CHRIS ALEXANDER: "THE FIRST AND LAST WORD ON THE MAN AND HIS WORK"
Shock Till You Drop's Chris Alexander posted a highly positive review of De Palma yesterday. "It’s a rapturous gift to the hardcore De Palma admirer, of which this writer is one, loud and proud," states Alexander. "In fact, so smitten was I by this picture, I watched it 3 times in succession. It’s a master class. The first and last word on the man and his work."
Alexander later enthuses that the documentary is "remarkable not just because of its edifying look at an important body of cinema, but remarkable because of just how much the duo get out of the De Palma. I’ve interviewed De Palma, twice. There’s a science to it. He’s guarded. It takes the right questions, the right amalgam of word and gesture to get him to open up; one misstep and he closes down just as quickly. So to see De Palma so light and excited, speaking so freely and candidly is a joy to behold. The man is damn near jovial!
"Mind you, De Palma is masterfully edited, cutting between the chatty director and a flurry of incredible clips from the films themselves (there goes the budget!) and behind the scenes stuff from De Palma’s vaults (love the 8MM footage of Steven Spielberg, De Palma’s former best friend and the director’s ex-wife, actress Nancy Allen, sending love out to their colleague; a beautiful snapshot of a time and place that exists only in myth). So, who knows how hard Baumbach and Paltrow worked to get their mentor into his comfort zone. Either way, they did and it’s amazing.
"DE PALMA will be an orgasmic experience for the faithful. But it is also required viewing for every aspiring director who dreams of making commercially successful product, while still maintaining the pure vision of an artist. Truly, it’s difficult to think of another Hollywood filmmaker who has so deftly managed to make such personal work on such a grand scale."
Jesse Hawken of Torontoist posted a review of the documentary last week, in anticipation of the Hot Docs Film Festival:
This film is a chronological tour of De Palma’s complete filmography, guided by the director himself with a bounty of clips and juicy stories about a career full of fights with actors (he had a tough time working with Cliff Robertson on his first big budget film Obsession), studios (Columbia Pictures wouldn’t let him cast the porn star Annette Haven in his erotic thriller Body Double), and the ratings board (which came to a head when he got an X rating for Scarface after submitting three versions, finally putting all the violence back in). De Palma is candid when discussing the highs and lows of his 50-year directing career: he passed on directing Flashdance and Fatal Attraction; he says he lost his nerve adapting Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of The Vanities; and feels he never made a better film than Carlito’s Way.
The final section of the film is unexpectedly moving as it heads into the director’s decline, which began after his greatest box office success Mission: Impossible, as he got lost in making the visual-effects-heavy Mission To Mars; its spectacular failure at the box office was the end of De Palma’s American career, as he looked to Europe for financing and the years between features lengthened. As illustrated by the clips from his recent, less-consequential works like Passion and The Black Dahlia, De Palma understands, like his hero Hitchcock in the years after Psycho, that his glory days are behind him, that the industry has changed around him, that it gets harder as one gets older.
Directors Baumbach and Paltrow are obviously huge admirers of De Palma’s work, and the film succeeds as a solid testament to his career and importance. This film is a feast for De Palma lovers who may not be so familiar with the smaller, harder-to-see films from earlier in his career, like Greetings, Get To Know Your Rabbit, and Home Movies; conversely, this clip-heavy documentary might not be the best place to start for newcomers to De Palma’s work, as the twists and climaxes to some of his greatest films will be ruined for you, especially the magnificent downer ending of Blow Out.