Holy Mackerel! Baumbach and Paltrow’s De Palma, In-Review.
Contemporary filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow present a revealing portrait of one of the great American storytellers in De Palma.
The three go way back. De Palma — The Movie was borne out of the weekly meals that the three friends would meet for in New York, wherein the village elder of the clan would hold court over his proteges, for lengthy discussions on cinema and filmmaking. There’s an hour-long interview between Baumbach and De Palma on the Criterion release of the latter’s Blow Out, which plays like a dry run for the film that would became De Palma, though it has to be said that De Palma is a much more cinematic piece of work than any DVD supplement. This is thanks largely to Baumbach and Paltrow’s bold decision to allow the director to speak for himself, quite literally. Film dialogue aside, his is the lone voice to be heard for the films 90-minute running time. He’s an engaging “performer” though, and a striking presence. He makes for a candid host and subject, and seems happy enough to admit his mistakes and make known his grievances (Cliff Robertson for one!). There’s even shades of Orson Welles about the larger than life figure. Like Welles, De Palma is by no means a modest man, even going so far as to take responsibility for one of Bruce Springsteen’s most iconic moments (when shooting the famous music video for Dancing In The Dark).
Paltrow and Baumbach’s film charts the veteran filmmakers trajectory from indie to Hollywood, and back again. Coming of age during the heady days of the New Hollywood, De Palma is under no illusions as to how lucky he and his compatriots were. Film history is littered with tales of how the likes of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg re-aligned the trajectory upon which the American cinema was set, and De Palma makes for a fascinating insight in to how the cultural moment unfolded in the words of one of the participants himself (interestingly no mention is made of Billy Friedkin). Good humoured and affable, and unpretentious, De Palma is quite the raconteur, with the director referring to filmic acts as “theatrical events”, with it clear that he sees technique, things like deep focus, steadicam and split-screen, as showmanship and set piece.
It tells us a lot about De Palma, the man, too, to borrow an irksome term. It’s revealed that the director’s trademark affinity for voyeurism comes from him spying on his cheating dad, whom the young BDP would follow from the office to the homes of mistresses and girlfriends. He gets angrily political when discussing Casualties Of War and Redacted, and even talks about the legacy of Scarface, which saw a coming together of unlikely cultural forces that De Palma himself isn’t afraid to admit he doesn’t quite appreciate.
De Palma serves as a reminder of just how impressive a filmmaker it’s subject is. While he may be lacking a Godfather, or a Star Wars, and may have never won the Oscar for Best Director, his achievements in cinema are no less important than those of his contemporaries.