De Palma

 

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Brian De Palma holds forth surveying his highly individual career in cinema.

 

De Palma

Life of Brian: De Palma directs John Travolta on the set of Blow-Out

 

This is very much a film for movie buffs although you could say that, strictly speaking, it is not a movie at all and theoretically it would not win the approval of film director Brian De Palma who, discussing cinema, once declared that he was not interested in a lot of talk. The fact is that this piece by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow is akin to allowing us to see and hear a filmmaker giving an illustrated lecture on his work. For what we have here is quite different from the usual documentary about a film director which can be expected to incorporate interviews with colleagues and admirers and to cover to some extent the life as well as the work of the artist featured (as exemplified recently in Louise Osmond's admirable Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach).

 

Instead De Palma offers only the man himself talking to camera, his comments illustrated by brief stills or clips from films. The latter include not only those that he has made but also works that have influenced him from Vertigo to films of the Nouvelle Vague. In addition, he has fun showing us glimpses of subsequent disastrous films derived from his own 1976 hit Carrie. At the outset the film seems rather bitty - we sense that De Palma's initial observations are replies to specific questions which we do not hear. But it soon settles down and shows De Palma's skills as a raconteur and his willingness to discuss his failures as well as his successes. Indeed, as he outlines his career in chronological order the life of a filmmaker in Hollywood, always dependent on his last film having done well at the box-office and sometimes reduced to taking on work out of a desperate desire to keep his hand in, emerges vividly. This is in contrast to the much briefer references to his personal life (three wives come and go with a minimum of comment).

 

Two things in particular come across strikingly. First, there's his behind the scenes chat, as when he talks of Sean Connery being keen to leave James Bond behind but nevertheless feeling uneasy over being killed in The Untouchables or when he revels in Sean Penn needling Michael J Fox during the making of one of De Palma's best films, Casualties of War. Secondly, although he expresses admiration for composers such as Herrmann and Morricone and for the contributions of production designers, he himself emerges as somebody primarily interested in what is visually possible in cinema, be it the use of split screens or the extra emotion that can be communicated by the camera moving through a long and elaborate take.

 

Born in 1940, De Palma was filmed for this documentary in 2010 and, if his life has influenced his work, then the fact that as a youngster he watched his surgeon father operating may appear relevant to the bloody violence so often found in his films. If De Palma is, in effect, a close up, that is one reason why out-and-out film buffs are the main audience here, but for the right viewer all 110 minutes of it will be fascinating.                  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

  

Featuring Brian De Palma. 

 

Dir Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, Pro Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, Ph Jake Paltrow, Ed Matt Mayer and Lauren Minnerath.

 

Boxmotion/Empire Ward-StudioCanal.
110 mins. USA. 2015. Rel: 23 September 2016. Cert. 15.