Maybe you heard about the premiere earlier this week of the new documentary De Palma, directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow—It got fantastic reviews when it opened at the Venice Film Festival. Who knew that Baumbach, who specializes in low-key, comic character studies, was such a huge fan of this ornate horror and suspense stylist? Well, we did! Earlier this year, Baumbach interviewed De Palma for our release of Dressed to Kill. Here, they talk about one of the film’s most unnerving and elegantly designed sequences, set in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (though the interiors were actually filmed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art), as well as the scary, blink-and-you-miss-it coda that ends the scene.
Noah Baumbach: Can you talk about maybe some of the elements that go into the museum sequence? ’Cause on one hand it’s long takes, walks through
. . .
Brian De Palma: You know, it’s very important when you go to a space to walk around it, take photographs, see what’s unique about the space.
NB: But leading up to it, it’s a lot of little moments.
BDP: That’s the whole way of building a sequence—using a fairly basic element of cinema, which is following a beautiful woman around. You can watch her walk, watch her look. And when you’re in a museum, you’ve got a long of things to look at. You put a character in a position and then you have them look in various ways, so the audience gets very acclimated to the geography of the location. Geography is very important when you’re setting up a suspense sequence, because you’ve got to know where things are relative to the principal, and then you have all these activities that are going on around you. Is there something I should be worrying about? Or you have your character basically sitting in one position, and then slowly you start amping it up. Then the chess game can begin, but you’ve got to know the board. You’ve got to know what the pieces can do. And you’ve got to stay within that logic.
NB: And there’s something that takes maybe even more than one viewing—’cause after she gets in the cab you cut to the killer pulling the glove away.
BDP: Yes, split-screen.
NB: Which at least for me, experiencing it the first time, that’s the first time I was aware that that character was there, but then when you watch the movie again you actually see the character in the pan.
BDP: Yeah, when you do that pan. Yes. It goes right by, you know, the killer.