Blu-Ray Review – De Palma & De Niro: The Early Films

The Wedding Party, Greetings and Hi Mom! are the collaborations between Robert De Niro and Brian De Palma included here—the only time the two worked together other than The Untouchables many years later. However, De Palma did introduce De Niro to Martin Scorsese.

The Wedding Party was De Palma’s first film, and it was basically a glorified student film, padded out with enough extra stuff to turn it into a feature. It’s mostly notable for being a first feature for both the actor and the director, although it wasn’t actually released until Murder à la Mod and Greetings some years later.

Greetings was De Palma’s first proper film, a satire about three twenty-somethings who have been drafted, and are trying to find any way possible to get out of going to war in Vietnam. There’s the conspiracy theorist, Lloyd (Gerrit Graham, who some may recognise as Beef, the ridiculous glam-rock singer from Phantom of the Paradise), an appropriate character for a time when conspiracy theories, especially about JFK’s assassination, were becoming really popular; Paul Shaw (Jonathan Warden), the shy, sensitive type; and Jon Rubin (De Niro), the filmmaker, who is also a peeping tom. They’re all versions of De Palma himself, of course.

Greetings was one of the first counterculture films, although Roger Corman had done some hippie-themed movies. It satirises hippies, Kennedy, ‘Nam, pop art, filmmaking and more. It’s a pretty great little movie, and even has a few little homages to Hitchcock. It was also the first film to ever be rated X, thanks to some nudity and language, as the rating system had just been introduced.

Hi, Mom! is actually a sequel, made with a bit more money, and finds De Palma having a lot of fun. Greetings had been well-reviewed, but it wasn’t a hit film by any stretch. But it’s good that they got to make a sequel, because Hi Mom! is probably the best of the three. Rubin has become a porn director—and in a homage to Rear Window, his idea of making porn is filming his neighbours through the window. He meets a girl, and falls into a Black radical group. The big set-piece is a hilarious scene where as part of an urban theatre experiment, a bunch of middle-class white people are forced to try living as Black people. It’s De Palma’s attempt to do a American version of a Godard film. Indeed, the influence of Godard weighs heavily on both Greetings and Hi Mom!, specifically Masculin Féminin, which had just come out when these were being made.

De Niro and De Palma did well with the second two films, and in the end, De Palma was perhaps the most influential of the movie brats stylistically. The long takes, the subject matter, and De Palma’s obsession with the technical aspects of filmmaking are all a visible influence on everybody from Wes Anderson to Quentin Tarantino.

At some point, Troma Entertainment had the rights to The Wedding Party and Hi, Mom! They marketed the latter as Blue Manhattan, trying to make it sound smutty. The aspect ratio changes drastically in that version and there was a badly generated title card, and I’m not sure how that even happened. The film as presented here in the set is a 2K restoration as is Greetings and The Wedding Party.

There are a bunch of extras in this set, although some interviews that had been expected were left off at the last minute. Still, there is a commentary by Glenn Kenny, who wrote a book on De Niro; an appreciation of these early films by Howard S. Berger; separate interviews about each film with writer/producer Charles Hirsch; the trailer for Hi Mom!; new essays, and an archival interview with De Palma and Hirsch.

★★★★★

Ian Schultz

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