It’s the Middle that Matters

The other day I left work right after 5 and went to see the documentary about Brian de Palma. It’s him talking the whole time about the movies he made (in chronological order so you can notice the passage of time). The documentary opens with a scene from “Vertigo”, establishing right away the influence that Hitchcock had on De Palma – in the way suspense is presented, the technical virtuosity of the camera shots and the preoccupation with bad/good women (for De Palma mostly “bad” women) in jeopardy. I only recall seeing a few of De Palma’s films: “Carrie” which scared the shit out of me, “Blow Out” (I really liked it and want to see again), “Carlito’s Way”. Oh yeah, and “Phantom of the Paradise” – unforgettably bizarre. Jessica Harper who popped up again in ‘Stardust Memories”. I didn’t realize De Palma directed Bruce’s “Dancing in the Dark” video (that was the beginning of the bulked up Bruce).

The most interesting thing I found about the documentary is when De Palma says that most artists (or maybe he says people, I don’t remember) produce their best work in the middle part of their life, when they are in their 30s, 40s, 50s. Before that they are working toward that greatness, after that, the greatness dries up. They still make whatever they make, but it’s not as good as what they made before. It’s the rise and fall analysis, with a less steep fall.

You could say that about Woody Allen, Hitchcok. In music, about Bowie, Prince, Springsteen, the Stones. Prince and Bowie continued to make music till the end and some of it was really interesting, but it wasn’t as defining as their heyday creations. Their “middle” was their twenties.

I think that De Palma was articulating how he feels about his own work and applying it too broadly. Not true in all cases. Burt Lancaster gives one of his greatest performances in “Atlantic City”, long after the “Sweet Smell of Success”. Jimi Hendrix had no middle part, but his beginning will last forever.

This feels like it’s about the things that Bob Lefsetz describes. I loved his piece “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone.” He refuses to let go of memories and feelings. That’s how I would like to be, but throw in a few actions so I can feel as though I’m moving.

Postscript: on the subway tonight another surreal scene (these are becoming more frequent) – a very skinny guy with long, straight, dyed blonde hair, in multicolored leggings, rock star super tight T-shirt. He was swinging from poles and handles, seemingly oblivious to everyone around him. People were either trying to look away or seemed amused by his antics. He reminded me of a young Iggy Pop, minus the singing part.

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