11 items from 2016
Ryan Lambie Published Date Friday, September 23, 2016 - 06:17
If director Brian De Palma was sometimes criticised for settling for style over substance in his thrillers, this feature-length documentary about his career is reassuringly basic in its approach. Barring archive footage and one, solitary moment, directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow divide their retrospective between sequences from De Palma’s movies and interviews with the filmmaker himself, seated in front of a grey fireplace.
It’s the kind of move that could be regarded as lazy or tentative in some circumstances, but Baumbach and Paltrow are shrewd enough to recognise that a director known for his technical flourishes needs room to breathe; and besides, De Palma and his movies are interesting enough subjects that they hardly need further embellishment.
De Palma, 2016
A documentary exploring the life, work and influences behind the films of Brian De Palma
Brian De Palma may be popular among cineliterate enthusiasts but he’s never had the same popularity elsewhere. When you list his movies, it’s easy to imagine audiences being taken aback by the sheer quantity of classics he has under his belt. Carrie, Scarface and Mission Impossible are difficult to group together, spanning vividly different genres, and yet they fall under the impressive banner of Brian De Palma. De Palma, jointly directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, is primarily an interview, but it fills the screen with footage from each of his movies (and the classics that inspired them) and weaves this chronological canon together effortlessly.
Discussing each and every film in his eclectic filmography, De Palma is affably honest. He’s outspoken »
- Simon Columb
There’s an alternate version of Brian De Palma’s career where 1972’s Get to Know Your Rabbit stands as one of the most seminal entries. The last of De Palma’s early-70s comedies, the film is most readily recognized as a prelude to his directorial turning point. Just a year later, he began a string of legacy defining films: Sisters, Obsession, and Carrie.
But this early-period black sheep is more than a mere historical footnote. It’s the transitional fiasco that De Palma needed. Coming after the modest hits of Greetings and Hi, Mom!, this was the big leagues, a chance for the nascent but rising director to work with Hollywood and establish himself as a conjunction of artistic and financial impulses.
It’s only inevitable that even De Palma’s crowd-pleasing comedy scans as commentary about the prison of working with studios. In an impish reversal of the artist’s own circumstances, »
- Michael Snydel
Manic, messy, and experimental, The Wedding Party serves as a 90-minute preamble, both technically and thematically, to the next decade of Brian De Palma’s young career. Co-directed with two others (Wilford Leach and Cynthia Munroe), the film was shot in 1963, only to be released in 1969, after both De Palma and Robert De Niro’s stars were on the rise. Leach was a theater professor at Sarah Lawrence, De Palma and Munroe two of his students. Fellow student Jill Clayburgh stars as Josephine, the bride-to-be, while Charles Pfluger plays Charlie, the impending groom. Jennifer Salt — who would go on to star in Murder à la Mod, Hi, Mom! and Sisters — also appears as Phoebe, friend of the bride.
Not too long after Charlie docks on the upscale island where the wedding is to take place and meets Josephine’s whole, judgmental family, his two groomsmen, Cecil (De Niro) and Alistair (William Finley, »
- Dan Mecca
These days, there’s the buffer of Redacted to shore up Brian De Palma’s credentials as a Godardian ironist. Perhaps in the time when it was fashionable for high-minded critics to bolster De Palma’s significance while decrying the filmmakers he cited as influences, the takedowns by card-carrying auteurists might have seemed a necessary antidote to all the doting. De Palma long represented the negative end of a New Hollywood excess, championed by one side of a polemic and lambasted by the other.
De Palma’s bad taste and his love of schlock discounted him from the pantheon erected by auteurists, while the same characteristics attracted the attentions of less-serious-minded populist critics, who saw the director’s near-indistinguishable alternations between facetiousness and sincerity as a plus. Still, even these De Palma diehards generally struggled to explain why he was significant, outside of an anti-intellectual impulse towards celebrating baroque kitsch »
- The Film Stage
“This is a pretty good land, a fact” was proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in a television broadcast addressing the Vietnam War — the leader of the free world backing up a “humble” if contentious wording of his nation’s state with an absolute, and thus already opening up the possibility of not just satire, but images as the ultimate medium for telling lies. Perhaps it was the ultimate “prologue” for a 28-year-old Brian De Palma.
With the mission statement of setting out to make something akin to Jean-Luc Godard’s ’60s work, De Palma’s third feature, Greetings, still feels surprisingly his own; his preoccupations already so dominant that it doesn’t come off as a banalization of Godard’s aesthetics and ideas the way so many other rip-offs did. Perhaps the difference is that it’s based in a very personal milieu, situated around three New York buddies »
- Ethan Vestby
It’s difficult to talk about Brian De Palma without talking about other filmmakers. We talk about Godard, who clearly impacted De Palma’s early politicization and constant interrogation of what it means to watch. We talk about Antonioni and Eisenstein, among the most notable filmmakers that De Palma has quoted whose surnames don’t begin with “H.” We talk about Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola, and Scorsese, the bearded “Movie Brats” whose elusive club De Palma claims membership to. Most of all, we talk about Hitchcock.
Brian De Palma is almost always discussed in terms of Hitchcock. His detractors frame him as a parasitic freeloader sucking away at the master’s suspense-filled tits. De Palma’s movies owe an obvious debt to the so-called Master of Suspense, but it’s a crippling and constricting narrative to apply to his entire body of work, and one that complicates readings of his early output. »
- The Film Stage
When it comes to telekinesis and gory visual effects, the movie that generally springs to mind is David Cronenberg’s 1981 exploding head opus, Scanners. But years before that, American director Brian De Palma was liberally dowsing the screen with claret in his 1976 adaptation of Carrie - still rightly regarded as one of the best Stephen King adaptations made so far. A less widely remembered supernatural film from De Palma came two years after: De Palma’s supernatural thriller, The Fury.
The Fury was made with a more generous budget than Carrie, had a starrier cast (Kirk Douglas in the lead, John Cassavetes playing the villain), and it even did pretty well in financial terms. Yet The Fury had the misfortune of being caught in a kind of pincer movement between Carrie, »
Taking a glance over his filmography, it’s quick to surmise Brian De Palma’s lack of interest in the words “Inspired By” or “Based on a True Story.” His attraction to images leans so heavily towards their natural falsity rather than some kind of prosaic yet still wholly phony verisimilitude. But one of the few exceptions lends a tragic weight that few of his films have.
The true story in question is what’s commonly referred to as Incident on Hill 192: in 1966, an American army squad in the Vietnam War kidnapped a young village girl, then subsequently gang-raped and murdered her. Journalist Daniel Lang brought this to further public attention with a 1969 article in The New Yorker entitled Casualties of War, of which De Palma’s film would share the name.
- Ethan Vestby
Bringing up Brian De Palma as if he’s still some kind of marginalized or misunderstood figure is now heavily contentious, not just in the sense that “the discussion” has, with the presence of the Internet, become so heavily splintered that every figure has at least seem some form of reappraisal, but in that this is being discussed on the occasion of a new documentary and retrospectives in New York, Chicago, Austin, and Toronto (the lattermost of which this symposium will be timed to). Yes, the line has probably tipped past “divisive,” but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t room for debate.
It’s not hard to understand why De Palma’s work strikes a cord with a new cinephilia fixated on form and vulgarity. Though, in going film-by-film — taking us from political diatribes against America to gonzo horror to gangster films your parents watch to strange European »
- Ethan Vestby
The Carrie and Scarface director is the subject of a new film and retrospective. Here he talks about how he invented reality TV and what it feels like to be reviled
This month, New Jersey-born director Brian De Palma is the subject of two major, separate tributes. The recently opened Metrograph cinema in New York’s Lower East Side has a full retrospective encompassing his five-decade career. This body of work is markedly diverse, spanning experimental curios (Greetings, Hi, Mom!), Hitchcock-inflected thrillers (Dressed To Kill, Body Double), gruelling war dramas (Casualties of War, Redacted), and, of course, the visually spectacular, more mainstream fare for which he is best known (Carrie, Scarface, Mission: Impossible).
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- Ashley Clark
11 items from 2016
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