INCLUDING "BRIAN DE PALMA IN 6 MINUTES" FROM ROMAIN DESBIENS (NSFW)
The A.V. Club has an exclusive clip from De Palma.
BBC News interviews Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.
Hello and welcome to the unofficial Brian De Palma website.
Here is the latest news:
a la Mod:
-Asked about Greetings and Hi, Mom!, De Palma says, "There are many things about them which I wish I had more of in my later films. They have a kind of spontaneity and life to them, because they're so rough, they're almost like sketches... I got very interested in developing a kind of a technique, and I went through about six films like that. Now I'm sort of moving back in the other direction, but I got very concerned with construction for many films. And sort of visualizations of stories and things like that. And I sort of got away from all this nutty, insane comedy that I used to do."
-Cavett: Who conceived the idea of a play in which the black cast attacked and raped members of the audience?
De Palma: I did. And I did it because there was a play I saw at the Public Theatre in which a black actor came out and assaulted the audience-- [starts pointing and mimicking] "You know what?!? [Scorsese is dying of inaudible laughter now] You're no good! You're no-- get out of here!!" And I see all these white people in front are going, [mimics sitting back and nodding in strong approval] "Yeah..." I couldn't believe this. [Scorsese continues to laugh, trying to control himself] We're sitting there being assaulted, abused, spit on, and they just said, "That's right! They're right!" You know, "We're no good-- right!" You know... they loved it!
Cavett: So you took the logical extension of that...
De Palma: No, it was, you know, big time of... Buck White, the year of those plays, where they just completely insulted the audience, and they just thought it was terrific.
-There is discussion about the different approaches/attitudes between De Palma and Scorsese regarding the types of films they each do. De Palma mentions that he has to have great (strong) actors, because his character scenes are so short/scarce, as compared to Scorsese, who explores scenes and dialogue with his actors, take after take. At one point, De Palma talks about the early cut he'd seen of New York, New York, saying it was "unbelievable at four and a half hours. Incredible." When asked by Cavett how so, De Palma continues, "Because, what's so fascinating about Marty is he takes all the variations on a theme in a scene and plays them all out. I mean that pick-up scene [to Scorsese], how long was that in the rough cut? [Scorsese says it was almost an hour] It was an hour long. The pick-up scene in the beginning of the movie, it was an hour long. And you can't believe it, it's like a ballet dancer jumping-- you can't believe they're going any higher. You know, he goes up, and up, and up, and up. [Whistles]"
19:20 Charlie Rose: Dream sequences.
19:23 Brian De Palma: I like dream sequences because I do a lot of dreaming, and I'm trying to make sense of them.
19:29 Charlie Rose: Do you really?
19:30 Brian De Palma: Yeah.
19:31 Charlie Rose: Well, but do you hire people to interpret your dreams?
19:34 Brian De Palma: No. But I get a lot of ideas from my dreams.
19:37 Charlie Rose: Do you really?
19:38 Brian De Palma: Yeah. If you go-- I don't know if this works for any of you guys, but if you're dealing with a problem and you go to sleep, somehow you work it out in your dream and you wake up and you're, ah-ha, that's it.
19:50 Charlie Rose: Does that happen to you?
19:53 Noah Baumbach: Yeah, versions of it. I don't put it in my movies.
19:58 Brian De Palma: Yeah, plus it's very stylized and you can do really crazy things.
Definitely go to the link above and read the entire column-- here's an excerpt:
Filmmaking has been my obsession since growing up in Laredo, Texas. I woke up thinking about movies. I fell asleep at night watching them. For me, De Palma was the apostle of cinematic technique. Delivering his sermons through the VHS tapes in my video store church. Pointing me in the direction of my own projection light. Bridging the gap between my cinematic fantasies and cinematic reality. This is how I watched Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Scarface and Body Double. De Palma’s camera was a character; he embraced it -- these were works of art that were defining the medium and moving it forward. He was breaking and reinterpreting the form. There was constant strategic and spectacular movement. There was color, sexuality, absurdity. He was literally directing you, telling you where to see. Everything seemed to be at the service of the movie. The images were alive. Iconoclastic works of energy that inspired cinematic curiosity. This first film of his that I watched in the theater was The Untouchables. I was 14 or 15 and went back with my father half a dozen times. I found myself mesmerized by the production design, the lighting, the score -- the great spectacle. Another monolith arose from the ground and I realized that cinema was also a collaborative enterprise.
My first week at NYU in the fall of 1990, while walking in the Village, I saw Brian De Palma walking on the opposite side the street. We were on Sixth Avenue. He turned on to 8th Street towards Fifth Avenue. And I did the natural thing: I followed. There he was, walking like a regular person. Propelling himself forward, one foot in front of the other, like any other mortal. Movies stars always looking smaller in the flesh, but De Palma was even bigger. I felt like a small-time mobster casing a target, or a De Palma steadicam shot. This was my secret, privileged moment.
Here was the man who taught me about storyboarding in a Premiere Magazine article that published his early Macintosh boards for Casualties of War. He opened me up to the actual craft. The engineering. The planning -- skills that would later lead to a tiny career of me boarding my way through college for extra money, working on independent and graduate thesis films.
Once in New York, I practically lived at Bobst Library, going through their video library, discovering films my local video store didn’t carry. Dionysus in '69, Sisters, The Fury, Blow Out and Phantom of the Paradise. And then, of course more Hitchcock -- and then there it was, De Palma’s playful relationship with the past and nod to the masters that shaped him. Studio films with a Hollywood scope that defied and maybe even played the system. He was exploring the past but remaining a trailblazer that energized me in the present. Although I was an intensely shy kid, I found myself in full-on attack mode when a classmate would dismiss one of his films. The Untouchables and Scarface could never be contested. But if someone would dismiss Blow Out, I’d pounce. There was an innate sense that I needed to protect the masters and their extraordinary vision, especially those who I felt were under-appreciated. It was my duty.
A couple of years later, he was shooting Carlito’s Way down the street from my dorm in the West Village. They were working nights and I would just watch from the sidewalk -- as close as a PA would let me get. Pacino. De Palma and Stephen Burum. Fake rain. The biggest set I had ever seen. It was quite literally the realization of my dreams; an extraordinary sensation that overwhelmed me and cemented that I had chosen the right career ... however long and however painful that journey might be. This search for an identity that had always plagued me because of the nature of where I was from, went away. I only needed to be defined by my dreams and hopefully, resilience, not unlike what -- from the outside -- De Palma has shown throughout his career.
Alan Scherstuhl on Mission to Mars (2000)
Let's not oversell this: The critics who lambasted De Palma and Disney's big-budget turn-of-the-century astronaut epic had themselves an easy target. The script is weak, the characters flat, the first ten minutes a stiff bore, and the last twenty or so a palate-offending stew of 2001's beyond-the-infinite mysteries and Close Encounters' humans-meet-aliens playdate — with the origins of life on Earth explained in something like a multimedia planetarium show. But in between, De Palma romps, as clever and geeky as that inventor kid Keith Gordon played in Dressed to Kill, building complex new dazzlements from pieces in Kubrick's toybox: elegantly rotating spacecraft, misadventures outside the airlock, hyper-competent astronauts casually comfortable in zero-g.
De Palma's "stick jockeys" — their term — are underwritten, but they have soul, especially the married couple played by Tim Robbins and Connie Nielsen, even if their idea of romantic accompaniment for a dizzying floating couple's dance is Van Halen. The camera (Stephen H. Burum served as d.p.) glides through three dimensions, in and out of the ships, with a fluidity we wouldn't see again until Gravity. The suspenseful problem-solving set pieces, meanwhile, are expertly shaped and -paced, building to a big-name death that also anticipates Alfonso Cuarón's 2013 Oscar winner. For a movie accused of being derivative, Mission to Mars is in the DNA of a crop of auteurist descendants, including The Martian and Interstellar. And De Palma, wittily, enlivens material that would seem tired in those: He uses the lag-time in interplanetary communication as an excuse to cut in cheery footage of characters who are actually in terrible danger, and the inevitable scene of space travelers watching recordings of people back home becomes one of the director's subtlest screen-splitting lulus.
One of Brian’s comments in the movie that struck me was his remark about Hitchcock, about how Hitchcock’s technique of returning to and reusing visual tropes was sort of dying with him, and how Brian saw himself in that tradition. As good filmmakers in your own rights, what did you guys think about that statement?
That’s our big takeaway from the movie as well, and it’s something that I don’t think we discovered until the editing of the film was finished. Brian sees this visual language, this visual storytelling that starts with Hitchcock. Naysayers claim it’s appropriation, but it’s not. If you look at it like a language or a dialect, it becomes a really compelling way of looking at Brian’s movies, because he’s doing it consistently. People have made movies that we think of as Hitchcockian, which means you make one or two things in that vein, a Body Heat, or a … the one with Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas —
Baumbach: Basic Instinct.
Paltrow: — these movies that are overtly Hitchcockian, but then that person will go on and make something totally different and not necessarily visually driven. But Brian is working in this language that he’s talking about, and we both thought that was a very exciting thing. It’s a very bold observation to make about yourself, but it’s so true, and it changes the way you think of Brian. It’s the ultimate definition for me.
Baumbach: Right, and it’s also been leveled against him, especially throughout his early career, as a negative. But Brian has no trouble owning it.
Do you think that his focus on a visual language rather than plot or scale is one of the reasons why he might have less mainstream name-brand recognition than some of his contemporaries from the ’70s, like Steven Spielberg or George Lucas?
Paltrow: I think a lot of peoples’ experiences with Brian is, I didn’t realize he made this, or he made that. It’s a very strong flavor that’s out there that people know — they just have to be nudged a little bit. And obviously, the people who like Brian and his movies tend to do so fervently.
BEFORE YOU GO SEE DE PALMA, THE NEW DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE DIRECTOR'S LIFE, HERE ARE A FEW THINGS TO KNOW
After a lifetime spent peering out from behind the camera, veteran filmmaker Brian De Palma becomes the subject of his own movie in De Palma, a documentary on his career made by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow. In the film, released last Saturday, De Palma takes his disciples on a guided tour through his filmography, and with them the anonymous audiences and potential filmmakers who have been watching and learning from his movies for decades. If you’re already a De Palma connoisseur, then by all means ignore me and head straight to theaters for your dose of film history. But for anyone who hasn’t yet become acquainted with De Palma’s movies, the documentary presents an occasion to dive into one of Hollywood’s weirdest and most accomplished artists.
De Palma is a perfectionist when it comes to his work, and his obsession with film history and techniques can make understanding his movies a little daunting. He is also, god bless him, a total perv, and while his tendency toward a kind of ironic horniness only makes his movies more endearing as you watch them, I can see how it might be disorienting if the first film you see unexpectedly features an oft-nude woman murdered by a gigantic, phallic power drill. As a fan who stumbled her way into Brian De Palma appreciation without a road map, here are my humble suggestions for anyone who is ready to take the plunge for the first time.
The Black Dahlia Years
The most important advice I can give you as you start your adventures with De Palma is to avoid being born in the early ’90s, which dooms you to the youthful error of picking up the first new De Palma movie you see at your local video store. Fortunately, there are no video stores anymore, but the point is that if you’re like me, this path leads to watching The Black Dahlia at 13 — long before your developing mind can wrap itself around any coherent sense of irony, surreality, or forgiveness — and then vowing never to watch a De Palma movie again. I came around eventually, but The Black Dahlia is a movie that is For Fans Only if there ever was one; with a plot that never stops unfolding, the only actor who seems to even have a clue what’s going on is Fiona Shaw, who adjusts to the mess around her by going completely bonkers. Critics and 13-year-olds declared it incoherent at the time, and while De Palma stans might find camp value in the movie’s never-ending twists, nonsensical lesbianism, and A-list bad acting, first-time De Palma viewers would be better off starting with a movie that offers more straightforward pleasures. The same word of caution applies to Passion, the glossy corporate thriller De Palma made a couple years ago with Rachel McAdams, which is mostly good, utilizing Skype as a 21st-century cinematic device several years before Unfriended — but which is also unfortunately hampered by a deranged (and not in a Fiona Shaw–esque, good way) performance by the Swedish Dahlia, Noomi Rapace. As a rule, recency is not the best path into De Palma, and if you can sidestep the hurdle of starting out with movies that might be older than you are, you’re already over the biggest challenge.
If you want to get on board with a documentary in which a grandpa talks about nothing but his own movies for two hours, I’m going to send you back to 1976 to watch the horror classic Carrie. Carrie is, truthfully, a bit of an anomaly among De Palma’s films — while he has dabbled in just about every genre, De Palma’s preferred filmmaking style tends toward mysteries and thrillers like his hero, Alfred Hitchcock. The themes of the occult that make the explosion of violence in Carrie so mesmerizing don’t really recur anywhere else in De Palma’s decidedly secular cinema. But what Carrie does highlight for first-timers is the pinpoint precision of De Palma’s formal style, his queasy ability to express unstable mental states through sound and image — think of the kaleidoscopes and split screens that accompany the start of Carrie’s attack on her high school prom — and the thin balance between sincerity and insincerity. Stephen King’s source material and Sissy Spacek’s performance ground the film in the relatable outsider’s perspective, but De Palma unsettles any sense of normal identification, pushing scenes like Carrie’s endurance of her mother’s religious ecstasies to melodramatic extremes. In De Palma’s hands, part of the film’s horror comes from not being sure if you should be laughing, crying, or screaming at the unfolding tragedy of Carrie White.
Sisters and Carlito’s Way
Where to go after Carrie is a little tricky, because Carrie is so good that if you start looking for Carrie equivalents you’re just going to come back disappointed. Sisters is a solid early De Palma outing focused on an actress who either has an evil twin or a killer case of multiple personality disorder. It hews closer to De Palma’s usual external preoccupations like murder and doubles without burrowing to the same emotional depths as the more psychologically introspective Carrie. The Untouchables is famous, but it’s also straight-up bad — its constant winks to classic films and Al Capone might constitute kitsch if only it weren’t following such a bland team of lawmen. Skip it until you’re so invested in De Palma movies that even a De Palma movie starring Kevin Costner can’t bore you to an Eisenstein-homage-themed hell. On the other hand, Carlito’s Way marries De Palma’s ostentatious style with a thoughtful story examining cycles of crime and recidivism — but it’s kind of a dad movie. Either watch with your dad or become a dad and then watch it.
For De Palma, 75, the film “De Palma” serves as both an overview of his career and as something of a primer on a life in moviemaking, showing a transparency that is refreshing from such a high-profile figure.
“I hope that, much like the book [‘The Devil’s Candy’] about ‘Bonfire of the Vanities,’ you just have an honest portrayal of what the process is like, you don’t pull any punches, you say exactly what happened,” De Palma said. “That’s the only way to convey to young audiences or people interested in movies how the system works.
“As you know, film journalism is mostly spin. You talk to people, they say the experience was great, I love working with so and so, it’s the best experience I ever had. And not until you’re in the Hollywood old-age home do you have anybody tell you the truth.”
Justin Chang: “Casualties of War” (1989). Some of the signature themes De Palma played with in “Body Double” — a man’s inability to save a woman’s life, the tragedy of seeing but not really seeing — achieve their fullest, darkest expression in this devastating Vietnam War drama, which feels like nothing he’s done before or since. If De Palma here favors a searing emotional directness over his usual stylistic trickery, “Casualties of War” nevertheless takes his love for “Rear Window” and “Vertigo” to its most sobering possible conclusion: There is no voyeuristic thrill in the spectacle of sexual violence he confronts us with this time, only a crippling sense of helplessness. De Palma achieves something here that few directors could: Even as he paralyzes us in our seats, he somehow deepens our capacity to feel.
Mark Olsen: “The Bonfire of the Vanities” (1990). In Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s documentary, De Palma shows his own penchant for insightful self-criticism when he laments that the biting social satire of Tom Wolfe’s original novel was watered down to make the movie’s characters more likable. Even so, watching “Bonfire” today it feels unexpectedly both buoyant and savage, a trenchant no-one-unscathed look at class, race, money and privilege that you can’t even imagine being made at this budget level today. While the all-access making-of book “The Devil’s Candy” clearly chronicles all that went wrong with the film, “Bonfire” is also a film that has become obscured by its notorious reputation. It proves an unspoken thesis of the documentary, that there are no minor De Palma films.
His apt analysis of what’s wrong with today’s computer-generated action sequences: “They’re pre-visualized. They’ve got it all in their computers. So what are you going to get? Many visual clichés.”
His equally apt appraisal of how his love of dramatic and visual structure sets him apart from other filmmakers. “The way you people make movies,” he tells his interviewers (and friends), “is you start with character and work outwards. I start with construction and work in.”
His take on Alfred Hitchcock, whom he studied and ardently emulated, some would say imitated: “People talk about Hitchcock being so influential. I’ve never found a lot of guys who followed in the Hitchcock school except me.”
His juicy stories about Tom Cruise and the veteran screenwriter Robert Towne during the making of “Mission Impossible.” Mr. Cruise comes off better than Mr. Towne.
The problem is that many of the clips Baumbach and Paltrow have selected are spoiler heavy - they reveal the endings of a number of De Palma’s films, which are plot-oriented and thus susceptible to major spoilage.
That makes me wonder just who this movie is for. If you’re brand new to De Palma the doc might very well turn you on to one of the greatest and most underappreciated filmmakers of the 20th century, but at the same time it could be robbing you of the sublime pleasure of experiencing De Palma’s machinations for the first time. If you’re a die-hard De Palma guy you’ll find little in here that’s new, although you’ll enjoy the experience of spending time with De Palma. I almost think the target audience for this film is the middle crowd, the movie dorks who have written off De Palma based on a few of his later films and the memeification of the idea that he apes Hitchcock (a charge easily backed up by De Palma’s own words in this film). De Palma feels like an attempt to reposition the legacy of a great filmmaker, an attempt that’s already working as the great rep societies on the east and west coast are doing major De Palma retrospectives in the wake of the film’s release.
That makes De Palma a kind of work of cinematic activism; it’s a full-throated defense of a man whose work towers over so many of his peers and yet is so often casually dismissed. I like that De Palma allows the filmmaker to take completely ownership of all the things at which a snobby critic would roll their eyes - his love of genre, his approach to movies that starts with plot and comes to characters second, his kinks and quirks, his interest in photographing beautiful women, his status as a self-described disciple of Hitchcock. All of the things that have been used to attack De Palma are true, but that doesn’t make those things bad.
For the last few years it’s been frustrating to see how people write off De Palma, even going so far as to devalue his earlier works. I love that De Palma takes a defiant stand against that movement, and that it even goes so far as to embrace his lesser films. If all that ever comes out of De Palma is a reappreciation of Casualties of War, it will have been worth it, but I suspect that De Palma will do much more for the filmmaker’s status than that.
Brand new 2K restoration from original film materials
High Definition (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD Presentations
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Brand new interview with John Lithgow
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh
MORE to be announced!
First pressing only: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by David Jenkins
De Palma, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s doc about celebrated filmmaker Brian De Palma, edged out the competition in three theaters this weekend. The A24 release grossed $30,856, averaging $10,285, making it one of the best non-fiction debuts of the year. The figure is also the weekend’s second-best per theater average, following Warner Bros.’ The Conjuring 2 at just over $12K. The top doc debut remains Sundance Selects’ Weiner, opening in 5 locations last month, averaging $17,105. Michael Moore’s Where To Invade Next is the year’s highest doc grosser at over $3.82 million.
“De Palma got off to a very solid start at the box office this weekend. Critics have responded with some of the best reviews of the year with the film at a whopping 97% on Rotten Tomatoes,” A24 said Sunday when reporting numbers. “De Palma, about one of the most celebrated and enigmatic filmmakers of our time, is being considered ‘one of the greatest films about a filmmaker ever.’” A24 will take De Palma to the top 50 markets and beyond in the coming weeks.
I recently saw “Blow Out” again, on a big screen, at Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, and Nancy Allen was there, and I was struck by the John Lithgow character—not just how sadistic he was, but the really unsettling way that you portray him. He really gets off on terrorizing women. The movie doesn't, though; the movie is appalled by him, I think. You have a lot of men in your movies who are macho, who are very macho, who are very often military, or they’re cops, or they’re a hyper-masculine sort of role model, and you seem really, really disgusted by their conditioning, by their behavior. Is part of your movies kind of a critique of the sorts of masculinity that other movies celebrate?
I don’t know. I don’t know if you can make a sweeping statement about these types of characters. John Lithgow’s character was very much based on G. Gordon Liddy. That was a very specific reference point, and I don’t think I ever had something quite like that again in a movie.
But in “Casualties of War” and some of the characters in “Carlito’s Way” and certainly in “Scarface” you see a kind of a ridiculousness to machismo.
They’re gangster movies; they’re war movies! Movies like that tend to be very masculine.
But you don't glamorize them, even though you sometimes find them funny or horrible. I was just curious about that, because I have read a lot about your work and have seen a lot of critiques of the kinds of stories you tell, and that’s one aspect I’ve always wondered about: your attitude about machismo, which feels like it's related to the way men terrorize women. You seem like somebody who is maybe not a political filmmaker in a way that some filmmakers are, but I wonder, could there be a political aspect to the way that you portray men and women?
It all came from the genre! You know? I don’t think there’s any through line, basically. I’m basically interpreting the material.
...It almost sounds like you’re saying the audience makes its choice, and you’re OK with it?
A movie is a work of art. It either exists and people keep looking at it, or it vanishes. So, I have very little to do with it, and a movie has basically got to find its own way. And many of my movies, people are still looking at 30 or 40 years later, so I guess there’s some value in it, because they’ve existed through the ages.
...Do you think there’s some truth to this idea that part of what a director does is preside over accidents? Or at least manage things that aren’t in their control?
Well you have to be incredibly prepared, because you have to have a plan when you go to shoot. But things happen: the weather, how the actor feels, what somebody ate the night before. You have to be aware and you have to be able to improvise, depending on what is happening in the moment.
There’s nothing like preparation for dealing with situations like that, so that you can shift from one thing to another painlessly.
Can you give me an example from your movies of something not going to plan, that satisfied you? Where you didn’t get to do what you wanted to do, but you still liked the result?
For “The Fury,” there was a very complicated panning shot that Carrie [Snodgrass] didn’t want to do, because she had to hit certain marks for it to work. She just couldn’t get her head around why she had to be at a certain place at a certain time, because it didn’t seem natural to her. So I had to sort of carefully adjust the shot to something that she understood in order to make it work, so that what I wanted to do and what she wanted to do was in harmony. And it all worked out fine. And she didn’t quite understand it until she saw the rushes.
The great disadvantage of directors of my generation, as opposed to directors working in the studio system, is that you don’t get to direct as many movies as they did. They were under contract, they were directing 52 weeks out of the year. So we think about what we’re doing and maybe get our chance out and do it once a year, if we’re lucky. Sometimes many years pass before you are directing [again]. You can learn a tremendous amount by just practicing your craft. And obviously the great directors of the generations before, either Hitchcock, Ford or Hawks, directed a tremendous number of pictures, nowhere near the number that we’ll ever get a chance to do.
Like any good work of criticism, “De Palma” will be catnip for passionate fans while also serving as a primer and a goad for the skeptical and the curious. Mr. De Palma is remarkable company — witty, insightful and neither unduly modest nor overbearingly vain. It’s almost hard to believe that he could have made so many wild, haunting and provocative movies, but by the end of the documentary, you may want nothing more than to see them all.
De Palma, a new 107-minute documentary about the man, directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, aims to change that fact by putting him squarely in focus. The director discusses his entire body of work, from the short films he made as a student all the way up through his late-career passion projects, and Baumbach and Paltrow edit the film so that it becomes one long monologue.
The documentary’s commitment to being thorough is admirable. But that urge to be comprehensive is also how De Palma shoots itself in the foot.
De Palma covers everything. Everything.
De Palma has directed nearly 30 films over the course of his decades long career. And since Baumbach and Paltrow want to make sure they find time for all of them — including those De Palma is obviously disconnected from or not that interested in, like his mid-’80s comedy Wise Guys — they end up truncating some interesting discussions in the name of checking every last one of the list.
Occasionally, De Palma will start a tangent about how he sees directors, fundamentally, as voyeurs, or how he thinks movie critics are driven more by the tastes of their time and aren’t great arbiters of actual quality, only for Baumbach and Paltrow to force the movie back into dissecting every single one of his films.
I caught Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow‘s De Palma (A24, 6.10) last night on Rodeo Drive, and pretty much loved every second of it. So much so that I intend to see it a second time at the Aero on Sunday night. It put me into film-maven heaven. It’s basically MCU footage of Brian De Palma sitting and talking about every film he’s ever made (process, personalities, politics, technique) and regaling the viewer with whatever anecdotes come to mind. No personal revelations or intimate details are offered — the film is strictly about nuts and bolts and personalities.
My only gripe is that De Palma moves too briskly and is over way too soon. (I would have preferred a running time of 120 or even 160 minutes rather than 107.) I’ve shared plenty of complaints about De Palma’s films over the years, especially the ones made after Snake Eyes, but they were all magically set aside as I watched the doc. I just sat there and kind of melted. The film is so much fun if you know the terrain.
As promised, I saw Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow‘s De Palma (A24, 6.10) for the second time at the Aero on Sunday night. It’s easily the most enjoyable portrait of a director doc I’ve seen in years, and of course your average T-shirted, backwards-baseball-cap-wearing megaplex stooge will avoid it like the plague. As clever as De Palma often was and as memorable as many of his careful choreography sequences are/were, I don’t think he ever topped this death-of-Frank-Lopez scene. One of the reasons it’s my all-time favorite is because it’s not show-offy. It’s plain but with a strong “uh-oh” undertow. You can really feel the hot breath of death on the back of your neck. And the “what about Ernie?” thing is a perfect mood-lightener.
“So I guess I’m the warmup,” said Martin Scorsese Thursday night at the Director’s Guild of America theater on 57th Street. That Scorsese was anything less than the main event speaks to the man he was introducing: Brian De Palma. The director of Body Double, Scarface and Carrie, among many, many others, was getting his own film treatment with a documentary on his oeuvre by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.
Simply titled De Palma, the doc is a live motion version of the director’s IMDb page, filmed as one long interview spliced with clips of his films. Though he was known for his bloody psychological thrillers (he was constantly combating the ratings board, often ending up with an X-rating), De Palma also had quite the reputation as a mentor—which is how his relationship with Baumbach (Frances Ha, Mistress America) and Paltrow first started. As well as with Scorsese: “Brian was the one who took my film, Who’s That Knocking at my Door, and me seriously, and sort of became a mentor in a way, supporting me all the time—arguing usually—but supporting, guiding me. And the biggest thing, introducing me to everyone he knew in Hollywood,” said Scorsese. “He would come in and help me edit Mean Streets; I was constantly having severe asthma bouts and he would come pick me up at the hospital, drive me home; he arranged for a mutual friend to introduce me to Rob DeNiro, which led to those films; he gave me the script to Taxi Driver.”
Betker later talked with Jake Paltrow at the after party at The Russian Tea Room. When asked if he could recall the first De Palma film he'd ever seen, Paltrow replies, "It was Body Double, and I saw it on VHS. I wasn’t allowed to see R-rated movies and I talked my parents into letting me see it because I was a big Hitchcock fan. And I said, 'Oh, there’s this movie by Brian De Palma,'—who they obviously knew and liked—'it’s a little like Rear Window…' And then I was sort of scarred by it, I mean in a good way, it really stuck with me."
When asked if he and Baumbach had to direct De Palma at all while making the film, Paltrow replies, "In a movie like this, the editing is the directing. The filming of it is just an extension of these conversations you’re having at dinner. And trying to just maintain the same intimate thing where everybody feels comfortable to talk about things in a way you wouldn’t with an interviewer."
When asked if his own directing has been influenced by De Palma's, Paltrow responds, "More and more in a way. Brian’s feeling about visual storytelling, and this idea of making these movies in a sort of visual way first has become a stronger influence now as I get older. Even though he’s always been an influence, I think I understand what he’s talking about better now than I did before. When he talks about the Hitchcockian visual story telling, it’s related to that."