Monday, October 3, 2016

De Palma

Many film directors have had their sit downs with interviewers to talk about their lives and films.  Some are informative and entertaining (Mike Nichols, Alexander Payne), while others may come off as immodest and downright arrogant (John Landis, Quentin Tarantino).   Brian De Palma gets nearly two hours in front of two other celebrated directors, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, in a documentary named after him.  A doc that got a theatrical release! Is he worthy of such treatment?

Oh yeah.  Granted, I've long been a big fan, a defender of a guy who was frequently accused off cribbing from Hitchcock, blatant sexism, graphic violence and sexuality, show off camerawork, and complex set-pieces that call attention to themselves.  All of these charges are accurate and undisputed (sometimes a bit abruptly) by De Palma himself.  He addresses each of these criticisms unapologetically throughout this year's DE PALMA as he discusses every film (and even one short subject) he ever directed, from his collaboration on THE WEDDING PARTY to his current non-Hollywood efforts like REDACTED and PASSION.

The film alternates between a static shot of the director and clips from his work.  Many selections showcase the sort of rough content in question.  Sexism? Violence? We get the infamous elevator scene from DRESSED TO KILL. The drill scene from BODY DOUBLE.  The prom massacre in CARRIE.  The ultra elaborate climactic chase from CARLITO'S WAY and the Odessa steps inspired moments from THE UNTOUCHABLES of course are there too.  The clips sometimes play like a "Greatest Hits" of an impressive, if very uneven, career.

De Palma recounts plenty of on set remembrances.  Cliff Robertson was uncooperative on OBSESSION.  Bernard Hermann was "scary".  Sean Penn taunted Michael J. Fox on CASUALTIES OF WAR.  John Travolta was a darling on CARRIE and BLOW OUT.  An iconoclast like De Palma predictably will have tales of fights with the studios and failed marriages ("My true wife is my movie. Not you!").  The director is quite frank about his work, what he thinks is good or otherwise.  For example, he relays that when he watches the remakes of CARRIE he realizes what mistakes he didn't make with his own version.   What a privilege to hear his thoughts, so off the cuff and fascinating.  Indispensable for fans.  It made me want to revisit most of the ones I've seen, even the ones I dismissed originally (BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, SNAKE EYES), and finally get to the ones I hadn't (FEMME FATALE, MISSION TO MARS)

We never hear or see Baumbach and Paltrow.  It's just as well.  This is De Palma's show, his life. There is a home movie of Steven Spielberg calling De Palma from his car phone (in 1976!) on Thanksgiving Day.   He shares (in between frequent exclamations of "Holy mackerel!") some experiences from his youth, things that likely shaped his cinematic point of view.  Like the time he stalked his father around town as the latter conducted illicit trysts with other women.  Yeah, I think you can see that on the screen.

1 comment:

Stephen Ley said...

The thought of Sean Penn taunting Michael J. Fox made me chuckle.