June 17, 2019

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De Palma, unfiltered

Doc tells story of a career of outsize ups and downs

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/4/2017 (795 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s doubtful any contemporary filmmaker alive has experienced higher career peaks and lower career valleys than Brian De Palma.

In Winnipeg, of course, De Palma is celebrated for his 1974 cult movie Phantom of the Paradise. It was a hit in Winnipeg — and Paris — and a bomb just about everywhere else.

Most of his other movies haven’t been as equivocal, box-office-wise. When the Newark, N.J.-born director hit (Carrie, The Untouchables, Mission: Impossible), he hit big. When he bombed (The Bonfire of the Vanities, Mission to Mars, The Black Dahlia), he did that in an outsize way, too.

Co-directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow take the filmmaker, now 76, at face value. Indeed, their documentary De Palma eschews the use of any talking heads other than De Palma’s in a film-by-film discussion of his unfailingly fascinating career.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/4/2017 (795 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s doubtful any contemporary filmmaker alive has experienced higher career peaks and lower career valleys than Brian De Palma.

In Winnipeg, of course, De Palma is celebrated for his 1974 cult movie Phantom of the Paradise. It was a hit in Winnipeg — and Paris — and a bomb just about everywhere else.

Most of his other movies haven’t been as equivocal, box-office-wise. When the Newark, N.J.-born director hit (Carrie, The Untouchables, Mission: Impossible), he hit big. When he bombed (The Bonfire of the Vanities, Mission to Mars, The Black Dahlia), he did that in an outsize way, too.

Co-directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow take the filmmaker, now 76, at face value. Indeed, their documentary De Palma eschews the use of any talking heads other than De Palma’s in a film-by-film discussion of his unfailingly fascinating career.

In De Palma, co-directors Jake Paltrow (left) and Noah Baumbach (right) focus solely on Brian De Palma's retelling of his fascinating career as an auteur.</p>

ELEVATION PICTURES

In De Palma, co-directors Jake Paltrow (left) and Noah Baumbach (right) focus solely on Brian De Palma's retelling of his fascinating career as an auteur.

Granted, it might have been interesting to have a few other participants here, such as Robert De Niro, whose first feature films (Greetings; Hi, Mom!; and The Wedding Party) were collaborations with De Palma. (How fun it is to see footage from those early movies with young De Niro confidently holding the camera’s attention, baby fat notwithstanding.) It clearly rankles De Palma to this day that De Niro played hard-to-get before signing to play Al Capone in The Untouchables.

Doubtless John Lithgow could hold forth on the mystery of why De Palma insisted on repeatedly casting him as a heavy (Obsession, Blow Out, Raising Cain) when few other directors seemed to be able to see Lithgow’s dark side.

However, De Palma is so engaging, he doesn’t require any back-up. He delivers a healthy component of good old-fashioned insider dish, including some interesting stories of his early thriller Obsession (1976); he claims actor Cliff Robertson repeatedly attempted to subvert the work of his co-star Geneviève Bujold once he realized the actress was stealing the movie from him.

There is also some strange Hollywood history that will have cinephiles pondering weird what-if scenarios such as: what would it have been like if De Palma had ended up directing Flashdance instead of Scarface?

Baumbach and Paltrow entertain those notions, but the film remains a serious examination of De Palma as an auteur, coming through one of the most fevered epochs of Hollywood history and surviving to tell the tale.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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