Brian De Palma


Brian Russell De Palma (born September 11, 1940) is an American film director and screenwriter. With a career spanning over 50 years, he is best known for his work in the suspense, crime and psychological thriller genres. He made his feature debut with Murder a la Mod (1968), with Andra Akers, William Finley, Jared Martin, and Jennifer Salt. Other early films include Greetings (1968), with Robert De Niro, Gerrit Graham, Allen Garfield, and Roz Kelly; Hi, Mom! (1970), with De Niro, Garfield, Salt, Lara Parker, Paul Bartel, Charles Durning, and Gerrit Graham; Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972), with Tom Smothers, John Astin, Katharine Ross, Orson Welles, Suzanne Zenor, and Garfield; and Sisters (1973), with Margot Kidder, Salt, and Durning.

More films in the 1970s include Phantom of the Paradise (1974), with Paul Williams, William Finley, and Jessica Harper; Obsession (1976), with Cliff Robertson, Geneviève Bujold, John Lithgow, and Stocker Fontelieu; Carrie (1976), with Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, William Katt, P.J. Soles, Betty Buckley, and John Travolta; and The Fury (1978), with Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Amy Irving, Carrie Snodgress, Durning, and Andrew Stevens.

Films in the 1980s include Home Movies (1980), with Douglas, Allen, Vincent Gardenia, Keith Gordon, Theresa Saldana, and Graham; Dressed to Kill (1980), with Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Allen, and Keith Gordon; Blow Out (1981), with Travolta, Allen, Lithgow, and Dennis Franz; Scarface (1983), with Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Robert Loggia; Body Double (1984), with Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry, Melanie Griffith, and Deborah Shelton; Wise Guys (1986), with Danny DeVito, Joe Piscopo, Harvey Keitel, Ray Sharkey, Lou Albano, Dan Hedaya, and Frank Vincent; The Untouchables (1987), with Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy García, Robert De Niro, and Sean Connery; and Casualties of War (1989), with Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn, Don Patrick Harvey, John C. Reilly, and John Leguizamo.

Films in the 1990s include The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), with Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Griffith, Morgan Freeman, Kim Cattrall, Saul Rubinek, and Alan King; Raising Cain (1992), with Lithgow, Lolita Davidovich, Steven Bauer, and Frances Sternhagen; Carlito’s Way (1993), with Pacino, Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzman, Leguizamo, Jorge Porcel, Joseph Siravo, and Viggo Mortensen; Mission: Impossible (1996), with Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Henry Czerny, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Vanessa Redgrave; and Snake Eyes (1998), with Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, John Heard, Carla Gugino, Stan Shaw, and Kevin Dunn.

Films in the 2000s include Mission to Mars (2000), with Sinise, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O’Connell, Kim Delaney, and Tim Robbins; Femme Fatale (2002), with Antonio Banderas, Rebecca Romijn, Peter Coyote, and Gregg Henry; The Black Dahlia (2006), with Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr, and Fiona Shaw; Redacted (2007), with Ty Jones, Kel O’Neill, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Izzy Diaz, Rob Devaney, Patrick Carroll; Passion (2013), with Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Karoline Herfurth, and Paul Anderson; and Domino (2019), with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Carice van Houten, Guy Pearce, and Eriq Ebouaney.

De Palma is often cited as a leading member of the New Hollywood generation of film directors. His directing style often makes use of quotations from other films or cinematic styles, and bears the influence of filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Jean-Luc Godard. His films have been criticised for their violence and sexual content but have also been championed by prominent critics such as Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael. Because of the subject matter and graphic violence of some of De Palma’s films, such as Dressed to Kill, Scarface and Body Double, they are often at the center of controversy with the Motion Picture Association of America, film critics and the viewing public.

De Palma is known for quoting and referencing other directors’ work throughout his career. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup and Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Conversation plots were used for the basis of Blow Out. The Untouchables’ finale shoot out in the train station is a clear borrow from the Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein‘s The Battleship Potemkin. The main plot from Rear Window was used for Body Double, while it also used elements of Vertigo. Vertigo was also the basis for Obsession. Dressed to Kill was a note-for-note homage to Hitchcock’s Psycho, including such moments as the surprise death of the lead actress and the exposition scene by the psychiatrist at the end.

Film critics have often noted De Palma’s penchant for unusual camera angles and compositions throughout his career. He often frames characters against the background using a canted angle shot. Split-screen techniques have been used to show two separate events happening simultaneously. To emphasize the dramatic impact of a certain scene De Palma has employed a 360-degree camera pan. Slow sweeping, panning and tracking shots are often used throughout his films, often through precisely-choreographed long takes lasting for minutes without cutting. Split focus shots, often referred to as “di-opt”, are used by De Palma to emphasize the foreground person/object while simultaneously keeping a background person/object in focus. Slow-motion is frequently used in his films to increase suspense.

Each review will be linked to the title below.

(*seen originally in theaters)

(**seen rereleased in theaters)

  • Icarus (1960) – short
  • 660124: The Story of an IBM Card (1961) – short
  • Woton’s Wake (1962) – short
  • Jennifer (1964) – short
  • The Responsive Eye (1966) – short
  • Show Me a Strong Town and I’ll Show You a Strong Bank (1966) – short
  • Murder a la Mod (1968)
  • Greetings (1968)
  • The Wedding Party (1969) – co-director
  • To Bridge This Gap (1969) – short
  • Dionysus in ’69 (1970)
  • Hi, Mom! (1970)
  • Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972)
  • Sisters (1972)
  • Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
  • Obsession (1976)
  • Carrie (1976)
  • The Fury (1978)
  • Home Movies (1979)
  • Dressed to Kill (1980)
  • Blow Out (1981)
  • Scarface (1983)
  • Body Double (1984)
  • Wiseguys (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)

Other notable New Hollywood filmmakers: