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6 Degrees Entertainment

'De Niro & De Palma: The Early Films'
(Lori Lethin, KC Martell, Elizabeth Hoy, Julie Brown, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1981) 2018 / Arrow Films UK)

Overview: In 1963, Robert De Niro stepped in front of a movie camera for the first time. The resulting film, a low-budget black and white comedy called The Wedding Party, would take three years to complete, and another three years to be released, but it would also establish a hugely important working relationship for the aspiring actor.

One of the filmmakers, long before he became synonymous with suspense thanks to Carrie, Dressed to Kill and other classics, was Brian De Palma. He and De Niro would team up again in the next few years for two more comedies, both with a countercultural bent.

Brought together for the first time and each newly restored by Arrow Films especially for this release, three early films from them both offer a fascinating insight into the early careers of two American cinema's major talents.

Blu-ray Verdict: First up is the aforementioned 'The Wedding Party' (1969) starring De Niro (although billed here as Denero) and directed by De Palma. Being his first feature film with De Niro (although not released for years later), this is definitely worth the watch.

Sure, ok, De Niro's role isn't huge, yet it is amusing as one of two friends who first try to prevent another friends marriage only to later chase him down to force him into it.

Indeed, it has a traditional comedic feel to it with it being in black and white and it's use of sped up footage. It does however get a little tedious at points, but is an appealing quaint little comedy about eccentric family and friends. The young De Niro in the film gives a fairly empty performance, but works well in the double act with his other zany friend. The improvised dialogue adds a more realistic and I might add unpredictable feel to the film and it's worth seeing for it's lighthearted entertainment and humor.

Up next is 'Greetings' (1968). An offbeat, episodic film about three friends, Paul, a shy love-seeker, Lloyd, a vibrant conspiracy nut, and Jon, an aspiring filmmaker and peeping tom. The film satirizes free-love, the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, and amateur filmmaking.

Brian De Palma these days isn't generally associated with comedy, but this is from his counter culture period, when subversive put ons were his metier (see also 'get To Know Your Rabbit').

Three hipsters (Robert De Niro, cult figure Gerrit Graham and unknown Jonathan Warden, all good) try and dodge the draft, and romp through a near plotless series of odd scenes involving their private obsessions, mainly JFK's assassination and voyeurism.

The mood is somewhere between Richard Lester and Jean Luc Godard. While it's great to see De Niro in an early comedic role, the stand out performance for me is by Graham, who shows the chops he would use in his subsequent long and varied career ('Demon Seed', 'Used Cars', Bud the Chud).

The supporting cast also includes the hugely underrated Allen Garfield ('The Conversation', 'The Stunt Man') in a memorable sequence opposite De Niro.

In truth, this film is worth seeing just for JFK assassination recreation scene. One of the funniest individual scenes I have ever been witness to. Offbeat piece of film making from a future legend.

DePalma is very satiric and DeNiro shows comedic ability that he won't display for another 25-30 years.

Finally we get 'Hi, Mom!' (1970.Vietnam vet John Rubin returns to New York and rents a rundown flat in Greenwhich Village. It is in this flat that he begins to film, 'Peeping Tom' style, the people in the apartment across the street.

His obsession with making films leads him to fall in with a radical 'Black Power' group, which in turn leads him to carry out a bizarre act of urban terrorism!

In this very late '60s irreverent, almost anarchic low-budget film, Brian De Palma defines more of his strange, given Hitchcock-like fascination of voyeurism, and attacks the issues of the day.

The most prominent of which, both cringe-inducing and just plain funny, is when he focuses on the black-power movement (a black woman handing out fliers asking white people 'do you know what it's like to be black'), which is something that could only work for that time and place, not before or now.

But one of the key things to the interest in the film is 27 year old Robert De Niro (not his first or last film with the director), who plays this character who sits in a room looking out through his telescope at women in their rooms, setting up phony deals, and in the end basically throwing bombs.

Those who have said that De Niro can't act and just is himself in every movie should see this movie, if only out of some minor curiosity. A couple of times in the film it's actually not funny, as when there's a disturbance in a black-power meeting (filmed in a grainer, rougher style than the rest of the film).

In the end it's capped off with a rambling monologue in an interview that tops De Niro's in King of Comedy. It's pretty obvious where De Palma's career would go after this, into slightly more mainstream Hollywood territory, but all of his trademarks are here; the dark, almost nail-biting comedy, the perfectly timed style of voyeurism, and interesting usage of locals.

Think if De Palma and De Niro did a Monty Python film, only even more low-budget and in its New York way just as off-the-hinges, and you got 'Hi, Mom!' It also contains an eccentric and funny soundtrack so once you buy this Special Edition 30Disc set, you gotta check that out too! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:

New restoration from a 2K scan of 'The Wedding Party' from the original film negative, carried out exclusively for this release by Arrow Films
New restoration from a 2K scan of 'Greetings' and 'Hi, Mom!' from original film materials, carried out exclusively for this release by Arrow Films
Original uncompressed mono soundtracks
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on all three films
Brand new commentary on Greetings by Glenn Kenny, author of Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor
Brand new appreciation of Brian De Palma and Robert De Niro's collaborations by critic and filmmaker Howard S. Berger
Brand new interviews with Charles Hirsch, writer-producer of 'Greetings' and 'Hi, Mom!'
Brand new interview with actor Gerrit Graham on 'Greetings', 'Hi, Mom!' and his other collaborations with Brian De Palma
Brand new interview with actor Peter Maloney on 'Hi, Mom!'
'Hi, Mom!' theatrical trailer
Newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
Limited collector's edition booklet featuring new writing on the films by Brad Stevens, Chris Dumas and Christina Newland, plus an archive interview with Brian De Palma and Charles Hirsch