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De Palma

Director Brian De Palma recounts his five-decade career

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Director Brian De Palma was one of the much-heralded “kids” of 1970s Hollywood — upstarts like Lucas, Spielberg and Coppola, who combined a disregard for the hidebound ways of the studio system with a profound respect for those who had transformed classic cinema into a visual art form. Now 75, De Palma sits down for co-directors Noah Baumbach (filmmaker, and son of film critics) and Jake Paltrow (son of TV director and actress) to give a précis of his five-decade career.

De Palma speaks clearly in a straightforward manner, starting at the beginning and moving in a linear fashion. His recitation — delivered in an unvarying medium shot before a fireplace — is illustrated with clips from the films he is talking about and archival photos. He talks of his influences (Alfred Hitchcock, French New Wave) and his early days making films at Sarah Lawrence, in the 1960s, where he met a young actor named Bobby De Niro. He acknowledges his successes (Carrie, Dressed to Kill) and failures (Phantom of the Paradise, Bonfire of the Vanities), as well the unseen ascension of Scarface to cult hit and hip-hop cultural touchstone. He relishes his “bad boy” image and admits that his stubbornness was as much of a hindrance as a help.

Much of De Palma’s work has fallen off the radar these days, and fans will surely enjoy this stroll down memory lane, with its nuggets of back story and polite gossip. It’s not uninteresting, but with its largely static presentation, it’s akin to attending a lecture. Perhaps a livelier film could have employed an interrogator to ask follow-up questions and push back on some controversial topics, such as criticisms of De Palma’s on-screen depictions of women. But this is De Palma’s own accounting, and viewers can note that when he complains about being misunderstood or defends his work. 

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