Due for UK cinema release later this month, the film documenting the life and work of Brian De Palma was finished not long before the iconic movie director turned 76 years old. Over 40 years of filmmaking are packed into just under two hours, the length of a feature itself, and the documentary is as intense and immersive as De Palma’s own involvement in the film industry has been.
Considered one of the forerunners of the New Hollywood wave of cinema that began in the late 60s, De Palma speaks frankly about the politics and conditions of filmmaking then and now, which contributed to his roller coaster of a career path but ultimately urged him to leave the US and continue making movies elsewhere. The simple interview-esque style of the documentary, with De Palma shot in close-up for the duration, provides a clear and honest outlook: this is a recollection of the director’s own life through his own eyes. And he appears to hold nothing back, chatting away from start to finish.
The calm and cosy setting in which De Palma sits provides a stark contrast to the thrilling film clips that illustrate his narrative. In chronological order we learn about the making of his hit features such as Carrie, Scarface and The Untouchables as well as movies that experienced much less success like Body Double and Casualties of War. He openly recalls his disappointment when pictures that he had put all his energy into had turned out to be flops, searching for reasoning behind the failures. He goes from revealing painful memories concerning his career and also his early family life to delightfully relaying amusing tales of his colleagues, crying “Holy Mackerel” on several occasions and making it hard for the audience not to like him.
Not only do we hear personal anecdotes and accounts of our subject’s experiences on and off set, the documentary also doubles as a master class in movie making. We learn about techniques employed by directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Jean-Luc Godard and how De Palma utilised their influence to form his own personal style. Then we see techniques that the filmmaker himself later became famous for, such as split screen editing and the use of steadicam.
All in all, this is an engaging documentary about the ups and downs in the life and career of a great director that will interest movie buffs and regular viewers alike.
De Palma is released in cinemas nationwide on 23rd September 2016.
Watch the trailer for De Palma here: