Tuesday, February 27, 2007
There was something surreal about seeing Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola give Martin Scorsese his long overdue Oscar the other night. While I am not a huge Lucas or Spielberg fan there is no denying their monumental importance to film and seeing this group together again was pretty inspiring. I felt it was pretty obvious that Scorsese was going to win when those three walked out on the stage; so upon their introduction where Lucas joked that that he was the only one who hadn't won an oscar I found myself thinking about a photograph I had seen years before and about a guy who has never even been nominated for an Academy Award.
I have never been able to comprehend peoples disdain for Brian De Palma. De Palma's films along with Scorseses and Coppolas shaped my youth as no other American filmmaker did, and yet many people continue to have an overwhelming hatred for De Palma's body of work.
The complaints against De Palma have almost always been the same and have almost always been unsatisfactory to me. The biggest one is the misogynistic claim that has constantly been thrown at him. I have always had the hardest time swallowing this one as it is hard to think of another modern American director who has continually worked with such strong women in his films. De Palma's 'golden' age between Sisters and Scarface presented us with some of the most effective work by actresses in that incredible period. From Margot Kidder in Sisters through Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface De Palma had an amazing skill at photographing, directing and bringing out the best of his leading ladies. Sissy Spacek remains the most famous De Palma heroine in Carrie but one shouldn't overlook the work of Amy Irving and Nancy Allen in these films. I would hold Amy Irving's work in The Fury among the great performances of the seventies and Nancy Allen brought such an immeasurable presence to De Palma's cinema that it is impossible to imagine these films without her.
The other criticisms have always been the same: too violent, too stylized, too Hitchcockian....too much. I honestly think that many 'film' lovers are actually scared of cinema, and the possibilities of it. De Palma is one of the most cinematic of all directors, this man loves film and he loves what he can do with it. More than any of his peers De Palma has been able to create a body of work that is itself in love with cinema, but it is also a body of work that has an emotional resonance that many continue to deny. For all of the audacious camera work, split screens, slow motion, deep focus and long tracking shots many of my favorite De Palma moments are more intensely personal shots. Travolta in the last scene of Blow-Out, Pacino standing in the rain in Carlito's Way watching Penelope Ann Miller through the window, the look on Amy Irving's face right before the climax of The Fury. De Palma isn't afraid to be as human as he is stylish, and it is the emotional weight that his greatest films carry, along with his undeniably power as a technician, that allows these films to endure more and more year after year.
I plan on writing more in the future on De Palma, I can't imagine my life as a movie lover without his films. Also this man can still deliver, seeing Femme Fatale a few years back was one of the most invigorating, and emotional, experiences I have ever had in a theater.
Brian De Palma will probably never even get nominated for an Academy Award and I am sure it didn't cross anyone else's mind that he was missing from that group the other night. His critics have always tried to push him to the margins and yet his work continues to thrive. People keep discovering his films, gloating web-sites continue to appear and for people like me that have loved his work for so many years, we continue to find the answer as to why we love cinema in his greatest films.