De Palma January 2, 2017
For a period of eight days in 1962, French New Wave icon François Truffaut interviewed Hollywood heavyweight Alfred Hitchcock in the latter’s cushy office at Universal Studios. The interviews did not much intend to dig deeper into Hitchcock’s neuroses and unearth hidden factors within his personal life to have affected his filmography. The progression of interviews, instead, intended to find Hitchcock analyzing the successes and failures, recurring images and motifs, of his movies rather than well-educated film critics. Surprising proclamations, along with riveting stories, rounded out the journey that formed from the discussing of every single movie within the filmmaker’s career.
The book that ensued, 1966’s Hitchcock/Truffaut, is an engaging read for anyone who adores the Master of Suspense — Truffaut never holds back in his criticisms of Hitch’s less prosperous features, and the latter reminds, time and time again, that little of what he churned out wasn’t highly methodical, planned out — but for anyone without prior familiarity to his assemblage of works won’t find much to relish.
Granted, someone who hasn’t heard of Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut will be seeking out a book predominantly involving either. But where there’s only slight commercial appeal for the aforementioned book, there’s plenty for similarly minded documentary De Palma. Directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, the film is strictly comprised of underrated iconoclast Brian De Palma sitting down with Baumbach and Paltrow, and, like the dynamic duo that was Truffaut and Hitchcock, discussing every single one of his movies with a handsome number of personal anecdotes to supplement.
For fans of the director, the man behind such modern classics as Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987), and Mission: Impossible (1996), the film is a delicacy easy to love. De Palma, good-humored, still carries a noticeable twinkle in his eye at seventy-five and is generous in both his accounts of making each of his movies and the ways his personal life sometimes translated into them. An admirer of much of his oeuvre, I love De Palma: it offers the kind of intimate detailing documentaries driven by a starry central figure rarely can offer. The recurring usage of talking heads in other Hollywood centric docs lacks immediacy, and by having De Palma and De Palma alone as the person telling the stories, a particularly warm, makeshift one-on-one relationship developed between him and us really and truly makes the film a cinephile’s dream.
And even for those not as indebted to his body of work, there’s much to enjoy. With enough dirt dug up on dramas between actors on his sets, with enough delineations regarding the circle of filmmaking friends he surrounded himself with throughout his career (he was close to Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Paul Schrader), and with enough private leakages to make him considerably more human, entertainment value is to be found no matter one’s devotion to him. Of course, though, aficionados are going to be the ones having a field day. And I’m among them. A