Review: “De Palma” Is Everything I Want In A Documentary About A Filmmaker
I am an information junkie as well as a movie fanatic, so it should be no surprise that documentaries are my favorite genre of film to watch. Even more so when you blend the two worlds together and give me a look behind the curtain of some of the biggest and baddest movies to have ever been made; such as “Scarface”, “Carlito’s Way”, and “The Untouchables”. It’s always odd to me that despite making some of the most well known films, and coming up in the business and being part of a group that includes Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, that Brian De Palma isn’t all that much of a known name outside of movie lovers. Don’t get me wrong, people know about the movies he’s made, but not so much his name. This is the perfect documentary for fans of De Palma’s as well as his work as we’re given the whole history of his career: from starting out making student films with the likes of Robert DeNiro all the way to making “Mission: Impossible” with Tom Cruise. Not only do we get the stories behind everything, it’s all narrated and done through an interview with Brian De Palma himself.
One of my favorite parts of the documentary is De Palma doesn’t shy away from outing certain actors for being difficult to work with like Orson Welles, or giving up little tidbits like how when filming “Casualties of War”, Sean Penn actually picked a fight with Michael J. Fox and it actually brought out a different level of performance out of him, or that when shooting “The Untouchables”, Robert DeNiro couldn’t learn his lines. These are the small stories behind the movies that I love to hear because it gives you a different appreciation for them when watching them later on.
De Palma also tells us how difficult a lot of the movies were to make; even giving us some insight on films he worked on forever that ever ended up seeing the light of day. When you listen to someone of his caliber talk about how throughout his career it never really got easier to make films it offers a glimmer of hope to future filmmakers that they can potentially achieve their dreams but it won’t happen without jumping through all the hoops. One of the lessons I’ve learned about filmmaking is that everyone takes from each other. None of your favorite directors are doing things that are wholly original to them, but it’s the good directors that take the lessons those that came before taught them and transform them into something new. De Palma touches on this a lot as he often cites Alfred Hitchcock and Jean-Luc Godard as influences on him as a director and filmmaker and the certain things he was able to take from both men and turn into his own style.
I will say the documentary feels like it goes on for a long time, clocking in at just under two hours. But hearing the stories of such a great career and those that he worked with makes this an enjoyable ride I would gladly take again. A lot of the credit should go to the film’s directors, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow: without these two being in the business, who knows if De Palma would have been so candid. A few things I took away from the movie: DeNiro was always a great actor, John Lithgow makes the best villain, and Al Pacino will not spend an entire day running around on a train.
Rent this movie, and then go back and watch all of De Palma’s films with a new outlook on them and a lot more insight.