On his seventy-sixth birthday, we’re celebrating the work of Hollywood enfant terrible Brian De Palma, whose iconoclastic five-decade career has encompassed an astonishing array of genres, including erotic thriller, war drama, and science fiction. In his honor, join us in revisiting a selection of essays and videos that explore the subversive power and meticulous craftsmanship of some of his most important films.
First, read Bruce Kawin on the voyeuristic gaze in De Palma’s 1973 film Sisters. “From start to finish, Sisters is charged with scenes of looking—from seeing a murder through a window to seeing another person’s memories in one’s own mind,” Kawin writes. “The camera is more probing and attentive than in De Palma’s earlier work; it isolates crucial objects better, roves more smoothly over the mysterious terrain it investigates. This is a sign not only of the increased formal control of this picture—a goal De Palma set himself here, using Hitchcock as his model—but also of the filmmaker’s having taken on the role of looker.”
Next, watch De Palma discuss a captivating sequence from his 1980 erotic thriller Dressed to Kill with director Noah Baumbach:
Read Michael Koresky’s essay on Dressed to Kill, which identifies Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho as “an urtext for modern American film . . . De Palma further magnifies the terrors and seductions of Psycho to call attention, with his most accomplished filmmaking and the fullest realization of his metacinematic ambitions to that point, to the workings of cinema and what it means to be a movie watcher.”
Enjoy a Three Reasons video on De Palma’s paranoid masterpiece Blow Out:
Revisit critic Michael Sragow’s examination of Blow Out, which notes the symbiotic relationship between De Palma and Pauline Kael: “As critic and creator, Kael and De Palma became as strongly linked as Edmund Wilson and F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Malcolm Cowley and William Faulkner. She championed his work, and he fulfilled her dreams.”
Finally, read Kael’s essay on the film, which originally appeared in the July 27, 1981, issue of the New Yorker. “Seeing this film is like experiencing the body of De Palma’s work and seeing it in a new way,” she writes. “Genre techniques are circuitry; in going beyond genre, De Palma is taking some terrifying first steps. He is investing his work with a different kind of meaning. His relation to the terror in Carrie or Dressed to Kill could be gleeful because it was pop and he could ride it out; now he’s in it.”