Movie Geek Alert: The estimable Cinema Viewfinder is hosting a learned blog-a-thon on the movies of Brian De Palma, with excellent contributions from the likes of Glenn Kenny, Ratnakar Sadasyula and Chris Voss.
Few filmmakers polarize filmlovers like De Palma, whose love-'em-or-hate'em features include the marrow-chilling Sisters (1972) and the definitive high-school horror flick Carrie (1976). The director, a bearded barrel of a man, grew up near Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square (his father was the head of surgery at Jefferson Hospital) and attended Friends Central. De Palma directed Blow Out (1981), one of the best movies made in Philly, the addictively enjoyable Scarface (1983), the provocative peeping-Tomcat Body Double (1984), that slickly entertaining The Untouchables (1987) one of the most compelling among Vietnam films, Casualties of War (1989) and the stylish Mission: Impossible (1996). Though he hasn't scored a maintream hit since then, Femme Fatale (2002) is one of my guilty pleasures, an impossibly sexy dreamscape with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Antonio Banderas.
De Palma does not so much explore as present the connection between sex and power (and vice-versa), which in his films is often linked by an umbilicus of blood. (As Tony Montana, hero of the Oliver Stone-scripted Scarface, put it: First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women.") Another persistent theme is that of a man unable to save a woman in jeopardy.
The naked violence and sexuality of De Palma's films have made him a controversy magnet. During the 1980s some social critic observed that every time he made a movie he lowered the national IQ by 10 points. Since there are so few filmmakers with such swoony style, I'm inclined to forgive him for a lack of substance. You will not, however, hear me defending the indefensible The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) or Mission to Mars (2000), ravishing, but indecipherable.