Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
Film fans won’t want to miss this excellent summation of the career of one of the most divisive American filmmakers of the twentieth century. Brian De Palma started his career in the late sixties and since then has made a number of provocative, thoroughly entertaining films that never apologize for their indulgence in strong imagery (all the nudity and violence you can muster) or for their earlier film influences (the name Brian de Hitchcock has been applied to him more than once). What directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow do in this intelligent and fluid documentary is let the man and his work speak for themselves, with brief biographical detail at the beginning before an itemized trip through his career with his own commentary about each film. De Palma, at the point of this film in his mid-seventies, is easy and charming about everything to do with his career, not bitter about the disasters (Bonfire of the Vanities) nor treating his great successes as anything other than happy surprises. His defense of the aspects of his films that are criticized the most, mostly the exploitation of naked female bodies, won’t wash with all viewers, but there also a refreshing honesty about colleagues good and bad and, most important, a terrific selection of film clips by Baumbach and Paltrow that show each of the film’s at their best possible moments. It’s clear that the directors are more in love with his early work than the later stuff (I get that Femme Fatale isn’t De Palma at his most successful, but I’d be interested in more information about it anyway), but the lack of commentary by other critics or family members is such a smart decision that makes for a crisp and strong film essay.