"I MET NOAH AT A BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR PAUL SCHRADER TWENTY YEARS AGO AND JAKE AT A PARTY ABOUT TEN YEARS AGO"
Here are some more interviews and reviews of De Palma from the Venice Film Festival last week:
Owen Williams, interviewing Brian De Palma for EMPIRE
There were not many surprises at this year’s Venice Film Festival, but one film that proved an unexpected joy was De Palma. A simple talking-head documentary, featuring Brian De Palma gassing happily about his entire CV from Murder A La Mod to Carrie to Scarface to Passion, it’s directed by the unlikely team of Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.
“I met Noah at a birthday party for Paul Schrader twenty years ago and Jake at a party about ten years ago,” De Palma told Empire in Venice. “And we just had a rapport and a love for movies”.
“There were so many conversations we had with Brian and things he would talk about that at a certain point we thought we should just ask him to talk about it on camera,” says Paltrow. “It was selfish at first. So we asked and he was up for it.”
The film drew overwhelmingly positive reviews after its first press screening because it’s not just a piece for fans of De Palma, but a thorough, sometimes rather indiscreet, monologue on what it’s like to go from being part of the explosion of young ‘70s filmmakers, alongside Spielberg, Lucas and Scorsese, to becoming part of the Hollywood establishment, to then falling out of favour.
“Well you don’t want people thinking they’ve heard the same anecdote 863 times, because I’ve been asked about certain films rather a lot,” says De Palma. “My relationship with these two directors and my feelings for them and the questions they’re answering, means I’m not going to be stylized and on script”.
“What we were looking for was to get the feeling of those dinners we’ve had where Brian would regale us with these incredible stories,” says Baumbach. “And I think that’s what we got”.
Noah Baumbach seems an unlikely director to be making a film about you – his films are very different from yours.
I tend to be attracted to film-makers who are not like me at all. I met Noah almost 20 years ago – I immediately liked him, he’s very bright. Because we approach cinema from different directions, we were fascinated by our different views on how to tell a story. They did their interview with me five years ago, in Jake Paltrow’s living room, shooting on this digital camera, with Noah doing the sound. It was like the old cinema school days – you had three people and that was your crew.
You and your contemporaries, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and George Lucas, were influenced by French directors such as Godard, yet you all ended up becoming American classics.
You’re in the right place at the right time, and you end up getting all these influences from the French New Wave, and the Hollywood system’s breaking down... We were all at Warner Bros at the same time – Francis had done Finian’s Rainbow there, Marty was there, I was there, and I knew Steven [Spielberg] through Margot Kidder, who was my girlfriend at the time, and that’s how we all came together...
You made a film about American involvement in Iraq – Redacted – before The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty made it respectable for US cinema to tackle such issues.
People disliked it in America. You can’t criticise the troops. It was [my Vietnam film] Casualties of War all over again – you put these kids in a situation, old men sending young men to war in places that are completely mysterious to them, and a culture that they don’t understand, driven by a political ideology that makes no sense whatsoever, and they go crazy. You feel so frustrated that your country is involved in something that you’re financing with your taxes, that you have no power to stop. Unlike Vietnam, where there were pictures that finally turned off the country, there are no pictures, there are just drones shooting people out of heaven.
De Palma contains some great stories about difficulties on set – like Orson Welles refusing to learn his lines on your 1972 film Get to Know Your Rabbit.
What does he care? He’s playing a tap-dancing magician in some silly comedy. A lot of actors, when they get older and extremely famous, think learning lines is not really necessary any more, whether it’s Brando or Orson or Bob De Niro, and they come up with excuses like, “It’s gonna be more spontaneous.” When you see them looking around the set, you think they’re taking a dramatic pause – they’re really looking for the line over there or over there.
“My movies tend to upset people a lot,” De Palma says in the documentary. Not that it particularly bothers him.
In the documentary - titled simply “De Palma” - the filmmaker turns out to be a funny, perceptive and candid judge of his own work...
De Palma, who received the festival’s Glory to the Filmmaker Award before a Venice screening of the documentary on Wednesday, said “it’s kind of overwhelming, literally, to have your whole life and movies lived in front of you in two hours.”
“But it’s very honest and it’s very much me,” he said. “I have a sense of humor about what I’ve done. How could you live life in this business and not have a sense of humor?”