The film was comprised of two major elements: found footage from De Palma’s films, and interviews with De Palma conducted by Baumbach. The clips of De Palma’s movies served to remind the viewer that his career was incredibly inconsistent, but equally (if not more so) fascinating. Scenes from films throughout De Palma’s entire career were featured, from short films he made during his time at Columbia University as a physics student, to his most recent film called Passion. Use of this footage also gave the audience a strong sense of De Palma’s directorial style, which includes the use of split screen and split diopter shots, as well as strong Hitchcockian influences evidenced in his emphasis on visual storytelling.
Regardless of how familiar the viewer was with De Palma’s work at the start of the film, Baumbach’s extraction of self-analysis from De Palma himself allowed the viewer to get inside his head, understand his style of filmmaking, and come to appreciate his hits as well as his flops. The interview footage was shot in a way that placed the viewer in the room with De Palma. Throughout the whole film, the shots of De Palma are kept at a consistent medium close up of him in a living room setting. Though at some points it is clear that Baumbach is conducting the interview, his voice is never actually heard, making the interview feel like a conversation between De Palma and the audience. He shares comical stories from various points in his career, like his terrifying first meeting with Bernard Herrmann and missteps he made, giving him a vulnerable humanity and friendly discourse with the audience. De Palma also shares what tolls being a director can take, a career that can be physically, emotionally, socially, and personally detrimental.
You don’t have to like De Palma’s films to enjoy this documentary. In fact, I think his The Untouchables ranks as one of my least favorite movies of all time, but I was thrilled to get a look inside the head of such an inventive director. I came to appreciate his journey as a filmmaker. He came up in the ranks among the likes of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, part of the group he lumped himself in with, called the ‘Warner Brothers Youth Group.’ They were lucky enough to enter the studio system and utilize its resources to make quality films before the business aspect of Hollywood took precedence. De Palma’s involvement with such prolific directors makes his career even more interesting. Anecdotes he shares, like his passing on Taxi Driver to give it to Scorsese because it seemed ‘more like Marty’s style,’ underline the fickle nature of the industry and the different routes De Palma’s career could have taken. It is easy to appreciate one of the greats who started from the bottom and only went up. But it is perhaps more interesting to track the career of a director whose career continues to have ups and downs, even after nearly fifty years. De Palma is a must-see for film buffs, fans of Brian De Palma, and really anyone who hopes to work in the film industry.