Exclusive Interview: Brian De Palma

     September 7, 2006

(To skip the introduction and behold the whole shootin’ match, click here. And thanks to my good friend Devin Faraci, without whom I would’ve been cursing Universal publicity for years to come.)
“What’s it like to work with Scarlett Johansson?” I may not be the most adept interviewer, but I’m not about to blow my twenty minutes with Brian De Palma at the historic Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles with so routine a query. Actually, it’s the director himself posing the question, only it’s with weary sarcasm and to no one in particular – a grim acknowledgment of the boilerplate interrogations he’ll be enduring all day at the hands of personalities from Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, Extra and all the other glitzy, low-cal entertainment news shows.

It’s the prospect of these interviews, and how they might darken the mood of the junket-loathing De Palma, that worried me prior to conducting the below interview with the man I consider America’s greatest living filmmaker. But, while clearly worn out from attending three festivals – Venice, Edinburgh and Deauville – over the last couple of weeks, De Palma is actually quite friendly and very ready to discuss that which he’s endlessly discussed since mid-August. What he doesn’t seem to know before we get into it is that the timid guy armed with two pages of notes seated across from him has been looking forward to this day since the summer of 1987, when The Untouchables offered escape from familial discord and an awkward transition into young adulthood. Never mind that said timid guy has since downgraded The Untouchables to second-tier De Palma after all, rare is the thirteen-year-old who connects fully with Blow Out and Body Double (though the latter was certainly held in high regard for reasons not entirely owing to superb craftsmanship). There’s a point where you begin to identify the nuances of visual storytelling and the presence of symbolism, metaphor and theme, and that moment for me was my first viewing of The Untouchables. Though I knew I wanted to make movies before that, the idea of being a “filmmaker” didn’t exist until I beheld the union of De Palma and David Mamet.

So you’ll hopefully excuse the personal bias that permeates this interview and keeps it from becoming the bare-knuckle, film-by-film examination of De Palma’s career that I’d love to conduct with the man at some point. Apropos to the two main characters of The Black Dahlia, consider this a tentative, feeling-out Round One of what might be a Fifteen Round bout in the future. Or not. The filmmakers of the 1970s – e.g. Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola and Malick – have all successfully avoided comprehensive analyses of their oeuvres thus far, and this is probably a good thing since they all seem to be at interesting crossroads. Spielberg is growing more cynical, Scorsese more anonymous and De Palma… well, he just needs a hit to go wherever it is he appeared to be headed with Femme Fatale.

FYI, the ending of the movie is discussed very early, and it’s different from the book. For good measure, the ending of Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye gets spoiled, too. You have been warned.

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