Monday, February 28, 2011

Hero Worship: Brian De Palma

This originally started as a discussion about Brian De Palma's Sisters, with a brief bit about the director himself in the beginning, but then I started talking about him and basically didn't stop. So what we have here instead is a ridiculously long piece of me kissing Brian De Palma's ass. I had considered editing this thing down and adding my bit about Sisters, but then that would go against the whole reason I started this blog, which was for me to have an outlet to discuss films in a completely free manner. Since I am talking to no one in particular(most likely no one at all), I can speak very freely about my true opinions towards movies and movie makers, without having to pretend I like/dislike a certain film/director for the sake of not getting into a pointless argument.
So here we go:

I have a confession. When I first started watching films by Brian De Palma, I didn’t really care for them, which led to not caring too much for the man himself. This was a few years ago. Flash forward to today and not only do I absolutely love him, I find him to be one of the most unique and talented directors, pretty much ever. What happened?

Well I put the blame on two different factors. First was the buildup and anticipation for his films which put me at a point where I had to be disappointed. For a fan of the crime and gangster genre, you would not believe the amount of times I’m asked if I’ve seen Scarface. (Answer: About 6) And the same can be said for The Untouchables as well. So when I finally saw them I found that neither particularly wowed me. I mean, you ask random people on the street what the great crime films are, and those two titles will come up about as often The Godfather and Goodfellas. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I dug the films at the time, but found something lacking. More on that later.

The other issue which led to my distaste for De Palma early on was the simple fact that I WAS NOT WATCHING DE PALMA MOVIES! I mean, sure, Scarface and The Untouchables are De Palma movies, but not, you know, truly. De Palma is a man known for working in a pulp thriller/horror genre, and here I was watching crime epics. I’ve been told that his films fit into two basic categories, his Horror/Thrillers, often inspired by The Master of Suspense himself. Or his studio hired output. While nowadays I don’t see any dip in quality between the films, one has to admit it just seems like De Palma is more at home when working in his genre of choice. Although of course he gives nothing less than a hundred percent for any film he works on. You can practically feel the intense care put into every scene of his movies.

So anyway, at some point I rewound on De Palma and started again. This was sparked by a screening of Carrie, which is nowadays one of my favorite movies, and something I find truly scary. That was when I started on my (sort of) research of him and found out about his films and style. His love for Hitchcock and visual storytelling, and discovered that I had become enamored with his work. Long hypnotic tracking shots and masterful use of split screen were among the things that drew me to him like a bulimic person to a toilet.

It is my belief that in every single De Palma film, there is something beautiful and amazing, which makes the flick worth your time, even if the story itself isn’t particularly stellar. Take for example the opening to Snake Eyes. People may dislike the story being told, and as a result the movie itself, but damn if that opening isn’t impressive as hell. Even masterful tracking shots like the restaurant entrance from Goodfellas has to bow down to the beauty presented on screen here. The same can be said about The Bonfire of the Vanities, Mission: Impossible, and even Mission to Mars. And you know what? The heist sequence in Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven was great, the one in De Palma’s Femme Fatale is better. And these are just his films that aren’t universally hailed as absolutely mind bendingly amazing.

As much as critics like to hold on to this thought that De Palma splits critics down the middle, you have to admit that when he’s on, he’s more unstoppable than that train in Unstoppable. Carrie, Sisters, Dressed to Kill, Carlito’s Way, Body Double, Scarface, The Untouchables, The Fury, Obsession… these are movies that any director would kill for. And then consider the magnificence on display in these movies, the “figure 8” shot in Carrie, the final sequence in Dressed to Kill and Carlito’s Way, the entirety of Body Double. Let’s see, how should I put this? This… this is the good shit.

De Palma has often been accused of being little more than a Hitchcock clone, but when I look at his films, I see the pure amount of joy that a movie can bring. I see a director who cares about the visual aspect of the film as much as the commercial or storytelling aspects. And you know what, as De Palma himself has said, Hitchcock is the best there is in the Thriller genre, if you want to be successful, then you’re gonna borrow from the master, and that’s exactly what he does. His friends, Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas and Coppola consider him the master, and simply put, Brian De Palma is the balls.

[I realized reading this again that while I said "more on that later" several paragraphs up, I did not in fact go back to it. Maybe next time]

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