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Brian De Palma (1940 - )

Lifespan: 1940 -

Related: American cinema - director

Brian De Palma

Films: Body Double (1984)

Brian De Palma is an American film directory of the New Hollywood generation. His works explore themes of suspense, murder, obsession, and psychiatric disorders, among others. His cinematic style is much indebted to that of Alfred Hitchcock to whom a number of films 'Dressed to Kill', 'Blow Out' and 'Body Double' are straight homages. He is famous for using a flamboyantly visual cinematic style. [Sept 2006]

Body Double (1984) - Brian De Palma [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Brian De Palma (born September 11, 1940 in Newark, New Jersey) is an American film director.

De Palma is often cited as a leading member of the Brat Pack generation of film Directors and Actors including George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. For a time he was quite loyal in casting Amy Irving and Nancy Allen.

His works explore themes of suspense, murder, obsession, and psychiatric disorders, among others. De Palma's cinematic style is much indebted to that of Alfred Hitchcock to whom a number of films 'Dressed to Kill', 'Blow Out' and 'Body Double' are straight homages. He is famous for using techniques of split screen, split-diopter, process shots, and long tracking shots (for example, Snake Eyes opens with an uninterupted 25 minute Steadicam shot.

Critics of De Palma accuse him of being misogynistic, and of emphasizing technical aspects of storytelling at the expense of human stories. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_De_Palma [Mar 2005]

Accusations of plagiarism misogyny

"It comes out of making my thrillers in the '70s and early '80s; I had women as protagonists and we had a strong feminist movement emerging. If you put a woman in a situation where she's gonna get killed or chopped up or stabbed, you were a misogynist. I make thrillers; I think women in peril are more interesting than men; and I like to have a woman in a negligee wandering around in a dark house rather than Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm sorry. It works for me better." --Ian Rothkerch for Salon.com

Stalking camera

De Palma's most important contributions to contemporary cinema lie in his inventive, visually-dynamic style. He frequently employs such techniques as the stalking, searching camera, split screens, slow motion, "God's eye" point-of-view shots, and an expressively detailed mise-en-scene. A master of rhythmic editing, he has often opened his films with extended, viscerally composed sequences that confirm his status as one of the great stylists of contemporary American cinema --Hollywood.com

Accusations of plagiarism

Brian De Palma has been called everything from a rip-off merchant to the most visually interesting director working in films today. I tend towards the latter viewpoint myself, but there is no denying his plagiarism of Hitchcock's masterworks. Sisters (often called Blood Sisters), more than any of De Palma's films, proves how talented the man is, and it's my own favourite Brian De Plasma flick. Utilising a Bernard Herrmann score (remember that it was Herrmann who provided Psycho's chilling musical accompaniment), and some astounding use of split-screen techniques, the director adds his own spin on Hitchcock's Rear Window (with a couple of nods in the direction of both Psycho and Vertigo for good measure). Both Carrie and Dressed to Kill were well-received by the critics, but Body Double and Raising Cain had the critics frowning upon the director's visual ventriloquism once again (Cain does have a cult following though). Snake Eyes (1998) reveals that De Palma hasn't lost his mastery of the camera, but his directorial flourishes aren't enough to sustain a whole movie these days. --Noel O'Shea

The art of stalking

In the early 1970s, shock director Brian DePalma (often using film techniques comparable to horror Master Alfred Hitchcock) emerged as a significant contributor to the horror genre, breaking out with his original mainstream film Sisters (1973), followed by his first commercial hit Carrie (1976) - an adaptation of writer Stephen King's best-selling story about a socially-outcast, shy schoolgirl (Sissy Spacek) possessed with retributive telekinetic powers, and her religious fanatic mother (Piper Laurie). His next successful film was the erotic horror/thriller Dressed to Kill (1980) with an imitative Psycho-shower scene, and a marvelous seduction-stalking scene in a museum. --http://www.filmsite.org/horrorfilms3.html

Phantom of the Paradise (1974) - Brian De Palma

Phantom of the Paradise (1974) - Brian De Palma [Amazon.com]

Describing Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise as an update of the classic Phantom of the Opera doesn't do justice to this demented movie. While De Palma's Hitchcock homages have sometimes led him into dead ends, this rock & roll remake seems to have liberated De Palma's imagination, and the result is weird and funny, with the scruffy underground spirit of the director's early pictures. The Phantom is one Winslow Leach (William Finley), a nerdy songwriter whose "pop cantata" on the subject of Faust is stolen by a freakish, Phil Spector-like rock impresario called Swan (Paul Williams). After getting his head caught in a vinyl-LP compressor, Leach is transformed into a masked creature, haunting Swan's music palace, the Paradise. De Palma proves how nimbly he can establish narrative rhythm: the story moves like a cannon shot, and the musical numbers (especially in the Alice Cooper-like Paradise sequences) are brilliantly cut. The movie seems to predict the Studio 54 scene, MTV, and punk rock--the last, especially, in the figure of Beef, a screeching singer played by the unhinged Gerrit Graham. The songs were written by Paul Williams, that diminutive '70s music icon (he cowrote the Barbra Streisand wet noodle "Evergreen"), and his performance is a reminder of his peculiar, self-spoofing presence: at one point, the preening Swan announces, "You know how I abhor perfection in anyone but myself." Comedy, musical, horror film, '70s artifact--this movie isn't quite definable, and that's what's wonderful about it. --Robert Horton for Amazon.com

The Phantom of the Paradise (1974): Also called The Phantom of the Fillmore; a rock musical directed by Brian De Palma

Phantom of the Paradise is a 1974 cult film written and directed by Brian De Palma. The story is a loosely adapted mixture of Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Faust. The film's tagline is He's been maimed, framed, beaten, robbed and mutilated. But they still can't keep him from the woman he loves. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantom_of_the_Paradise [Jul 2006]

Michael B. Scrutchin review of Sisters

Brian De Palma's 1973 shocker Sisters opens and closes with images of voyeurism, and throughout the film De Palma reminds us that, as movie watchers, we're really voyeurs ourselves. Most people see movies as passive entertainment, but De Palma doesn't let us off the hook that easily. He wants us to be aware of our position as voyeurs and make us think about our creepy advantage over the characters we're watching on screen. De Palma also makes us wonder -- Who's watching us?

The first thing we see in Sisters is a black man in a locker room. A pretty blind girl enters, feeling her way around with a cane, then starts to undress in front of him. The camera zooms in on the man's face, the corny game-show music rises up, and we realize that this is merely a segment on a game show called "Peeping Toms." De Palma certainly isn't beating around the bush as to what the real subject of this movie is. After the show is over, the black man and the girl go out together, then wind up at the girl's apartment for some after-dinner sex. --http://www.flipsidemovies.com/sisters.html

More films

  1. Obsession (1976) - Brian De Palma [Amazon US]
    Though he had made comedies with Robert De Niro (Hi Mom, Greetings!), a horror movie (Sisters), and a rock musical (Phantom of the Paradise), it wasn't until this 1976 film that Brian De Palma truly announced himself as the heir to Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Paul Schrader, this film is an homage to Vertigo, with its own stylish twists and turns. Cliff Robertson plays a businessman who, while traveling in Italy, meets a young woman (Genevieve Bujold) who is a dead ringer for his late wife, who had been killed in a kidnapping years earlier. As he woos and wins her, the vibes get creepier and creepier because, well, something's not right about this woman. Interestingly, this film came out the same year as De Palma's Carrie, a much more successful movie at the box office. But it was this movie that, for all its flaws, proclaimed De Palma as a stylist with a sure-handed command of visual storytelling. --Marshall Fine --Amazon.com

  2. Carrie (1976) - Brian De Palma [Amazon US]
    This terrifying adaptation of Stephen King's bestselling horror novel was directed by shock maestro Brian De Palma for maximum, no-holds-barred effect. Sissy Spacek stars as Carrie White, the beleaguered daughter of a religious kook (Piper Laurie) and a social outcast tormented by her cruel, insensitive classmates. When her rage turns into telekinetic powers, however, school's out in every sense of the word. De Palma's horrific climax in a school gym lingers forever in the memory, though the film is also built upon Spacek's remarkable performance and Piper Laurie's outlandishly creepy one. John Travolta has a small part as a thug, De Palma's future wife, Nancy Allen, is his girlfriend, and Amy Irving makes her screen debut as one of the girls giving Carrie a hard time. --Tom Keogh

  3. Sisters (1973) - Brian De Palma [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    Sisters is not Brian De Palma's first film, but in many ways it is the first Brian De Palma film, or at least the first to reveal (and revel in) his affinity with Hitchcock. A pre-Superman Margot Kidder struggles with a French-Canadian accent as an aspiring actress whose one-night stand leads to a homicidal morning-after. Jennifer Salt is a reporter with more moxie than tact or skill who sees the killing from her apartment window across the way. When the police fail to turn up any evidence of the crime, Salt investigates with a private eye (the hilariously relentless Charles Durning), uncovering the secret story of a pair of Siamese twins and a weaselly, stalker doctor. It's a mystery simmering in a stew of voyeurism, guilt, sex, and obsession. De Palma borrows from Rear Window, Psycho, and Vertigo (as well as Roman Polanski's Repulsion), and composer Bernard Herrmann quotes from his own Hitchcock scores (notably Psycho) for the unsettling music, but the result is more original than you might imagine. Laced with dark humor, inventive technique, and impressive technical precision (the split-screen sequences are breathtakingly effective), De Palma flexes his cinematic muscles with thrilling results, right down to the mordantly wry conclusion. De Palma graduated to big-budget thrillers, but this modest little production remains one of his sharpest, slyest, most engrossing films. Long available only in pallid video transfers, the Home Vision/Criterion letterboxed restoration is bright, clear, and beautiful. --Sean Axmaker [...]

  4. Dressed to Kill (1980) - Brian De Palma [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    To condemn Dressed to Kill as a Hitchcock rip-off is to miss the sheer enjoyment of Brian De Palma's delirious 1980 thriller. Hitchcockian homages run rampant through most of De Palma's earlier films, and this one's chock-full of visual quotes, mostly cribbed from Vertigo and Psycho. But De Palma's indulgent depravity transcends simple mimicry to assume a vitality all its own. It's smothered in thickly atmospheric obsessions with sex, dread, paranoia, and voyeurism, not to mention a heavy dose of Psycho-like psychobabble about a wannabe transsexual who's compelled to slash up any attractive female who reminds him--the horror!--that he's still very much a man.
    Angie Dickinson plays the sexually unsatisfied, fortysomething wife who's the killer's first target, relaying her sexual fantasies to her psychiatrist (Michael Caine) before actually living one of them out after the film's celebrated cat-and-mouse sequence in a Manhattan art museum. The focus then switches to a murder witness (De Palma's then-girlfriend Nancy Allen) and Dickinson's grieving whiz-kid son (Keith Gordon), who attempt to solve the murder while staying one step ahead (or so they think) of the crude detective (Dennis Franz) assigned to the case. Propelled by Pino Donaggio's lush and stimulating score, De Palma's visuals provide seductive counterpoint to his brashly candid dialogue, and the plot conceals its own implausibility with morbid thrills and intoxicating suspense. If you're not laughing at De Palma's shameless audacity, you're sure to be on the edge of your seat. for amazon.com --Jeff Shannon [...]

  5. Hi, Mom! (1970) - Brian De Palma [1 DVD, Amazon US]
    Robert De Niro has played many odd ball characters in his day and perhaps none more so than Jon Rubin, in Brian De Palma's Hi,Mom! The movie begins with De Niro renting a run down apartment in the city where he can begin his new career. This career, he has decided, will be in the adult film industy. He tries to convinces a smut producer to give him a budget to film his neighbors in the buiding across from him. Eventually, he agrees so using a telephotolens De Niro begins recording their every move. Unfortunatly his targets(who have no idea they are being watched) are not very interesting. So De Niro begins to date a girl in the building he has noticed is lonely in an attempt to spice up his video. However, this does not pan out and De Niro's porn career is over. He turns his camera in for a television. This leads him to take a role in a play called Be Black Baby playing a police officer. It is being put on by some black radicals to illustrate to white people what it would be like to be black in contemperary America. The play is shocking and probably the most interesting part of the film. After the play is over De Niro returns to the girl from the building across from him and the movie ends in a melodramatic and bizarre fasion. This movie is definatly worth watching. This film put Brian De Palma on the map, and De Niro shows flashes of the brilliance that in years to come would create so many classic characters. - lecorel@hotmail.com for amazon.com [...]

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