Thursday, September 28, 2006

On De Palma

Just read this four-day-old piece in the LA Times on director Brian De Palma and thought I should point it out for those of y'all who maybe missed it. It sums up the fascination of De Palma movies better than I've seen articulated elsewhere, even if the writer is obviously a little too lenient/in love with some of De Palma's misfires (I gave Femme Fatale a chance, having heard from many a De Palma acolyte that it was his strongest, De Palm-iest film in awhile, and... just yawn).

"Like R. Crumb, with his pageant of brazen racial and sexual stereotypes, De Palma was unapologetically upfront about the lurid inappropriateness of his fantasy life.

Unlike Crumb, he doesn't always make it clear if he is "commenting" on those gonzo stereotypes or buying into them. Probably a little of both. But he is a much more calculating artist than Crumb, who is so entranced by his own perversities that he can't quite imagine anyone being shocked by them. De Palma, by contrast, always has his public in mind. The diabolical streak in his thrillers comes from the fact that he is not as shocked as we are about what he is showing us. And boy, does he want us to know it.

And yet there is much more to De Palma than puppet-mastery, just as there was with Hitchcock, who suffered a similar criticism. The adverse comparisons to Hitchcock have for the most part been unfair. While it's true that the distinction between rip-off and homage is sometimes stretched a bit thin in De Palma's films — "Body Double," that bargain-bin "Rear Window," comes to mind — the whole feeling tone of his movies is much more voluptuous and surreal and malign."

I'm a big fan of many a De Palma film - Carrie and Sisters are personal faves, but I love the schlock that Body Double and Dressed To Kill wear proudly on their sleeves - and this article does one of the best jobs I've read of pulling together such a disparate filmography to find some cohesive themes; specifically, pointing out "De Palma's recurring nightmare — the torture of not being able to rescue a loved one." That fits into every De Palma film I can think of, even Mission: Impossible.

I've got his film Obsession coming for this weekend, which I've yet to see, and from what I've heard it's one of the ones in which the Hitchcock accusation (along with BD) is most often lobbed.

I agree with the writer of the piece here, though, that De Palma's fascinations may intertwine with some of Hitch's, and there's no denying he's often playing off of Hitch's takes on certain themes (cough*women scary*cough), but in the end De Palma's own twisted and slightly baroque sensibility makes these things his own.


Glenn Dunks said...

i love Femme Fatale. I'm not entirely sure why.

Jason Adams said...

I really wanted to love it, I was totally ready to love it, and then... just didn't. I honestly think I like his film Snake Eyes more, which ain't saying a lot. Besides that Carla Guigino makes for a much better femme for me than the Romaine.