Filmmaker Brian De Palma grew up in love with the cinema, particularly the works of Alfred Hitchcock and the French New Wave. He began making movies independently in the early 1960s, and was seen by many within the studio system as a talent to keep an eye on. In his early days, around the time of the commercial success of his first massive breakthrough (the Stephen King adaptation, Carrie, in 1976), his name was talked about alongside some of his filmmaker friends: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese. While De Palma never quite reached the commercial success his friends did, he still managed to become an intriguing, vital, and polarizing figure. His depictions of often sexualized violence drew the ire of critics, women’s groups, and the MPAA alike. The quality and intent of his films varied wildly from gonzo theatrics to restrained drama to dark, oddball comedies to megabudget blockbusters and box office duds. Some thought his work was a case of style over substance, but to others, he was the closest thing America had to a purely European filmmaker.
From directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, De Palma isn’t much of a film. It isn’t even much of a documentary. More suited to a lengthy DVD special feature than a full on theatrical release, it’s just a sit down with a gregarious, forthcoming subject for a shade under two hours. There are clips of De Palma’s work scattered throughout. He has plenty of anecdotes, many riotously funny and deliciously catty. There’s a bit of insight as to what makes him tick and how his background influenced his work.
And yet, despite the usually cantankerous filmmaker clearly bonding with a pair of confidants, there’s not much here that one couldn’t Google about De Palma from the comfort of their own home. It’s kind of useless outside of the anecdotes, and if it were anyone other than De Palma the film’s gaps in the director’s personal narrative would rankle much more than they already do.