There is very little visually going on in De Palma. The historic director sits in front of a C-grade digital camera with only 3 different angles throughout the film while footage from his films and others play in segments while he talks about them. A film with this little of required skill in its construction has no right being this enthralling. Yet somehow, due to its subject’s magneticism and cavalier attitude in how he speaks, it’s never boring for a second.
Brian De Palma has been working in the industry since the 60s, a member of the “brat pack” – himself, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg – but has rarely garnered the acclaim and success of his peers. His grimy Hitchcock aesthetic is not an immediately acquired taste, far from mainstream and accessibility for large audiences. Being overlooked is a sin that the film from admirers/directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow seeks to correct.
Th essentials in De Palma’s filmography are extensive. Blow Out contains possibly one of the greatest shots in cinema (you’ll know it when you see it). Mission: Impossible is a rare bit of auteur cinema in studio filmmaking. Carrie created a type of horror that has often been imitated, but never duplicated. Scarface is as much a part of our pop culture zeitgeist as any film. Phantom of the Paradise is a cult film that predates the very definition of the genre. The Untouchables is a giddy, ridiculous fun piece of gangster cinema. Even his lesser works have traits to admire and ponder on, you can still feel his touch and ambition in them.
De Palma easily sounds like nothing more than an excuse to praise the director, to act as propaganda, but this documentary is far too honest about his life and career to be a puff piece. It’s nearly 2 hours of lessons from a master and a renegade who has no care left to give when it comes to his reputation or whom he offends. Watching him throw all caution to the wind is a liberating experience. No puff piece would also double as a middle finger to modern Hollywood and the studio structure. It’s amazing that this film got a theatrical release like the one that superhero distributors A24 are giving it.
Some of the most incredible documentaries seem to happen largely out of luck. How lucky were these filmmakers that they got to document these people, places and events? How lucky were they to be in the right place at the right time? A similar feeling of good fortunate permeates De Palma. How lucky Baumbach and Paltrow are to have a close relationship with De Palma, to have unfettered access. Not only do you want to go right ahead and rewatch all his films you have seen and experience the ones you haven’t when the credits roll, De Palma also inspires you to go create your own stories.