What can I really say about the fascinating and beyond entertaining new documentary De Palma? It was two glorious hours of listening to one of my absolute favorite directors discussing his remarkable and ludicrously underrated career. He’s made a roll-call of perverse, transgressive masterpieces, including Femme Fatale, Body Double, Carrie, Blow Out, Dressed to Kill, Casualties of War and bold, operatic crime drams like Scarface, Carlito’s Way, The Untouchables, and Snake Eyes. He’s dabbled in big budget studio popcorn fare with Mission: Impossible and Mission to Mars, while still allowing for more quirky, edgy, and personal projects like Phantom of the Paradise, Redacted and Passion to find their way to the screen. He’ll likely forever be known as one of the great masters of the erotic thriller, a director enamored by the work of Alfred Hitchcock, with films like Sisters and Raising Cain tipping their hat to the original master of suspense. So when I heard that the brilliant filmmaker Noah Baumbach and his co-directing partner Jake Paltrow would be interviewing De Palma, and touching upon every single film on his resume, I nearly fainted with anticipation. Doing nothing more than setting up a camera on a tripod, pressing record, and letting De Palma go full force with the anecdotes and remembrances would have been perfectly enough, but when combined with all of the top-shelf footage from his aggressively awesome filmography, you’re constantly reminded of how distinct and memorable his work has been.
Because even when some of De Palma’s movies have been misfires overall, there are moments and sequences of astounding movie-making that are sometimes better than entire feature films made by other directors. Think of the bravura opening moments of The Bonfire of the Vanities, or the staircase set piece and opening brawl in The Black Dahlia — these films weren’t his best but they have flashes of greatness all throughout. But when all of the ingredients added up and fell into the blender in the proper order, few cinematic voices have offered up this many kinky thrills and long lasting works. If you’re a fan of De Palma’s sensibilities as a filmmaker, then this movie is literally a cinegasm of pure delight. If you’re not a fan of his brand of shock-the-senses cinema, then maybe you’ll gain a new found appreciation or respect for this tremendously smart and gifted filmmaker’s output. It seems so beyond crazy to think that De Palma has NEVER been nominated by the Academy for Best Director, but this is a sad fact of life, and if it’s any consolation to him and his devoted legion of fans, this engrossing documentary is a fitting tribute to a director who relishes in the notion of “pure cinema,” and when you watch the various images from all of his sexy and sinewy and stylish films, it dawns on you how consistently provocative and unique a filmmaker De Palma has become after years of butting heads with studio execs and the MPAA over the enveloping pushing content of his edgy motion pictures.