Brian De Palma's Split-Screen: A Life in Film
Over the last five decades, the films of director Brian De Palma (b. 1940) have been among the biggest successes (The Untouchables, Mission: Impossible) and the most high-profile failures (The Bonfire of the Vanities) in Hollywood history. De Palma helped launch the careers of such prominent actors as Robert De Niro, John Travolta, and Sissy Spacek (who was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress in Carrie). Indeed Quentin Tarantino named Blow Out as one of his top three favorite films, praising De Palma as the best living American director.
Picketed by feminists protesting its depictions of violence against women, Dressed to Kill helped to create the erotic thriller genre. Scarface, with its over-the-top performance by Al Pacino, remains a cult favorite. In the twenty-first century, De Palma has continued to experiment, incorporating elements from videogames (Femme Fatale), tabloid journalism (The Black Dahlia), YouTube, and Skype (Redacted and Passion) into his latest works.
What makes De Palma such a maverick even when he is making Hollywood genre films? Why do his movies often feature megalomaniacs and failed heroes? Is he merely a misogynist and an imitator of Alfred Hitchcock? To answer these questions, author Douglas Keesey takes a biographical approach to De Palma’s cinema, showing how De Palma reworks events from his own life into his films. Written in an accessible style, and including a chapter on every one of his films to date, this book is for anyone who wants to know more about De Palma’s controversial films or who wants to better understand the man who made them.
off is a great joke,” comments Chris. “He’d kill her if he thought he could get a laugh out of it.” And what about Wiley, the dirty-movie producer? Did he set up a secret camera in the ceiling above a bed in order to capture unsuspecting women in the nude, to “trick” them into being filmed? Although he claims that it is Chris’s camera, Wiley—with his dark shades and phallic cigar—seems awfully excited about this voyeuristic view of female flesh. “Did you see what I see?” he asks Otto. “Wow,
father having sex with a nurse—an act of adultery which involved a mortifying betrayal and replacement of De Palma’s mother, much as Swan vows to wed but then plots to assassinate Phoenix, replacing her with another star. It is interesting that Phoenix’s and Winslow’s replacement is Beef, portrayed by Gerrit Graham, the same actor who will play the character who is essentially De Palma’s brother Bruce in Home Movies. De Palma always felt that he failed in his rivalry with Bruce, who seemed to
able to realize that the most rational explanation for Sandra’s remarkable resemblance to his wife is that she is Elizabeth’s daughter, who has now grown up to be the same age his wife was when she died. (After the car exploded and sank into the river, Sandra was presumed dead, but her body was never found.) And if Michael could see Sandra as his and Elizabeth’s daughter, then he would realize that marrying her would be incest. At a dinner in Florence with fellow rich businessmen, all of whom
an ideal love he had years ago.) Does Michael actually commit incest? In the original version of Obsession, he really does marry and bed Sandra (who is his own daughter, Amy), but the film struggled to find a distributor and so De Palma came up with a compromise that would allow the film to be released: “Originally, [Michael] does sleep with his daughter; that does in fact happen, and it’s scary and dangerous and you go, ‘Oh, my God!’ But when we were trying to get a distributor, that scared
friends, learn to sit at a desk, eat what’s good for you instead of what you like” and you take up “chess, gardening, and taxidermy”—the nervous groom is surrounded by stuffed wild animals, neutered as Charlie is about to be. A fox has its jaws near Charlie’s crotch, much as in Psycho where a stuffed bird had its beak near the head of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), henpecked by his mother. Throughout his stay in the family mansion, older women cut off Charlie’s access to Josephine, constantly