Are the movies a visual medium? Brian De Palma's oeuvre, which is being screened in its entirety at Metrograph during June, is dedicated to the proposition that it is. I think that movies are a medium--in the spiritual or metaphysical sense of putting the souls of viewers into connection with the souls of filmmakers. That's why, despite my often stunned admiration for many of De Palma's creations, I think that he's a director who's more often fascinating than great. Most of his movies are extraordinary feats of conception and engineering, as much in their vigorous dramatics as in their jolts of visual inspiration--but their sense of control and design stands, so to speak, as a screen between the filmmaker and the viewer rather than connecting them.
Part of the reason this newsletter exists is that there are a lot of movies out there these days, coming at us in all sorts of ways on all manner of screens. And hopefully this newsletter helps you, the reader, save time by just skimming the cream off the top -- curation, as they call it these days. But I'm far from infallible, and things get by me too. Take "The Wailing," for instance. I was a huge fan of Korean filmmaker Na Hong-jin's "The Yellow Sea" a few years back, yet somehow I had no idea he had a new film that premiered at Cannes last month and was already in theaters here in the U.S. Our own Justin Chang reviewed it and liked it, saying last week, "It's a film you watch in a state of slowly gathering dread … because you're never quite sure, on a deeper level, what it wants from you.
Love him or loathe him, and people have regularly done both, there's never been doubt that director Brian De Palma is a filmmaker down to his fingertips. "De Palma," the documentary with his name on it, expertly explores just what that means. The picture's co-directors, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, both have personal relationships with the controversial filmmaker behind everything from "Sisters" and "Obsession" to "Scarface," "The Untouchables" and "Mission: Impossible." So, though Baumbach and Paltrow aren't heard and don't appear on-screen, their doc very much has the form of a conversation between friends and colleagues, with De Palma, and De Palma alone, talking to the camera about the work he's done and why and how he's done it. More than talk, there is footage from each of De Palma's more than 30 works, including the unlikely Bruce Springsteen "Dancing in the Dark" video he directed that features Courteney Cox.
Brian De Palma tucked his napkin under his chin and said, "I woke up in the middle of the night with this idea for a script. In the last big scene, my lead character is photographing a movie set at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Meanwhile, my other story line is winding up on top of the tower." Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow leaned in over their kale salads at Gotham Bar and Grill. De Palma, bearded and bulky at seventy-five, wore a safari jacket, as befits a Hollywood director; his clean-shaven, slimmer, much younger friends from the indie world bracketed him in navy suits.
A Belgian actor of Moroccan descent has turned down the role of a "terrorist" in a film by the director of Scarface, in a move he hopes will curb the stigmatisation of communities in culture. Mourade Zeguendi on Friday thanked his fans for their support in his decision not to play in Brian De Palma's film, three days after announcing the news on his Facebook page. "I would never have thought in my life that I would turn down a film ... for Brian De Palma," Zeguendi had said in a 51-second video that has now been viewed more than 30,000 times. "De Palma, a living legend of cinema, offered me to play in one of his films which is going to be shot in Belgium. The role I was offered, I will let you guess what it was.