A note on De Palma: the Documentary
BaradwajaR in his review of the Tamil film Thoongavanam cried out that what that film really needed was the styling of De Palma, not workman like direction; but that is just reducing De Palma to a stylist, Thoongavanam on the other hand got the workman like director it needed (just a flat out thriller), it certainly did not deserve the twisted visual brilliance that a De Palma film is expected to have. It also reinstates the prevailing notion that De Palma is just a stylist, which he isn’t, just.
Like the people who I know who love Mission Impossible, I fell in love with the De Palma film without actually knowing that it was his film, and when I did and later re-watched Mission Impossible (my permanent laptop lock screen is the cyclical staircase from the film), I went “holy mackerel!”
Obviously when I heard that a documentary was being made, it went right to the top of my ‘to watch’ list of the year and I finally saw it yesterday.
De Palma, the documentary is a very straight-plain-just-the-director-talking-about-his-movies kind, of course interspersed by clips from his films, but it doesn’t have the admittance of peers or future admirers like the documentaries of Kubrick or Orson Welles or even Woody Allen, which is sad because De Palma deserves more than just a talking head documentary, the least is to have arranged for the rest of the New Hollywood to say few words about him.
Maybe BDP wanted it this way. His life, his work, his words.
<Idea Suggest: one big round-table with Coppola, Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese and De Palma>
Even among New Hollywood, De Palma stands a little away; he has never got the widespread admiration of the others (which itself is enough reason to re-look DP films) but somehow managed to stay commercially relevant. The bright spot of this documentary is De Palma himself, to use the often cited “he carries the film on his shoulders” expression, but here there is no other option, you just have an aged film maker being very matter-of-fact about his films, there is no romanticizing or bowing down to any of the greats, very avuncular.
DP also realizes that he was fortunate to have worked in a time when studios were more genial towards filmmakers.
The stylistic flourishes that have now come to be known as the De Palma catalogue: the long takes, split screens, character juxtapositions, ominous music or the general feeling of a dark happenings are not mere add-ons(as they have been written about in every style vs substance argument), these are the tools of a director who thinks visually, a director whose stimulus comes from walking through art galleries, a director who know holds the same thread that Hitchcock had; these aren’t just gimmickry (well but some are).
Let us just say that De Palma uses style like how a writer uses words, well but then he uses them lightly without pretense so that you don’t have to run and look-up a dictionary every time.
I think it is very difficult to un-see a DP film, a part; ok that is too much, a moment or the visual experience always remains, like say the fireworks in Blow-Out (my favorite DP, possibly one of the best tragedies in cinema), the church in Obsession, the staircase in Mission Impossible, the opening of Snake Eyes, the ending of The Untouchables; with only great difficulty that a person can lie about forgetting the above.
It is the atmosphere of paranoia that he creates which just comes out of the film and surrounds the audience, to keep me thinking about the places that I’ve never been to and situations I’ve never been in. In this way even the below-average De Palma thriller is cut above your everyday thriller and holy mackerel, entertaining as well.
Proof of what a thinking mind can do a medium.
(insert Brain De Palma joke here)
De Palma films have divided people and critics, thumbed down on many efforts, even the critics who adore him only see him within Hitchcock’s shadow, clouding him from adulation are his dubious distinctions including sharing shoulders with Michael bay on the number of Razzie nominations for Worst Director.
If not for nothing, De Palma the documentary would be a good place to start or revisit a wonderful director.
Because the real life of a movie only begins when it has been removed from the theaters.