Brian De Palma no longer inspires the sort of heated debates that characterized the discourse during his prime, as the polarizing maker of Hitchcockian thrillers like “Dressed to Kill.”
Passions have been dulled by time and a cultural shift away from the sort of passionate discussions of cinema that characterized the New Hollywood period of the 1970s (and some of the immediate ensuing years).
But De Palma remains, as ever, a fascinating and candid figure, with an honesty streak and propensity for self-reflection that sets him well apart from most of his counterparts in an industry built on kowtowing deceptions.
That makes a documentary like “De Palma” a film buff’s dream: a simple and in-depth dissection of the man and his movies, consisting entirely of an on-camera interview with the 75-year-old master, illustrated with clips of everything from his earliest experimental works through his big-studio heights and his present-day return to more personal films.
It’s a fascinating lesson in cinematic technique, with the filmmaker’s innovative camera usage and structurally-oriented approach to cinema illustrated with some of his most indelible sequences and camera movements, from Sean Connery’s death in “The Untouchables” to the slow-motion opening of “Carrie.”
The picture, by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, offers plenty of juicy anecdotes about the peaks (“Scarface,” “Mission: Impossible”) and valleys (“The Bonfire of the Vanities”). There aren’t too many other individuals in this business who would say things like (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Sidney Lumet stole a movie from me,” referring to “Prince of the City,” or happily recount throwing Oliver Stone off the “Scarface” set.
The movie pays effective tribute to a true iconoclast, a man whose work reflects the inherent visual nature of cinema more than most and tells stories with pictures driven by emotions, rather than matter-of-fact logic. We could use more of that these days.