De Palma ***

A fascinating look at the director’s work as told by the man himself.

Is it worth $10? Yes

For film aficionados, there’s nothing more compelling than listening to a notable director discuss his work. At best it provides fascinating insight into the motivations, circumstances and artistry involved in creating the most iconic movies of all time. At worst at least we get fun stories about making movies. “De Palma” often produces this effect at its best.

The subject is director Brian De Palma, whose notable films include “Carrie” (1976), “Scarface” (1983), “The Untouchables” (1987) and “Mission: Impossible” (1996). What’s interesting about this documentary is that De Palma’s voice is the only one we hear, and the only things we see are clips from his films, reviews of his movies, and De Palma himself. Directors Noah Baumbach (“Mistress America”) and Jake Paltrow (Gwyneth’s little brother) allow De Palma to take us chronologically through his work, sharing anecdotes that disclose great revelations about movies many hold dear.

For example, De Palma tells of throwing screenwriter Oliver Stone off the set of “Scarface” because Stone was too invasive with the production. In pre-production for “The Untouchables,” De Palma originally wanted “Miami Vice” star Don Johnson for Kevin Costner’s role. While shooting “Carlito’s Way” (1993), Al Pacino got so fed up shooting a scene in which he has to run through subway cars that Pacino literally took a train home without telling anyone. And so on.

Other little nuggets abound as well, including giving Robert De Niro his start with “Greetings” (1968) and “The Wedding Party” (1969), holding joint casting sessions with George Lucas for “Carrie” and “Star Wars,” and that his favorite movie is Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1958). And did you know he directed Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” music video in 1984, which featured a then-unknown Courtney Cox? Throughout, De Palma is a great raconteur as he recounts his experiences with candid honesty, eagerly providing uninhibited details that you’d otherwise only get in a biography or DVD extra.

De Palma, who provides these stories while being interviewed for a week in Paltrow’s living room, also discusses his approach to movies and his process, acknowledging that what he does wouldn’t work for everyone and admitting that it hasn’t always worked for him. He also comments on the modern film industry, for example citing pre-visualization technology as part of the problem with action movies.

Great as it is for film lovers, and lovers of De Palma’s big hits, I’m not sure “De Palma” has much mainstream appeal. Surely De Palma’s fans will appreciate it, but the reality is many who enjoy the superficiality of popcorn entertainment aren’t necessarily interested in the blood, sweat and tears that are shed behind the scenes to make it happen. I’ve seen a good amount of De Palma’s films and eat up everything that has to do with movies, so I loved “De Palma.” If you feel the same, you’ll love it too.

Did you know?
De Palma has never bee nominated for an Oscar, but he has been nominated for six Razzie Awards (he did make “Bonfire of the Vanities” (1990), after all).

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