One of the original members of the golden age of Hollywood blockbusters, Carrie helmer Brian De Palma goes under the microscope in this riveting look at the evolution of a filmmaker, with the man himself directly taking us through his life, works and process sparing as little detail as possible. Lovingly crafted by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, it’s hands-down the definitive look at a director whose contemporary work may be somewhat ridiculed – the lamentable Passion alone is worth a solid ninety-minute ribbing – yet who stands at the helm of some of the definitive thrillers of cinematic days gone by.
Sparing not a single film in his canon – and even, amusingly, including the music video for Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark – De Palma serves not only as a brilliant biographical chronicle, but also as a look at the evolution of the directorial process over a matter of decades. De Palma himself proves both a riveting subject and enthralling narrator, so much so that in an eventual self-comparison to Alfred Hitchcock, any notion of ego quickly becomes a non-issue as a result. It’s by allowing the man to detail his works in as much depth as he does, in fact – coming perilously close to, but mercifully avoiding, self-aggrandisement – that one can actually walk away from De Palma with not just a new appreciation for the man’s films, but also a fervent desire to see them all again.
De Palma’s not a story for everyone, naturally, as even a passing love of the Spielberg/Scorsese heyday is a prerequisite at minimum; while as a study of character, the film will vastly disappoint without exception. Where it does succeed however is in painting a picture of a more ramshackle era of Hollywood in the days before the cocaine cowboys; days in which the lunatics ran the asylum and tentpole films were allowed to shock until “Cimino did his thing”. Fans of De Palma will find themselves in the throws of absolute euphoria at times, while those who fleetingly remember pictures such as Blow Out will smile in nostalgic glee. It lacks any kind of valid counterpoint or criticism, but in allowing De Palma the chance to tell his own story, Baumbach and Paltrow stumble onto an refreshingly earnest tale of a filmmaker whose own criticisms may perhaps provide a close enough balance.
If nothing else, it’ll make you want to watch The Bonfire Of The Vanities again. And when did you ever think that might happen?
De Palma is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, September 23rd; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.