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Interview: Brian De Palma Talks ‘Passion,’ Digital Vs. Film, Psychosexual Thrillers & The Abandoned Ending Of ‘Snake Eyes’

Interview: Brian De Palma Talks 'Passion,' Digital Vs. Film, Psychosexual Thrillers & The Abandoned Ending Of 'Snake Eyes'

This week one of the most hotly anticipated movies is coming not to a theater near you, but to your favorite On Demand service (and the iTunes music store). “Passion” is modern master of suspense Brian De Palma‘s first movie since 2007’s controversial Iraq War drama “Redacted” and marks a return to the kind of psychosexual thriller that defined his golden period (movies like “Body Double,” “Dressed to Kill” and “Obsession“). It’s certainly not a movie for everyone (debate rages around The Playlist water cooler about its perceived plusses and minuses), but if you’re a DePalma die hard it’s certainly worth the stream or download.

Ostensibly, “Passion” is a remake of French thriller from 2010 called “Love Crime,” which starred Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier. De Palma’s version stars Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams as coworkers at an advertising agency. As is typical in most Brian De Palma thrillers, their relationship starts off professional and then turns romantic before finally ending up deadly. Rapace and McAdams clearly revel in being a part of DePalma’s weird, dreamy, blood-splattered psychosexual universe, but that knowingness never translates into anything too arch or self-aware. It’s an old-fashioned De Palma romp, full of reversals, doubles, and gloriously luxurious camerawork (plus a positively velveteen score by regular De Palma collaborator Pino Donaggio).

We got a chance to chat with De Palma, and asked him about the recent uptick in psychosexual thrillers, why he decided to remake “Love Crime,” what he would do if he got a call from Disney about writing the new crawl for “Star Wars,” and whatever happened to that excised ending—shot in VistaVision no less—for his woefully under-seen Nic Cage movie “Snake Eyes” (it was dumped after it tested negatively). The conversation runs the gamut, so read on below.

There’s been a rejuvenation of sexy thrillers this year with “Side Effects” and “Trance.” Why do you think that is?
I mean I like the genre because you’re photographing beautiful women in sexy situations. But it’s pretty hard to compete with cable. In terms of the explicit nudity, you can’t do that in the movies. So you’ve got to come up with something else.

What do you think that something else is?
Well “Passion” is basically a thriller, so we’ve got mysteries and we’re leading the audience through this labyrinth and we can pass suggestive sexual situations. But in terms of visual eroticism, there’s really not that much.

“Passion” is a remake of a fairly recent French movie. You’ve been linked to another “Untouchables” and a “Paranormal Activity” sequel in the past. How do you feel about sequels and remakes, both in terms of your own work and what you choose to do? And how close did “Paranormal Activity” and “Untouchables” get?
Well that’s like ancient history, those two projects. “The Untouchables” prequel has all sorts of economic and legal problems wrapped up with Paramount. And the ‘Paranormal’ situation was that they reached out to me and we had some discussions about it but that was many, many years ago. Right now I’m working on the Joe Paterno/Sandusky situation [a project called “Happy Valley“] and something that’s set in France. So that’s what’s going on now.

How do you feel about the “Carrie” remake?
I know Kimberly [Peirce], she’s an old friend of mine. Basically, she called me and we talked about the ideas of what she wanted to do and I had lunch with her. But she’s an extremely competent, adept director and she’s got a great cast – I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

**SPOILERS** What about “Love Crime” sparked your imagination enough that you wanted to remake it?
Well I liked the relationship between the two women. If you watch both versions you understand that the dramatic interplay is the same in both movies. But I thought the mystery part was not as interesting because it reveals who the killer is halfway through the movie. And then it becomes kind of a police procedural, which, to me, has been done on television so many times, I tried to find a way in order for Isabelle (Rapace) to fake out the police and the audience. **END SPOILERS**

“Passion” is the first time you’ve worked with Pino Donaggio in 10 years. What made you decide to utilize him again?
Because he’s the perfect composer for this kind of movie; this is our seventh or eighth. He knows how to write this type of erotic, surrealist, dreamlike suspense pieces better than anyone.

You shot “Redacted” digitally but you went back to film for “Passion.” Why did you do that?
Well, I think they’re getting so close that it’s all going to go digital. I quite enjoyed making “Redacted” because I had never shot digital before and the whole idea was to make a movie using digital and then I came up with a reason for why we were using digital, which was very much a part of the way the war was being covered on the internet with all sorts of digital uploads. When you’re dealing with erotic thrillers, you want the best lighting, you want the girls to look fantastic, and you need a really seasoned cinematographer who can light women and make them look as good as possible. 

“Passion” and “Redacted” are independent movies. Do you ever feel like the smaller budgets limit you technically or visually? Do you ever get a hankering to go back and do a big studio movie?
I don’t know. It sort of depends on the project. I like working in Europe. I’ve spent almost 2 years in Paris working on “Passion” and two months in Berlin. So I like working in Europe. I’ve made a lot of movies. I’ve shot in every city in the United States and I don’t know, you have to have the right project and of course there’s a great advantage within the studio system because you have all these big toys to play with. But you need the right movie. So if the right project were to come along of course you would do it. But if you want to do a small, psychological drama, independent production can work to your advantage.

I’ve always been curious about one of your last big studio movies, “Snake Eyes.” Everyone has heard of the infamous “hurricane” ending. Could you talk about that and whether or not it will ever see the light of day?
The whole idea at the end of “Snake Eyes” was deus ex machina—we were dealing with such a corrupt world that the only way to solve the problem is to have a hurricane come through and wipe it all away. That was my initial idea. And the problem is that people don’t believe in that [laughing]. They don’t believe in God looking down from above and saying, “The only way to deal with this is a flood. There’s so much corruption here, let’s wipe it all away and get an ark out and start from scratch.” But it didn’t work in the previews so we did this other ending which I don’t think is as effective. We did shoot this big wave that swept through the casino but we ultimately cut it out.

Have you ever thought about putting it back in or leaving it in as a special feature?
Well it was like when they made the special version of “Casualties of War,” I put in two scenes that were cut out from the initial release and I was very happy to put them back in. If they came to me and said, “We’re thinking about doing a new version,” I’d be happy to do it.

You famously had a hand in the opening crawl for “Star Wars…” 
Well, you know, I find about these things that even my memory is beginning to dim a little bit. What I do remember is there was a crawl and [screenwriter] Jay Cocks and I looked at it and said to George, “I think we can make this better, because there’s so many complex things going on here. Why don’t you give us a shot at re-writing this?” And we did. 

If J.J. Abrams and Disney gave you a call and wanted some help with the new crawl, would you do it?
I don’t think that’s going to happen.

What can you tell us about the upcoming movies?
This is a very serious movie about the whole Paterno/Sandusky situation.

And this is with Pacino right?
Yeah. We’re like old warriors. We’ve been doing this since the sixties.

“Passion” is out on VOD staring August 1st and will be in theaters on August 30th.

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