Production difficulties and clashes with film studios are not a rare event on Hollywood productions – “Scarface” director Brian De Palma can certainly attest to that.
In fact, an entire book was written about his struggles adapting Tom Wolfe’s bestselling novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities” into a blockbuster starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, and Melanie Griffith.
A personality who’s clashed with studio executives, stars and fellow filmmakers on films like “Scarface,” “Mission Impossible” and others, De Palma has managed to thrive off his penchant for masterful visual storytelling and stories that at once divert and entice audiences of all varieties.
Between the misfire that was “Bonfire,” and his return to Hollywood’s good graces with the acclaimed 1993 film “Carlito’s Way,” De Palma helmed a film of blatant absurdity in the vein of his more niche work in 1984’s “Body Double” – “Raising Cain.”
The film is a gem in De Palma’s filmography, a tense melodrama that riffs on the early-’90s ideal of a father being “Mr. Mom,” featuring a bravura performance by Academy Award-nominated “3rd Rock from the Sun” actor John Lithgow.
The problem with “Raising Cain” is that in post-production, writer-director De Palma decided to dramatically alter the final version of the film, moving parts of it around and creating a more traditional narrative than the flashback-laden film he intended. Now, almost 20 years after “Raising Cain” was released, Netherlands freelance director and editor Peet Gelderblom is looking to right De Palma’s wrongs for the growing cult of “Raising Cain” admirers.
The original “Cain”
To start, Gelderblom acknowledges that the theatrical cut of “Raising Cain” is an “acquired taste,” chronicling the story of a murderous child psychologist with multiple-personality disorder (Lithgow) who turns on his wife (Lolita Davidovich) who is in the midst of a heated extramarital affair with a former flame.
While that plot description certainly doesn’t sound like the makings of an accessible mainstream hit, De Palma had previously experienced success on obtrusive films like 1980’s “Dressed To Kill,” but relinquished somewhat when he decided to rearrange the film into a more chronological order. It was an attempt to avoid isolating the viewer any further, but it was one that De Palma told chud.com in 2006 that he regrets.
“The interesting thing about that movie is that I could not make the beginning work, and it drove me crazy,” he said. “I always wanted to start the movie with (the woman) and her dilemma instead of with the Lithgow story.”
The film takes off running with Lithgow’s character from the first frame: Lithgow portrays multiple personalities, including his own father, as he attempts to kidnap children for his father’s supposed research. The opening features Lithgow kidnapping his friend’s child, satirizing the idea of a Danny Tanner from “Full House”-like father, along with talking to several of his multiple personalities.
Ultimately, it was an opening that De Palma wasn’t very keen on.
“The problem with the current cut is that it starts with scenes featuring Cain,” he said. “Because I’m starting the film in an atmosphere of schizophrenia, with this guy with 25 personalities, the audience is not ready to accept the romantic fantasy that follows, which is what Jenny’s story is about.”
That romantic fantasy between Davidovich’s character Jenny and “Scarface” actor Steven Bauer’s character Jack certainly feels like it comes out of nowhere halfway through the film. Steeped in De Palma’s brand of dramatic eroticism, it was originally meant to open the film, lending an innocence to both the the murderous ways of Lithgow’s character and his relationship with his wife.
The recut “Cain”
Gelderblom recut the film to what he deems “a dramatically different beast,” placing the love affair between Jenny and David at the start of the film, which now works its way into an almost “Reservoir Dogs”-like mode of structuring. This allows the audience to piece the film’s mysteries together as it goes along.
It’s the way that De Palma intended when he wrote the script, and in this form it’s the way that works best.
While many have pointed to “Raising Cain” as an unheralded De Palma masterpiece that ranks alongside works like “The Untouchables” and “Blow Out,” others have even called this his most obvious tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s influence to his body of work.
Now starting with the story of Jenny’s love affair, “Raising Cain” works in a way that almost makes the film into De Palma’s take on “Psycho,” starting with a torrid love tale that unexpectedly turns headlong into a thriller about the deterioration of one man’s psyche as he turns from the perfect husband to a treacherous killer.
For those uninitiated into the cult of “Raising Cain,” it’s almost preferred to start with Gelderblom’s reworked cut, which is sure to be favored by many first-time watchers. If only De Palma sees this cut, and picks up other pieces of the film that Gelderblom cites as being left on the cutting room floor, there could be a more complete version of the film out there for both admirers and detractors.
Filmmakers like George Lucas and Robert Rodriguez are strong advocates of the idea that filmmaking can be done anywhere, whether on somebody’s phone or in the comforts of their own home. In both the documentary “The People Vs. George Lucas” and Robert Rodriguez’s “15-minute Film School,” the pair similarly say that someday, perhaps admirers of their work could even adapt their work and revise it for the better, and Gelderblom has done just that.
The recut version of “Raising Cain,” along with Gelderblom’s video essay detailing the tweaks he made to De Palma’s film, can be found at blogs.indiewire.com/pressplay/feature-brian-de-palmas-raising-cain/.