By M.V. Moorhead
For all the faults of his movies, even for all the supposed great faults of his character, I’ve always had a soft spot for director Brian De Palma.
While the frequent charge that he’s a misogynist can’t, I think, be deduced from his movies, the general smarminess and arrested adolescence that many of them give off is hard to deny.
But his filmmaking mastery is even harder to deny. There’s a lot of schlock and silliness on the list of his credits, but there are several enduring classics, too, and I find that scenes from even his worst misfires remain in my memory in a way that plenty of better movies don’t. This is because, of course, he’s a true cinema stylist, lavishing so much craft and obsessive care on even the most absurd or ugly content that it ends up charged with vivid atmosphere.
In anticipation of De Palma, the upcoming documentary about the director by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, Phoenix Film Festival is presenting “De Palma Week,” June 13 through June 16 at Scottsdale 101.
Three of De Palma’s major works will be screened, one each night at 7, followed on the final evening by a screening of the documentary.
Admission to the first three evenings is just $5; tickets to the De Palma screening are not available for purchase, but must be won; there will be opportunities to do so at the three earlier screenings:
June 13: Carrie—De Palma’s 1976 version of Steven King’s novel, the first movie adaptation of King’s work, was a smash, and probably started the process of turning King into American horror’s household name.
For this sad, scary fairy tale of a picked-on, outcast high school girl (Sissy Spacek) with telekinetic powers who raises hell at her senior prom, De Palma uses his characteristic tricks—spilt screens, slow motion, long sinuous tracking shots—to cast a dreamlike spell.
Both Spacek and Piper Laurie as Carrie’s religious fanatic mother (Piper Laurie) got Oscar nominations, and the young John Travolta, Nancy Allen and Amy Irving are also in the cast.
The final jolt is a classic; I can remember the screams in the theater (including my own) when I saw it the first time.
June 14: Scarface—One of the signature American movies of the ‘80s, De Palma’s 1983 gangster saga reset the 1932 classic in Miami, and gave Al Pacino, hamming vigorously, the second most famous role of his career, that of Tony Montana, the Cuban refugee turned killer turned cocaine kingpin.
As with so much of De Palma’s work, the film is loaded with bloody violence and carnage, presented in elegantly, finely-constructed sequences.
The pace bogs down some in the second half—until the wild shootout finale, that is, from which derives Pacino’s now-familiar catchphrase, as he’s about to let loose at his enemies with a comically enormous automatic weapon: “Say hello to my leetle friend!”
Then on June 15, after a voting process that is still ongoing at this writing, the Fest will offer a “Viewer’s Choice,” of either Dressed to Kill or Carlito’s Way.
Though I like 1993’s Carlito’s Way, another gangster melodrama with Al Pacino, I hope the choice is:
Dressed to Kill—De Palma’s 1980 homage to Hitchcock, this gruesome psychological thriller with Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson and Nancy Allen seems, in some ways, like the quintessential expression of De Palma’s twisted psyche, for better and worse.
The sensibility of the movie, which De Palma also scripted, has aged poorly—both the horrifying brutality of the central murder sequence and the implications of the story’s twist ending are unsavory.
But as an exercise in technique, it packs at least as much of a punch as it ever did.
Finally, on June 16, the series will conclude with the special screening of Baumbach and Paltrow’s documentary De Palma, which gives the man in question a chance to explain himself.
Go to PhoenixFilmFestival.com for details.