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With: Brian De Palma
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow
MPAA Rating: R for violent images, graphic nudity, sexual content and some language
Running Time: 107
Date: 06/24/2016

De Palma (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Passion and Obsession

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Brian De Palma is currently one of America's best filmmakers, or at least one of its most stylishly singular, and Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's documentary De Palma cannily sheds light on exactly why. The two filmmakers (the men behind films like Frances Ha and Young Ones) simply sit De Palma down, point a camera at him, and let him talk; he speaks to his peers differently than he might to a professional journalist or interviewer, and the results are surprisingly candid. One of the movie's refrains is "it made perfect sense to me," indicating that, for all his so-called failures and controversies, De Palma always did whatever he wanted to do.

Essentially, De Palma is a talking-head, chronological clip show, but Baumbach and Paltrow are smart enough to realize that De Palma's extraordinarily striking images would speak for themselves. One of the most overtly visual filmmakers -- one obsessed with voyeurism and looking and being looked at -- De Palma's films lend themselves well to this kind of short-burst scrutiny. There are all kinds of moments of brilliant composition, focus, and unexpected angles that burn with enthusiasm and energy; it makes you want to go right out and see all these movies again. (I'd recommend, at least, Sisters, Blow Out, Dressed to Kill, Carlito's Way, and Femme Fatale. Even the recent, almost totally ignored Passion is worth a look.)

Even an uneven movie like The Untouchables -- oddly one of De Palma's rare hits -- shines, thanks to its handful of powerful shots. De Palma talks sometimes about people he worked with that impressed him, including composer Bernard Herrmann, and the director gets a chance to explain what might have gone wrong with things that once seemed so promising, such as Obsession, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and Mission to Mars. Ultimately, the interviewers are less concerned with finding any connecting themes than they are with looking at De Palma's trademark split-screen technique, or his traveling shots, such as a memorable chase in Carlito's Way; of that film and its bizarre failure, De Palma simply says, "I don't think I can possibly make a better film than that."

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