Brian De Palma is a fantastic filmmaker, one of my favorites in fact. I always thought he was closer to Alfred Hitchcock than any of his filmmaking contemporaries like Spielberg, Scorsese, or Coppola. His films are too beautifully made to be considered B-movies, and too schlocky and fun to be completely mired in pretention. Directed by Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach, De Palma is a documentary film that celebrates Brian De Palma’s illustrious career. Comprised almost solely of a recent interview, photos, and clips from De Palma’s body of work, De Palma doesn’t really feel like a movie, it feels more like an amazing special feature you’d find on a collector’s edition of a DVD or a Blu-ray; I feel like there just should have been more to it. Before I watched this, I had the pleasure of watching HBO’s documentary on Kurt Cobain, Cobain: Montage of Heck; it’s this wonderful documentary with interviews, animations, and different perspectives that paint this really encompassing picture of who Kurt Cobain was and why he was so special, and here it’s a bit of a letdown just experiencing the story solely from Brian De Palma’s point of view, and in a way that lacked style and substance deserving of someone like De Palma.
On the plus side, listening to Brian De Palma talk about his passion for his work is very genuine and sincere, say what you will about his films and the controversies he’s bred, but he’s a gifted and exceptional filmmaker with a career spanning decades. As a fan of De Palma’s work, it’s fantastic to take a trip down memory lane as he discusses nearly every single one of his films individually, telling stories about the writing process, living life on the sets, dealing with difficult actors, and reacting to box office aftermaths. It feels like everything is touched upon, from lesser-known gems like Get to Know Your Rabbit and Phantom of the Paradise to his iconic films like Scarface (1983), Carlito’s Way, The Untouchables, and Carrie. Some things are glossed over, and other things are waxed on a bit more philosophically and analyzed deeper.
This is a one on one experience with De Palma, and I wonder if hearing other people’s perspectives and opinions on De Palma and his films would have made for a more engaging experience. Again, it just feels more like an amazing DVD special feature and less of a documentary film I’d want to experience in a theater. Maybe having someone else’s angle would shake that feeling? I loved hearing De Palma speak about his films, and his passion does come across for most of the films he reflects upon, but I also can’t help but wonder how someone who is unfamiliar with De Palma’s work would receive this documentary. How would someone who doesn’t have the same level of appreciation that I have for Brian De Palma feel about a film that is essentially two hours of a guy talking about making movies that they’ve probably never even seen? This is a film for film fans, and more specifically fans of Brian De Palma, but unfortunately there’s not much that’s going to suck the casuals in…but fuck it, you know? This is Film Threat, and more than likely you’re reading this review because you know exactly who the fuck Brian De Palma is and you’re a fan of his work. You’ll dig this movie a ton, because it’s basically a master filmmaker taking a stroll down memory lane and exploring what makes his work stand out. If you’re a random person that just happened their way upon this review, go watch De Palma’s films and study them, they’re worth it, trust me; he’s an incredible artist with visual substance and the gift of masterful storytelling.
De Palma (2016) Directed by: Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach. Starring: Brian De Palma.
7 out of 10