The landscape of American cinema throughout the 1980s would’ve looked a lot different had the filmmaker Brian De Palma not been creating innovative movies, yet far too often is his name omitted from lists of the best finest directors of the era.
Having already worked with the material of Stephen King in 1976 with the release of the horror/coming of age tale, Carrie, De Palma entered the decade with handfuls of cinematic vigour, kicking the ‘80s off with the crime drama Dressed to Kill, starring Michael Caine. Further success followed, releasing Blow Out in 1981, Scarface in 1983 and The Untouchables in 1987, which featured the great Robert De Niro as gangster Al Capone.
Adored by critics and audiences alike, De Palma also had his fans from within the industry itself, with Quentin Tarantino holding a particular amount of love for Blow Out, calling it “one of the greatest movies ever made”. Gushing over the 1981 crime movie starring John Travolta, the Pulp Fiction director adds, “It’s Brian De Palma’s finest film which means it’s one of the finest movies ever made because, as we all know, Brian De Palma is the best director of his generation”.
Certainly untouchable during the 1980s and indeed the ’90s, releasing Carlito’s Way with Al Pacino and the iconic action franchise starter Mission: Impossible with Tom Cruise, in recent years De Palma’s influence has faded, making films which duck under critical and commercial appreciation.
No doubt, however, the American filmmaker remains a key figure in the industry, and, recently speaking in an interview with ABC, he demonstrated just how much change he has witnessed since his inception into Hollywood.
Asked if he still saw “that kind of bold, widescreen filmmaking,” still practised in the industry today, the filmmaker replied: “The things that they’re doing now have nothing to do with what we were doing making movies in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s”.
Continuing, he adds: “The first thing that drives me crazy is the way they look. Because they’re shooting digitally they’re just lit terribly. I can’t stand the darkness, the bounced light. They all look the same”.
This rings particularly true when you cast your eyes over to the products of Disney, where the colour palette and lighting from everything from the Marvel universe to Star Wars to The Muppets all seem to look and feel the same. Whilst cynical, there’s certainly some truth to the words of De Palma, who adds, “I believe in beauty in cinema…If you look at the stuff that’s streaming all the time, it’s all muck. Visual storytelling has gone out the window”.
Critical of how the movie industry has changed since the days in which he, and the early filmmaking methods thrived, De Palma clarifies that it is this systemic change that irks him the most about modern cinema. “The whole system is changing,” the filmmaker expressed, “You used to go out and make a movie. Our generation, we wanted to take over the studios. Which we did. I think what’s so interesting about the generation I came up with, they got very rich, extremely rich, working within the studio system”.
Of course, the concept of the Hollywood studio system, where actors would work with one studio and one studio alone, is now long gone, with streaming services throwing a wrench in what was once the well-oiled machine of moviemaking. “Now, we’re into this endless streaming,” De Palma adds, drawing his thoughts to a close, “Everything has 10 parts and six seasons…Then you have the whole Marvel universe, which is digital action stuff, all computer generated”.
With the director set to make a return to form in the near future with the release of a horror film based on the incarcerated movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, currently named Catch and Kill, Brian De Palma will hope to re-instil his revolutionary filmmaking methods into an industry that he believes is devoid of “visual storytelling”.