Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out
of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite
directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which
include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body
Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface
and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is
my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to
see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to
disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of
films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in
such high esteem.
Greetings is officially considered his first film, since this was the first one that was released. I caught this many years ago on a double bill with its sequel, Hi Mom!, at a now defunct theater. I barely remembered it, so I wanted to catch this one again. Obviously a lot of other people wanted to catch it as well, as the screening was sold out.
The very thin plot revolves around a trio of guys who soon have to go in to the draft board for the Vietnam war. They are all trying to figure out ways to get out of being drafted, from pretending to be homosexual, to being a right wing militant, and all sorts of other schemes. There are also the computer dating exploits of one of the trio as a sub plot, and another one of the guys is obsessed with the Kennedy assassination, while the third guy is a timid shy guy who is into voyeurism.
Although I said this has a thin plot, and it does, it does not detract from the entertainment value of this movie. The movie stars Gerrit Graham who played Beef in Phantom Of The Paradise, and Robert De Niro, who went on to some serious fame since almost any movie going fan knows who he is. Oddly enough, this is a comedy and social commentary, not what either De Palma or De Niro became known for during most of their careers.
As much as this is a comedy, it is also a social commentary on the times, the late 1960s. Lots of mentions of hippies, the war, drugs, sex, and other topical things. Some of the jokes might be a bit hard to get, without a proper concept of what was going on at the time, but regardless the movie is actually pretty funny. Even Roger Ebert in his review of this when it came out praised its comedy as hearkening back to the days when comedies weren't as much about plot but funny situations strung together.
At the screening I went to, we were lucky enough to have a special guest, Rutanya Alda, the girl who played the shoplifter in the movie. She spoke a bit before the movie letting us know that most of it was improvised, scenes were set up with what the basic idea was, and they were given a certain amount of time to do the scene. There was no formal script, just ideas. One of the reasons for this had to do with the particulars of how this was shot. When a film is made, if all the film wasn't used they would keep the unused portions and sell them off cheap. So De Palma made the whole movie using these short ends, so he knew he would have 7 minutes for this scene, or 4 minutes for this one. In the scene where Robert De Niro is filming this woman in a "private moment" he is telling her to hurry because the film is running out, and sure enough it did because it really was running out! They kept the scene in, instead of reshooting it, and picked it up from there. Knowing that makes this film even more amazing.
As much as this film is not like much of the work De Palma is famous for, it is a great document of both his talent in comedy and social commentary, but also to see Robert De Niro in a very early role.
7 out of 10 stars.