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100 Essential Directors - Brian De Palma

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Wednesday, Aug 31, 2011
by Jose Solís Mayén and John Sciaccotta
100 Essential Directors celebrates directors of distinct vision, who have honed their respective crafts, who have brought something new and exciting to the medium, and who continue to push the boundaries of the form.

The most polarizing—and under-appreciated—director of the New Hollywood, Brian De Palma’s ultimate legacy may be that of being the first post-modernist director in American cinema. While the so-called “movie brats” of the 1970s may have reveled in their cinematic upbringings, none did so more explicitly than De Palma. Referencing movie lore visually and orally may be business as usual in 2011, but back in 1973, when De Palma made the Hitchcockian Sisters, more than a few eyebrows were raised. He did himself no favors by continuing to draw comparisons to the Master of Suspense, and the primary argument by De Palma detractors is that he is simply an imitator, as opposed to an innovator. De Palma would probably never deny this as he has made a point out of exploring the nature of copying and doubles in films like the claustrophobic Body Double and the erotic thriller Femme Fatale. Throughout his career he has shown a fascination with what can only be deemed as “possession”. Whether it be the cross dressing killer of Dressed to Kill (1980) (which not coincidentally features a now iconic shower scene with Angie Dickinson) or the identity disorder of Mission: Impossible (1996), De Palma seems mystified by the idea of taking over someone else’s life. His “imitation” therefore should be studied as a symptom of post-modernism: who are we really in a world largely influenced by the media?


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