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Francis Ford Coppola and Brian De Palma have a conversion about ‘The Conversation,’ 1974

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1966: Francis Ford Coppola was working as a scriptwriter when he had a conversation with director Irvin Kershner about spy movies. Espionage films were big bucks in the mid-sixties with the unequaled success of the James Bond franchise, the escalation of the so-called Cold War between the West and Soviet Russia, and the NY Times best-seller list filled with spy stories like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The IPCRESS File and A Dandy in Aspic.

Kershner was making A Fine Madness with Bond star Sean Connery. Coppola was learning his trade writing screenplays like This Property Is Condemned and Is Paris Burning?. As he later recounted in an interview with Brian De Palma for the magazine Filmmakers Newsletter in 1974, his chat with Kershner was the moment he first had the idea to write The Conversation:

We were talking about espionage, and he said that most people thought the safest way not to be bugged was to walk in a crowd. And I thought, Wow, that’s a great motif for a film—and it started there, around 1966. I actually started working on it around 1967, but it was an on-again, off-again project which I was just never able to beat until 1969 when I did the first draft.

The Conversation follows surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) who is hired to monitor a young couple. From his covert recordings Caul thinks he may have uncovered a possible murder as the couple’s recorded dialog includes the phrase “He’d kill us if he got the chance.” Caul plays and replays the tape in his obsessive and paranoid attempt to decipher the dialog’s real meaning.

Coppola was influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) which used a similar plot device—in this case a young photographer (David Hemmings) thinks he may have captured evidence of a murder with his camera.

I got into THE CONVERSATION because I was reading [Hermann] Hesse and saw BLOW-UP at the same time. And I’m very open about its relevance to THE CONVERSATION because I think the two films are actually very different. What’s similar about them is obviously similar, and that’s where it ends. But it was my admiration for the moods and the way those things happened in that film which made me say, “I want to do something like that.”

Every young director goes through that.

 
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Coppola and Hackman on location during filming for ‘The Conversation’ in 1973.
 
Coppola didn’t want to make a rehash of Blow-Up or a token movie version of Hesse’s cult novel Steppenwolf—though he did take some inspiration from the book’s central character Harry Haller—“a middle European who lives alone in a rooming house”—and his delusional fantasies. (The book also contains a significant role played by a saxophonist.) Coppola was more interested in approaching his script as a puzzle:

I have to say [The Conversation] began differently form other things I’ve done, because instead of stating to write it out of an emotional thing—the emotional identity of the people I knew—I started it as sort of a puzzle, which I’ve never done before and which I don’t think I’ll ever do again.

In other words, it started as a premise. I said, “I think I want to do a film about eavesdropping and privacy, and I want to make it about the guy who does it rather than about the people it’s being done to.” Then somewhere along the line I got the idea of using repetition, of exposing new levels of information not through exposition but by repetition. And not like RASHOMON where you present it in different ways each time—let them be the exact lines but have new meanings in context.

In other words, as the film goes along, the audience goes with it because you are constantly giving them the same lines they’ve already heard, yet as they learn a little bit more about the situation they will interpret things differently. That was the original idea.

De Palma is a good interviewer. He gets Coppola to open up on his filmmaking technique where many other interviewers may have failed. The whole interview was published (including a few spelling mistakes) in the seminal magazine Filmmakers Newsletter in May 1974 and has been uploaded by Cinephilia and Beyond. Click on the images below to read the whole conversation between De Palma and Coppola.
 
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Read the whole interview between De Palma and Coppola, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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01.11.2017
11:46 am
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Glorious, gory & (sometimes) goofy foreign film posters for horror films of the 1960s and 1970s

The Giant Spider Invasion (Japan)
The Giant Spider Invasion (Japan). Based on the low-budget 1975 film produced by Transcentury Pictures, directed by Bill Rebane
 
As a huge fan of horror films, especially those of the vintage variety, I really enjoyed pulling together this post that features foreign-made film posters advertising various horror films from the 1960s and 1970s.
 
Suspiria movie poster (Italy)
Suspiria (1977) movie poster (Italy)
 
The best thing about movie posters made for consumption outside the U.S. is that they are so much more adventurous. Few of these posters would have ever seen the light of day in a U.S. theater lobby due to their their liberal use of unorthodox imagery and nudity. Some of what follows may be considered NSFW—which is precisely why you MUST see them!
 
The Exorcist movie poster (Turkey)
The Exorcist (1973) movie poster (Turkey)
 
Dracula AD movie poster (Italy)
Dracula A.D. (1972, Hammer Films) movie poster (Italy)
 
More of these marvelous posters after the jump…...
 

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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08.13.2015
10:40 am
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‘Say hello to my little friend’: Behind-the-scenes of ‘Scarface’
09.09.2014
08:55 am
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Actor Paul Muni so immersed himself in his film roles that he often continued to remain in character long after a scene had been shot. Director Howard Hawks noticed this when Muni played notorious gangster Antonio “Tony” Camonte in the original version of Scarface in 1932. It was said that Muni became possessed by the character and his whole demeanour changed—in particular his eyes seemed utterly deranged. Al Pacino had heard the stories of Muni’s great acting talent and in the early 1980s he attended a screening of Scarface at the Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles. The film and Muni’s performance blew him away, and Pacino contacted his agent, producer Martin Bregman, to suggest they collaborate on a remake of the movie.

Pacino had an idea of keeping the film in period 1930s, but after discussions with first choice director Sidney Lumet it was decided to set the film in the present day and to tell the story of a Cuban exile, Tony Montana, and his rise and fall as a violent drug lord. Lumet wanted to use the film as a political attack on the US government’s involvement in South America, and the reasons for the massive influx of cocaine into the country. Bregman disagreed and Lumet quit the project. Brian De Palma was then chosen to direct the film with Oliver Stone as screenwriter. At that time, Stone was apparently struggling with his own cocaine problems, and chose to write the screenplay in Paris, later explaining:

I don’t think cocaine helps writing. It’s very destructive to the brain cells.

Tell us something we don’t know Oliver Stoned! Solely fixed on writing, Stone delivered a hefty three-hour movie script, which De Palma turned into one of cinema’s greatest gangster movies. When the film was released, not everyone agreed as the majority of movie critics denounced Scarface as being a morally bankrupt, overblown B-movie, and damned the film for its excessive bad language (the word “fuck” was used 226 times) and its gratuitous violence. However, most of this violence, in particular the notorious chainsaw scene, is suggested rather than seen, and while most critics headed for the exits, the likes of Roger Ebert and Vincent Canby praised the film.

The negative reviews had little effect on the audiences and the film made a profit. Over the years, the “ayes” were proven right, as in 2008 Scarface was included by the American Film Institute as one of the ten greatest gangster movies ever made.
 
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Director Brian De Palma prepares to shoot a scene with Al Pacino as Tony Montana.
 
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De Palma with cinematographer John A. Alonzo.
 
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De Palma, Alonzo and Pacino setting up shot.
 
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Though set in Miami most of the movie was filmed in Los Angeles, as the Miami Tourist Board feared the depiction of the underworld of drugs and gangsters would deter tourists from visiting the city.
 
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Pacino as Montana pulls the trigger.
 
More from Tony Montana after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.09.2014
08:55 am
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‘The Responsive Eye’: Brian De Palma’s 1965 documentary on op art
03.29.2011
03:03 am
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Before Brian De Palma became a narrative film maker he made documentaries. Among them is The Responsive Eye, which chronicles the Museum Of Modern Art’s 1965 exhibition of op-art. Curated by William Seitz, this was the first significant exhibit of optical art synchronous with and in some cases arising out of the early days of psychedelic culture. It’s amusing to watch the stuffed shirts within the art world attempt to describe what they are looking at in conventional terms or resorting to psychological mumbo jumbo without ever mentioning mescaline or LSD.

Artists featured in the show include the well-known Victor Vasarely and Josef Albers as well as the sensational and underappreciated Paul Feeley, collective work by Equipo 57, a group of Spanish artists, and Bridget Riley, among others.”

Josef Albers taught at Black Mountain College in the mid-1930s and while it’s doubtful that he took drugs it is well-known that his students were traveling to Mexico to participate in peyote eating ceremonies. Victor Vaserly may not have taken any psychedelics but his artwork appeared on everything from blacklight posters to blotter acid. Bridget Riley’s op art designs were bootlegged and began appearing as prints on trendy clothing in Carnaby Street boutiques.
 
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Bridget Riley
 
The Responsive Eye exhibit was the beginning of the mainstreaming of op-art and suddenly it was appearing everywhere, in magazine ads, tv commercials, fashion and countless posters taped to the walls of hippie crashpads.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell
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03.29.2011
03:03 am
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