Tuesday, February 17, 2015

MURDER A LA MOD (1968) - Brian De Palma

Watching many great directors' freshman efforts, you're usually diving for pearls in a swamp, searching for glimmers of brilliance in movies you otherwise wouldn't see, holding out for early hints of the styles and themes that later made them great. Often, it's a fool's errand. It's simply too early in their career and artistic development. You really have to reach for comparisons or know the backstory of the shoot. Analyzing the film later (or over-analyzing it), you end up positioning it uneasily into their oeuvre. Well, I'm ecstatic to report that such is not the case with Murder A La Mod. For better or worse, young Brian De Palma made a "De Palma Film" right out of the gate. All the man's later themes and obsessions are here in big, bold, low-budget black and white relief. Murder is practically a dress rehearsal for the entirety of his career. Or an "undress rehearsal." We are talking De Palma.

There's the rampant voyeurism, super-sleazy film industry types, films within a film within film. Events and murders are replayed from different perspectives, things never being quite what they seem or even how they were initially filmed. There are the patented Hitchcock homages and straight-up rips. There may be no raining pig blood ala Carrie, but there's certainly a lot of stage ketchup and collapsible ice picks. Murder isn't as polished as a mid-career De Palma flick mid-career. There was one scene involving a camera POV tracking a woman getting into the shower that I KNOW he would have used a silky smooth Steadicam for, had it yet been invented. Murder A La Mod further confirmed my suspicions that De Palma has been making minor variations on the same film for nearly the last 50 years. All directors do that, but De Palma seems to gleefully self-cannibalize more than most. His lenses may have changed and upgraded, but the man's fundamental perversities have damn sure stayed the same.

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