Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries." (Julius Caesar; Act 4, Scene 3).

Hitler Just Found Out Trump Has Caved on Immigration

I have to admit I laughed throughout this put-down of The Donald’s new position on building “the wall” and deporting 11 million illegal Mexicans.

The fact that it happened the very same day that Anne Coulter (the thin, blonde, ultra-Conservative mouthpiece most often seen guesting on Bill Maehr’s show, where she is always off her rocker) was just too much.

“War Dogs” Mentions Rock Island Arsenal

The preview (above) shows the gun runners in “War Dogs” meeting with officials (ostensibly) at the Rock Island, Illinois Arsenal. Does the Arsenal employ twins who meet with gun providers about purchasing artillery and ammunition? No idea. Is that really the interior of the offices of the Rock Island Arsenal? Based on actually having been inside some of them, I seriously doubt the resemblance, since the “real” Arsenal is all brick and old and pretty much ancient-looking.

For years, The Quarters on Arsenal Island was the second-largest government residence, after the White House, but its antiquated kitchens and bathrooms (the place still had a recessed roof with a lever so, in the days before running water, you could heat water and then lower it for use in the 1800s) made it unsuitable for constant habitation, despite its Abraham Lincoln-era splendor. I don’t believe that it is the Commander’s official residence any more.

But what about the film “War Dogs?” I was particularly interested in seeing the film adaptation of the “Rolling Stone” article by Guy Lawson entitled “Arms and the Dude” because, reading it, I became fixated on the Rock Island (IL) connection.

So did people like Bradley Cooper, apparently, become fixated with the nearly unbelievable true piece. He plays a bit part as a shadowy arms dealer to terrorists (a part I don’t remember from the source material) and is listed as executive producer. The film is directed by Todd Phillips.

The movie outlines the more-or-less true adventures of 2 young guys who got a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to provide arms to Afghanistan. The opening date onscreen for these shenanigans is January 1, 2008. We quickly learn that it costs the U.S. government $17,500 to outfit just one American soldier. With 2 million sold and an annual bill of $4.5 billion just to provide AC for those stationed in the very, very hot Afghanistan, one savvy small-time con saw an opportunity to make money after new regulations were passed in the wake of no-bid contracts for Cheney’s boys. That led to bidding on everything and AEY (don’t ask what it stands for; it doesn’t stand for anything, and asking could get you fired) was there to provide the materials of war.

Initially, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), the brains behind the outfit, was bankrolled by a Jewish dry cleaning magnate, Ralph Slitsky (Kevin Pollak), who thought Efraim was sending arms to defend Israel. It will be Ralph who will fold like a cheap accordion when the questions begin flying thick and fast. Efraim involves his childhood friend David Packouz (Miles Teller).

But, before all hell breaks loose, we get lines like, “I dropped out of high school before they covered international diplomacy” from Hill’s character, who plays the part with an insouciance and aplomb that would challenge many. An unusually insightful script theme appears from the “good guy” arms dealer, David Packouz (Miles Teller of “Whiplash”), who says of Efraim: “He would figure out who someone wanted him to be and he would become that person.”

Punctuated by little messages onscreen like, “When does telling the truth ever help anybody?”, the film explains how the duo gets a major contract to supply Italian barettas to U.S. troops and, ultimately, to provide 100 million rounds of AX47 ammo, The Afghan Deal.

Problems arise when the chutzpah that has carried Efraim and David this far wears thin while facing hurdles like 68,520 crates of ammunition stuck in Albania that turn out to be filled with Chinese goods, when the U.S. has an embargo on buying from China. The solution, albeit an illegal one, is to re-pack the embargoed bullets in cardboard boxes that don’t scream “China” and send them off to the front,anyway. But Efraim doesn’t pay “the box guy” in Albania and that leads to charges of 70 federal crimes and a 4-year sentence for the guiltier of the two and the mastermind, Efraim Diveroli (who could be back in business by 2020, because the government still hasn’t closed a few loopholes in their online outsourcing M.O., says the script at movie’s end.)

The friendship unravels as the deal does. “We were never best friends. You were just playing the role of my best friend,” says David to Efraim (Teller to Hill) and this, above all, struck me as a very insightful statement. It’s happened to me. Has it happened to you?

While “The New Yorker” gave the film a very sniffy review, most critics liked the film (giving Jonah Hill’s laugh high marks) and it has a high rating on IMDB from those who have actually seen it.

We liked it. How often do you get to see identical twins from the Arsenal negotiating an arms deal with a couple of doofuses from Miami who admit they are stoned at the time? (one of whom, David Packouz, is a massage therapist).

Try it. You’ll like it.

Happy 93rd Birthday, Nelson Peterson

Nelson G. Peterson

Nelson G. Peterson

My good friend and former teaching colleague Nelson Peterson is celebrating his 93rd birthday today. I took him to lunch at a restaurant of his choice and asked him about his service during World War II.

Nelson is a veteran of both the Battle of the Bulge and, among other locations, Normandy Beach, Nuremberg, Salzburg and Munich. Although he has WWII memorabilia on the walls of his house, I had never really heard him speak about what he actually did during the war, so I asked him.

He responded, “I was a radio operator for the forward observation for artillery. We radioed back to the guns. We were way up front and we were way back.” Asked about Normandy, memorialized in Stephen Spielberg’s film “Saving Private Ryan” he said, “D-Day was the sixth of June. I went in 10 days after D-Day.”

Asked how, exactly, he “went in” (“Did you parachute in?”) Nelson said he had gone in on an LST ship and also remembered that he crossed the Rhine at Worms.

Nelson joined the Army when he was just 18, so, out of his company of 150 men (there were 3 or 4 companies in a Battalion), “All of those men are gone.” His best friend was Jack Norris from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Since Jack is long gone, perhaps it won’t matter that Nelson described him as a bit of a kleptomaniac at times.

When asked to describe his experiences during World War II in a word or phrase, he said, “It was a great experience.” Asked about war, in general, he said, “It’s a necessary evil. And sometimes it’s an unnecessary evil.”

Happy 93rd Birthday, Nelson, and many, many more.

Obama, Bernie Talk “Obama’s Odyssey”

Tips for Self-Published Authors

The link below is from author Peter Gilboy and is worth reading if you are interested in self-publishing a book. It is reprinted (via link) by permission.



Cold Play on July 23, 2016, at Soldier Field

My birthday fell on a Saturday this year (July 23rd). I checked out the acts in town and Chris Martin’s Cold Play would be appearing across the street at Soldier Field.

Weather at concert-time.

Weather at concert-time.

Originally scheduled for 8 p.m., an e-mail moved the concert’s time up to 7 p.m. but, at 7 p.m., it was pouring down rain.

I went out on my balcony at 8:30 p.m. and I could see people in the stands at Soldier Field. “We’ve got to walk over there and see if the concert is starting!” My husband was less than thrilled, as he barely knows Cold Play. (I had seen them two times during “I Heart Radio” shows in Las Vegas).

I convinced him that going to a Cold Play concert was a bit like giving your 5-year-old a microphone, because Chris Martin falls down a lot while performing, which, in itself, is entertaining. Then, too, there was that half-time performance at the Super Bowl, but that was hardly a selling point for my Big Bright Idea after Beyonce and Bruno Mars upstaged the band.

However, there was still “If I Ruled the World,” “Paradise” and the 60 Minutes interview. I bought the cheapest seats the highest up ($50) and we were set. Until it rained.

DSCN1638But, now, at 8:30 p.m., the heavens parted as if on cue and we were back on! LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

As we entered, we were issued something that looked like a white plastic FitBit. It would turn out to be a bracelet-like device that was timed to light up in certain colors throughout the stadium at certain times during the show, which was a great effect! My generation only had cigarette lighters. Not the same.

DSCN1638As the oldest people the highest up in the stadium (35 flights of stairs, said my FitBit later), we stood throughout the concert, for 90 minutes. Until it rained. Again.

Lasers. Fireworks both inside and outside (at Navy Pier) of the stadium. Chris Martin falling down a lot.

DSCN1666When 90 minutes had elapsed, with Martin on his back inside the circle seen in my picture (which rotated and was a stage in the middle of Soldier Field), he was told that the stadium had to be evacuated. Martin seemed genuinely disappointed, saying, “I’ve never been in this position before (this after telling us they had just played their 40th show on the tour)! We’d like to play more for you, but they are telling me you have to leave the stadium, so this might be our last song.”

And it was.

DSCN1626Chris Martin did tell us we were the most enthusiastic and hardiest group they had played to, but I’ll bet he says that to ALL the girls! Nevermind. Despite the 35 floors and the standing and getting soaked (“I’m as wet as I’ve ever been in my life!”) which was worse for the spouse than for me, as I had saved an old Blue Man Group poncho and was wearing it, it was a great concert and a great way to celebrate my birthday.

Donald Trump, Republican front-runner.

Why Won’t Donald Trump Release His Tax Returns?

Why Won’t Trump Release His Tax Returns?

For the first time in modern history, a candidate running for President on a major party ticket is not releasing his tax returns.

Why not?

The 6 best guesses are courtesy of Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, one of 3 news outlets (the New York Times and the Des Moines Register being the other two) that Donald Trump has recently banned from covering his campaign for various slights or offenses he doesn’t like (it doesn’t take much when you’re as thin-skinned as Donald Trump):

1) The Donald may have Russian business ties.

2) Donald Trump did not pay any taxes at all for 2 years in the seventies. Speculation is rampant that he has not paid his fair share of taxes since then. A 1981 report by New Jersey gambling regulators showed that Trump did not pay any taxes for 2 years in the seventies because he reported negative income—which brings us to number 3.

3) Trump may not be as rich as he claims. He once said he was worth $10 biliion. Others have said he is worth $3 billion. Still others insist he is worth far less than either of those numbers. Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City, is not impressed with Trump’s wealth, saying he is a con man at the DNC.

4) Trump may donate very little to charity, despite claims to the contrary. I’m sure we all remember when he skipped a debate in Iowa to raise money for veterans, but then didn’t donate the money until newspapers tracked down whether he had actually raised and donated as much ($6 million) as he claimed. The tracking down forced Trump to make good on a campaign promise to chip in a large amount of his own and made us aware that the $6 million was actually only $5.6 until the research outed the entire process and showed that he had not put in his contribution until the day after the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold printed the true story. Farenthold also found that his charitable giving to that point was less than $10,000.

5) He is being audited. This is pure bunk. Richard Nixon released his taxes while being audited in 1973. My husband ran 2 H&R Block locations and says there is no reason that an audit should prevent him from releasing his tax returns, which many others have confirmed.

6) Trump may have Mob ties. This idea has circulated for years. Ted Cruz on “Meet the Press” said, “There have been multiple media reports about Donald’s business dealings with the job, with the mafia. Maybe his taxes show those business dealings are a lot more extensive than has been reported.” (Of course, Trump claimed that Cruz’ father was somehow complicit in the assassinaton of JFK, so…..

In other breaking non-tax-return news, Melania Trump’s website that claimed she earned an architecture degree before becoming a model (she didn’t) has been taken down.

“The Infiltrator” Delivers with Heart-Pounding Suspense

“The Infiltrator” is Bryan Cranston’s new film. It is based on the 2009 Bob Mazur book about his experiences as an undercover agent for the FBI. Mazur was the federal agent infiltrated one of the largest drug syndicates in the United States, and suggested “Operation C-Chase,” which would follow the money instead of the men. [As I just spent July 5th within FBI headquarters in New York City hearing, firsthand, about undercover work from the experts, as a part of the ITW (International Thriller Writers) Conference, the film was particularly timely and relevant for me].

Directed by Brad Furman (“The Lincoln Lawyer,” “Runner, Runner”), the quest for the rights to make the film took two and one-half years to obtain, as many other high profile stars were in a bidding war in Hollywood to secure the rights, including Leonardo DeCaprio and Tom Cruise.

As Bad Furman told Frank Gonzales in an interview entitled “Inside the Infiltrator,” “Fortunately for us, one of my best friends from college, Don Sikorski, who is a producer on the film, brought the book to my attention. We both loved it and tried to go through official channels to obtain the rights with no luck. So, with nothing to lose and in true investigative journalistic fashion, we tracked down Bob Mazur’s phone number and I cold called him.”


The upshot is one of summer’s best films, with stand-out performances from star Bryan Cranston and extremely good support from John Leguizano, whom Director Furman described as “one of my dearest and closest friends.” He went on to tell Gonzales, “I’ve known Benjamin Bratt (Alcaino) and Yul Vasquez (Ospina) for 20 years and Diane Kruger (Kathy Ertz) and I had met on a movie a few years prior, so I’ve had deep personal relationships with the core base of actors in this movie, and I think it paid wonderful dividends for me, for them, and for The Infiltrator.”


Another close tie that really enhanced enjoyment of the film was the great script by Furman’s own mother, a well-known Hollywood scriptwriter, as Furman added, “My mother really wanted to show the balance Mazur struggled with in trying to have a family and in trying to do his job. Bob was going back and forth from Tampa to Miami and he was away from his wife and children. Mom really brought out how hard that was for Mazur. She was also able to show how even drug lord’s lives were influenced by their families. She should get a lot of credit for her brilliant work in crafting a screenplay that got it right.”

Leguizamo has some of the film’s best lines and his performance is as stellar as Cranston’s. It is made clear from the beginning of the film that Mazur (Cranston) is leery of working with the Hispanic fellow officer, who seems to like to live life on the edge. He asks that he not be assigned to work with him, but is told, “He’s your way in.” Leguizamo’s character wants to pay a snitch he knows $250,000 to assist them, but Cranston is skeptical that the man is trustworthy, saying, “These people who sell information…they walk on the dirty side of the street, and then they cross over to the clean side, but their shoes always stay muddy.”

Pretending to be Bob Musella (Cranston) and Emilio Dominguez (Leguizamo), the duo scores a better office to work from. (Leguizamo says, “ This is so much better than our old place. It was so filthy even the rats ran from it.”). Cranston’s sidekick is incredulous that he has just turned down a nice, safe retirement offer, saying, “You and the kids and the wife could be playin’ cricket on a yacht or whatever-the-hell it is white people do when they retire.”

But that’s just the point: Bob Mazur doesn’t want to retire and, in fact, he did not after the bust—despite going deep undercover to infiltrate Pablo Escobar’s drug-trafficking plaguing the nation in 1986, by posing as a money-laundering businessman named Bob Musella. The impulsive and streetwise Hispanic agent Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and a rookie female agent who poses as his fiancée, Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) the two pull off befriending Escobar’s top lieutenant Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) to the point that Alcaino says of the bogus engaged couple, “We love them like family.”


In one memorable exchange, Alcaino comments on a hit on a different infiltrator, Barry Seal (played by a virtually unrecognizable Michael Pare, once Eddie in “Eddie and the Cruisers”), saying that he had 2 rings made of coca leaves and gave one to Barry Seal and had him to dinner at his home. Alcaina says, with disgust, “I wasted my knives on the meat.” Adds Alcaino (to Mazur): “The politicians think it’s a drug war, but it’s a business like any other. Trust is necessary. Without it, there is no loyalty, and without loyalty it never ends well.”

Completely trusted by Alcaino, Mazur learns about “the anonymous window” of the Federal Reserve Bank, which has been allowing the CIA to fund a secret account that helped fund Noriega’s Contra organization. ($10 million of Escobar’s money was frozen by the bank). All this led to the Reagan years Contra scandal, which inspired another Leguizamo scripted line: “Ronnie should have stayed the Gipper. He is nothing but a God damned two-bit drug pusher.”


The movie is exceptionally well paced, although some of the exciting near misses are inscrutable and difficult to decipher as a first-time viewer. Why is that man apparently following Mazur in a car as Mazur completes his morning jog? Who was that guy silently observing Mazur talking to Emir (Leguizamo) from across the street? The time/city locations are also a bit difficult to follow (Is this Miami or Tampa?) and I am still wondering how a group with as much money as Pablo Escobar’s drug outfit couldn’t have run a more in-depth background check on imposter Bob Musella, and/or why the criminals wouldn’t have, at the very least, bugged the room that the supposed engaged couple shared, to see what they were discussing. But that’s probably just me; a second viewing cleared up my confusion.

The good news for the U.S. is that 85 drug lords and the corrupt bankers of BCC (Bank of Credit and Commerce International) which laundered their dirty money were taken down by two brave agents who risked their lives and played their parts as well as any Hollywood actors.

“Captain Fantastic” & “The Infiltrator” Best Movies of the Summer So far

For those of you tired of the seemingly endless supply of children’s animated films and/or Marvel Comic spin-offs, two new movies for serious film buffs offer respite this summer season, and I highly recommend them both.

First (because I saw it first, in Chicago, with the director present) would be “Captain Fantastic,” and, no, it is NOT a Marvel picture. Ross even told the impressed audience who had just sat through the film, that he was unaware that there was a comic book movie of the same name, as well as an Elton John album, but that he likes “powerful titles.”


Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) has removed his children from society, living a seemingly idyllic life in the woods of Oregon. (Note: Director Matt Ross, himself, attended Julliard by way of Ashland, Oregon). The main character opts to educate his children on his own, but, as Matt Ross told “CineArts” magazine: “If we’re analyzing Ben’s faults, it is that he really hasn’t prepared them in terms of socialization to the world outside. He has this idea that, in order to really teach his children his values, he needs to take control of their education and their environment. In a larger case, that is true for everyone. We send our kids to school and hope that it’s the truth that they are being told and taught.”


After the showing of the film at the AMC Theater in Chicago (it opened July 13th), Ross answered questions for the audience, and many of them had to do with the casting process for the children and the lead, played by Viggo Mortensen.

First, let it be noted that this is a film about family and the other great film of the summer (so far), “The Infiltrator” with Bryan Cranston, is also a film about family. Said Ross: “I think all great dramas are about the family. Look at The Godfather. What is it really about? It’s about family. Tonally, it’s a very different movie, but about family.” A great line from “The Infiltrator is this one, articulated by Benjamin Bratt’s character: “Without family or friends, what kind of world would this be? There would be no reason to be alive.”

Ross—who has an impressive array of movie and television roles to his credit, including Alvy Grant in “Big Love,” as well as roles in “American Psycho” (2000), “Face/Off” (1997), and “The Aviator” (2004)—both wrote and directed “Captain Fantastic” and it won him the Best Director award at Cannes for new directors, something he admits pleased him immensely.


The writer/director was also able to draw on his own life experiences as the product of a mother who was active in the eighties in commune-type life in North Carolina and Oregon, explaining that his parents were “artisans who didn’t’ want to live in cities, but in harmony with nature. I also lived in London and some people had electricity and plumbing. Some did not. We celebrate Noam Chomsky Day (Dec. 7th) at my house.” (A recurring film point).

Ross also admits that becoming a father, himself (he has two children) was a factor in the film’s genesis, saying, “For me, personally, the reason I wanted to tell this story is because I have two kids and I was certainly thinking, ‘What are my values? What do I want to teach my children?’”

The conflict in the film comes when Matt Cash’s wife, who is bi-polar, dies. Matt (Viggo Mortensen) and his unorthodox family are not exactly welcome at the funeral being planned by her father and mother (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd). It is obvious that Claire’s father (Langella) may blame Ben for his daughter’s death, and they have no intention of honoring her wishes of having a Buddhist funeral, cremating her remains and scattering her ashes. It is this crusade on the part of her husband and children to honor her wishes in death that becomes a major plot point, as they drive to the funeral destination, cross-country, on their family bus.


One reviewer dissed this plot idea, but it serves the purpose of injecting even more conflict into the plot and making Ben Cash aware of how his own viewpoint about the world might not be the only point-of-view that his young children should be exposed to. In one of the most poignant scenes of the entire movie, Viggo is simply shown driving the bus, thinking that he has sacrificed his entire family to society (i.e., giving them up to his wife’s parents to raise) for their own good.


Mortensen displays why he is such a perfect choice for the role and what a great actor he is during that scene, which consisted of no dialogue at all, but simply his own communing with his thoughts as he drives.

Ross said, during the Q&A, that Viggo Mortensen was his first choice to play the role, and it is quite easy to understand why if you know anything about Mortensen’s somewhat unorthodox lifestyle. Aside from Gary Busey, I’ve not read more stories about a leading man who “lives off the land” and generally has unusual idiosyncrasies in his personal life. Said Ross during the Q&A of the film in Chicago: “Viggo is always very real and very simple. On paper, the main character was more of a playful father. Viggo had a bit more of a center for him. Any actor will make a part their own. With actors, you get to see their work habits. For most people, you are not cognizant of the mechanics. Great film moments are great acting moments. Some directors do not like actors, but I have acted and I don’t feel that way. The answer is that I believe that if you’re reading and playing instruments and you are intelligent, you are right for these parts.

Ross even shared that Viggo showed up early with definite ideas about Ben Cash’s character. Said Ross: “He (Mortensen) helped build the set. He came a couple of weeks early and slept in the tipi before and during the shoot. He built the garden by himself and made sure it was a functional garden that would sustain itself throughout the year. He showed up with a pick-up truck full of props and books. We had an excellent prop department on hand, but he felt very strongly about what kinds of books the characters might read. I wanted to cast someone I believed could really live in this environment an actually understands what he’s talking about.” Said Ross to “CineArts’ Frank Gonzales, “That’s a tall order. You need an actor who can portray someone who is well spoken, well read, and very intelligent. These are challenges you have to navigate with casting, but with Viggo you absolutely believe it!”

Q1: What about the children in the film? How were they cast?

A1: “It was a traditional casting process with Jean Carthy doing the casting. We cast in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States. We had an extensive call-back process. I wanted kids who were fit, who could play musical instruments. All the goods are objectively good actors, but I made judgment calls based on their spirit. For some kids, there was only one choice. I wanted them to look like Viggo’s—that they could be from the same gene pool. We were in Washington state for two weeks. Then we sent the kids to a wilderness camp: rock climbing. Rehearing music. Esperanto. Two girls actually killed a deer. Yoga. Viggo was learning to play the bagpipes. Training changed their eating habits during the time of shooting. Ultimately, we wanted them all to fall in love with Viggo. (*The children were Bo: George McKay; Rellian: Nicholas Hamilton; Kielyr:Samantha Isler; Vespyr: Annalise Basso; Zaja: Shree Crooks; Nai; Charlie Showell).

Q2: Talk a little about your directing style.

A2: I went through the script, line-by-line, and talked them through it. The way I like to work is they have their lives and they could follow them and improvise. I’m not propping up a dead object, but creating a living, breathing thing. Charlie picking his nose around the fire because he forgot he was being filmed is an example of that. Film is a collaborative medium.

In this way, Ross’ words echo the sentiment expressed regarding “The Infiltrator” in Frank Gonzales’ “CineArts” summer film guide this way: “All great moments in sports, in moviemaking, and in life are not done alone and in a vacuum. Just as a pro-golfer or tennis player needs a coach to nurture and push their talents to championship levels, a great movie is usually the result of a team of actors and artists working together to reach unprecedented heights. And the coach that gets them there is the director.”

Q3: What’s the deal with the Noah Chomsky references recurring throughout the film?

A3: (*Noah Chomsky is an intellectual who is far, far left). For me, personally, I think he’s a brilliant human being, a great humanitarian. You’d have to ask him about making his birthday (December 7th) a holiday like Festivus. He’s still alive. He might be appalled.

Q4: Talk about the opening scene of the movie, shot in the wilderness and involving the death of a deer.

A4: There is a tradition of felling a deer with nothing but a knife. I think it is felt that, in that way, they honor the deer. (Masai tribesmen sent their young men out to kill a lion with just a spear.)

Q5: When you conceived the story, did you have the backstory of Viggo’s wife Claire being bi-polar?


"Captain Fantastic" director/writer Matt Ross.

“Captain Fantastic” director/writer Matt Ross.

The short answer is yes. Because of the temporal nature of films, I outline very carefully. Things change when you’re writing it. And then there’s a long rewriting process.

Ross, when asked about how the family was able to survive in the wild (what about money?) said, “I purposely chose not to answer that. I think there are clues in the movie. She had a lucrative law career. I think they have savings and they are frugal.”

More about “The Infiltrator” momentarily.

“DePalma” Is A Dynamic Documentary About Director Brian DePalma

Brian DePalma, 2007

Filmmakers Jake Paltrow (Gwyneth’s brother)) and Noah Baumbach (husband of Greta Gerwig; ex-husband of Jennifer Jason Leigh) used their access to renowned filmmaker Brian DePalma to make a documentary about his life and work in 2015.
Succinctly entitled “DePalma.” the documentary features DePalma talking about his life and work, with little interference from his two friends and fellow filmmakers of the next generation (age 46 in Baumbach’s caes). (Baumbach received an Oscar nomination for original screenplay for “The Squid and the Whale).


DePalma confesses that his home was not a happy one and relates how he once followed his father (an orthopedic surgeon) to a tryst his dad was having at his office, breaking in, confronting him with a knife, and demanding to know where “the other woman” was hiding. He tells the story humorously, but we see a snippet of a similar plot device from “Dressed to Kill” with Matthew Modine and realize that DePalma’s early life influenced his films, as it will for anyone involved in a creative endeavor.
For instance, he dismisses his fondness for gore by relating how his father used to take him to the operating theater to watch him operate. “Real blood is more brown,” he says casually, discussing the Karo syrup make-up of the bright red buckets of blood used in films like “Carrie” and “Dressed to Kill.”
DePalma was also one of the first male students to be admitted to Sarah Lawrence when it went co-ed. You get the impression that he enjoys watching beautiful women from his voyeuristic films, but you also learn he was married three times, all of them brief liaisons. He has two daughters, aged 25 and 20, while DePalma, himself, is approaching his 76th birthday on September 11th.


DePalma was one of the breed of directors who helped one another and encouraged one another and grew up together in Hollywood, fighting the system. The group included such luminaries as Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Ridley Scott, John Carpenter and John Milius. Commenting on today’s filmmaking process, where the bean counters have taken over, DePalma says, “The Hollywood system we are now working in destroys any creativity. This is not working.”
Most of the documentary is about battling with the studio or with actors (Cliff Robertson, Orson Welles, Tommy Smothers) or others (Bernard Herrman). Bernard Herrman, who is known as Hitchcock’s composer for nearly all of his films, was “scary,” according to DePalma.


DePalma tells a story about inviting Herrmann in to view a film he was going to score. The filmmaker had placed a temporary musical score with the film, consisting of previous compositions Benny, (as he calls him), had done for Hitchcock films. Herrmann grabbed his head, as DePalma tells it, with a laugh, and says, “Get that sound out of here! I can’t work with that going on!” The workmanlike Herrmann would then watch the film, go home, write the music, and, generally send a very usable score in a very short time. DePalma recalls that Benny was working on both “Taxi Driver” and one of his own films at the same time, around Christmas, when he went to a showing of “Taxi Driver,” directed the orchestral accompaniment for that Scorsese film, went back to his hotel and died.


Over the years, DePalma was always compared to Hitchcock, and admits that seeing “Vertigo” at Radio City Music Hall when he was 18 in 1958 set the template for his filmmaking career. While he would do documentaries at times and sometimes turn out films that did not seem to be “Hitchcock Light,” he is the single director most associated with using a Hitchcockian style. As film critic Roger Ebert once said, “It is not just that he sometimes works in the style of Hitchcock, but that he has the nerve to.” You could add to that, “and the talent to pull it off.”

When DePalma was good, he was very, very good. I watched the end of “Carlito’s Way” on the big screen at the Music Box Theater in Chicago before the documentary began. I had just watched the entire film on video while vacationing in Cancun, start to finish. The extremely long shot of Al attempting to get on the escalator at Grand Central Station is a masterpiece. The scene where Pacino runs through a subway car on his way to the train station to meet his love and flee to Miami was highlighted by this story from the director.

“We were shooting on a subway train next to the one Al was running through. The trains had to be moving and we had to keep the speed of one train the same as the other, so as to keep the shot framed. It was difficult and it was made more difficult by the fact that it was about 110 degrees in New York City in summer and Al was wearing a long, heavy leather coat in this tremendous heat as he ran through the subway car. We shot the thing over and over until it was about 4 in the morning, when, suddenly Al’s train just left and pulled away. I said to the A.D. (assistant director), ‘What just happened?’ He said, ‘Al took the train home.’ I had to go to him in his trailer and, when I got there, he was all red and hot and sweaty and yelled at me, ‘What are you doing?” DePalma laughs.


His stories about Cliff Robertson’s performance in “Obsession” opposite Genevieve Bujold centered on Robertson’s appearance. He insisted on being extremely tan to the point that cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond dragged the actor over to a wainscoted tan wall and screamed, “I can’t light you! You’re the same color as the wall.” DePalma also mentioned Robertson would fade and lean out of frame so that the camera would have to follow him, leaving poor Bujold to try to find a spot to focus on.


Interspersed with DePalma’s amusing storytelling style are shots of the films that influenced him and shots of his own work. Watching a 1963 film with a very young Robert DeNiro (billed as Denero), then only 20 years old, acting in “The Wedding Party” which wasn’t released until 1969) is a hoot!

Even re-watching the end of “Carlito’s Way” brought with it the new realization that fellow University of Iowa classmate Nicholas Meyer (director of “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” and “Time After Time”) was the music supervisor for the film. Given the fact that Viggo Mortensen has just appeared in another film I loved (“Captain Fantastic,” from the Sundance Film Festival and winner of a first director award at Cannes), I was reminded that he had a role as a crippled man in this 1993 film shot 23 years ago.


DePalma is a firm believer in using unusual camera angles to make things interesting and says, “It is the run-up that is interesting…The waiting is very important so you can ground yourself.”
He also talked about the writers he had worked with, such as David Rabe, saying, “I came up in the era that you went down with the writer,” meaning that the firing of a writer would mean you walked as the director. He had some unkind words for Oliver Stone, who came onto his set and began distracting the actors by giving them conflicting directions so that he had him removed. At the time, Stone’s credit was for 1981’s “The Hand.” It was only 3 years later that DePalma would direct the now iconic video for Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” which gave Courtney Cox her chance to dance her way to stardom onstage with The Boss.

After Bernard Herrman no longer was around to score his films, DePalma worked with Ennio Morricone, as well, who has been an influence on Quentin Tarantino, as has DePalma himself.

Said DePalma of directing: “Being a director is being a watcher…You have a lot of egos in the room.” He also talked about his many budget and rating battles with the studios, saying, “You can lose yourself trying to make compromises.” He talked about haggling over a certain film that, he said, was going to cost $1.8 million (a pittance in today’s dollars). The studio made noises about letting him go if he couldn’t bring the film in for $1.6 million, so he went in the next day, talking a good game and saying that, if he cut this or that, perhaps he could do it for $1.6 million. And, said the self-confident director, “Then I shot it the way I had always intended to and it cost $1.8 million.” He also told an amusing story about cutting one of his films numerous times to avoid the “X” rating that was considered the Box Office Kiss of Death. After submitting it three times to the review board and getting an “X” rating three times for “Body Double,” he said, “I said. Okay, so it’s an ‘X’. And then I put back in everything I had previously cut out.”

If you are as big a Hitchcock fan as I was, you’d expect that there’d be at least 20 imitators lined up behind DePalma to carry on the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock, but, alas, we have the Marvel World of Filmmaking now and there is no one who will pick up the torch after DePalma—who is soon going to be 76—hangs it up.

Here is a partial list of his film from IMDB, not counting his documentaries or short films…or the one he’s working on now:
Feature films[edit]

Year Film Director Producer Writer Editor Subject Award
1968 Murder a la Mod
Greetings Silver Berlin BearNominated—Gold Berlin Bear
1969 The Wedding Party
1970 Hi, Mom!
Dionysus in ’69 Nominated—Gold Berlin Bear
1972 Get to Know Your Rabbit
1973 Sisters
1974 Phantom of the Paradise Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival — Grand PrizeFrench Syndicate of Cinema Critics Award for Best DVD Single DiscNominated—Hugo Award for Best Dramatic PresentationNominated—Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Comedy Screenplay
1976 Obsession
Carrie Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival — Grand PrizeNominated—Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation
1978 The Fury
1980 Home Movies
Dressed to Kill Nominated—Golden Raspberry Award for Worst DirectorNominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best DirectorNominated—Saturn Award for Best Director
1981 Blow Out
1983 Scarface Nominated—Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director
1984 Body Double
1986 Wise Guys
1987 The Untouchables Blue Ribbon Awards for Best Foreign FilmNominated—César Award for Best Foreign Film
1989 Casualties of War 2nd place—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director
1990 The Bonfire of the Vanities Stinkers Bad Movie Award for Worst PictureNominated—Golden Raspberry Award for Worst PictureNominated—Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director
1992 Raising Cain Nominated—Venice Film Festival — Golden Lion
1993 Carlito’s Way
1996 Mission: Impossible
1998 Snake Eyes
2000 Mission to Mars Nominated—Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director
2002 Femme Fatale Nominated—Sitges Film Festival Award for Best Film
2006 The Black Dahlia Nominated—Stinkers Bad Movie Award for Worst Sense of DirectionNominated—Venice Film Festival — Golden Lion
2007 Redacted Amnesty International Film Festival — Youth Jury AwardVenice Film Festival — Silver LionVenice Film Festival — Future Film Festival Digital AwardNominated—Venice Film Festival — Golden Lion
2012 Passion Nominated—Venice Film Festival — Golden Lion
2015 De Palma

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