Movie review: 'De Palma' documentary is an intriguing look at director

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

"What we did in our generation will never be duplicated," says Brian De Palma in the new documentary that bears his name. "We were able to get into the studio system and use all that stuff to make some pretty incredible movies … before the businessmen took over again."

De Palma and his contemporaries - a generation that was fresh out of film school and buzzing on French New Wave cinema - really did revolutionize the studio system.

"There was Marty and I, and then there was George and Francis and Steven," De Palma recalls. (That would be Scorsese, Lucas, Ford Coppola and Spielberg if you needed some clarity.)

For more casual film fans, De Palma's name might not jump out among those legends, but this documentary from directors Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach is an amazing portrait of a visionary director. It's like a film school crash course, framed around a brilliant lecture.

The perspective of "De Palma" is singular, in that the director narrates the film via a series of candid and loose interviews, recalling his career film by film. It's also linear, as it works through his films in chronological order.

De Palma's career, great as it has been, is also uneven, so you might expect the documentary to be as well. But there are interesting insights whether the director is talking about his major works like "Scarface" and "Carrie," or less-known films like "Raising Cain."

Of course, there's ample use of footage from De Palma's films, so his amazing sense of visual storytelling is on display throughout. "I'm going to try to find a way to visually make the thing exciting," he says. Watching this documentary, you're not likely to argue.

We also get an examination of De Palma's most obvious influence: a life-changing viewing of Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" in 1958. "What's so compelling about 'Vertigo,'" says De Palma. "[Hitchcock is] making a movie about what a director does, which is basically create these romantic illusions. It makes you fall in love with it, and then it kills it. Twice."

For fans of De Palma - or film buffs in general - this is virtually a must-see, and the director's unique visual sense makes it a documentary that calls for a big screen.

"De Palma"

Opens Friday at the Gateway Film Center

3 1/2 stars out of 4