De Palma (4 stars)

De Palma

The provocative American filmmaker is the subject of an engrossing documentary

When people talk of the great American filmmakers of the 1970s, often the first names that come to mind are Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola and Lucas. So rich was the decade, though, that the second tranche is just as enticing. And it's here that you'll find Brian De Palma.

De Palma was more of an acquired taste than his peers, not least because of the shock value of his content. Many of his best known films are the most disturbing: Carrie, his Stephen King adaptation featuring the telekinetic teen who bloodily unleashes her rage at the school prom; Body Double, in which a woman is murdered with a power drill; Dressed to Kill, featuring Michael Caine's transvestite psychopath; and Scarface, with Al Pacino's over-the-top Cuban gangster Tony Montana imploring his rivals to 'say hello to my little friend'.

But, despite the subjects, these were never pulp films. Much like his hero Alfred Hitchcock, De Palma is adept at both challenging our emotions (both men have been accused of misogyny) and cranking up the tension of his films. Also like Hitchcock, he's a master stylist.

This engrossing documentary is a film buff's treasure trove. Co-directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow simply point the camera at their subject and let him talk, splicing his anecdotes and observations with clips from a surprisingly diverse CV that includes The Untouchables, Casualties of War, Carlito's Way and Mission: Impossible.

The septuagenarian is a terrific interviewee – smart, frank, funny, assured to the point of arrogance, but equally forthright about his failures. He's most alive when speaking of the technical approaches to his films, always with the aim of making the scenarios play out in new and exciting ways. Whether one is a fan of those films or not, this makes for a fascinating insight into the craft.

Limited release from Fri 23 Sep.

De Palma

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 1h 50min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow
  • Cast: Brian De Palma
  • UK release: 23 September 2016

Documentary about one of the more acquired tastes of his generation, veteran director Brian De Palma. Co-directors Baumbach and Paltrow simply point the camera at their subject and let him talk, and he's a smart, frank and funny interviewee, assured about his successes and forthright about his failures. Engrossing.