Watch: How the Famous ‘Mission: Impossible’ Heist Scene Was Made

Watch: How the Famous ‘Mission: Impossible’ Heist Scene Was Made

If you’re like me, all you took away from the first ‘Mission: Impossible’ film, helmed by Brian De Palma, was the scene where Tom Cruise hangs, arms and legs outwards, suspended from a cable over the floor of an extremely well-protected computer vault as, below him, a rather retiring-looking fellow… types some stuff. One drop of sweat falls from Tom Cruise’s noble brow and: the rest is history. This new ‘Art of the Scene’ installment from Cinefix does the entertaining work of explaining how that scene was made, complete with a clip from, if I’m not mistaken, ‘Rififi.’ 

Watch: Brian De Palma’s ‘Carlito’s Way’ and the Vulnerability of Al Pacino

Watch: Brian De Palma’s ‘Carlito’s Way’ and the Vulnerability of Al Pacino

Al Pacino never played a more nakedly conflicted character than he did in Brian De Palma’s ‘Carlito’s Way.’ Sure, there was the famous "dragging me back in" moment from ‘The Godfather Part II," but even the thugs caricatured in ‘The Sopranos’ made fun of that line. You could say that his recent performance in ‘The Humbling’ showed a soul torn between the desire for glory and the desire for happiness. But really, his turn as Carlito in De Palma’s film showed us a man who, in his heart, wanted strongly not to be a criminal but somehow could not reverse inevitable patterns–and did so indelibly. 1848 Media’s meticulous and brilliant breakdown of the infamous poolhall scene from ‘Carlito’s Way’ shows us what was at stake in the character’s life, both in real time and in the span of the plot–and how all of this was expressed through the positioning of the camera. This film is under-watched, among De Palma’s works, which seems unfortunate; it glides with a confidence his other movies don’t always display, prey as they are to jerks of suspense alternated with Ken-Russell-level decadence. Kudos to Julian Palmer for giving this film the very close look it deserves–this is the second episode in the excellent "The Discarded Image" series, preceded by a remarkable piece on the famous beach scene from ‘Jaws.’ 

The Technology, the Art, and the Ethics of Watching: Talking With Brian De Palma at Toronto

The Technology, the Art, and the Ethics of Watching: Talking With Brian De Palma


"I suffer from the fact that people have so many preconceptions about the kinds of movies I make," Brian De Palma lamented, "that they don't really look at what's on the screen." At the time, the 72 year-old New Jersey-born filmmaker was talking about how his reputation as a cynic made it impossible for some to see his sincere attempt in the 2000 sci-fi oddity Mission to Mars to replicate the sense of "awe" astronauts get when they visit space. "The exploration of space fascinated me when I was in high school: going to the moon was all we thought about," De Palma said, in a recent conversation during the Toronto International Film Festival. "I'm fascinated by this technology. And what you discover when you talk to people that have done these missions is that they're extremely idealistic, they're extremely awed. They've seen things we've never seen. And their reaction is that of, how can I say? Awe."

The way that De Palma sought to achieve such an ecstatic effect is intriguing: like the hard science fiction sub-genre of literature that inspired it, De Palma's film is primarily concerned with the mechanics and terrestrial procedures that allow the film's astronaut protagonists to see and experience more. Seeing better through technology is a recurring thematic concern for De Palma, from Passion, his most recent thriller, to the 1974 black comedy/cult musical Phantom of the Paradise, and even earlier. For instance, in films like Phantom of the Paradise, where cutting-edge technology is represented by the bulky recording machinery in the Phantom's studio, technology is impossibly big. However, more recently, in films like Passion and De Palma's provocative 2007 war drama Redacted, technology is tiny, and it’s everywhere. 

"That's what inspired me about Redacted, the way that the soldiers were communicating, either with their loved ones or in their diaries," De Palma explained. "Everyone has these digital cameras and now they're getting smaller. Everyone’s phone's going to get a camera that's even better, and we're going to see this stuff all over the place. So, I don't know. Am I a big investigator of this? Absolutely. I'm fascinated by all the new forms that pop up on YouTube, all these video forms. Plus, all the surveillance cameras that are around all the time. Everything's being watched by somebody."

This is just as true of Passion, a remake of the 2010 French thriller Love Crime in which two business colleagues, played by Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, use various cameras to implicate each other in convoluted schemes. In a key scene, one of these two characters has a meltdown in a parking garage, and the other uses surveillance camera footage to publicly humiliate her at a company party. To De Palma, the surveillance camera is inherently cinematic, an extension of the point-of-view shot.

"What's unique to cinema is that you shoot the point-of-view shot," De Palma suggested. "The audience is getting the same information as the character is getting. We're seeing what the character is seeing. And then, in Hitchcock, you cut back as he's smiling or leering–it depends on how you react to visual information that's being presented to you. But the fact is: the point-of-view shot is a unique tool of cinema. So when we start moving into surveillance cameras, that's an extension of the point-of-view shot. And much of cinema is about watching. Watching people do things, following people—which is what we do when we're sitting around. We're looking over here, we're looking over there. We're living a point-of-view shot."

The fact that De Palma sees this as an extension of human nature speaks to the amoral nature of voyeurism and watching in his films. In Passion, McAdams and Rapace's dueling anti-heroines photograph themselves using camera phones and are in turn furtively filmed by each other using those same miniature phones. This creates an interesting power dynamic: according to De Palma, if the voyeur's subject knows that they're being watched, there is nothing to implicate the viewer in whatever act they are looking at. "It's like a keyhole that everyone's looking through," De Palma explained. "If everyone's looking through it–otherwise it's on the internet. I don't know, you have a kind of anonymous complicit-ness. Who's looking at it? The world's looking at it. So because I'm part of the world looking, does that make me part of the crime? I think it's more to do with exhibitionism. I think anyone that's taking a photograph of themselves or a video for themselves is posing for the camera. If they're posing for the camera, they want to be seen. So anybody looking is hardly complicit, they're basically fulfilling what the exhibitionist wants to do: expose themselves."

This is an important distinction, given that Rapace's character in Passion is one of the two subjects of a sex tape filmed without her knowledge and then circulated. Funnily enough, De Palma did not have to give his game cast members detailed instructions on how to film this touchy scene. "In the [sex tape] they made in the hotel room in London, I just gave them a camera and said, 'Go in there and make a sex tape,'" De Palma shrugged. "I just gave them the camera and closed the door. And for when they got into bed, I said, 'Make sure the camera goes here, because that's what we're going to use to show when [Christine] humiliates [Isabelle].' They did five or six takes, with one wild thing after the other. And Noomi is quite aware of being photographed. They're posing for the camera together, but they're making a sex tape together."

He continued: "And if you've ever looked at sex tapes, both participants—in the ones I've seen—seem to be aware of the camera. They don't say, 'No, no, don't do that,' they're sort of passively aware that the camera is there. Well, as I found when I was editing the movie, it makes Noomi more sympathetic if she's not. She's not aware that she's being photographed. He's making the video, like a guy that takes a girl into a bedroom and has a hidden camera somewhere. And that to me made her more empathetic, as she's a victim of this sex tape."

The fact that this violation could only be caught on film because of the small size of the camera filming Rapace's character is a vital detail. But the fact that cameras are now almost invisible does not mean that voyeurism is now exclusively the province of camera phones. Again, De Palma insists that all roads lead back to the point-of-view shot. When asked if the way that his films treat sex and violence as spectacle spoke to the fact that cinema, as a medium, could best represent the id, De Palma’s response was impatient but insistent.

"You're pointing to things that are intrinsic to the cinematic form. You're pointing to the point-of-view shot, you're talking about violence, so you're talking about images that are quickly cut together that exist in no other art form except cinema. So you're talking about unique building blocks of cinema. So when you say, 'Can this be considered exploitative,' or 'excessive,' or whatever other pejorative you want to use, the fact remains: these are colors in the palette of the filmmaker."

With that in mind, it makes sense that De Palma is not anti-3D so much as he opposes the constant abuse of the technology. De Palma's innovative aesthetic takes the Eisenstein-ian concept of montage as the collision of individual shots with each other to its logical conclusion: the collision and juxtaposition of moving people and objects on separate visual planes within a single shot. But he considers 3D, as used in films like Avatar ("Cameron knows what he's doing with it."), to be "just another technique, and you'd better know how to use it." "But to shoot everything in 3D is debasing the form," De Palma added.

But to return momentarily to Mars: it's also not surprising that De Palma is fascinated by the recent Mars photos from the Curiosity rover. To him, these photographs represent the apex of what technology can allow us to see. He added that he can't imagine a future where the act of looking wasn't dependent on the limits of the technology we use. "What happens is that you discover things the technology reveals," De Palma said. "You just have to be attuned to see—it's like Curiosity, wandering around on Mars. It's fascinating to me, because we're seeing images that we would never see any other way. It's so awe-inspiring."

Simon Abrams is a New York-based freelance arts critic. His film reviews and features have been featured in The Village Voice, Time Out New York, Slant Magazine, The L Magazine, The New York Press and Time Out Chicago. He currently writes TV criticism for The Onion AV Club and is a contributing writer at the Comics Journal. His writings on film are collected at the blog, Extended Cut.




If it weren’t for 2007’s Redacted, Passion would be a neat, coherent follow-up to both Femme Fatale and The Black Dahlia in Brian De Palma’s filmography, in addition to being a rehashing of many of the director’s themes and trademarks. And yet Redacted, with its fragmented approach and centerless viewpoint, still seems like a thorn in Passion’s side. In the newer film, the classic De Palma milieu—doubles, voyeurism, camera movements, split screens, etc.—greets viewers like a cozy living room after a long vacation, but you’ll find that this is milieu coated in digital frenzy and wild proliferation of recorded footage. This might just be an inevitable update to go with the times, or indeed the result of a particularly heavy product-placement strategy, but it’s possible that this film's approach can be traced back to Redacted. Back then, it felt like the director was taking an unfamiliar, daring turn; now, in the age of the second screen, it could be said that there are few filmmakers out there more suited to its celebration than De Palma.

Shooting almost entirely indoors, De Palma plays hide-and-seek in his Berlin location, while simultaneously making the most of the city's predictably modern, clear-cut interior design in the advertising agency where Christine (Rachel McAdams) and Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) are working on Panasonic’s new smartphone campaign. Tension is palpable between the two—professional as well as personal. There’s attraction, a sharp rivalry, and a power struggle, in addition to a cheating boyfriend (an impressive Paul Anderson, completing the reunion of Sherlock Holmes cast members and adding an elegant hint of danger) caught in the middle. Things quickly take a turn for the worse, leading to psychological warfare at first and outright violence later on.

Before the situation escalates, giving De Palma a chance to unleash his wild imagination with a rollout of his most famous visual tricks, the story (a remake of Alain Corneau’s Love Crime from 2010) unfortunately gets stuck in a series of unconvincing and ultimately puzzling sequences. At times it feels like a parody, like a self-conscious, deliberate repetition of old solutions to new visual problems. Constantly pulling away from the characters, the camera traces sinuous trajectories in the air with no noticeable result. Everything feels stiff, as if each shot were only a stripped-down placeholder. The more visceral experimentalism of Redacted, however problematic, felt comparably much more lively (bagging a Best Director award in the process, right here in Venice). That was a new direction; this film is a retracing of the director’s footsteps, albeit without quality in mind.

The latter part of the movie proves that De Palma is still perfectly able to engage his own legacy and put a spin on it, but it’s also proof that the preceding part is simply unworthy of his talent. An anticlimactic conclusion for the Venice Competition, but hopefully yet another step in the evolution of a great director. 

Tommaso Tocci is an Italian film critic, copywriter and translator. Follow him on Twitter.

10/40/70: The Fury (1978)

10/40/70: The Fury (1978)

This experimental film column began its life at The Rumpus, and we are very excited to see it continue here.  The column freezes the frames of a film at the 10, 40, and 70 minute marks, using these points as the foundations for an essay.


10 minutes:

Chicago. High school students Gillian (Amy Irving) and her friend La Rue (Melody Scott Thomas, whose first role was as the “young” Marnie in Hitchcock’s Marnie in 1964) (which I wrote about here) walk down the lakefront, quizzing each other in preparation for their upcoming finals. This frame comes near the beginning of a long take (one of many, although not the longest), lasting approximately 1:20. The shot is completely gratuitous and completely beautiful, the quality of soft light serving as a subtle reminder that the people who crowd the frame exist separated from us by only a thin membrane, the membrane of the film. (On why he chose the film’s cinematographer, Richard Kline, De Palma has said “I liked the way he had lit some of his films.” Three years later, in 1981, Kline would serve as DP on Body Heat, imbuing it with the same sort of radically disarming softness.)

The hundreds of extras who pass through the frame during that one minute and twenty second long shot—as well as the ten or so extras in this frame—are part of the filmic world of The Fury, too. There is a sort of choreographed anarchy to the frame, a sly knowledge that what appears to he happening naturally and spontaneously (random people crossing in and out of the screen) is a carefully staged part of the film. In this way, The Fury—like the best of De Palma’s other films such as Sisters, Dressed to Kill, and Body Double—is the product of both a carefully controlled aesthetic and an openness to chance and randomness. We watch this extended crowd scene along the lake with a kind of double vision, with the knowledge that the people crowding the frame are following instructions and only pretending to act naturally, while simultaneously suspending that knowledge and permitting ourselves to forget that they are all just extras. In other words, the sequence is a metaphor for cinema itself.


40 minutes:

Peter Sandza (Kirk Douglass) and his girlfriend Hester (Carrie Snodgrass) are on the run from the ruthless Ben Childress (John Cassavetes), who has kidnapped Sandza’s son for his telekinetic powers, which Childress hopes to harness into psychic weaponry, perhaps for the government. Sandza and Hester sleep in Hester’s van overnight on the roof of a building in Chicago. This shot comes near the end of a zoom-in after a time-lapse shot that lasts several seconds showing the passing of the night. “It’s the kind of shot you’ve seen done many different ways in many different films,” De Palma has said, “but what made this so effective was the subtlety of this pathetic little truck with the characters inside right in the middle of this huge city.”

Around the same time The Fury was released—in the spring of 1978—President Jimmy Carter held a news conference. The very first question he was asked was this:

Mr. President, whatever the reaction to your economic speech here today, it seems clear that this administration faces a continuing image problem. You, sir, came into office with an image of freshness, with promises of efficiency and reform, and above all, with promises to run an open administration, close to the public. But after 15 months, the polls seem to indicate declining public hope in your administration. . . . Whether these charges are fair or unfair, sir, are you concerned by this dramatic shift in image, and if so, how do you hope to redress the situation?

There is something eerie about the gray flatness of the shot at 40 minutes: the asphalt blotched from nighttime rain, the dark car and van windows like portals into the sort of evil dreamed about in Robert Bolaño’s novel 2666, the uncanny, flat geometry of the screen, segmented into frames within frames. All this adds up to something more than what’s in the frame, as if the whole terrible sense of economic determinism of the 1970s (declining public hope) were somehow encoded in that blank space. There is something pathetic and wanting in cars left overnight on a parking garage roof, the visual equivalent of the sad-looking sweater Jimmy Carter wore during his 1977 “Report to the Nation on Energy” speech.


70 minutes:

Gillian is in her bed at the Paragon Institute, her mind, like an antenna, tuning into the psychological tribulations Peter’s son Robin has suffered in his room down the hall, where she will soon venture. The shot could be a deformed, dream-logic  doppelgänger of a similar shot from Halloween (which opened five months prior to The Fury) showing the babysitter Annie’s murdered body, as if Annie were still alive. Although cast as a teenager in The Fury, Amy Irving was 24-years-old during the film’s shooting, and in moments like this you can see it, the true beauty of her age. Part of the film’s weird spirit perhaps derives from watching Irving as Gillian transform from the passive woman-who-is-looked-upon into an active, righteous destroyer of men, as if the whole corrupt conspiratorial system (the Watergate scandal was still a fresh national scar in 1978) could be brought down with a determined grip of the hand. It is fitting that a director who, at the height of his career was so often accused of degrading women in his films (there is even a book entitled Misogyny in the Movies: The De Palma Question) also made films where women lay bloody waste to the representatives and symbols of patriarchal power.

The Fury is a key marker in De Palma’s gradual movement away from avant-garde films into the more coherent cinema of the 1980s and 90s, films whose visual logic conformed more closely with classic-era cinema, such as Wise Guys, The Untouchables, and The Bonfire of the Vanities. In a way, De Palma’s story is similar to other “movie brats” whose early work (Lucas’s THX 1138, or Scorsese’s It’s Not Just You, Murray! or The Big Shave) gave way to a style that aligned itself with more mainstream fare, even as their films transformed the mainstream. Taken in this light, The Fury, like its protagonist Gillian, seems aware of its presence in time and of the way that the moving images of the past exist—radically and simultaneously—right alongside those of the present. Gillian’s face in this frame bears the expression of someone who is seeing the past unfold before her eyes. In other words, the expression of someone watching a movie.

Nicholas Rombes can be found here. For more entries from the 10/40/70 series, check here.

IFC: The rise of film critic filmmaker

IFC: The rise of film critic filmmaker

Raising Cain Re-cut from Press Play Video Blog on Vimeo.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Matt Singer over at the Independent Film Channel has written a fascinating piece discussing the rise of film critic filmmakers, tracing its storied history with filmmaker/critics such as Francois Truffaut through Peter Bogdanavich, who has a terrific blog right here at Indiewire. We have reprinted excerpts of this piece because it mentions Peet Gelderblom's Raising Cain Recut, which debuted right here are Press Play. Don't miss Matt Singer's excellent full article here. Here is the Recut (posted above), Singer's excerpt below, and the video essay which explains the project.

Matt Singer at IFC:

"A similarly audacious project was launched last week on the Indiewire blog Press Play by film critic filmmaker Peet Gelderblom. His “Raising Cain Re-cut” is a “Phantom Edit”-style revision of Brian De Palma’s 1992 film “Raising Cain.” As Gelderblom explains in an essay that accompanies his “Re-cut,” De Palma was never fully satisfied with the structure of his film and, exasperated in the editing room, he radically revised his initial conception of the picture during post-production. Gelderblom decided to take the theatrical version of “Raising Cain” and restore it to something closer to the director’s original vision. At least for now, you can watch the entire “Raising Cain Re-cut” in this embedded video.

To get the full effect of Gelderblom’s work, I rewatched De Palma’s “Raising Cain” over the weekend and then dove immediately into the “Re-Cut” version. In my (non-filmmaker) film critic opinion, he’s done as good a job as seems possible with the material he had to work with. In interviews, De Palma stressed that his reason for making “Cain” was not (SPOILER ALERT) to tell the story of a crazy dude with multiple personalities, but really to delve into a romantic melodrama involving the crazy dude’s wife, who cheats on her husband in a surreal swirl of dreams and nightmares. In the theatrical version, John Lithgow’s Carter is established first — and established as a nutjob — before we ever meet his wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich). Gelderblom’s biggest adjustment is to start with Jenny, and to keep Carter as a background character through the first twenty minutes of the film. Right after Jenny has succumbed to a series of fantasies (or perhaps true adulterous encounters) Carter surprises her by strangling her, seemingly to death.

There’s one major downside to Gelderblom’s version, namely that this protagonist fake-out makes “Raising Cain” look even more like a “Psycho” knock-off than it already did. But otherwise, his conceit works, and makes a certain amount of sense, too. Davidovich’s character is having a hard time telling the difference between dream and reality and all of a sudden her husband tries to kill her; which, at first, seems like another possible layer of dream. The “Re-cut”‘s biggest problem is that Gelderblom only has the original theatrical cut to play with — and his version could use at least a few more scenes of seeming domestic bliss between Jenny and Carter to really sell the big reveal, as well a a clearer transition between Carter’s attempted murder of Jenny and the flashback to the beginning of his wicked deeds.

All in all, though, it’s a very interesting effort. And while he hasn’t spoken publicly about it, I imagine De Palma would approve, if not with the execution then at least with the conception."

To read the entire article, click here.