“Anybody who has a career, it’s a miracle”, says Brian De Palma.
De Palma gives a rare insight into a film director that has divided audiences and critics for years. It’s an entertaining chronological journey through his filmography complete with technical explanations of camerawork, hilarious stories about big name actors, such as Al Pacino, and entertaining lesser known anecdotes to extend a cinephile’s Hollywood trivia. The documentary shows Brian De Palma firmly placed among the elite of Hollywood’s creative past in his brotherly association with the likes of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese who infiltrated the system with fresh vigour and personality making ambitious projects now viewed as assured classics and tinseltown canon.
The documentary surprises with its brief exposition of the director’s life before film as a competition winning scientist, the politics that began to influence him and his works of experimentation and documentary. It sets the stage to walk the path of a prominent filmmaker who didn’t intend to become one initially. There is vast influence from Alfred Hitchcock’s work as De Palma refers to Vertigo often citing its reflection of the filmmaking process in its complex narrative. The humour is great too with Sissy Spacek as a ”set dresser” on Phantom of the Paradise asking to audition for the leading role in Carrie (the rest is history) and Pacino’s injury leading De Palma to shoot everything but his leading man in the infamous Scarface shoot-out finale. One assumes distinct directors make every choice with precision and control but stories such as these reveal aspects of the real genius in a filmmaker that are proven with instincts and improvisation rather than planning and forethought.
The film should be admired for its unadorned eye on Brian De Palma’s oeuvre and excellent presentation with attention to detail but there is one nit to pick: for those looking for more than a rich rundown of the work (such as visiting film’s locations and interviews with collaborators) you may leave disappointed. However, the documentary thoroughly explores De Palma’s creatively expansive films with enough care and research that the basic set-up becomes bold and efficient in its delivery, rather than lacking in imagination. There is a clear theme of violence towards women and nudity apparent in the films; though a conclusion of this observation is left ambiguous despite De Palma’s words of the mystique and admiration he has for females. This documentary is an invaluable resource for all filmmakers and lovers of cinema. As the man himself self-evaluates, making reference towards criticism, he assuredly exclaims “you’re judged by the fashion of the day” – the colours and delights of his melodramatic movies and cinematic flourishes will serve to invigorate you to re-evaluate this director’s life of work or possibly discover the filmmaker anew.