Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: De Palma Blog-A-Thon: Redacted (2007)

Friday, September 11, 2009

De Palma Blog-A-Thon: Redacted (2007)

by Adam Zanzie [Adam Zanzie defends one of De Palma's recent critical and commercial misfires. His blog is Icebox Movies, which celebrates frigid temperatures, film criticism and film history; the climate is still rather warm over there, but be patient—it's gonna get colder!] I am never going to forget this film. Not for as long as I live. Not for as long as I hold onto the love of cinema that I have always struggled so hard to keep kindled—keep burning—through anything; through thick and thin; through the lack of interest in filmmaking circulating in the grade schools, middle schools and high schools that I passed through and graduated from; through the overwhelming political apathy that has stung the state of Missouri in which I reside. It has been a long time since a contemporary film has held up a mirror to my face and shown me the kind of thinker, viewer, and audience member that I am. I found such a film in Redacted. It was the Brian De Palma film that I had always waited for. It is still the fiery, passionate film that will haunt me, provoke me, and perhaps even influence me when my future career comes knocking. Do you remember the last time a film made you want to stand up, shake your fist and scream? What was the film that made you want to pay more attention to the world that was dying, evolving around you? Spielberg's Munich (2005) was the first film this decade to which I had such a powerful response. De Palma's Redacted was another. These two films are quite possibly the boldest, most professional political statements of the last ten years, which is thrilling not least because Spielberg and De Palma are two of the greatest living filmmakers, both of whom descended from the most exciting cinematic decade of all time: the 1970's. Spielberg was always destined to enter maturity in his career someday, but who would have through that De Palma would ever have undergone a similar transformation? Despite the dramatic intelligence of Hi, Mom! (1970), it was largely unseen during initial release, and soon, De Palma appeared doomed to a long, bloated reputation of "rip-offs," "misogyny," and "obsessions with gore." The son of an ER surgeon who had spent his childhood watching his father slice bodies open just plain looked like he was never going to grow up. Then came Casualties of War (1989). As he did with Greetings (1968), De Palma had analyzed the hopelessness of young American boys snagged by the draft, but unlike that film, Casualties of War dared to go where no other motion picture on Vietnam had gone before—by focusing wholly on the cruelty submitted by U.S. soldiers onto the country's innocent villagers. Suddenly, De Palma could add "traitor" to the list of name-callings flung onto his resume. Who knew that he would revisit the subject matter eighteen years later? Why tell another story about an innocent foreign girl getting molested and murdered by our troops? "It's because," as De Palma explained to Robert Wilonsky in a Higher Definition interview now on the film's DVD, "this, to me, is the great story of these two particular wars: where you send young boys into a war with no clear purpose, in a hostile environment where they can't tell the enemy from the civilians; they band together, as the only way that makes any sense... and then, you're buddy's blown up... and then, they just go berserk." But again: when our troops need our support at all times in order to help them win in a dangerous conflict, what good is there to tell a story that is not flattering—even if it is based on an incident that really happened? Because of this, prior to the release of Redacted in late 2007, right-leaning commentators and celebrities—ranging from Bill O'Reilly to even De Palma alumnus Gary Sinise—decided not to see the film, and instead already made up their minds: that the film was probably anti-troops; that it would inspire the enemy; and that De Palma had tarnished his reputation forever. Then of course there was the scathing review of the film by Michael Medved, who proclaimed that it was "the worst film I've ever seen" (even when it ultimately didn't make the top of his Worst of 2007 list by year's end), and things didn't get much better when Armond White (often known as the supreme De Palma apologist in the critics circles) dismissed the film as "the low point of a great filmmaker’s career." Within weeks, Redacted, which had only booked fifteen theaters, was dropped. So much ugly fuss had been made over a barely seen film. Was it the anti-troops propaganda that Medved made it out to be? "It's a very sad story", De Palma admitted, but then he broke the ice by declaring of the film, "(that) you feel sorry for, obviously, the victims, but also the soldiers! Even the crazy ones! What got them that way?" What did get them that way? De Palma pities them. That does not mean he excuses their crimes, or the crime of the war in general. Redacted is the best film made by any filmmaker on the subject of the War in Iraq. There is a reason for this: it tells the truth about the war. Or, rather, it makes a point that telling honesty from dishonesty is difficult when you look at a war such as this one. The film is outraged and in-your-face. Is it manipulative? Sure. But judging from the fact that the Bush administration manipulated the American public into buying the theory that the U.S. had to get involved in Iraq to recover weapons of mass destruction that were never even found, it is my opinion that only counter-manipulation will ever lead the public into the other direction. There are still millions of Americans who believe that our troops are fighting in Iraq in order to prevent another 9/11—as if the Iraqis ever had a hand in 9/11. How else, other than manipulation, will audiences figure this out and be enraged the way De Palma was? Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs (2007), released in the same season as Redacted, is a film that means well, but unfortunately, does not fuel viewers with any new insights about the war and, in the end, looks like your stereotypical whiny liberal Hollywood statement. Critics and audiences call Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker (2009) "the first great film about the Iraq War," and to be sure, the film is excellent as a suspense thriller; but because the film is neutral and takes no stand on the war, it is hardly going to make apathetic viewers realize just what the hell is going on over there. Is De Palma the only one who is willing to hop into the fray? Why are filmmakers not making more angry political films these days? People don't care or debate as much as they used to. It's rather depressing.

Working from a screenplay written by himself—his first original screenplay since Femme Fatale (2002)—De Palma tells the story of a U.S. Army unit whose main daily objective is to stand guard at the hot, sweltering traffic checkpoints in the city. This is quite possibly the worst job anyone could have in the Army; the object is to stand at your post, look around for insurgents, and wave cars safely and efficiently through the checkpoints, waiting and sometimes yearning for something interesting to happen. The problem is that most of the Iraqi population is illiterate, and therefore, drivers sometimes do not understand either the signs made by soldiers or by visual aids posted at the side of the road. Throughout the film, the story of the soldiers will be told via a fascinating set of mediums, including: handheld camera footage; a French documentary entitled Barrage; a Middle Eastern news program hosted by a persistent female reporter (Sahar Alloul); Internet videos by soldier's wives and Al-Qaeda terrorists; Skype messages; and hidden cameras. De Palma wields all of these mediums with splendid multitasking. Whatever your overall opinion on Redacted by the time it's over, there's no denying that you've never seen anything like it. Of the soldiers, there are about five substantial characters. Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney) is nice, respectful, and sums up the film's message when he asks his fellow comrades what "the first casualty of this war" is going to be. "Do you know what it's gonna be?" he asks them with an odd wisdom. "It's gonna be the truth!" Similar to McCoy in friendliness is Gabe Blix (Kel O'Neill), the intellectual of the unit, who would rather relax on his bed and read passages from the John O'Hara novel Appointment in Samarra than have to face the grueling atmosphere at the checkpoints outside. Then there is B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman), the foul, obese grouch who is growing dangerously bored with the lack of sex in Iraq (Medved had a theory in his review that the character was modeled after Rush Limbaugh); and Rush's attitudes are shared by the mean, nasty Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll), named after the gambling city, who at one point reminisces about his equally violent brother Vegas, a "wild card". Finally, there is Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz), who records most of the handheld camerawork we see in the film. Salazar is the one who first takes us into the film's world, which he dubs "the oven", and he is also in some ways a stand-in for De Palma—he is shooting a documentary entitled "Tell Me No Lies", and he hopes to use all of the footage, after he returns from the war, to get into film school. The inside joke here is that "Angel Salazar" is in fact the real name of a comedian who had appeared in two De Palma flicks: Scarface (1983) and Carlito's Way (1993). Most people don't catch this. Along with that, De Palma finds more time to put his tongue in his cheek by parodying the works of his Hollywood contemporaries- including Scorsese (Flake mutters that "it only takes one fucking rat to bring the whole house down," in reference to The Departed), Spielberg (in the same scene, Flake proclaims a fallen comrade to be "our very own Private Ryan"), Rob Reiner (Flake complains that when "you prosecute guys like us, you're just aiding the terrorists", reminding one of Nicholson's speech in A Few Good Men), even Kevin Smith (Rush compares his boredom to that of the Clerks characters). De Palma references himself only once, when Rush hisses about how certain things need to "stay in Vegas," a line that De Palma also used in Casualties of War. During the checkpoint scenes, De Palma plays Handel's "Sarabande" on the soundtrack, which Kubrick famously used to bookend Barry Lyndon (1975) to fit with the film's lush, classical style. But De Palma uses "Sarabande" for a different reason entirely. The main tunes of the piece are repetitive, and De Palma plays it twice on the soundtrack. It gets irritating having to listen to the same notes over and over again—as it should be: we grow as impatient as the checkpoint soldiers, who are waiting to explode. As noted by Ray Bennett in his review, the use of Handel's piece is "a reminder that nothing depicted in this film is new and that it's a shame it needs to be told again." At first, the soldiers appear to be one happy family, but the fabric breaks in no time. When the inexperienced Flake commits his first combat kill, the casualty turns out to be a teenage girl in labor who had the misfortune to be passenger in a speeding car; McCoy argues that Flake needs to "show remorse," but he refuses and an argument erupts. From this point on, the morale of the unit members begins to blur, only worsening their impatience at the checkpoints; and when Master Sergeant Sweet (Ty Jones) is blown up in a freak explosion, Rush and Flake, unable to control their taste for blood, finally begin to devise a plan of sweet vengeance: raid on the house of the innocent fifteen-year old Iraqi girl Farrah (Zahra Zubaidi, in a brave performance that reminds us of Thuy Thu Le in Casualties of War), rape her, and then kill her. But Rush and Flake make the mistake of announcing their plan to the other three soldiers at a nighttime poker game. Watch this scene carefully. De Palma has Salazar's camera encircle the soldiers at the table as they salivate over the naked women on the cards which they freely hold up to the lens. Then, when Flake begins announcing plans for the rape, he angrily directs Salazar to shut his camera off. Salazar merely puts it off the side, secretly leaving it on. Notice how Salazar, now sitting at the table with the other guys, keeps nervously looking over his shoulder at the camera. Am I seriously recording this conversation? he must be thinking. Should I save this for evidence? Is this what I'm going to use to get into film school? Then comes the rape scene itself. It is the most terrifying De Palma sequence since the "Be Black, Baby" segment in Hi, Mom, and shot in an uncannily reminiscent manner; as with the "Be Black, Baby" sequence, De Palma uses a handheld camera with blinding night vision, capturing every moment of the yelling, the screaming, and the absolute brutality that certainly must have occurred in the true incident. Rush and Flake turn into monsters, becoming every bit as savage as De Niro's "cop" hired by the whiteface African Americans to beat up the blackfaced white civilians; and Sean Penn and Don Harvey's rapist soldiers in Casualties of War. McCoy, like Michael J. Fox in that film, is outspoken in his attempts to stop the rape and subsequent massacre, and soon he is taking orders from Flake, an inferior officer—a private—who threatens him with a gun in his face to repel him out the door. Salazar, meanwhile, catches it all on tape—tape that may or may not come in handy. The deaths of Farah and her family members all take place off-camera because, as De Palma himself said about the central murder of The Black Dahlia (2006), it would be too much to show the audience. But that doesn't lessen its impact. So much unravels after this sequence, but unlike Casualties of War, Redacted has a strong last half hour. The rest of the film is not simply devoted to attempts to bring the crime to justice, as the earlier film was. De Palma finds even more to say about history and cultural perceptions of the war. When a character is kidnapped and then decapitated by Al-Qaeda terrorists in a video leaked on the Internet, one senses that De Palma is remembering the Nick Berg tragedy of 2003. When the rape crime is finally revealed to a shocked public, a high school goth-girl (Abigail Savage) posts a video on YouTube in which she records herself in an obscene rant against the soldiers who committed the crime, fantasizing about them getting tortured to death by the dead girl's remaining family members. One might incorrectly assume that this is De Palma's idea of justice, but it is not: De Palma is making fun of the ignorant online trolls who spew out death threats and fantasies while using profane language at the same time—as if that's somehow going to boost their image or make their "message" more agreeable. People like these, De Palma is saying, just don't listen to reason. That reminds me of the acting in the film itself. Medved called the acting "atrocious" in his review, while A. O. Scott, a liberal, wrote, "... most of the actors, many of them appearing for the first time in a feature film, lack either the skill or the directorial guidance to endow their characters with a full range of credible motives and responses." Both of these criticisms completely miss the point of De Palma's method, which is to prove that people who talk in front of home video cameras don't always act the way they might in real life; Roger Ebert correctly noted in his review (one of the better reviews of the film), that, because the acting of the film is less than flawless, it seems more real. In another positive review, Scott Foundas (who even went so far as to hail Redacted as one of the ten best films of the year) wrote, "...it is the entire point of Redacted that we are observing crude, found video objects, and that their subjects, aware of the camera that's recording them, assume the awkwardly self-conscious stances of people in vacation pictures and birthday-party videos." As for the film's entertainment value, Armond White complained, "...De Palma fails to let movie lore become surreal and take viewers into a clarifying moral dream state like Femme Fatale..." but then listen to Foundas, who states that De Palma "...wants to rankle audiences, especially those who may enter the theater anticipating some genteel, hand-wringing, good-little-liberal lament about the physical and emotional scars of wartime. Redacted is unapologetically angry and direct, and De Palma does very little to ease you into the movie..." It would have been impossible for De Palma to make Redacted into an experience as "surreal" as Femme Fatale when the film had to be shot on HD. Surrealism is not the key here; debate and immediacy are. There are, however, moments when the acting in Redacted shines, and these moments almost always stem from the performance of Rob Devaney as McCoy. Those who say that Redacted is anti-troops obviously don't pay much attention to the McCoy character, who cannot hold back the guilt of witnessing and doing nothing to stop the rape, and finally decides that justice must be done. We are there with him every step of the way. As with Michael J. Fox in Casualties of War, we are rooting for him, and we sympathize with his guilt. But Casualties of War ended with an awkward scene on a train in which Fox talks to a girl who reminds him of the dead Vietnamese girl, somehow resolving his guilt; though the conversation with the girl on the train leaves him at peace, it doesn't satisfy the audience. De Palma corrects this error with one of the last scenes in Redacted, in which McCoy has finally returned home to his family for celebration in a bar. "Tell us a war story!" exclaims a friend behind the camera (obviously it's De Palma himself). McCoy consents, and talks about how proud he was to serve in Afghanistan, so as to hamper the threats that came from 9/11. But Redacted is not a film about Afghanistan, and so McCoy then segues into a monologue on what he experienced in the other country: "I get over to Iraq, and it's just a totally different story. You grow up really, really fast over there because everything you see—everywhere you look—is just death, and it's suffering. And the killing that I did do? It made me sick to my stomach. And what was I doing there? What was I doing in a country that has done nothing to me? Just following orders?" Devaney's performance in this scene is phenomenal. Everything he says, we believe. I have only one complaint about the film, and it is over the closing montage of real photographs taken from the War in Iraq. My beef is not with De Palma, but with the film's executive producer, Mark Cuban, who, disturbed by the photos and worried that the identities of the victims in them would be found out and thus result in lawsuits, decided to have final artistic control on the film and have the photos "redacted"- with the eyes and mouths of the victims blacked out. De Palma was furious over this, since the photos had already been available on the Internet (un-redacted) for quite some time; and claimed that Cuban wouldn't return his phone calls offering to buy up all the rights to the film so as to have artistic say. Cuban and the executives and Magnolia insist that redacting the photo montage works for two reasons: a) it prevents lawsuits, and b) it proves the film's point about how the war itself has been constantly redacted, denying the public the truth that is supposed to come out. But I have to side with De Palma: the only way the public is going to find out the truth about the war is if the pictures come out. By censoring the photographs, Cuban and the executives made themselves out to be just as treacherous as the Bush administration, artistic irony or not. If De Palma should be faulted for anything, it is including fake photographs of some of the film's actors amidst the montage. The last photograph we see before the film ends is that of Zahra Zubaidi lying on the ground in a pool of blood, and although it relates to the film's message of the blur between lies and the truth, it doesn't help succeed in showing us De Palma's original reasons for including the montage: to show us horrors that have come out of the War in Iraq. Therefore, the final montage is rendered a bit useless. "Redacted deals with very moving material in a very new form," expressed De Palma in an interview with Simon Hattenstone, "and it may take a while for people to adjust to it. In time, they will come to accept it because all the information the Bush administration has been suppressing will come out, and we'll learn the terrible stories that they've been hiding from us for so long. Whether it finds it this year or in years to come, I just think the movie will find its audience." Will it really? I think so. Because our troops are still stationed in Iraq, it may be hard for some to appreciate the film when our reasons for occupying the country are still vastly unknown. But I also think Redacted will be admired, in time, because it is almost as if De Palma's career was preparing itself every step of the way for this film. When all the other directors chickened out, he responded by making a film that took U.S. occupation in Iraq head-on, no matter how many it troubled or offended. He was also willing to live with the painful consequences of what the characters—those of whom are still alive at the end—have survived. "I went on a raid in Samarra", confesses McCoy, now breaking down, "and two men from my unit raped and killed a fifteen-year old girl; and burned her body... and I didn't do anything to stop it." McCoy may have been unsuccessful, but De Palma found something else. He made Redacted, and with that, made one of the most perfectly constructed masterpieces of his career. For over forty years, Brian De Palma has been recognized as the modern Hitchcock and as a survivor of the Movie Brat era. In two years, he will be recognized as the filmmaker who ended the war.

21 comments:

James Hansen said...

Well, let me first say this is a solid defense of REDACTED. The reasoning is sound, although I can't say I agree with everything. I do think its important film to watch and discuss, even if it isn't as successful as it could be (so thinks me). I also don't think you need to get quite as defensive when you have Hoberman, Foundas, and Ebert on your side, but I understand the annoyance at the largely negative critical response.

But I have a problem with some other implications you sort of half heartedly place in the beginning of the review, which I just want to ask you about. Even though you bring up De Palma's early films (and seem to support them), you cast off his mid career (most popular) work as immature. And, even while you call him one of "the greatest living filmmakers", you cast off his his entire body of work pre-CASUALTIES OF WAR in the same paragraph. I wonder if you really think this, or, in wanting to build a defense of one of his more derided works that you love, you overstated a negative reaction to his other works in order to make your praise of REDACTED even greater. It just sort of a troublesome inconsistency for me in this piece, and I wonder how far it actually extends for you.

Scorpius Maximus Indicus said...

Excellent post on Redacted, though have not seen this flick, its on my must watch list. Loved Casualties of War, even though the ending was not too great, i still feel it should take its place along other Vietnam War classics, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Deer Hunter.

That begs the question, do both Casualties of War & Redacted suffer from poor timing? Consider the Vietnam War movies started hitting the screen, after the war ended, at least those with an anti war message. During the actual war, none actually dared to make a movie showing the seamy side of the war.

And same with Redacted too, is the negative reaction due to the fact, that it shows the nastier side of a war that is still raging on. Is it that its too prickly and close to reality, that people are finding it hard to accept. Or maybe the fact that people really don't want to debate it, feeling it would demoralize the troops?

Scorpius Maximus Indicus said...

Again i still am not able to understand why Casualties of War flopped? Can't blame it on timing, as i guess Platoon too was released around same time. Or was it that people compared this with Platoon, and it came rather short? Or was it because they could not accept Fox in a serious dramatic role?

Adam Zanzie said...
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Adam Zanzie said...
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Tony Dayoub said...

One could argue, as I have before at this site, that Redacted's substance is a bit on the preachy side, i.e. the very same example you use in your own review about how the first casualty in the war will be the truth is quite the groaner.

As for the films James brings up... calculated, maybe. But immature? Sisters and Dressed to Kill has a lot of psychosexual stuff going on in the subtext. It may not be as well-informed as psychology would be today, but it certainly sought to be somewhat sophisticated in its time. I think you are comparing films without taking into account their context in terms of the times in which they were released, a dangerous exercise when appreciating a director's artistic competence.

Yes, some of his films are silly, deliberately so like Body Double, Raising Cain and Femme Fatale, gonzo films that, as I observed elsewhere on the net, were regrouping way-stations for De Palma who had just taken some significant beatings by critics/audiences on the films he worked on just prior to those. But they were nonetheless ambitious for his stretches in technique vs. what you term "substance."

I'm very surprised that you don't recognize the same immaturity in a work like Mission to Mars, which seems like a very commercial and hollow work, less personal than the films you were so quick to dismiss as immature.

Todd Ford said...

Absolutely the best piece I've yet read about Redacted which I think is possibly De Palma's best work since Hi, Mom. (I'm still considering The Black Dahlia of all things.) I wrote a piece here that intersects with your thoughts from time to time.

Adam Zanzie said...
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Tony Dayoub said...

I think your confusing humor with immaturity and grimness with maturity. Redacted is most immature when it is at its most earnestly grim and manipulative. And Dressed to Kill is at its most self-assured and mature when De Palma masterfully manipulates you into forgetting you know what's going to happen next because you've seen Psycho countless times.

Even Hitch knew that tongue-in-cheek drollness enhances terror when mashed up next to it.

I wonder if you would call Annie Hall one of Woody Allen's immature films?

Geoff said...

Good review of REDACTED, Adam-- although I disagree that the final montage is anything near "useless," and in fact, I feel the final (albeit staged) photo is the most important, powerful image of the film. (I will discuss the ending of REDACTED a bit more in my own Blog-A-Thon piece later this weekend.)

I would also disagree that Hoberman ultimately disliked REDACTED-- the "authentic rage" that he wrote of appears to be one of the things he actually likes about the film (earlier in the review, he writes that REDACTED is "powerful, polarizing, and disturbing even in the context of the war's ongoing horror stories").

Adam Zanzie said...
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Ryan Kelly said...

Adam, tremendous piece. Even if I can't really get behind the film, I can still appreciate a damned fine piece of writing about it.

Not to gang up on you here, but I too would have to take exception to De Palma's pre-Casualties of War films being 'immature'. Maybe some of his '80s work could be classified in that way, but he was essentially making movies within the Hollywood system, one that had changed deeply since he started working within it in the '70s. Casualties is, if anything, a continuation of his queries into morality, which is a key element of his thrillers as well. Casualties is as much about other movies and subverting conventions as his thrillers, as well, so I don't think it's as much of an anomaly in his career as others do.

Nor is Redacted, which is very much an expression of things he'd been dealing with for most of his career (indeed, going back to the "Be Black Baby" portion of Hi, Mom!); the camera's inherent manipulative capabilities, morality, psycho/sexual manifestations of masculinity. The key difference between Redacted and Casualties of War, looking beyond the obvious difference in technique, is that Casualties of War is liberal humanism at its most challenging, Redacted strikes me of an example of vicious politics. It's not even the politics themselves that I take major exception to in the film, it's the tone --- it was accused of being hateful towards troops (and De Palma's condescending remarks about being piteous towards the troops simply reinforces how patronizing he's being), but it's pretty much condescending towards every one of its stereotyped characters as well (I mean, naming the guy who does the right thing 'Lawyer'??? Give me a break). Casualties of War is great in the same way Do the Right Thing is; it's humanism-at-all-costs, to the point of even being making us sympathize with the unthinkable. This is unfashionable, but also a very important element of art; not to appeal to our already standing impressions (which is what I feel Redacted does), but rather to make us consider things we previously wouldn't have. Casulaties of War is about how good people can be pushed to do bad things --- Redacted seems to be about how shitty people do shitty things.

I just don't find anything illuminating about Redacted. I find some of the formal exercise elements interesting, but it doesn't come together to form anything meaningful for me. The hammy, showboat acting doesn't much help me; I find the defense of the acting that you listed in your piece to be reasonable, but that doesn't explain why the acting is more over the top than it is in a film that isn't pretending to be a documentary. And you cite the performance of the girl who got raped as being something special, but I didn't feel that we got any sense of her as a human being as we did of the Vietnamese girl in Casualties. The movie, like the soldiers who rape her, just sees her as an object.

Adam Zanzie said...
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Ryan Kelly said...

Adam, I'm not so sure I understand your logic. A movie about people with telekinesis must be immature because of its subject matter? A film can only be sophisticated if John Cassavetes doesn't get blown up? Dare I say, these are just surface elements and don't necessarily speak to what Carrie and The Fury are really about; and that is, adolescence. And in that respect, they're two of the most honest films about growing up that I can think of.

So I fail to see how Hi, Mom!, Obsession, Blow Out or the two aforementioned films are 'immature' in any way, shape, or form. We're all polemical about these things but it's just a notion that I don't agree with.

Yes, naming the characters after their defining traits it just one of the things I find groan-inducing things about Redacted; along with its self-importance, vitriol, and cheap college-point polemics. If De Palma trying to re-capture the 'angry young man' within him somehow counts as 'maturity' as opposed to a kind of depressing artistic regression then, by all means, give me his 'immature' works.

Tony Dayoub said...

I have to back up what Ryan just said. Wonderfully written as your piece is, as James started off these comments by pointing out, it really doesn't convince me, as much as make me feel you drank the same Kool-Aid De Palma offers in the making-of shorts on the Redacted DVD.

If it sounds like I'm angry, I apologize, but I am. It seems like you're demonstrating a callous dismissiveness for every movie De Palma made before you were born, with the exception of his political/satirical films which must strike some chord with you on a personal level. While there's no doubt De Palma has had a frustratingly uneven career, soe of his best and most mature films come from this era.

Anagramsci said...

I think Redacted is interesting, as an updated version of Casualties of War (with the fractured form speaking perfectly expressing the difference between a tragedy viewed in retrospect and one that is ongoing)

I don't, however, think the concept of "maturity" can help a critic--this thread offers proof enough of that...

De Palma's films are ALL investigating the same very important things: subject/object theory, social performance under the sign of patriarchy, the radical impersonality of evil (and the horrifying specificity of suffering), the value (despite its ultimate inadequacy) of empathy and emotion

the films take many different approaches to these questions--and not every item in the canon was created equal--but they are all clearly the work of a very focused artist, and it's a mistake to see powerful political engagement only in the ones that make explicit reference to "important" "real world" "issues"...

Dave

Adam Zanzie said...
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Adam Zanzie said...
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James Hansen said...

I'm away from the computer for two days and look at all I missed! I'll chime back in...

Adam- I think its pretty clear that you are placing political activism (overt or otherwise) in "mature" work and anything that is more "genre" driven as immature. I just have a fundamental disagreement with that, and have a hard time thinking you LOVE something that you would also call immature. I think you sort of give this away when you mention Spielberg and say his work prior to SCHINDLER (or COLOR PURPLE) would be immature. Again, political activism = grown up and mature for you. I'm not trying to suggest there is something "wrong" with that perspective, but I think its a pretty limiting one with which to approach film.

I don't even think its a "it was sophisticated at the time" as Tony maybe suggests because, if you're stuck on auteurism (shakes fist!!!), then you should be looking at intent, right? What is it riffing on, pastiching, playing around with. If its going over the top, why is it doing so? Because its immature? Or because its rooting itself in a different style and toying with it? Doing that and making it work is not an easy thing to achieve, otherwise overly obvious/blunt satire would actually be funny. Immature films seems stupid and out of place when they play with pastiche (i.e. Meet The Spartans kind of stuff) but when they know the area and nail it then its hard to cast them off as immature as you seem to do.

Also - a point on Hoberman - they don't let critics who don't like the film they are discussing run Q&As at NYFF, which is where that conference is occurring. It was on Hoberman's Top 10 runners-up for the year.

Tony Dayoub said...

First of all Adam, I'd appreciate if you refrain from comparing anything I said to Armond White's comments. Though admittedly, I sometimes glean some unique perspectives from White and Pauline Kael (especially in regards to their opinions on De Palma), trying to emulate them by going contrarian just to be provocative is one quality you'd be better served by forgoing.

It is your reckless jump to conclusions (often, I may add), simply to bolster your arguments, that I find objectionable. Regular readers of my blog know my politics run about as left as De Palma's does, so you are wrong (again) in assuming that I don't agree with his points. I simply feel that the way he goes about expressing them in Redacted (and Casualties of War to a lesser degree) hit the nail a little too neatly on the head. And to compare the film to Kubrick's Paths of Glory, a film which is as eloquent in its "preaching" as Redacted is hamfisted, only illustrates what a flimsy argument you have.

As I said before, you are a great writer, but I would rein in the hyperbole ("...In two years, he will be recognized as the filmmaker who ended the war."), and refrain from mischaracterizing any dissenting opinions just to make a point. When you say, "The fact that we are debating right now is proof of his film's power," I think you're missing the point that this argument has been less about the film, than the condescending way you go about debating.

Todd Ford said...

I just watched this again and the experience only deepend my respect for it. I had a reaction to the opening scenes this time that was much more in line with yours. In fact, more than anything, what puzzles me the most about Redacted criticism is how the performances are described as lacking. I think they are spot on and very engaging and memorable and even moving at times. Now, I may be about to shoot myself in the foot, but I consider the performances to be underated and misunderstood in much the same way the ones in Diary of the Dead are. I consider that film perhaps the only well-acted film in Romero's filmography. And its performances finally gave me real reason to care about the outcome of the zombie/human conflict. I have similarly strong feelings about the characters in Redacted.