There is a half-written longer review for this, to go over on the main site, that I absolutely cannot find. Where is it? I have no clue.
Anyway, if you’re a regular reader of Cinema de Merde, you know that Brian De Palma is my favorite living director. Also, if you’re a regular reader, you probably know that I have some serious issues with the films of Noah Baumbach. That Baumbach’s films bring up really interesting, deep issues, that he completely throws out ten minutes before the end and wraps up in the most tidy, superficial endings possible, endings that routinely betray everything he has worked so hard to build, and that he does it every single time.
Well, imagine my excitement to see that there was going to be a feature-length documentary about De Palma! And imagine my heartbreak and dismay to learn that it was going to be directed by Noah Baumbach [and Jake Paltrow, another young director and relative of Gwennie]. This is a little bit like finding out that Britney Spears is going to be directing a documentary about Beethoven.
The movie takes the form of a long interview in which De Palma goes through each one of his movies in chronological order. He proves to be a quite engaging raconteur with a wicked and ironic sense of humor, and listening to him talk for 90 minutes is a pleasure. And there were a few interesting tidbits and funny stories. And you get snippets from each of his films.
But does he discuss his feelings about using visuals alone to tell a story? No. Does he dissect any of his major, classic set pieces? No. Do they ask him why he chooses to structure his films around big, elaborate set pieces? No. Do they ask him to discuss what he learned from his favorite directors? No. Does he talk about anything you would want to ask Brian De Palma if you met him in person? No. Does he give any insight at all into his process, his vision, and how he works? No. Does he discuss his well-known obsessions with voyeurism and how that relates to film itself? Of course not.
So what do you get? You get a lot of production stories. You get to find out who was a little crabby on the set, or who was casting what film the same day as he, or what film was shot where, or how he had trouble getting funding for this one, and all the idiotic, useless, superficial details like that. And then you think, “Wow, this is probably going to be the only feature documentary on De Palma, as no one will make another now, and that goddamned fuck Baumbach ruined it for all of us.”
It’s enough to make one wonder if there’s something a bit pathological about Baumbach. His films always lay out complex themes and invariably end with a flight into superficiality. And now he, in an almost perverse way, goes after a rich, resonant director and reduces him to a bunch of amusing but shallow anecdotes about being on the set. I swear to God that fuck better hope he doesn’t meet me in a dark alley.