Of all the movie brats who would go on to have long and fruitful careers from the 1970s onward, Brian De Palma remains one of the more controversial. He’s helmed some indisputable classics, including “Carrie,” “Blow Out” and “Carlito’s Way,” along with many other early thrillers, often heavily indebted to his idol Alfred Hitchcock. De Palma’s detractors, however, often claim he is little more than a talented technician: a sleazebag artiste who disguises rank misogyny and a cruelly cynical view of the world behind the visual fireworks that are part and parcel with his approach.
Whatever side of the fence you fall on, it’s hard to dispute that De Palma is a gifted and hard-working storyteller: he’s been in the game for almost half a century now, even if some of his later films have failed to live up to the promise of his reputation. And now, just a couple days after the director’s seventy-fifth birthday, a new video tribute from Hello Wizard has arrived online that examines De Palma’s rich and varied filmography in its totality.
For the De Palma die-hards, it’s all here: the vaguely political early stuff, (“Greetings,” “Hi, Mom!”) the nasty early potboilers, (“Obsession,” the terrific “Sisters”) all the way to the lucratively popular gangster saga “Scarface” to newer efforts like his “Mission Impossible” flick and the soggy, ill-fated noir “The Black Dahlia.” The video is a reminder, as if any was needed, of De Palma’s tremendous gifts as a visual storyteller.
There’s a reason that Edgar Wright has continually cited De Palma as an influence, specifically “Blow Out,” (which he listed as his top Criterion pick) “The Fury” and his wonderfully trippy horror musical “Phantom of the Paradise,” which was said to be a big influence on Wright’s own “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” Few directors utilize the visual element of cinema quite like De Palma does – the man will employ any technique (split-screen, slow-mo, split diopter shots, voiceover, etc.) to tell the story just his way. It’s a pretty great compilation, and hopefully it will inspire cinephiles who aren’t as familiar with De Palma’s work to dig into the crates a bit.
One of the younger filmmakers who De Palma has befriended is New York’s native neurotic Noah Baumbach, whose own wistful, character-driven comedies are miles away from De Palma’s more genre-friendly approach. The two must be pals, since Baumbach just teamed up with Jake Paltrow for a feature-length documentary on the older director (check out our own Jessica Kiang’s review from Venice). Baumbach also interviewed De Palma for the Criterion restoration of his 1981 thriller “Blow Out,” arguably his masterpiece, and he’s back in the saddle again, as they say, to talk to De Palma about one of his most popular pictures, the bloodthirsty erotic crime flick “Dressed to Kill.”
The two men specifically discuss the film’s infamous museum sequence, where De Palma remarks that he was merely adhering to one of cinema’s most tried-and-true formulas: following a beautiful woman around an alluring space. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that – the acclimation of the audience to the geography of the location in play, the director’s cunning use of split-screen to reveal the killer’s location – but it’s a neat insight into the man’s method regardless. The Baumbach/Paltrow-directed doc – which is called, simply, “De Palma” – sounds, on the basis of the first round of reviews, as fleet and snippy as Baumbach’s last few directorial efforts, in addition to being incredibly informative and insightful about De Palma’s career and creative process.
Watch both clips below. “Dressed to Kill” is currently available through the Criterion Collection, while the doc “De Palma” has recently been acquired by A24.