I got swept up in the life of De Palma, a documentary about Brian De Palma, the prolific American film director. Directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow (Gwyneth’s younger brother), the documentary consists of lengthy on-camera interviews with the man himself accompanied by footage from his films.
Captured over five years, the stories laid bare by the seventy-seven year old storyteller are particularly juicy for anyone with any experience in the film business. An irascible figure, he calls it as he sees it and isn’t afraid to throw an A-list personality under the bus when they have it coming to them.
A founding member of the American New Wave in the 1970s, De Palma had one of those storied careers, moving from genre to genre. He was a born rebel, always reacting against the status quo and developed a reputation for being a belligerent bastard. “You’re battling a very difficult system and all the values of that system are the opposite of what goes into making original good movies.”
While he never knew fame or success the likes of his pals Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, he enjoyed an incredible versatile career and never shied from excessive volumes of corn syrup and dye to simulate death and depravity. To say De Palma's films were an influence doesn’t go far enough. They woke me up, quenched my morbid appetite for sex, drugs and unrepentant violence.
Films like Carrie, The Untouchables, Casualties of War, Carlito’s Way & Mission Impossible gave my teenage years great delight. But it was Scarface that put me on ice. I must have been around fifteen when I checked out this bad-boy from my local video store at the end of a school week. I finished that film with my jaw on the floor, having shed a layer of innocence in those two hours that I’d never get back. I’d seen the future and boy was it beautiful.
I got caught up with the back story behind the making of Scarface, of De Palma being hired, fired and replaced by Sidney Lumet. By the time De Palma was back in the drivers seat, the setting of the infamous parable had been changed from Chicago to sun-bleached Miami, documenting the rise and fall of a young Cuban emigre with the American dream in his belly.
Brought about with brutal realism in a script from a young-gun Oliver Stone — who spent months shadowing the Miami homicide squad, snorting copious amounts of blow and narrowly avoiding a body bag after being mistaken for a narc — De Palma's masterpiece effectively shattered any remnants of social decency, ushering in a new age of law and disorder.
Thank you for scaring the living daylights out of me Mr. De Palma. I owe you big time.