Brian Russell De Palma is an American film director and writer, born on September 11, 1940, in Newark, New Jersey. De Palma attended Columbia University in New York, New York. He made his first film, Icarus, as a student there. After De Palma graduated in 1962, he spent time at Sarah Lawrence College on a writing fellowship. In the mid-1960s De Palma began working on his feature-length debut with The Wedding Party, released in 1969 and featured an up-and-coming actor named Robert de Niro. De Palmas career began to take off in the 1970s with the horror film Carrie, based on a Stephen King novel. Often compared to the legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, De Palma has helmed numerous thrillers, such as Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981) starring John Travolta and Body Double (1984). He has also created one of Al Pacino's most famous roles—as Tony Montana, a Cuban refugee who climbs the criminal ladder to become a Miami drug kingpin. In 1987, De Palma directed The Untouchables based on the television show about real life federal agent Eliot Ness' war against the Chicago bootlegging empire of Al Capone.
More than the other New Hollywood directors, De Palma embraced the technical side of filmmaking, excelling at sophisticated camera moves (like the Orbital Shot) and editing techniques (like Split Screen). It's not every director who cares enough about how his film is screened, and knows enough about how film projection works, to send out a memo to theater managers with hints on how to best resolve screening difficulties. Also, many of his films have moments of intense self-reflectiveness about cinema: Blow Out, for example, has a sound editor (whose equipment assists his amateur investigation) as a protagonist; Body Double has an actor (and a major plot point involving body doubles); the beginning of Femme Fatale takes place at Cannes; and The Black Dahlia has Hollywood culture in the 1940s as an important plot point.
He's a BIG fan of Hitchcock—and it shows! Many of his films have obvious allusions to Hitchcock's work, and a few are even considered loose remakes of Hitchcock films. This makes him controversial among cinephiles. He's either considered to be the person who carried on the Hitchcock legacy, or an untalented pretender prone to ripping him off.
He's also well known for having heavy doses of Fanservice in his films—often linked in some way with violence against women, occasionally drawing some controversy for this. His response: "I'm always attacked for having an erotic, sexist approach—-chopping up women, putting women in peril. I'm making suspense movies! What else is going to happen to them?"
He also had a small but important impact on a little film called A New Hope; he held joint auditions with his buddy George Lucas for it and Carrie, because of the similar actor types needed for Carrie White/Princess Leia and Tommy Ross/Luke Skywalker. Then, when Lucas showed him the draft for his film's opening crawl, De Palma found it too long and too "gibberish". De Palma rewrote and edited down the crawl to the now-famous text audiences know and love.
Films directed by Brian De Palma include:
- Murder A La Mod (1968) Little-known early film, finally re-released on The Criterion Collection Blu-ray of Blow Out.
- Greetings (1968) "Underground" indie known for featuring Robert de Niro in his first major role and for being the first film ever to get an "X" rating (the MPAA later changed its mind, and rated it "R").
- The Wedding Party (1969)
- Hi Mom (1970)
- Dionysus (1970)
- Get To Know Your Rabbit (1972)
- Sisters (1973)
- Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
- Obsession (1976)
- Carrie (1976)
- The Fury (1978)
- Home Movies (1980)
- Dressed to Kill (1980)
- Blow Out (1981)
- Scarface (1983)
- Body Double (1984)
- Wise Guys (1986)
- The Untouchables (1987)
- Casualties of War (1989)
- The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
- Raising Cain (1992)
- Carlito's Way (1993)
- Mission: Impossible (1996)
- Snake Eyes (1998)
- Mission to Mars (2000)
- Femme Fatale (2002)
- The Black Dahlia (2006)
- Redacted (2007)
- Passion (2013)
- Domino (2019)
Tropes Pertaining to Brian De Palma's films:
- Auteur License: Even in his more commercial films, De Palma retains a lot of creative control, retaining his particular style in all of his works.
- Author Appeal: His most consistent genres include murder mysteries, psychological thrillers, and crime films.
- Filmmaking is also integral to the plot of Blow Out, and, being a filmmaker, makes this another example of this trope.
- Black Comedy: Very black.
- Color Motifs: He really likes to use neon colors, particularly red and blue.
- Recurring Element: De Palma has been noted for his voyeuristic style, which he achieves through a particular assortment of filmmaking techniques and visual cues in his movies. All such techniques play a role in conveying information to the audience, enhancing the atmosphere, and building up tension. They include:
- Interplay of Sex and Violence: His movies are both very erotic and very violent.
- Production Posse: Actors like Robert de Niro Nancy Allen, Amy Irving, Dennis Franz, Gerrit Graham, William Finley, Al Israel, Jennifer Salt, and Gregg Henry crop up a lot in his work.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Very firmly on the cynical side of things.
- Shout-Out: Frequently references other filmmakers, particularly Alfred Hitchcock, by recreating scenes and shots, or by reusing another movie's premise. It's so frequent that he is often accused of plagiarism.