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De Palma reminisces on the Hollywood ‘genius’ era

- Associated Press - Sunday, September 16, 2012

TORONTO (AP) - On a sunny afternoon this past week at the Toronto Film Festival, Brian De Palma finishes holding court at a reporters round table. As he moves to the other side of the room, he pauses to admire one of the mural images from the iconic 1960 film "La Dolce Vita" that adorns the walls.

The director mumbles something about the era and sits down for an interview. Soon he expounds on the period as being a magical time, with peers like Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and George Lucas.

"We were in the era where everyone saw the directors as the geniuses, so we got a lot of opportunities to make any crazy movie that happened to occur to us," the 72-year-old De Palma recalled.

That period of American filmmaking _ the 1960s and `70s _ created many notable relationships, like when De Palma introduced Robert De Niro to Martin Scorsese.

"I used Bob De Niro ... in three films before anybody knew who he was," said De Palma, referring to "The Wedding Party," "Greetings" and "Hi, Mom."

"I had read myself that I, very possibly, I introduced Bobby to Marty. I've heard that said; I don't quite remember the instance," De Palma said.

A few years later, Scorsese cast De Niro in "Mean Streets" as Johnny Boy. The film put both their names on the map. After that, Scorsese directed De Niro in the role that catapulted him to fame _ as Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver."

Ironically, that script was originally given to De Palma, who passed on it.

"I read it. I didn't see how it could be done, or why anyone would come see it because it was so crazy and I gave it to Marty," De Palma said with little remorse.

The director was in Toronto for the premiere of his latest thriller, "Passion," as well as to find a distributor for the movie, which is based on the French noir film, "Crime D'Amour."

It stars Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace as two women engaged in a deadly power struggle. But unlike many films of this genre, De Palma says his target audience is women.

"In the original film, the Dani character was a guy," De Palma explained. "Passion" is "all about women manipulating women in the workspace. I'm a director that likes to photograph beautiful women. I like to light them beautifully. I like to dress them. Women like to look at women just as men do."

For the film, De Palma used Jose Luis Alcain, who normally works as Pedro Almodovar's director of photography. De Palma said he wanted someone that really "understood how to make a woman look beautiful."

"I'm amazed that there's such kitchen-sink filmmaking now, where everybody's badly lit and the camera is shaking all the time. And it's completely unattractive to my eye," De Palma said.

"Passion" seems like the kind of movie Alfred Hitchcock would make, and for much of De Palma's career, there's been a comparison between the two directors.

"The similarities between Hitchcock and I is that we think visually, we think in terms of telling stories in images," De Palma said. "That's why we're tied together all the time. And he uses certain story forms that allowed these long visual sequences to exist and I do exactly the same thing."

Many critics feel the best of De Palma is on display in his 1983 masterpiece, "Scarface." Some say it's their favorite film _ period, and that sits well with De Palma.

"You're very proud of what movie of yours is around and that people are talking about it 30 years later. That means it's passed the test of time as something that will live on in the culture," he said.

"I've made films all my life and as long as I have ideas and images that will mystify and disturb the viewer, I'll keep making movies."

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John Carucci covers entertainment for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://www.twitter.com/jcarucci_ap

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