De Palma (2016)

De Palma (2016)

directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow

At some point in this documentary about director Brian De Palma, the filmmaker off-handedly recalls that he used to follow his father around when he was cheating on his mother. He would secretly take pictures, and in one particular angry moment, he broke into the office where his dad would take his lover, threatened him with a knife, and screamed “Where is she??” 


For any De Palma fan, this revelation is huge. It’s hard not to hear this story and see parallels between such a traumatic experience and De Palma’s ongoing themes of sex, obsession, murder, and voyeurism.

The fascinating De Palma puts the auteur front and center in one extended interview where he goes over his entire filmography, with no other interviews from peers, actors, or other pundits. To me – and I’m sure to many others – it’s nirvana. From De Palma’s recollections of composer Bernard Herrman’s outbursts, Steven Spielberg co-directing the climax to Scarface (1983), and Sean Penn belittling Michael J. Fox on the set of Casualties of War (1989), to his admiration for Alfred Hitchcock, split screen, and long tracking shots, this is a master class in the art of making movies. And who knew that the sick mind behind Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), and Body Double (1984) could be such a nice guy?

Rating: ***½

Carlos I. Cuevas