There was a group of young filmmakers and friends in the 1970s who would go on to become legends in the cinematic industry: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and, probably the least well-known among those iconic names, Brian De Palma.
The new documentary film, simply titled, De Palma, is also a simple, straight-forward refection of the writer/director and his rather rebellious career, creating films such as Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Casualties of War, The Untouchables, and Mission Impossible. But the static and unimaginative method used in the making this film is very strange in that it is such a departure from its subject’s own inventive and innovative style.
De Palma is a movie for hardcore fans of the filmmaker or for cinephiles who are otherwise seriously interested in film history – all others need not apply. The film amounts to a head & shoulders shot of the subject, sitting in the same room and in the same position, talking about his career for ninety-plus minutes, inter-cut with scenes from his movies.
Now I consider myself both a fan and a film buff, and, in fact, I consider De Palma to be the director whom first made me look at movies as an art form rather than just entertainment; but even I became bored with this film after a while. There are not interviews about the filmmaker with any of his peers, fans, family, dog, or anyone else. It’s just De Palma, talking, sometimes rather banally, about his art.
Now I get that the documentary’s directors, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, wanted this to be De Palma’s film in his own words, without influence or commentary from other parties, but all three of these individuals should know that approach does not necessarily a good film make. Heck, De Palma even says pretty much the same thing in his unintentionally ironic discussion about the ending of Mission Impossible.
All that said, the movie still had some interesting and amusing anecdotes, like I did not know that George Lucas and De Palma auditioned many of the same actors at the same time for both Star Wars and Carrie; and the filmmakers even managed to dig up some footage from the casting call. Another highlight is some historic footage of Steven Spielberg making a holiday call on an enormous car phone.
There are some laughs in this movie, a few learning opportunities for budding film students, some moments that will elicit sympathy for the filmmaker’s struggle, and, unfortunately, more than a few yawns. Grade: 5.5/10
‘De Palma’ opens in the Phoenix metro area exclusively at Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square – Friday, June 17, 2016.