BAUMBACH/PALTROW DOCUMENTARY SCREENS AT NYFF TONIGHT
Stephen Schaefer, The Boston Herald
"I saw the first-rate Noah Baumbach-Jake Paltrow documentary De Palma which unfolds as a virtually nonstop monologue by the filmmaker directly addressing the camera – and the audience – as he sits in what looks like his Fifth Avenue apartment. In chronological order Brian De Palma, now basically retired and a longtime mentor and friend to the two filmmakers, discusses every one of his films, interjected with what seems almost a stream of consciousness various clips of his movies – from the earliest student days with an unknown Robert De Niro to CARRIE, BLOW OUT, THE UNTOUCHABLES, BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -- and to those many films he references which, yes, are mostly Hitchcock’s films. It’s a delicious immersion, often funny and enticing enough to make you want to go back and plunge into DePalma’s often violently grotesque landscapes again (or for the first time)."
Jesse Hassenger, Brooklyn Magazine
"This is my fourth year covering the New York Film Festival, and one of my fondest festival memories, oddly enough, is seeing Brian De Palma’s Passion back in 2012. Hardly anyone would dare call it one of De Palma’s best; at very least, the blood isn’t richly liquid enough, and if you want to get more detailed, you might point out that the entire first half is kind of stilted and alien-sounding. But despite that tininess the whole audience seemed to identify it early on as a De Palma retro palate cleanser a la Raising Cain and Femme Fatale, and what at other screenings might have been mistaken for unintended laughter sounded, to me, like a collective acknowledgment of the very film-crit pleasures in observing a master filmmaker play around with his favorite tropes ('I didn’t know you had a twin' is not a laugh line, but it plays like a knowing joke to the De Palma faithful).
"It’s appropriate, then, that my first NYFF screening this year was De Palma, a documentary by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow that parlays their friendship with the director into a career overview.
"These kinds of docs are not uncommon, though they tend to run on PBS or HBO; Richard Linklater had one just last year with 21 Years, an affable look at his filmography that played a bit like a promo piece for Boyhood. But De Palma, culled from thirty to forty hours of conversations and pruned to only include De Palma’s voice, not his interviewers’, is more comprehensive and film-buffier than most. This is a full run-down covering every single movie he’s directed; Passion (which, sadly, remains his most recent fiction feature as of this writing) is the only one he doesn’t address directly, because the footage was filmed about five years ago, before that film was complete (Baumbach and Paltrow do include clips, though, as De Palma finishes up talking about how he’s returning to smaller indies after decades in and out of the studio system). If you’ve ever wanted to hear De Palma talk about Bonfire of the Vanities or Mission to Mars or Raising Cain alongside Blow Out and Dressed to Kill, this is your movie. And this is definitely my movie."
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
"But the doc transcends mere film-buff details for a fascinating, slowly emerging portrait of a pigheaded provocateur, maybe somewhere on the spectrum. Why did Body Double’s murder weapon, a model-impaling power drill, have to be so long and phallic? That’s only logical, of course: 'It had to go through the floor too.' Why does De Palma’s camera chase so many leggy female victims? 'I'd rather be following around a girl than a guy.' Why did his marriages end? 'My true wife is my movie, not you.' De Palma’s straightforwardness is often exhilaratingly impolitic.
"Even more absorbing than this defensiveness, though, is De Palma’s obvious fury at defeats that still sting. Cursed with a razor-sharp memory at age 70 (these interviews were shot in 2010), the director seems to recall every tiny dispute and major war, from arguments with 's script doctor Robert Towne over the ending, to the vast critical dislike for his Hindenberg version of The Bonfire of the Vanities: 'I understood the book perfectly,' he spits, clearly reacting to critical snubs from 25 years ago, while also allowing that it was a disaster.
"It all adds up to an exposure that goes well beyond appraisal, entering into rare realms of frustration, dysfunction, euphoria and cynicism. Baumbach and Paltrow do De Palma's work justice via intelligently selected clips, a string of which—dating from 1974’s Phantom of the Paradise and the now-classic Carrie, to daring ’80s triumphs like Blow Out and Casualties of War—should be a religious experience for fans. But this is hardly a sermon. It's more like confession, the director still seething and replaying Vertigo in his head, lost in the curves of his career. De Palma is a public therapy session that upturns all expectations."
Steve Erickson, Gay City News
"I’ve always been skeptical of the claims made by the late Pauline Kael and her followers that Brian De Palma is a great director, although I think he’s made a handful of major films. By enabling de Palma himself to speak in an uninterrupted flow, De Palma directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow allow him to make a case for his body of work, as well as admit the flaws of films like Snake Eyes and Mission to Mars. De Palma races through the director’s life and filmography, juxtaposing an interview (in which Baumbach and Paltrow’s voices are never heard) shot against a plain dark background with plentiful clips from the work of De Palma and other directors.
"De Palma has been criticized for ripping off other filmmakers, especially Hitchcock, and for misogyny. He openly admits to the former –– in fact, De Palma opens with a clip from Vertigo –– but attributes feminist critiques of Dressed to Kill and Body Double to ‘80s fashion. As De Palma recounts his discovery of his voice and ability to launch a career, the film has a real joy. That largely fades after the ‘80s –– de Palma is honest about the probability that his glory days are behind him. Still, De Palma makes a great case for the merits of films like Carrie and Blow Out and leaves one wishing for a De Palma retro."
Fábio Andrade, Cinética
"In February of 2014, we dedicated an entire issue here at Cinética to filmmakers who, once names of certain prestige in the business they helped reshape, were now relying on alternative modes of production to keep making films that were smaller, more personal and no less impressive. 'I make movies like you guys now', says Brian De Palma at some point to the directors, about his rediscovered independence. For Baumbach and Paltrow, choosing to make a movie about him is certainly a consequence of an unlikely friendship, but the gesture also carries, even if unintentionally, a genealogical undertone, as the two new indies underline a titan of a long gone industrial ethos that they might want to carry forth in their work. Not only a sophisticated stylist, Brian De Palma is also an embodiment of the history of modern Hollywood, from the challenge of climbing the highest of all cinematic walls (which just happened to be crumbling to dust at the time) from the independent back lot to the major studios, to the laurels and the misery of being eaten alive by the unreliable tides of awards, improbable hits, major box office failures and late critical recognition that just barely got him a spot in contemporary auteristic pantheon. He’s seen it all, and an artist who’s seen it all tends to have stories to tell.
"That’s when things start getting a little funny in this one sided conversation. When we chose to write about how the sun was setting over a certain Hollywood here at Cinética, De Palma was not only part of this more or less arbitrary group of directors we elected (with the likes of Paul Schrader, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Abel Ferrara, Joe Dante and Monte Hellman), but was actually the heartbeat at the root of our drive: his latest film, Passion (2012), had then been gravely overlooked by distributors and film festivals alike in Brazil, while modern loves like Baumbach’s own Frances Ha (2012) were received by audiences and young cinephiles and critics with disproportional fanfare. Forcing a connection between the two events is not a path worth taking, but the pages of general taste have been turned and the safety net of the major indies does not set up itself. While there is undeniable beauty in Brian De Palma’s passionate reaction in the film to the way blockbusters are pre-made today, compared to how he made Mission: Impossible (1996) or Mission to Mars (2000), there’s a statement of just as eloquent a silence bubbling under the snippets of Hi, Mom! (1970), Greetings (1968) or Murder à la Mod (1968): there’s very little room, if any, for such displays of cinematic confrontation in the american 'indies' of today.
"This lack of confrontation is just as much part of the choice of a question-less interview as the director’s respectful devotion to their older friend. There are many interesting problems waiting to be uncrumpled in De Palma’s self-narration – the most provocative one involving a source in Redacted (2007), which the movie quickly brushes off, despite the director’s relative serenity in dealing with a major ethical dilemma – but any possibility of taking things one step beyond a mere report is sabotaged by the film’s elegant passivity. In fact, whenever Baumbach and Paltrow risk a more interventional relationship with the material, it leads to awkward, if not downright embarrassing demonstrations of cinematic cluelessness – the illustration of a never made hip hop version of Scarface (1983), for example, is a rare moment when the editing willfully contradicts De Palma’s take on his own history, and one can only be glad it’s such an isolated incident. The fact that the documentary manages to come out relatively unscarred from tabloidian gossip might make it look slightly more serious than Robert B. Weide’s Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012), but it is just as shallow and personality-centered, and just as influenced by the paradigms of news broadcasts and talk shows. Everybody loves anecdotes, and there are certainly some gems here, but the true cinematic reflections are slim and, worse, patiently waiting to be found, excavated and brought up to the surface. 'It’s always the run-up to what happens that is interesting and of course in my movies the run-ups last forever' might be a great open door to De Palma’s mannerist take on hitchcockian grammar, but the movie is happy to keep its doors shut, and let such penchant for self-reflexivity die on the shore in the form of a punchline."
Rich Juzwiak, Gawker
"Filmmaker Brian De Palma is an engrossingly frank talker whose terrifically entertaining movies sometimes take years to accrue the fandom they deserve (Scarface’s cultural impact didn’t peak until about a decade after its release, and the once-reviled Body Double is now remembered fondly by many cinephiles). So a retrospective documentary honoring his work seems overdue, but Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s De Palma is merely serviceable. Filmed over the course of five days in Paltrow’s living room, the film chronicles De Palma’s movies in order with copious clips over his commentary. That it holds your attention for its entire 107 minutes is testament to the director’s extensive filmography and its magnitude of impeccably composed thrills.
"Though De Palma occasionally goes deep—at one point, he explains that the basis of Keith Gordon’s Dressed to Kill character came from his teenage spying on his father when he was cheating on De Palma’s mother—he’s not particularly challenged here and is able to, for example, dismiss criticism of his movies’ perceived misogyny with just a few words. He isn’t distastefully arrogant, nor does he flinch when discussing his numerous flops, but I didn’t get the sense that Baumbach and Paltrow were able to extract much more from him than your average interviewer (he was similarly open with me, seemingly willing to take on whatever question I’d throw at him, when I spoke to him by phone a few years ago). Because of its softball-interview nature (aside from a few seconds of him walking down the street, we only see De Palma sitting in Paltrow’s living room), De Palma feels like one of those feature-length docs that ends up stuck on a DVD as a bonus—but a good one."
David Morgan, CBS News
"Reveries of sensuality and blood-soaked violence mark the work of director Brian De Palma. In a new documentary, the filmmaker recounts a career which has known box office success and failures, and of being both a critical darling and a whipping post of attacks nearly as violent as his movies...
"We hear De Palma's intellectualization of cinematic language, sparked by his early screening of Hitchcock's Vertigo, which proved a career-long inspiration for him. He also explains why some tricks of the trade are or are not effective, such as the split-screen montages in Sisters (which worked) and Carrie (which didn't)...
"His use of Hitchcock's stylistic trappings was always a signature of his work, particularly his suspense films. But De Palma set himself apart by the blood, violence and sex which Hitchcock could only suggest. He rather casually regards the criticism of his portrayal of women as victims of violence or targets of the male gaze (and if you'd forgotten, the film's generous clips will remind you). And yes, he understands why the caustic ending of Blow Out (in which a dying woman's gut-wrenching scream is looped into a schlock horror movie) generated such ire. How could it not?
"What is more valuable about this documentary are the personal stories that colored De Palma's creative output, such as Keith Gordon's character in Dressed to Kill, a young student who spies on a psychiatrist's office in order to catch a criminal -- it is similar to the young De Palma who spied on, and caught, his philandering father with his mistress.
"We also get gossipy reminiscences of his colorful dealings with Hollywood stars. Cliff Robertson, the male lead in the romantic melodrama Obsession, comes off as a jerk who made acting difficult for costar Genevieve Bujold, while Sean Connery hilariously objected to all the bullet squibs for his Tommy gun death scene in The Untouchables. (De Palma is incredulous that Mr. James Bond had never before worn a squib!)"