How much do I love this movie? Let me count the ways. De Palma is not much more than a conversation with polarizing director Brian De Palma accompanied by brilliantly chosen clips from the films that make up the rollercoaster of his remarkable career. Oh, but what a conversation — juicy, jolting, maddening, exasperating and indelibly informative. Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, filmmakers themselves and De Palma fans to the bone, haven’t gathered a bunch of talking heads to debate De Palma’s significance. They just put the man himself on camera, mic him up and let him rip. The result is heaven for movie lovers.
In deconstructing his career highs (Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out) and lows (The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Fury, Mission to Mars), his indie roots (Greetings, Hi Mom, Sisters) and his box-office smashes (Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, Mission: Impossible), the 75-year-old provocateur spares no one, especially himself. The guy has no filter and you prize him for it. Critic Pauline Kael, an early champion, credits De Palma for permeating his films with “the distilled essence of impure thoughts.” Haters call him a Hitchcock-cribbing misanthrope with a brutal fetish for watching women suffer, especially for wanting sex. They’re not totally wrong. De Palma has famously responded: “I’m always attacked for having an erotic, sexist approach — chopping up women, putting women in peril. I’m making suspense movies! What else is going to happen to them?”
De Palma doesn’t back off from controversy. The Jersey-born math, science and physics nerd talks about growing up as the son of a surgeon (the blood, baby!), and the times he followed his dad to nail him for infidelity — a detail that became part of the fabric of Keith Gordon’s character in Dressed to Kill. Actors who annoy him get taken down: He laces into his Obsession star Cliff Robertson for sabotaging the movie because he was jealous of his costar Genevieve Bujold. You’ll learn why Sean Penn acted like a dick to his Casualties of War costar Michael J. Fox, and why De Palma is bored by today’s computerized action flicks. It’s essential viewing for film fanatics and De Palma newbies. There’s no way you can get yourself wrapped up in this doc and not go binge his dark masterworks immediately after. Hell, even his flops (try Raising Cain) exert a perverse fascination. By all means, geek out. I did; now it’s your turn.