More edited than directed, “De Palma” is rightfully content to let the director of such classics as “Carrie” and “Scarface” tell the story of his career. Seated comfortably in front of a fireplace, Brian De Palma retraces his steps over the past 50 years that put him in the “New Hollywood” company of Steven Spielberg, Geroge Lucas, and Martin Scorsese. De Palma forcefully maintains that for all of the adoration poured on Alfred Hitchcock, that he [De Palma] was the only filmmaker to embrace Hitchcock’s techniques and style. Sure he’s leaving out Claude Chabrol, but so what; he’s making a point.
From a cinephile’s perspective, hearing De Palma go on at length about nearly all of his movies in chronological order they were made is about as good as it gets. Co-directors Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach fulfill their role as documentarians by virtue of their congenial relationship with De Palma that allows him to be candid, funny, and insightful about a career filled with highs and lows. It may be a no-brainer to attach appropriate clips from films like “Sisters” and “Blow-Out” under De Palma’s fascinating descriptions of making the films, but this is exactly what the film demands, and what the audience expects and deserves.
Seeing a young Robert De Niro acting in a couple of De Palma’s early student films while studying filmmaking at Sarah Lawrence is a pure kick. Hearing the filmmaker discuss his use of split-screen imagery on “Sisters,” while watching the effect achieve his desired result of increasing suspense, is better than anything you’ll learn in film school. Indeed, “De Palma” serves as a multi-facetted lesson in filmmaking, directing, and the joys of making movies during the ‘70s golden era when anything seemed possible.
Especially enjoyable are De Palma’s anecdotes about such things as the way Sean Penn taunted Michael J. Fox on the set of his 1989 film “Casualties of War” in order to get the desired result from his co-star. “Television actor” never sounded so insulting.
Not Rated. 107 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)
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