Tuesday, April 8, 2014



That darling little Australian, Olivia Newton-John, reported to the set of Aida on Ice today to begin work on her role as Amneris. I think this could be the big break her career has been waiting for. Between run throughs of her first act numbers, we had a chance to sit down and talk a little bit about her homeland.  Now that I have become so knowledgeable on Australia through my film research, I'm looking forward to seeing how our conversations play out in the real life documentary, Project GreenLester, that's covering the developmental process of the show. Miss Newton-John seemed absolutely speechless at all of my understanding and learned discussions of Australian culture and politics.

Several executives from our major corporate sponsor, Flamingo Fresh Feminine Hygiene Products, visited the set today. We had to stop for some interminable glad handing publicity photographs: just as long as the money keeps flowing for show development. They were kind enough to leave a generous supply of sample products behind, including Flamingo Fresh Forever Feminine Fluid Rinse (with apple cider vinegar) and Flamingo Fresh Free and Fresh Maxi pads (with baking soda). Andrea Boccelli, my male lead, kept skating into the loaded pallets so we had to have them moved to the edge of the ice rink near the zamboni paddock.

As feminine products were very much on my mind after rehearsal, my choice for an evening film was Brian DePalma's adaptation of Stephen King's debut novel, Carrie, the only film I could think of in which Kotex plays a prominent supporting role. Sometimes I think Kotex gets a bad rap by not appearing more in films, after all, it did conquer the Aztec civilization, although I must confess I am unclear as to exactly how that occurred.

Carrie is the story of an odd loner, the title character (Sissy Spacek in a career making performance), who is the dowdy, klutzy, ugly duckling high school girl the other kids love to hate. A late bloomer, she has her first menstrual period during gym class shower one day and, as she comes from an unusual upbringing, doesn't recognize what's happening to her. The other girls respond, not with sympathy, but with cruel taunts and flying sanitary napkins. Gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley), rescues Carrie, explains the facts of life and sends her home to her mother (Piper Laurie), a religious nut who has been abusing Carrie in the name of the Lord since she was born.

Carrie, however, has a secret, she's telekinetic and can make objects move with her mind if made angry enough. Early in the film, this appears to be accidental but as the film progresses, she masters her gift and uses it against her tormenters. When the other girls are punished for their teasing, class beauty Chris (Nancy Allen) enlists her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) in a revenge plot against Carrie. In keeping with the menstrual theme, they arrange for her to be elected Prom Queen, and then doused with a bucket of pigs blood while on stage, receiving her honor. Nice girl Sue (Amy Irving), inadvertently allows this to happen when she convinces her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt), to take Carrie to the prom instead of her so Carrie can have at least one moment in the sun. This ultimate humiliation turns Carrie into a ferocious demon, hell bent on revenge, using her telekinetic gifts to destroy her class mates and others who have been unkind to her.

Carrie was filmed in 1976 and was DePalma's first crack at a studio film, after some success in independent features in the early 70s. It was intended to be a low budget cheap teen horror film; the film was made for less than $2 million dollars, inexpensive even in those days. DePalma, however, had a vision of something beyond mere exploitation. He recognized that Carrie's story tapped into a very real part of the adolescent condition and that, if he could capture that visually, his film could transcend the conventions of the horror genre. Stephen King was still an unknown writer as the film went into production and Lawrence Cohen was hired to write the screenplay. His first drafts were very close to the original novel and then he began to make small, subtle changes (many for budgetary reasons) which brought the story out of the wider world and back into the world of adolescence and high school, a fairly universal experience in American life, giving the tale more of a resonance.

DePalma was able to make a minor classic thanks to conditions in the American film industry in the mid 70s. The studios were somewhat rudderless at the time, giving young film makers like himself, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Frances Ford Coppola the latitude to reinvent the rules. DePalma, in fact, held his auditions jointly with Lucas who was casting a low budget space opera called Star Wars at the same time. Most of DePalma's young cast, many of whom went on to long film careers, were unknown at the time of Carrie's filming. This was John Travolta's first major film role, and a major stepping stone for Amy Irving, Nancy Allen and William Katt. It's a little hard to accept these twenty somethings as high schoolers but they all give sterling performances.

The real success of the film, however, rests on the shoulders of Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, both of whom garnered Oscar nominations, practically unheard of for a horror film. Spacek, who had only one other major screen credit, Terence Malick's Badlands was (and still is) the wife of art director Jack Fisk and begged to be allowed to read for the role. Fortunately, DePalma had the good sense to cast her (Carrie Fisher had been his original choice but balked at the nudity - Sissy was the first choice for Princess Leia - they ended up switching roles and films and cinema history was made.) Spacek brings so much depth to her portrayal of the troubled Carrie that it's difficult to describe in words. It's a part that must be seen. Her transformation from ugly duckling to swan at the prom is completely believable and the change in body language in the final sequences of the film, when she becomes a blood soaked Eumenides, is mind numbing. Matching her is Piper Laurie, who had been retired from films for fifteen years. Her eerie portrayal of a religious zealot, who becomes near orgasmic in her fervor, lifts the film every time she appears on screen. It's an extraordinary testament to the power of the two actresses that they never lapse into camp.

The prom sequence is a tribute to the film makers art. A majority of it is done without words, only with dream like images that show the progression of the story and the major players without obfuscating any of the points of view. DePalma uses unusual lighting, split screen, jump cuts and Pino Donaggio's score (owing a great debt to Bernard Herrman's famous score for Psycho) to present one of the finest sequences of growing destruction put on film. The lighting conditions were necessitated by the gym set having no ceiling (they couldn't afford it) and DePalma makes this into an asset rather than a liability.

The new DVD issue contains a pristine print of the film, uncut (including the somewhat discomfiting casual female nudity that makes up the credits sequence). The sound has been remastered for surround systems. In addition to the film, there are two new forty minute documentaries, Acting Carrie in which most of the principal cast reminisce about the making of the film and Visualizing Carrie which does the same thing with many of the key crew members. There are also some brief comments on the famous Broadway disaster, Carrie: The Musical which coincidentally starred Betty Buckley in the role of Carrie's mother.

Naked Nancy Allen. Naked Sissy Spacek. Near naked Edie McClurg. Flying ashtray. Gory Saint Sebastian statuette. Female calisthenics. Gratuitous red baseball cap. Ruffled tuxedos. Hideous prom dresses. Painted pigs. Gratuitous car cruising. Flaming decorations. Shocker ending (now a cinema cliché).

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