Critics cannot deter De Palma's fervor for creativity

August 12, 1992|By Luaine Lee | Luaine Lee,Knight-Ridder News Service

Brian De Palma's new movie, "Raising Cain," is definitely a spoof, says his wife, producer Gale Anne Hurd ("Terminator," "Aliens.")

No. It's dead serious, says Mr. De Palma. The movie's star, John Lithgow, isn't quite sure, but he had a ball playing a bizarre double role. Though Mr. De Palma's last film, "Bonfire of the Vanities," was a grave disappointment at the box office and the victim of potshots that it didn't deserve, it hasn't deterred his fervor for creativity, says Ms. Hurd.

"He can't be anything but creative," she says. "It's just not in him."

For years Mr. De Palma, who has made thrillers like "Obsession," "Blow Out," "Carrie" and "Body Double," has been skewered by critics, who try to outdo each other pointing out Hitchcockian elements in his work and twisted psychological leanings.

"Please," he says. "I can only be who I am. I cannot change the perception of the reviewer. When Carrie gets into the bathtub and [they say] this is a scene from 'Psycho,' I can't help them. All the allusions they've made about Hitchcock in my movies, please. There are some very direct ones, obviously."

In "Raising Cain," which opened here last week, a car sinks slowly in the murky waters of the swamp. That's a take-off on "Psycho," explains Mr. De Palma. "That's very clear. But Carrie getting into the bathtub is not."

Mr. De Palma has also been castigated for always placing women in danger. "I've been asked that question for many years, and my stock answer is that when you make a thriller I think it's more interesting to me to photograph women rather than men. But nobody ever accepted that. That's one of those things like smoking -- it went out. You can't do that anymore. Forget about it. Basically you cannot put women in jeopardy anymore. But I think it's more interesting to put a woman in jeopardy, or certainly a child."

Ms. Hurd is known for empowering her women in films like "Aliens" and "Terminator 2."

"I was not a Brian De Palma expert when I started going out with him," says Ms. Hurd. "I had the mistaken apprehension that he had something against women. And I said from the beginning, 'I am known for portraying women in a different light, women as action heroines, who aren't just victims or just girlfriends.' "

In "Raising Cain," you can see that the heroine is not a passive victim just waiting to have her throat slit. Because of his tendency to slice and dice his heroines, Mr. De Palma has been the victim of negative advance publicity.

"You can get a piece of work so vilified before anybody even sees it because it takes some unthinkable political stand -- then it's gone before anybody has a chance to say, 'What is this about?'

"I can't tell you how many people have come up to me and said what a wonderful movie 'Body Double' was. And when it came out it was literally chased out of the movie theaters."

The secret to a good scary movie is to keep the audience looking at the screen instead of hiding their faces in their hands, says Mr. De Palma. "I discovered with 'Carrie' that if you can keep them looking at the screen and whack them, you can really surprise them. Nowadays as soon as they hear the scary music they start looking in their laps or putting their hands up. You can't scare them unless they're watching the screen."

This marks the first team effort between Mr. De Palma and Ms. Hurd since they had their daughter, Lolita, 10 months ago. Ms. Hurd has worked with her filmmaker husband before -- only it was her first husband, James Cameron, with whom she made four films. They made "Terminator" before they got married, "Aliens" while they were married and "The Abyss" when they were divorcing. They were ex's when they made "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."

Both Ms. Hurd and Mr. De Palma have projects independent of each other. She made "Cast a Deadly Spell" for HBO and "The Waterdance." And Mr. De Palma has had discussions with other producers.

"I don't want to be considered as Brian's baggage," says Ms. Hurd. "I don't think that's a healthy thing for the industry when you hire a certain person and end up getting their entire entourage."

Ms. Hurd is anything but excess baggage. Mr. De Palma knows her worth: "She is an incredibly accomplished producer, having made movies that I can't imagine how you make. I mean, the concept of shooting something like 'The Abyss' just boggles the imagination. Something like 'Aliens,' how do you do that? That stuff is so difficult to do that when you see it done badly like 'Aliens 3' you begin to realize how good those other directors were. To have somebody who has that kind of sensibility and that kind of expertise as a collaborator, who I can try out ideas on, it's a great asset."

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