De Palma (NYFF Review)

De Palma (NYFF Review)

Boasting the most in-depth Brian De Palma interview that he's likely ever done, revealing the inimitable thought process behind a legend's career.

8 /10

It can’t get more direct than getting to hear the word from the source himself. De Palma features only one interview subject: the Blow Out, Carrie and Scarface (how do you only choose three?!) filmmaker, Brian De Palma. What could have easily been a self-indulgent or rose-tinted retrospective discussion is made fascinating by De Palma’s openness about his aspirations and influences, as well as his willingness to admit to several failures. That forthright demeanor is what might make De Palma accessible to those who don’t even consider themselves De Palma fans in the slightest. It’s also why, for the De Palma championers, this documentary is an ideal look into the director’s collected works. Brian De Palma’s noteworthy career is put into new perspective by the man at its helm.

Filmmakers Noah Baumbach (Greenberg, Frances Ha) and Jake Paltrow (The Good Night, Young Ones) seem like an odd pair to author a portrait on the legendary Brian De Palma; however, the trio of directors frequently have dinner with one another, engaging in conversations apparently not too dissimilar to this one—filmed in Paltrow’s living room. Baumbach & Paltrow jump cut through De Palma’s responses in a way that maintains a speedy pace. The rapid assembly assures that the film never really wastes a moment. They briefly acknowledge the filmmaker’s upbringing before speeding into De Palma’s early career, leaving most of the runtime for diving into his filmography piece by piece. Certain sections go into greater depth than others, although it’s not always the expected films where De Palma decides to go into detail. His work on the aforementioned films as well as The Bonfire of the Vanities, Casualties of War and Home Movies are all given extended sequences in which De Palma gets specific on his vision, then trashes on all subsequent film and TV versions of Carrie.

De Palma has plenty of name-dropping and behind-the-scenes stories to satisfy movie nerds. Some photosets show De Palma dining with friends Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg—there’s even an old home movie of Spielberg calling Lucas from a car phone. Among the most fascinating looks into the production process that De Palma provides is the director’s account of how he became attached to Scarface, before abandoning the film while Sidney Lumet took over, only to return to the director’s chair before filming commenced. When De Palma brings up his inspirations, from personal experiences like watching his doctor father’s surgeries to cultural influences like Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, the movie makes the filmmaker’s artistic ambitions much clearer.

There are points where De Palma’s single subject structure limits its insights. De Palma mostly waves off the accusations of misogyny in his films and chooses to not elaborate on his divorces. Yet, De Palma is willing to address his legacy honestly more than one would assume from a director of his stature. The result is a captivating look through an iconic filmmaker’s work that goes far beyond a simple DVD commentary feature. The documentary sheds enough light on the long list of movies attributed to Mr. De Palma that you’ll want to revisit the ones you’ve seen and finally watch the titles that you’ve put off.

De Palma (NYFF Review) Movie review

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