Before legendary filmmaker Brian De Palma became a household name thanks to the likes of Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, 1976’s Carrie and 1983’s Scarface, he was just another struggling young director trying to stand out from his peers in the early 60’s. Fortunately for De Palma, he became associated with another talented young man trying to make his mark at the time; Robert De Niro. As a celebration of this pairing up of two undisputed legends, Arrow Video have put together a three film box set of the films that Brian De Palma and Robert De Niro made together during those early years. The two first teamed up in 1963 for the comedy The Wedding Party but it wasn’t until the release of 1968’s satirical comedy, Greetings, that they made their mark.
The first film to receive an ‘X’ certificate in the United States, Greetings centres on three young men; Jon Rubin (De Niro), Paul Shaw (Jonathan Warden) and Lloyd Clay (Gerrit Graham). All three trying to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. The twenty-something’s seem to spend most of their days coming up with ways to avoid a call up for duty and not always in the most sensible of ways. But they seemed pretty desperate and when you have three different and interesting personalities as Jon, Paul and Lloyd; one a voyeur, the other a filmmaker seeking love and the third a conspiracy theorist, it certainly makes for some unique ideas for them to involved getting dragged into the US Army.
In any other situation with other characters and without a young director trying to make his mark this might come across as boring but with it’s interesting characters and anti-war stance, in 1968 Greetings must have been seen as perhaps a bit revolutionary by some. Reflecting the mood of certain members of the public opposed to the Vietnam War whilst not becoming overly political. Greetings generally comes across as a collection of scenes, almost comedy sketches at times, about Jon, Paul and Lloyd’s escapades, both together and individually, as they go through their lives avoiding what could be seen as the almost inevitable. As random and at times messy as this appears, Greetings is something of a snapshot of a difficult and confusing time for the US with the US Senator Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations happening around the time of filming.
Watching Greetings now, the strong points are De Palma’s interesting ways of shooting scenes; the use of unique camera angles for example, giving the audience a different view and perspective of a scene or a characters motivation, with a character even breaking the fourth wall at one point. Actually, it’s this scene that earned Greetings its initial ‘X’ rating (later moved to ‘R’). Nothing to do with the potentially controversial subject matter involving our conspiracy theorist, but it’s the fact that he was using a bare breasted woman to emphasise his point that led to it’s grading, Crazy now, maybe, but apparently not in 1968!
Another highlight, which probably explains it’s random/messy feel at times is the improvisational-style that the film has. The actor’s were given the location, situation and how to start then left to their own devices, acting wise, pretty much, which is why Greetings doesn’t always feel like a film you can immerse yourself in fully. While it shows the talent involved in such a low budget picture, it also lends itself to meandering scenes which of course effect the outcome of the film overall. But still, it is a rather refreshing approach for the time, if a not always effective one.
Ultimately, Greetings feels like a film very much of it’s time. And indeed, at the time it received some great reviews for it’s satirical nature and there’s no doubt it was something of a springboard for the future success of Brian De Palma and Robert De Niro despite it being a long way from the psychological thrillers and suspense that De Palma has become so well known for and the tough guy image that De Niro became associated with through the likes of Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, The Godfather Part 2 and Goodfellas.
But it’s films like Greetings that, despite not being perfect, prove that the pairing of these two legends early on in their careers was a positive thing and they were definitely worthwhile statements in making the two the talented and influential stars they became.
Extras for Greetings include a brand new commentary by author Glenn Kenny, writer of ‘Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor’. A brand new interview with Charles Hirsch, co-writer and producer of Greetings. And a Greetings Press Book.
De Palma & De Niro: The Early Films is out now on Arrow Video.