2013 - PACKED HOUSE FOR DE PALMA Q&A IN MANHATTAN
Flashback ten years ago to 2013 - in an introduction to a 2014 De Palma retrospective at Chicago's Doc Films, Dan Wang recalls a packed house for a Passion-related De Palma Q&A which had taken place the previous summer:
When Brian De Palma was to give a Q&A at Lincoln Center in Manhattan this summer (on the occasion of the wider release of his latest film, Passion), I asked the guy at the ticket office if he expected a long line. He doubted it. "De Palma isn't really relevant anymore," he said. I ended up sitting on the floor at the back of the hall behind a concrete pillar, despite showing up an hour and a half early; half the line was turned away.
One can see what he means. De Palma's favorite themes--dangerously erotic women, voyeurism, psychological horror--seem like the titillations of faded era. Compounding these obsessions is his insistence on an extremely smooth, controlled and virtuosic style that's hopelessly far from current anti-formalist vogues. Recent hits like Aronofsky's Black Swan (2010) and Soderbergh's Side Effects (2014) tell De Palmian stories but dress them up in camera and video production styles currently in fashion (i.e. on YouTube); hence the rejection of De Palma's importance is also the rejection of a particular, classical way of making films.
De Palma is still relevant because his films remind us of the exhuberant joy of intelligent filmmaking--of an attitude to film worlds that Godard called, in reference to Hitchcock, the "control of the universe." Even his worst films have moments that leave one gasping at their beauty; his best ones feel like a confirmation of everything movies ought to be. In this partial retrospective (De Palma has an output that sprawls in genre and ambition of some thirty films), we feature a mix of De Palmas: movies of psychological horror (Sisters, Raising Cain), gangster films (Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito's Way), a musical (Phantom of the Paradise) and, of course, classic, pervy, Hitchcockian, joyous De Palma (Hi, Mom!, Body Double, Femme Fatale).
Let me give the final word to Pauline Kael, famed New Yorker film critic, who appraised De Palma's place in the American filmmaking pantheon this way, in the early eighties: "De Palma has sprung to the place that Altman achieved with films such as McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Nashville and that Coppola reached with the two Godfather movies--that is, to the place where genre is transcended and what we're moved by is an artist's vision."