Film Grains: De Palma (2015) by David Hart

Blow Out

Anticipation:   2.5/5  So, my Brian De Palma viewing is lacking, I will admit.  If I had seen more of his movies (Dressed to Kill, Sisters, Carrie, Carlito’s Way, Scarface, Body Double, The Untouchables), I would have been much more excited. But I will say this, he is one of the more interesting filmmakers out there. Some of his movies are pure trash, and I don’t even mean that as an insult necessarily.  And then there is Blow Out. In my mind, an absolute work of genius. It is an almost perfect film with an ending that will blow your freaking mind.  Speaking of Blow Out, if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t watch De Palma, as they spoil the ending. So, yes De Palma is certainly an interesting director, but without a friend’s insistence, I am not sure that I would have watched a documentary with him as the subject.

Final Verdict:    4.5/5   It’s not very often I say this about a documentary (usually not my favorite kind of film), but I was wowed by De Palma. I think that, in general, we think of directors, even more so than stars, as the person responsible for films. As such, we think of them through their body of work as an entirety. This documentary, really opened my eyes as to the process of building a career. Sometimes, we don’t get to think about what others will assume or how they will interpret our work. De Palma has certainly worked, just look at his extensive credits to see how true this is.

 Untouch

So, what is De Palma?  It’s actually very simple.  The directors, Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, Margot at the Wedding) and Jake Paltrow (The Good Night, Young Ones) interview Brian De Palma. The film takes us through his entire career, from his film school days to his last film, Passion, in chronological order. This enables the audience to get a full picture of not only De Palma’s work, but also his growth and change as a director. The film starts with a clip from my favorite film of all time, Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I can’t lie, that certainly helped my attitude towards the film. But it’s a brilliant choice. As De Palma tells us, Vertigo is an extremely meta-textual film, in which Hitchcock tells the story of what it is to be a director. And that is what this documentary is about.  It is the story of a director, along with all of his triumphs and tragedies, successes and failures. It is the story of a director, who is either loved or reviled (depending on who you ask).

The thing I loved most about this film is the subject himself. Frankly, Brian De Palma comes off as extremely normal, and even loveable. A lot of this is due to his sincerity about his struggles, and especially his willingness to be honest.  It helps that he is nearing the end of his career. Many directors would still feel pressure to fit in, and would certainly not talk trash about their stars. De Palma certainly does not shy away from this. But he is not petty. He is the first to point the finger of blame at himself as well. He speaks at length about his own struggles with certain films, and particularly endings. You don’t often see this amount of candor from a respected director.

Scarface

Frankly, I am struggling to find any negatives.  I really did enjoy myself.  I would have loved to have heard more about his private life and delve deeper into the emotional nature and consequences of his personal failures.  But, this is the problem.  The directors are clearly fans.  This is both a positive and a negative.  They guide De Palma towards revealing a lot of interesting stories, but I can imagine it would be intimidating to ask the tough questions of your personal idols.

I wholeheartedly recommend this film.  Any fan of filmmaking should enjoy this a great deal. If you are interested in how the aesthetic of a film is created, how actors work together, failure and success in film, or simply the work of a director you will absolutely enjoy this film and learn something. The greatest compliment I can give this film, is that it made me want to go through De Palma’s entire catalog. Especially Blow Out. Seriously, people. Watch Blow Out immediately. And then watch De Palma. Thank me later.

De Palma (2015) Trailer

Be sure to follow David on Twitter and check out his excellent podcast Pop Culture Case Study, where he reviews film by pairing psychology with pop culture.

Here is Pauline Kael’s raving review of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981)

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