — have ranged high and low, De Palma keeps hitting the same groove. Like Hitchcock, to whom he has often been compared, and not always favorably, his name represents a brand.

For all that, the dread he parlays has never quite devolved into shtick because, even in a film as roundly slammed and wildly unsatisfactory as "The Black Dahlia," there are moments when his ecstatic love of filmmaking comes through. But his ardor can be a mixed blessing. De Palma's technique alone can hold you, but sometimes we must ask: Technique in the service of what?

In the mid-'80s he said in an interview, "I don't start with an idea about content. I start with a visual image." In the same interview he said, "I'm interested in motion, sometimes violent motions, because they work aesthetically in film."

But surely this patter about pure cinema is a decoy. A sports film, for example, offers abundant opportunities for dynamic movement, and yet De Palma has never attempted one of those. As a rule, things really get rolling for him when his camera tracks are slicked with fresh blood. The fact that the blood most often belongs to women, who are perceived as prey, or that sex is often the lure for violence in his films, fouls the air.

THE WAGES OF SIN

In "Dressed to Kill," probably his most controversial movie, an unhappily married woman played by Angie Dickinson has a hot tryst with a dark stranger and gets sliced to death in an elevator for her troubles. The camerawork throughout all this is — no other word for it — gorgeous. It's an emblematic sequence for De Palma and the sickest of jokes: Sex, even good sex, can only end badly.

Despite the super-sophistication of his technique, in essence De Palma's movies express, at least for men in the audience, how sex was experienced as an adolescent. An early adolescent. They capture the rage and mortification, the guilt, the tingle of voyeurism. In "Carrie," the slo-mo glide through the girls' locker room that opens the movie is every boy's porno fantasia.

One of the most unnerving things about De Palma's films, even more than their eruptive, gargoyle terror, is the suggestion that these adolescent anxieties are naggingly ever-present. The tyranny of sexual desire, woman as the Other — for most men, these fears still fly. And because De Palma came of age as an artist in a consciousness-raising era when the women's movement was in full swing, he has always been the whipping boy of those who flaunt their liberal bona fides. It was predictable that "Femme Fatale," his most recent movie before "The Black Dahlia," would be cheered by his detractors, many of whom believe he is the ungodly creation of his greatest champion, Pauline Kael. Aside from being his best movie in years, it also showcased a rare species for De Palma — the sexually in-control female hero, the pansexual praying mantis.

Equally unnerving in his movies is the cackle often underscoring the terrors. In a De Palma movie, the worst-possible-case scenario is almost always the only scenario, and there's a kind of ghastly comic justice in that. Carrie isn't just humiliated at her prom, she's doused in pig's blood. In return, she incinerates her classmates.

In one of his early, revue-sketch movies, "Hi, Mom!," De Palma stages a sequence that, for sheer satiric audacity, is unmatched by anything else of that era. A gaggle of white, liberal, middle-class theatergoers attend an off-off-Broadway happening called "Be Black Baby" in which African American militants, in white face, darken the audience members' faces and proceed to school them in what it's like to be black. They're terrorized, brutalized; there's even a rape. When it's all over, the dazed but grateful playgoers give the evening high marks. "It really makes you stop and think," says one.

In his early prime, De Palma was singled out for opprobrium, it seemed, because he did extremely well what the schlock horror-meisters, with their scantily clad victims and bogie men, did badly. He was also, as the draft-dodger comedy "Greetings" and "Hi, Mom!" and the rock-horror jape "Phantom of the Paradise" showed, closer to the Zap Comix ethos than is generally recognized: Like R. Crumb, with his pageant of brazen racial and sexual stereotypes, De Palma was unapologetically upfront about the lurid inappropriateness of his fantasy life.

Unlike Crumb, he doesn't always make it clear if he is "commenting" on those gonzo stereotypes or buying into them. Probably a little of both. But he is a much more calculating artist than Crumb, who is so entranced by his own perversities that he can't quite imagine anyone being shocked by them. De Palma, by contrast, always has his public in mind. The diabolical streak in his thrillers comes from the fact that he is not as shocked as we are about what he is showing us. And boy, does he want us to know it.

And yet there is much more to De Palma than puppet-mastery, just as there was with Hitchcock, who suffered a similar criticism. The adverse comparisons to Hitchcock have for the most part been unfair. While it's true that the distinction between rip-off and homage is sometimes stretched a bit thin in De Palma's films — "Body Double," that bargain-bin "Rear Window," comes to mind — the whole feeling tone of his movies is much more voluptuous and surreal and malign. With Hitchcock, no matter how garish he gets, even in "Psycho," we are still in the hands of someone who regards the murder genre as a bad-mannered branch of British etiquette. The horror thriller for him represents an aesthetic conundrum to be worked out.

De Palma's thrillers, at least as a point of origin, are more temperamentally aligned with cheapo exploitation pictures and pulp fiction. His effrontery is that he can, sometimes, as in "Carrie" or "The Fury," make art from dross.

What happens to De Palma in these films is similar to what happens to Hitchcock in a film such as "Vertigo." The scaffolding of plot and logic fall away and the movie seems to slide into a fugue state. It becomes almost suffocatingly personal. The real point of comparison between Hitchcock and De Palma may be this: The extreme rigor of their technique masks a deep derangement.

De Palma's movies are best when they spook him too — when they inhabit his private places. He can turn out a highly slick entertainment like "Scarface," "The Untouchables" or "Carlito's Way" and you can sit back and enjoy it without once believing that it means much of anything to the director. (It must tickle the creator of "Be Black Baby" to know that "Scarface" has become a gangsta touchstone.)

"Blow Out," often regarded as his masterpiece, is marred by an overreliance on penny dreadful plot twists once John Lithgow's bull goose loony appears on the scene. But it's still amazing. Of all De Palma's movies, it's the one that cuts closest to the bone. Travolta's performance may be a big reason why. Playing the sound effects technician who accidentally witnesses a political assassination and can't save the girl he loves from its annihilating consequences, he is atrociously responsive to De Palma's torment. De Palma's movies are often riddled with dualities and doppelgangers, but in "Blow Out" it is Travolta and De Palma who are in deep communion.

Filmed in his hometown of Philadelphia, the movie released something intensely private in him. The murders are often shot from very high up, from a vulture's perspective, as if to anatomize the obscenity. De Palma was a teenage physics whiz and several of his movies, especially "Dressed to Kill," feature geeky boy geniuses. Piecing together the truth of the assassination from bits of sound and picture, Travolta's Jack is a kind of scientist too, but the upshot of the movie is that in the end science can't help you. The irrational will always trump the rational.

HEART OF DARKNESS

Some of the most powerful, and powerfully violent, American movies ever made — such as "Bonnie and Clyde," "The Godfather" films and "The Wild Bunch" — are personally felt on a very deep level and yet also seem to have a large purchase on the zeitgeist. They express a national mood. De Palma's films are not like that. (Neither are the films of David Lynch, another fabulist of his own innerscape.) Even "Casualties of War," which is based on the true account of the rape and murder of a Vietnamese girl by an American patrol, is less a movie about that war than it is a grand-scale reenactment of De Palma's recurring nightmare — the torture of not being able to rescue a loved one. The scene in which the girl is torn from her family for a little "portable R & R" is the most powerful sequence he has ever shot because for once there is nothing standing between us and the horror, no cackles, no sleight of hand, no baroque frissons.

I do not mean to slight those ingredients. Back in 1978, coming off "Carrie" and "The Fury," De Palma said that "I imagine that in the next 10 or 20 years I'll start moving into more intellectually complicated things." In fact, those films were plenty complicated; the insistently Catholic sense of dread in "Carrie," with its almost hallucinatory imaginings of the wages of sin, is far more complex than most of what passes in the movies for "intellectual." One reason that the arbiters of critical taste have not always given De Palma his due as an artist is because he has worked predominantly in disreputable genres.

But there is a case to made against De Palma for other reasons. His apprehension of the night doesn't allow much daylight to seep through. If Steven Spielberg, in his "E.T" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" days, was our chief purveyor of transcendental goodness, De Palma's MO has been almost unrelentingly Manichean, with the dark side hogging all the glory. (Be black baby, indeed.) As "The Black Dahlia" makes clear, a complacency has worked its way into De Palma's heart of darkness. The movie seems anesthetized by its own aura of menace.

Six years ago De Palma made "Mission to Mars," which alone among his films is supernally hopeful and was almost universally panned. Were the critics maybe expecting "Invaders From Mars"? Making his way in Hollywood through four decades, De Palma has had to try for the big score just like everybody else. "Mission: Impossible" was his penance for the debacle of "Bonfire of the Vanities," and "The Black Dahlia" looks like an attempt to revive the De Palma brand. Compared to the overheated gore-o-ramas of David Fincher and Quentin Tarantino, his two most conspicuous acolytes, De Palma seems almost like a classic now. He's imprisoned by his own legend, but I'm betting he has the Houdini moves to escape and astonish us — astonish himself — once again. For a director who prizes resurrections, that would be the neatest trick of all.

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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Thu Oct 06, 2011 9:59 pm

Edgar Wright on De Palma & Blow Out at http://www.criterion.com/explore/161-edgar-wrights-top-10

Quote :
There’s a reason that, back in the seventies, fellow movie brats Spielberg, Lucas, and Scorsese would defer to De Palma as “the filmmaker.” When on form, his work is something to behold. Even the lesser works of De Palma contain flashes of genius, while the best of his movies rank as pure cinema. Blow Out is certainly one of De Palma’s finest. There’s not a wasted shot, not even a wasted corner of frame. In the telling of this audiovisual thriller, De Palma uses Steadicam work, split screens, split diopter shots, and complex optical effects to utterly exciting but never overly flashy effect. Some directors are great storytellers without their presence being felt, but De Palma, much like his cinematic hero Alfred Hitchcock, is a master manipulator of both his medium and his audience. He plays us like an instrument, maneuvers us like puppets, and frequently makes us look where we’d rather not. Blow Out begins with De Palma turning the camera on himself and criticisms against him, then ends with one of the crueller, blacker chapters in cinema.

No surprise to read that De Palma doesn't shoot coverage. Any decent filmmaker knows that's the best way of having a film taken off you.

Incidentally, Wright's Top 10 is very good. (I've not seen Two-Lane Blacktop.) Must say I'm surprised as I have not been struck by any of his own films.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Fri Oct 07, 2011 1:35 am

Thanks for both the links, Ambler.

It's an interesting list. Can't say way I agree with all of it it (I can't stand Melville, and SPINAL TAP's inferior to Guest's WAITING FOR GUFFMAN and BEST OF SHOW).

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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Fri Oct 07, 2011 2:41 am

Erica Ambler wrote:
Incidentally, Wright's Top 10 is very good. (I've not seen Two-Lane Blacktop.) Must say I'm surprised as I have not been struck by any of his own films.

Thought the same thing when I read that.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Fri Oct 07, 2011 3:48 am

Sharky wrote:
It's an interesting list. Can't say way I agree with all of it it (I can't stand Melville, and SPINAL TAP's inferior to Guest's WAITING FOR GUFFMAN and BEST OF SHOW).
What have you got against Melville?
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Fri Oct 07, 2011 3:52 am

Harmsway wrote:
Sharky wrote:
It's an interesting list. Can't say way I agree with all of it it (I can't stand Melville, and SPINAL TAP's inferior to Guest's WAITING FOR GUFFMAN and BEST OF SHOW).
What have you got against Melville?

I don't. I don't know why I said that. I love LÉON MORIN, PRIEST.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Fri Oct 07, 2011 12:08 pm

Alrighty then.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Thu Nov 10, 2011 11:55 am

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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Thu Nov 10, 2011 12:06 pm

Interesting essay, but Spielberg doesn't really fit into the gender studies pigeon hole. Neither did his closest forebearer - John Ford.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Fri Jan 27, 2012 2:40 pm

I really don't get the hate for SCARFACE.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Fri Jan 27, 2012 2:46 pm

Sharky wrote:
I really don't get the hate for SCARFACE.
Its fanbase sure doesn't help it much. I'm sure a lot folks for whom SCARFACE is a beloved film also ooh and ah about BOONDOCK SAINTS. I'll venture a guess that it wouldn't be quite so hotly contested in film-lover circles if it was a more obscure film that had never developed a strong, popular following.

But the reason I'm not very enthusiastic about it is that I'm not particularly fascinated by SCARFACE on a narrative or formal level.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Fri Jan 27, 2012 2:48 pm

Sharky wrote:
I really don't get the hate for SCARFACE.
Didn't you used to hate that as well? laugh

I always enjoyed it. And that Moroder score is perfect.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Fri Jan 27, 2012 3:23 pm

Al Pacino's performance is fucking atrocious, for starters.

I think would be better if it were titled "De Palma for Retards". So many of the film's scenes transform into unintentional comedy skits. I laugh every time I watch the scene where Montana executes the man in the passenger seat . Pure nonsense. laugh A suspense sequence gone horribly wrong.

The film lacks feeling and emotion, along with strong characterization, which are key elements for a filmmaker like Brian De Palma. Once you throw those out the window, the rest of the film's structure collapses. For example, if his characters in OBSESSION were completely shallow, the finale would have, therefore, been nothing more than a tedious confrontation sequence, rather than a spine-tingling suspense sequence. If this was supposed to be an engaging crime/drama/thriller, he would have needed to include a bit more than violence, drug abuse, and vulgarity.

Poor story. Poor characters. Poor performances. Not even De Palma's masterful technical work could hold SCARFACE together.

Just trash.

Harmsway wrote:
Sharky wrote:
I really don't get the hate for SCARFACE.
Its fanbase sure doesn't help it much. I'm sure a lot folks for whom SCARFACE is a beloved film also ooh and ah about BOONDOCK SAINTS. I'll venture a guess that it wouldn't be quite so hotly contested in film-lover circles if it was a more obscure film that had never developed a strong, popular following.

But the reason I'm not very enthusiastic about it is that I'm not particularly fascinated by SCARFACE on a narrative or formal level.

Yeah, the SCARFACE fan base is hilarious.

Seems like it's mainly a mass of half-wits who have a minimal understanding of the entire film. It's cool to snort piles of coke, liquidate masses of people, fall in love with your sister, kill your best friend, and try to rule the world! Yeah! Because that's exactly what De Palma went out to prove with this one.

Then again, if the film was crafted any better, as you suggested, it wouldn't even have such a fan base.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Fri Jan 27, 2012 3:23 pm

Harmsway wrote:
Sharky wrote:
I really don't get the hate for SCARFACE.

Its fanbase sure doesn't help it much.

It's a kind of snobbery in other words. The impression I get is that most cinephiles look down on it because of the following its got in the hip-hop community. Thus they disown it. For me, it's classic era De Palma, right up there with CARRIE, DRESSED TO KILL, BODY DOUBLE, and BLOW OUT.

Harmsway wrote:
But the reason I'm not very enthusiastic about it is that I'm not particularly fascinated by SCARFACE on a narrative or formal level.

I'm fascinated by the palpable atmosphere (there's a dreamlike quality to it that only DePalma can achieve) and its modern take on the Richard III tale. I remember I shed a small tear the first time I watched the finale. Georgio Moroder's score goes a long way here, but De Palma's direction is very underestimated. It's not as flamboyant as is his more regarded works, but there's a subtlety to it that I admire.
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PostSubject: Re: Brian De Palma: auteur or charlatan?    Fri Jan 27, 2012 3:39 pm

Mr. Brown wrote:
So many of the film's scenes transform into unintentional comedy skits. I laugh every time I watch the scene where Montana executes the man in the passenger seat

Nah, the comedy's intentional alright, at least according to Oliver Stone. It's a very funny film, but also unnerving. Like PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, it's DePalma in grand guignol mode. Both pictures would make a great double bill.

Mr. Brown wrote:
The film lacks feeling and emotion, along with strong characterization

I don't buy that statement. For me, it's the quiet moments like Tony waking up Elvira in bed after killing Frank, staring at the prophetic blimp, Tony's marriage proposal (Pacino is excellent here), the Gina distraught after Manny's death, Tony holding his sister's dead body, and the final shot/fade out, that I find very moving. It's tragedy mixed with comedy of the absurd, but it's still a tragedy when you get down to it.

Mr. Brown wrote:
For example, if his characters in OBSESSION were completely shallow...

They're pretty flat characters, TBH. It's Herrmann's score that gives the film any feeling, poignancy and emotional subtext. Quite frankly, OBSESSION doesn't deserve Benny's score.

Mr. Brown wrote:
Then again, if the film was crafted any better, as you suggested, it wouldn't even have such a fan base.

Absolute fucking bollocks.
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