Most documentaries contain thoughts, narration, and clips from a variety of people and sources, to gain a multi-faceted view into the life of the subject. Take last years Amy, for instance, and you can see the large number of influences. Or the fantastically inappropriate 'The Aristocrats', whose subject was a joke. In that film, most comedians who were worth their salt were interviewed on camera. Or other recent director docs, such as Millius, which rely on a varied range of testimony to drive home the point. On the contrary, De Palma features what is ostensibly a conversation over coffee, in the same setting, with the same angle for around two hours.
|The single angle for the documentary.|
Structurally, this audacious documentary provides a complete career retrospective for the eponymous director, taking us from his initial 'Wedding party' (1963), starring a then unknown Robert De Niro; to his 2013 film Posession, and everything in between. By which I mean literally everything. De Palma proves such an interesting subject, primarily because he has succeeded at small and big films; and failed at small and big films. He is able to explain why he has failed in his failings without sounding bitter (well, not TOO bitter...), and is able to explain why his successful films succeeded without sounding like Quentin Tarantino (that is, up his own ass). He focuses on the films that we want to know more about: there's a lot on Carrie, Scarface, Dressed to Kill, and Blow Out. Speaking about every one of his efforts, he recounts his influences - usually Hitchcock, a big theme in the documentary - and then shares a tidbit or two from the set. The most interesting of which consists of an explanation for the over zealous shootout from Scarface: Al Pacino picked up a gun by it's barrel (burning hot), then had to spend a few weeks off set, so De Palma spent those days shooting people shooting... It's these magical diversions that set the film apart from other like-minded documentaries, and provide the level of depth that you'd be more likely to find in the essential literary study 'Hitchcock' by Truffaut.
|A split-screen moment from the fantastic Sisters|
|BTS photo of Carrie.|
In the conclusion of the documentary, he argues convincingly that he has been the true heir to Hitchcock. Never stating that he has done better, or for that matter worse, but acknowledging that their ethos and methodology have been the same. Throughout the film, the two are compared at an almost forensic rate - and it's well and truly believable that they are one and the same. Battles with the ratings board, battles with actors and actresses, battles with audiences: they both made controversy their life choice.
|A classic moment from a classic movie...|
Baumbach and Paltrow never interfere, speak, or provide any evidence of their existence whilst the film plays. Instead, they give the entire floor to this incredible man: a wise choice given the eventual output. Their only influence appears to be the framing of De Palma himself, sitting directly in front of a fashionable teal fireplace: something homely, perhaps. Their real skill comes from the idea generation, and then the cutting of the 30 hours of conversation to resemble a coherent two hour one: a remarkable piece of audio engineering that really needs to be heard to be believed.
|The directors with their subject.|
|De Palma gets 4 stars!|