De Palma & De Niro: The Early Films The Wedding Party, Greetings, Hi Mom!

3-Disc Limited Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 46 ratings

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December 11, 2018
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Editorial Reviews

In 1963, Robert De Niro stepped in front of a movie camera for the first time. The resulting film, a low-budget black and white comedy called The Wedding Party, would take three years to complete, and another three years to be released, but it would also establish a hugely important working relationship for the aspiring actor. One of the filmmakers, long before he became synonymous with suspense thanks to Carrie, Dressed to Kill and other classics, was Brian De Palma. He and De Niro would team up again in the next few years for two more comedies, both with a countercultural bent.

Greetings, the first film to receive an X certificate in the United States, is a freewheeling satire focusing on a trio of twentysomething friends a conspiracy theorist, a filmmaker, and a voyeur played by De Niro as they try to avoid the Vietnam War draft. Hi, Mom!, originally named Son of Greetings, returns to De Niro s voyeur, now an aspiring maker of adult films, for another humorous glimpse at late-sixties society, this time turning its attentions to experimental theater, cinéma vérité, the African American experience, and the white middle classes.

Brought together for the first time and each newly restored by Arrow Films especially for this release these three films offer a fascinating insight into the early careers of two American cinema s major talents.

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • New restoration from a 2K scan of The Wedding Party from the original film negative, carried out exclusively for this release by Arrow Films
  • New restoration from a 2K scan of Greetings and Hi, Mom! from original film materials, carried out exclusively for this release by Arrow Films
  • Original uncompressed mono soundtracks
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on all three films
  • Brand new commentary on Greetings by Glenn Kenny, author of Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor
  • Brand new appreciation of Brian De Palma and Robert De Niro s collaborations by critic and filmmaker Howard S. Berger
  • Brand new interviews with Charles Hirsch, writer-producer of Greetings and Hi, Mom!
  • Brand new interview with actor Gerrit Graham on Greetings, Hi, Mom! and his other collaborations with Brian De Palma
  • Brand new interview with actor Peter Maloney on Hi, Mom!
  • Hi, Mom! theatrical trailer
  • Newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
  • Limited collector s edition booklet featuring new writing on the films by Brad Stevens, Chris Dumas and Christina Newland, plus an archive interview with Brian De Palma and Charles Hirsch
  • Product details

    • MPAA rating ‏ : ‎ R (Restricted)
    • Product Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 0.7 x 7.5 x 5.4 inches; 10.72 Ounces
    • Director ‏ : ‎ Brian De Palma
    • Media Format ‏ : ‎ Anamorphic, NTSC, Widescreen
    • Run time ‏ : ‎ 4 hours and 27 minutes
    • Release date ‏ : ‎ December 11, 2018
    • Actors ‏ : ‎ Robert De Niro, Charles Pfluger, Jill Clayburgh, William Finley, Jonathan Warden
    • Subtitles: ‏ : ‎ English
    • Studio ‏ : ‎ Arrow Video
    • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B07GVYD6HB
    • Number of discs ‏ : ‎ 1
    • Customer Reviews:
      4.5 out of 5 stars 46 ratings

    Customer reviews

    4.5 out of 5 stars
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    Top reviews from the United States

    Reviewed in the United States on December 19, 2019
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    5.0 out of 5 stars A must own for the De Palma afficianado!
    By Allen Garfield's #1 fan. on December 19, 2019
    Arrow has done a top-notch job with these restorations. The High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations with original English mono audio (uncompressed LPCM) look and sound surprisingly good. There are optional English subtitles. Supplements are plentiful. There’s a new audio commentary on Greetings by Glenn Kenny, author of Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor; a new appreciation of De Palma’s and De Niro’s collaborations by critic and filmmaker Howard S. Berger; new interviews with Charles Hirsch; the pressbook for Greetings; the theatrical trailer for Hi, Mom!; reversible sleeves on the two jewel cases with commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin; and booklets featuring pieces on the films by Brad Stevens, Chris Dumas, and Christina Newland, and an archival interview with De Palma and Hirsch.

    Doesn’t it just make too much sense that Brian De Palma’s first feature film (well, the first to receive distribution, at any rate, though The Wedding Party was filmed earlier) was also reportedly the first American film to receive the then-new “X” rating from the MMPA? Greetings, and salutations to a career destined to be pockmarked by provocation. De Palma and producer/co-writer Charles Hirsch’s film turns the Vietnam War into a stylistic, 20th Century Foxy replay of the Hundred Years’ War, because Greetings is as much inspired by the rambunctiously unctuous French New Wave as it is a screwball New York approximation of London’s “angry young man” cinema. Whereas Hi, Mom!, the ersatz sequel to this 1968 underground cult lark, fragments one man’s life as an unconscientious social objector into three separate, radically diverse stages of development, Greetings presents its two writers’ alter egos in the form of a frazzled triptych. The math checks out with fewer useless remainders in the later film, but Greetings is more than just a handy setup. (Though a cameo appearance by Hitchcock/Truffaut turns out to be an intriguing McGuffin.) Robert De Niro plays Jon Rubin (likely the same person as the protagonist of Hi, Mom!, which would explain how he came up with the military fatigues for the film’s punchy final scene), an aimless young man who spends his time pretending to work in a bookstore so that he can observe people in their “private moments,” as he tells it to one shoplifting customer (Runtanya Alda, who played one of the most unfortunate audience members of the sequel’s “Be Black, Baby” episode). Gerrit Graham (later Phantom of the Paradise‘s would-be castrati Beef) is Lloyd Clay, a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist whose dark dreams seem to come true when he becomes #18 on the list of witnesses killed by shady government forces. As Greetings opens, both Jon and Lloyd are trying to show their third kooky compadre Paul Shaw (Jonathan Warden, sadly a one-and-done player in Troupe De Palma) the fine art of snowing the draft board psychologist, alternating between Lloyd’s actors’ workshop crash course in mincing and Jon’s suggestions to beat the government at their own game by pretending to be an über-wingnut. Apparently, Paul opted for faux homosexuality, because when Jon shows up for his psych exam as a hipster Nazi, De Palma crash cuts to him in Vietnam, being interviewed for TV as he tries to force a nubile young Viet Cong ingénue into another crotch-centric, male-dominatrix “private moment.” Greetings kicked off a career full of them.

    Hi, Mom!

    Conceived as a sequel of sorts to the three-pronged satire of 1968’s Greetings (in fact, Hi, Mom! was originally set to be titled Son of Greetings), Hi, Mom! is likewise a film with three major threads, only all are devoted to the character of Jon Rubin (played by an appealing, floppy-topped Robert De Niro in a performance many consider to be a direct harbinger of his Travis Bickle role in Taxi Driver). (Readers should be advised of possible spoilers, and those already familiar with the film should be aware that I make no attempt to clearly streamline the film’s wild, ungainly plot.) Jon, a Vietnam vet, drifts through the film like a skuzzy butterfly, moving from one underground social environment to the next: first the world of pornographic filmmaking, next becoming an actor in a performance art-cum-social crusaders’ college theater troupe, finally landing on domestic terrorism. His enlightenment-barbarism is held against a distorted paradigm of flowering courtship rituals with Judy (Jennifer Salt), the girl with whom he initially wants to make his Candid Camera pornographic film.

    De Palma biographer-enthusiast Laurent Bouzereau notes in The De Palma Cut that the film received rave reviews from adventurous critics, but suffered a financial failure that led De Palma to also consider it an artistic failure. But one has to take into consideration that the director’s greatest directorial strategy—one that incidentally informs Hi, Mom! more than it does practically any other De Palma film—is his attempt to make us aware of our role as an audience, and also our connection with what he as a director is attempting to accomplish through a heady mix of artifice, contradiction, and a hectic emotional pitch.

    De Palma’s films are nothing if not structural, representational works of art, filled with winking moments that distance the audience from the diagetic details of his scenarios through their flamboyant technique (the slow-mo zoom on Nancy Allen’s open-book face as she discovers Angie Dickenson in the elevator in Dressed to Kill, the downright Brechtian finale to Body Double), even as other equally showboating moments are galvanizing narrative K.O. punches (John Travolta feverishly discovers his erased tapes in Blow Out, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos comes to the water’s surface in Femme Fatale).

    If indeed De Palma’s own auto-critique of Hi, Mom! in relation to his own personal canon was informed by what wags sarcastically refer to as the “Hitchcock connection” (derisively calling to mind images of De Palma fixed on the belly of the Master of Suspense like a lamprey or via an umbilical cord) and that this early counter-cultural comedy somehow falls short on the required tally of Hitch riffs, it would be a shame. Hi, Mom! might have been only the third feature film by the director, but practically every trait that would come to signify the art of De Palma is at play in the film, many of them, natch, in direct conflict with another.

    The most Hitchcockian riff that De Palma ever examined is the capacity for the human psyche to harbor intense, complicated divergence. But, whereas Hitchcock often resolved this tension by placing it in the context of a relatively well adjusted, normalized society (i.e. the long-winded psychological rationale that closes Psycho), De Palma complicates the archetype through his insistence on highlighting the equally labyrinthine tangle of contradictions behind social normalcy, knots that seem to cause individual maladaptive dysfunction. An early broadcast from NIT (that’s National Intelligent Television, the front used by the anarchist theater clan) sees the crew of black students taking to the streets with the intention of exposing the internal hypocrisies of the average WASP. Obviously baiting people to their breaking points, the students reveal the sham of social grace, as their targets are stripped of their reliable defense (their politeness and tacitly segregated racial congregations). This sequence is obviously the comedic setup for the “Be Black, Baby” performance art nightmare that practically rapes the definition of social façades and the lengths people will go to preserve them. But it’s also a reflection of Jon’s demented internal logic (to the extent that a cipherous figure can be said to have logic); in De Palma’s world he is portrayed as a man whose utter alienation from normalcy stems, appropriately enough, from the total absence of it.

    As Chaka Khan purrs in “Tearin’ It Up,” “I’m going to make you wish there were two of you.” Many schisms in De Palma’s movies are tethered to sexual frustrations and confusions—basically anything having to do with sex that doesn’t involve supine boudoir humping. The Fury can be taken as a sweeping, apocalyptic satire of educational sex education films, charting the development of one boy and one girl as they go through a sort of psychic puberty. The attempts of adults to contain their increasingly virile state (psychic abstinence) leads to the ultimate sexual-murderous release. Hi, Mom! doesn’t so directly address the connection between sex and violence, but it should be noted that the film’s last act, in which Jon plants a bomb that demolishes the building he and a pregnant Judy share in domestic tranquility, is a sly joke. Being that Jon and Judy met under the pretense of sexual intent (at least according to Jon), the fact that Judy is pregnant indicates a newfound absence of sexual conquests, and every tryst between the two now carries the promise of further consequences. Jon’s destruction of everything that represents familial domesticity, like Amy Irving’s “removal” of John Cassavetes, clears the way for further sexual adventures.

    Like the shot in To Die For of Nicole Kidman as a kid looking back and forth between a video camera and the monitor feed in an effort to see her own face on television, Jon Rubin’s relationship to pornography in the film’s first segment is complicated by his desire to straddle the gulf between watching and being watched. (The Rube Goldberg device he invents to film himself making love to Judy in the building across the way—which predictably fails—accentuates the comically Sisyphesian difficulty of bridging the gap between the two.) In its take on the relationship people have with their own image-making games, Hi, Mom! occasionally comes off as the work of a film student who spent his summer session on Marshall McLuhan blitzed out of his mind on acid. The concepts are all there, but they’ve been kneaded into a bizarrely funny burlesque of the “medium is the message” worst-case scenario.

    With the “Be Black, Baby” sequence, De Palma manages to do with racial tension what he no doubt hoped to pull off with sexual ambiguity in filming Cruising (a project he lost to William Friedkin before turning out the thematically similar Dressed to Kill). Aided by a deliberate dissection of a very real social stress point, it is one of the most thrilling left turns ever filmed. The theme of voyeurism, which up to this point had been treated as a blue joke, becomes a hellish shattering of the seemingly secure fourth wall, both for the on-screen audience of upper-crust whites who attend the show, submitting themselves to humiliation, beatings, and broomstick rapes, as well as the actual film’s audience, who are basically cast adrift into an 8mm calamity without even the comfort of a recognizable character. For their trouble, the audience is thrown a bone with the post-performance reactions of the upper-class twits who exclaim, amazingly, their gratitude for being shown how they’re directly responsible for all of society’s racial ills.

    There are, of course, basketsful of further stylistic and structural tactics that construct Hi, Mom! If the descriptions of the film’s collage of ideas and subplots all sounds rather daunting and busy, it probably is that and more so; this is, after all, De Palma’s Godard period (I say that without wishing to be flippant). In fact, if the film indeed has a failing, it would be in its unbridled, undisciplined ambition. Early in Jon’s would-be career as a pornographer, he pitches his idea to his decidedly uninterested producer (Allen Garfield, deliriously funny) to blur the lines between fiction and verité by filming four real windows, four real storylines. This not only predicts De Palma’s fascination with split-screen effects (he actually had already experimented with this device in Dionysus in ‘69), but also his fascination with the difference between private emotions and public “performance” (take note of the fact that the “reality” he’s filming across the courtyard is filled with sexual fantasy role-playing, or “fiction”). Hi, Mom! is an overachieving film that deserves better than mere footnote status in De Palma’s already far too marginalized career.
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