directed by: Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow
Despite a few misfires throughout his career and some questionable recent outings, I am still a big fan of director/writer Brian De Palma, that’s why the documentary De Palma automatically entered and topped my “have to see”- list as soon as I heard of it. Now finally, I could get my hands on a copy and can gladly report that it really doesn’t disappoint.
De Palma is directed by Noah Baumbach (director/writer of many a indie-movies, like Frances Ha and The Squid and the Whale, frequent collaborator of Wes Anderson) and Jake Paltrow (director/writer and brother of you-know-who).
What is De Palma not? It’s not a documentary that could serve as a gateway for potential new fans, nor is it a thorough analysis of De Palma’s body of work.
In fact, it’s “just” a long conversation with the “master” exclusively -there are no interview snippets with any of his collaborators or such – chronologically exploring his filmography, with some short detours into his personal life, mostly about how it affected his art. Every movie is represented with excerpts and sometimes some behind-the-scenes material. There are no infos like plot descriptions or even explanations for the scenes shown, so you have to have seen all the movies to understand their significance and the points De Palma is making about them.
Thankfully, De Palma is as entertaining as interviewee as as an artist, otherwise this could have turned out to be pretty boring. There is no real pattern to what he states about every movie, it’s all pretty whimsical. Sometimes he offers an interesting insight about the themes or the political underpinnings, then he tells an amusing anecdote from the making-of process, only to go off into an only slightly related rant about the current film industry later on.
Most interesting bits include the evolution of the script for Scarface and how the famous staircase scene from The Untouchables (1989) was a last-minute improvisation that is owed to unexpected budget cuts. He also serves plenty of amusing anecdotes, like how impossible Cliff Robertson (whom he directed in Obsession, 1976) was to work with or how torturous the shoot of the elaborate showdown of Carlito’s Way (1993), particularly for Al Pacino, revealed to be. Surprisingly candid, he also admits that he botched the movie adaptation of Vanity of Bonfires (1990), but is suspiciously evasive when he has to talk about Mission to Mars (2000), to which he only dedicates a few sentences. Well, I can’t blame him.
If you are already a fan of the man and familiar with his body of work, De Palma is a must. Others might need to get acquainted with his films first to fully enjoy this doc.
Header image: Al Pacino and Brian De Palma behind the scenes of Carlito’s Way (1993).
Unrelated: Due to different external factors, I decided to take a break from writing for a few weeks. I will return on October 1st to ensure that during the month of Halloween, sufficient amount of horror-related content is going to be featured.