Friday, May 18, 2012

How Had I Not Seen This Movie!? Part 13: Hi, Mom!

Hi, Mom!

Hi, Mom! is a hard film to review since I'm still not entirely sure what it's supposed to be about. Released in 1980 and directed by Brian De Palma, Hi, Mom! follows Jon Rubin (Robert De Niro, reprising a role first seen in De Palm'a Greetings from '68) as he attempts to make a living in the film business. As with most satirical content from De Palma, Hi, Mom! is pitch black to the point where it becomes hard to gauge where the actual target is. It begins with Jon trying to break into the movie business by working for a big time porn distributer in New York City. Jon tries to convince the man that he can film people in the apartment building across from his room because people love watching others who don't know they are being filmed. Once he finally convinces him, I was ready for the type of basic Rear Window style Hitchcock homage that De Palma seems to love so much. The film however takes a few hard turns along the way that makes it one of the more experimental films I've seen in a while.

De Palma shoots the film in a very unique way, changing up the style to always match another device that someone can use to view others. It's a neat trick that I found fairly innovative for a film released in 1970. For example, when Jon is looking across the building using a telescope, the image on screen is reduced to a small circular area in the center of the screen. When he then upgrades to a video camera, the frame opens up a bit while also having the speed of the characters on screen increased to mimic the sped up look of most old films. Lastly, for scenes meant to mimic a TV show being watched, the images are larger but remain "boxed in" and become black and white, thus differentiating them from the usual scenes where we are not looking at something from the perspective of another character.

Another touch from De Palma was framing certain sections of the movie as if they were a TV show staring Jon Rubin as the main character. Scenes are given theme music and we sometimes come back to Jon Rubin with an onscreen recap in the manner of "meanwhile, back at Jon's apartment..." It's a funny device and furthered the feeling that Hi, Mom! was made much later than 1970. The whole film feels very ahead of it's time technically, despite having a story that's steeped in the turn of the decade culture from 1970. I couldn't help but keep thinking that this movie was an '80s production that was meant to evoke issues from 10 years prior, instead of it being what it is, which is an incredibly timely movie that must have been extremely controversial upon release.

This is another movie that is hard to discuss at length without resorting to spoilers. I will say however that the centerpiece of the film is something very unexpected and also very hard to watch. Using a cinéma vérité styled approach, we are forced to watch a drawn out sequence of an unsuspecting group of people becoming part of a anarchist group's plot to show what it's like to be a black person in America. For a film that starts off as a sly satire on how we view others, it takes an awfully abrupt turn to much darker territory that in itself ends up being used to setup what I feel is De Palma's main point for making the film. 

I was surprised when seeing this film that I hadn't heard about it sooner. It certainly has a lot of cool ideas and setups. It's also interesting to see how many of De Palma's usual themes are present but not yet fully cooked. I recommend this for anyone who hasn't seen it, but easily consider it a must see for fans of De Palma's work.

You're Welcome,

Valuable Life Lesson Learned: Never go see experimental theater in New York City.

Upcoming Titles:
- Carlito's Way
- Phantom of the Paradise
- Scarface
- To Catch a Thief

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