The death of the au­teur

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

There ex­ist cer­tain peo­ple who, though un­ac­quainted with the amaz­ing, er­ratic, au­da­cious works of Brian De Palma, are still fa­mil­iar with the story of how, as a teenager, De Palma spied on his phi­lan­der­ing fa­ther and sur­prised him by jump­ing out at dad and lover with a knife.

The direc­tor cheer­ily ac­knowl­edges this Oedi­pal drama and several oth­ers. Watch­ing his or­thopaedic sur­geon fa­ther “wres­tle and grap­ple” through bloody pro­ce­dures would con­trib­ute to the film­maker’s love of gore and drilling. He fondly sees his younger self in the voyeurs – say Keith Gor­don in Dressed to Kill or Craig Was­son in Body Dou­ble – that pop­u­late his films.

It might sound creepy or un­com­fort­ably Freudian com­ing from some­one else – the drill used to kill in Body Dou­ble had to be that big and phal­lic in or­der to get through the ceil­ing – but De Palma’s mat­ter-of-fact, jaunty de­liv­ery is sim­ply too riv­et­ing to ar­gue with.

Di­rec­tors Noah Baum­bach and Jake Pal­trow must have re­alised as much from the get-go. Tak­ing cues from such straight-up Er­rol Mor­ris bio-docs as The Fog of War, De Palma lets De Palma do the talk­ing, di­rectly to cam­era. Archive footage, stills and oc­ca­sional scenes are utilised quickly and merely as an il­lus­trated guide to his words.

His Brat-Pack col­leagues – Martin Scors­ese, Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola, Steven Spiel­berg – are glimpsed only briefly, ca­vort­ing on the beach in an an­cient pho­to­graph. There’s a lot (dozens of movies, three wives) to get through. Any num­ber of his syn­opses might serve as the sub­ject for a full-length doc­u­men­tary.

He has con­trib­uted at least one mas­ter­piece ( Blow Out), a gold stan­dard hor­ror ( Car­rie), and an un­in­ten­tional hip-hop clas­sic ( Scar­face) to cin­ema. Hav­ing com­pleted just three films since 2002, he ap­pears to know that the game is up: there is sim­ply no room for big-name au­teurs and play­ful filmic de­vices in the cold, cal­cu­lat­ing cli­mate of con­tem­po­rary movie-mak­ing. He rightly iden­ti­fies him­self as the last of the Hitch­cock­ian prac­ti­tion­ers. Amaz­ingly, he’s not bit­ter.

Along­side the canon, there are hugely juicy bits of movie gos­sip (Amy Irv­ing came close to be­ing Princess Lea; Michael J Fox fell foul of Sean Penn’s method act­ing on Ca­su­al­ties of War; Robert De Niro wore the same silk un­der­wear as Al Capone in The Un­touch­ables, and re­fused to learn his lines) as De Palma talks us though a fas­ci­nat­ing ca­reer. A must for cineastes. Top ram­bling.

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