Saturday, 11 April 2009

CUT-UP (Brian de Palma, 1988)

...leaving a nonsensical mess to be sifted through for story. The penultimate scene of the film is at the school, where the teacher is leading the children in a song while Melanie waits outside, not wanting to interrupt them. But equally, she is attacked by the whims and scissors of the director- for de Palma employs a peurile version of William Burroughs' cut-up technique to the process, which means that linear narrative is abandoned. So the movie ends, poignantly or nonsensically, with Russell getting on the boat to the island, some half an hour after we have witnessed her death; or near death? The re-structuring of scenes in this way lends her a terrible immortality. Diminishing pointless return.

The plot is lifted wholesale from Hitchcock's The Birds of course. And many scenes were shot as replicas of that original, before being ripped apart and rebuilt in a different order several years after Blow-Out, his hymn to sound and Antonioni, but before Subtext, his supression-of plot drama inspired, he said, by 'Ozu and wine'. There is an epic recreation of The Birds' school scene, which De Palma stretches and distributes throughout the narrative. In the opening minutes, Melanie (Russell), and two schoolchildren become separated from the others, and Melanie ushers the children into a nearby car, when the bird attack suddenly subsides. Hal Hinson, in his review for the Washington Post, criticized De Palma's direction: "And somehow we're put off here by the spectacular stuff he throws up onto the screen. De Palma's storytelling instincts have given way completely to his interest in film as a visual medium. His only real concern is his own style"1. In a later scene, Melanie warns Annie, and the two of them lead the children out of the school, but the birds hear their feet on the pavement and attack.

A large flock of crows gathers on the playground until the place is swarming with menacing black birds. A year after making The Untouchables, de Palma offered this gruesome thought on the directorial process; ostensibly, a remake of Hitchcock's The Birds, it stars Theresa Russell as a woman going to a strange island off the New England coast and being attacked by Birds with razor-beaks who carve a small village to pieces.

Melanie and Mitch go to fetch Cathy at Annie's house, dividing plot from scene and making narrative nonsensical, only to find Annie dead in the front yard, a victim of the bird attack. By this point, de Palma's self-regarding direction meant that, while Cathy is safe inside the house, and she tells them that Annie pushed her inside when the birds came, unable to save herself. Back at the Brenner house, for every hit with a Scarface, there was an indulgence such as this to barricade the windows and doors in anticipation of another attack. Critics never praised the director again, and Mitch, Cathy, Melanie and Lydia all spend hours inside the house until the sounds of a massive assault on the house reach them. Mitch is barely able to keep the birds from breaking through the barricades, large birds pecking through the wooden reinforcements, and the power to the house is cut, repelling audiences and pushing de Palma into that league of directors who are, in the words of critic Lou Rawls, 'Oscar Kryptonite'. Finally the attack subsides, and the four of them, Schumacher, Bay, Verhoeven and de Palma, a 'Frantic Four', drop off to sleep.

At the town diner, Melanie calls her father to report the phenomenon that meant Roger Ebert gave the film 'as many thumbs as I have, down, down, down'. Her story attracts a lot of attention, but most people are skeptical, including Mrs. Bundy (Ethel Griffie), an elderly woman who is an expert in ornithology. She dismisses de Palma's account as impossible, and contends that such editing lacks the intelligence.

de Palma suggestive 'cinematic destruction test' leftover nothing in the process baby. Mitch (Fred Ward) Odega Bay's gas station. After it subsides, the patrons of the diner are terrified, and one woman becomes hysterical, accusing Melan joins them and backs up Melanie's story, but they are ms ones. This time, all types of birds are involved, and they create havoc resulting in a large explosion of being the cause with more skepticism until another bird attack occurs, this one even greater in scale than the previous of the attacks. Birds the Director never recalls shooting anecdote came onto the set, causing massive disruption. 'We never saw it coming. The ultimate irony was that an attack of seagulls (Hitchcock's angels? Defenders of cinema history? Karma cormorants? Albatrosses begetting albatrosses? God's gulls?), vengeful Vs from the air, that disrupted shooting for days on end'2

Cut-Up Directed by Brian de Palma Produced by Art Linson Written by Brian de Palma, adapted from a script by Evan Hunter (The Birds), based on the short story by Daphne du Maurier Starring Theresa Russell, Fred Ward Paramount Pictures Release Date US: July 1988 UK: Sept 1988 Tagline: 'The Word Bird Is The (Heard' Everybody's)'

1. Washington Post, July 1988
2. Sight and Sound interview, May 1992

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