De Palma is a documentary by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow featuring director Brian De Palma talking directly to camera about his life and movies. Far from dull, this uncluttered, straightforward format is the perfect introduction to the veteran director’s varied career.
Part of the same Warner Brothers generation as Spielberg, Scorsese and Coppola, De Palma talks candidly about his successes as well as his failures. It’s this candid approach that makes this documentary an interesting watch. He really reveals some interesting juicy morsels.
After the success of Scarface he was given carte blanche by the studio in 1984 to direct Body Double. ‘It was all great until they saw it,’ says De Palma and the film was rightly attacked for its strong violence, especially against women. Body Double depicts a beautiful woman being brutally murdered by a huge hand-held drill.
There had been successes of course, such as the genre defining Carrie. In spite of the mistakes such as Body Double, De Palma went on to direct The Untouchables where one of the first things he did when he came on board was to replace Bob Hoskins, bringing in his friend Robert De Niro to play Al Capone who he felt needed to be played by an iconic American actor.
De Palma claims to be the sole survivor of the Hitchcock school. ‘I never found too many people who followed after the Hitchcock school except for me,’ and if by that he means inheriting some of the great master’s problematic treatment of women who are we to disagree? He is, however, very articulate on Casualties Of War his anti-Vietnam movie which tackles war and rape and the USA’s fondness for invading other people’s countries head-on.
De Palma talks engagingly and frankly about his life as well as his work. ‘My true wife is my movie. Not you!’ sounds totally honest at least after three failed marriages. But there are other insights too.
From the man who directed the first commercially successful Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise way back in 1996 there’s a real understanding of the artistic and creative failures of many blockbuster franchises.
With some many action sequences in these films everything gets ‘previsualised’ and with so much of the production done on computers, De Palma says you end up with ‘many visual clichés’.
So the secret to making great films is original ideas and an originality of approach. You can’t help thinking the old guy knows a thing or two about films.