If I’m honest, I think Brian De Palma is one of the most polarized, hit-or-miss directors out there. When he’s great – SCARFACE, THE UNTOUCHABLES, CARLITO’S WAY, BLOW OUT, CARRIE – he’s outstanding, a true master of suspense from both a narrative and a cinematic or technical standpoint, and capable of blending action with intrigue and drama in a way that’s often imitated but rarely paralleled.
But when he’s not so good – FEMMA FATALE, PASSION, WISE GUYS, THE BLACK DAHLIA – he’s a tad derivative, if only of himself, and his narrative is muddled by his aesthetic, resulting in shadows of greatness.
Good or not so good, though, there’s one thing that is absolutely true about Brian De Palma no matter which film we’re talking about: he’s also one of the most ambitious mainstream filmmakers America has ever produced. De Palma never settles, he never digs a rut and sits in it. Each film he’s made – regardless of the quality of the result – is either a stride in a new direction or a farther journey down a familiar path.
Crime, drama, suspense, war, comedy, horror, period pieces, sci-fi, erotic thrillers – guy’s a western away from finishing his genre punch card. And yeah, you take a lot of swings you’re going to get some strikes, but I think “good” or “bad” isn’t necessarily the best way to gauge a filmmaker; I think intention counts for something, ambition too, because art without risk of failure isn’t art, it’s commerce. Brian De Palma takes risks, great big ones, with great big results either way.
If it’s been a while since you’ve re-visited the De Palma catalogue, get into the mood with this great supercut from Romain Desbiens that covers the director’s entire career that reveals not only his ability to tell a great story, but also to tell it with breathtaking imagery.