De Palma (2016)

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“Holy Mackerel!” – Brian De Palma every two minutes in De Palma.

Stylistically, this documentary is not as interesting or daring as its subject deserves (De Palma just sits in a room talking to a static camera?) but as a personal voyage through the filmography of one of cinema’s greatest visionaries it sure hits the spot.

As a De Palma obsessive since my teens, a lot of this information I’ve heard before on DVD special features or books of collected interviews but for people new to his work or those looking to dig a bit deeper into his back catalogue beyond the touchstones it’s the ideal starting point. The barrage of clips only emphasises how visually inventive and dynamic De Palma’s work is and to see so many awesome sequences in quick succession can be overwhelming. It reminds you that, really, there’s nobody making films like this right now.

I haven’t seen a movie released in the past twelve months that comes anywhere near De Palma’s audacity as a stylist. While watching him talk, you will mourn at the current state of the American filmmaker. Films like Phantom of the ParadiseCarrieBlow OutDressed to Kill and even sequences from lesser works Body DoubleRaising Cain, and Snake Eyes still feel vital. De Palma’s marriage of trash and art remains delicious and singular.

The documentary covers everything in his career, both professional and personal and De Palma, as always, is totally open and forthcoming. He seems at ease with his legacy and his place in the world having the distance to consider his failures objectively and his successes with hindsight. There’s a moment right at the very end, however, where De Palma talks about the physical state of the “old man director”. It is intercut, for the first time, with newly filmed shots of De Palma walking down the street. He looks to be struggling and not in the best physical shape putting any prospect of future movies in doubt. It’s an odd note to end on and is so brief and last minute that I wonder why Baumbach and Paltrow chose to hint at this tangent without exploring it.

I’m not sure De Palma amounts to anything more than a glamourised retrospective interview that might be more suited as a supplement on a Criterion bonus disc (Baumbach has interviewed De Palma previously for many of their releases of his films) but any excuse to see these sequences on as big a screen as possible can’t really be disputed. De Palma is a captivating speaker and with subject matter so entertaining and visually arresting the running time just vanishes. Plus, it’s good to have a kind of definitive statement on the man’s career that acts as a good point of reference for die hard fans and newcomers alike. Brian De Palma is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and also one of the most divisive. If nothing else, De Palma will inspire others to get involved with the conversation.

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