Brian De Palma

Brian Russell De Palma (born September 11, 1940) is an American film director and screenwriter. With a career spanning over 50 years, he is best known for his work in the suspense, psychological thriller, and crime drama genres. His prominent films include mainstream box office hits such as Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980), Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987), and Mission: Impossible (1996), as well as cult favorites such as Sisters (1973), Blow Out (1981), Body Double (1984), Casualties of War (1989), Carlito's Way (1993), and Femme Fatale (2002).[1]

Brian De Palma
Brian Russell De Palma

(1940-09-11) September 11, 1940
ResidenceManhattan, New York, U.S.
Alma materColumbia University
Sarah Lawrence College
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter
Years active1960–present
Nancy Allen
(m. 1979; div. 1983)

Gale Anne Hurd
(m. 1991; div. 1993)

Darnell Gregorio
(m. 1995; div. 1997)

De Palma is often cited as a leading member of the New Hollywood generation of film directors.[2] His directing style often makes use of quotations from other films or cinematic styles, and bears the influence of filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Jean-Luc Godard.[2] His films have frequently garnered controversy for their violence and sexual content,[1] but have also been championed by prominent critics such as Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael.[3][4]

Early life

De Palma was born on September 11, 1940, in Newark, New Jersey, the youngest of three boys born to Italian-American parents Vivienne (née Muti) and Anthony DePalma, an orthopedic surgeon son of immigrants from Alberona, Province of Foggia.[5] He was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, and attended various Protestant and Quaker schools, eventually graduating from Friends' Central School. He had a poor relationship with his father, and would secretly follow him to record his adulterous behavior; this would eventually inspire the teenage character played by Keith Gordon in De Palma's 1980 film Dressed to Kill.[6] When he was in high school, he built computers.[7] He won a regional science-fair prize for a project titled "An Analog Computer to Solve Differential Equations".


1960s and early career

Enrolled at Columbia University as a physics student, De Palma became enraptured with the filmmaking process after viewing Citizen Kane and Vertigo. After receiving his undergraduate degree in 1962, De Palma enrolled at the newly coed Sarah Lawrence College as a graduate student in their theater department, earning an M.A. in the discipline in 1964 and becoming one of the first male students among a female population. Once there, influences as various as drama teacher Wilford Leach, the Maysles brothers, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard, Andy Warhol, and Alfred Hitchcock impressed upon De Palma the many styles and themes that would shape his own cinema in the coming decades.

An early association with a young Robert De Niro resulted in The Wedding Party. The film, which was co-directed with Leach and producer Cynthia Munroe, had been shot in 1963 but remained unreleased until 1969, when De Palma's star had risen sufficiently within the Greenwich Village filmmaking scene. De Niro was unknown at the time; the credits mistakenly display his name as "Robert Denero." The film is noteworthy for its invocation of silent film techniques and an insistence on the jump-cut for effect. De Palma followed this style with various small films for the NAACP and the Treasury Department.

During the 1960s, De Palma began making a living producing documentary films, notably The Responsive Eye, a 1966 movie about The Responsive Eye op-art exhibit curated by William Seitz for MOMA in 1965. In an interview with Gelmis from 1969, De Palma described the film as "very good and very successful. It's distributed by Pathe Contemporary and makes lots of money. I shot it in four hours, with synched sound. I had two other guys shooting people's reactions to the paintings, and the paintings themselves."[8]

Dionysus in 69 (1969) was De Palma's other major documentary from this period. The film records The Performance Group's performance of Euripides' The Bacchae, starring, amongst others, De Palma regular William Finley. The play is noted for breaking traditional barriers between performers and audience. The film's most striking quality is its extensive use of the split-screen. De Palma recalls that he was "floored" by this performance upon first sight, and in 1973 recounts how he "began to try and figure out a way to capture it on film. I came up with the idea of split-screen, to be able to show the actual audience involvement, to trace the life of the audience and that of the play as they merge in and out of each other."[9]

De Palma's most significant features from this decade are Greetings (1968) and Hi, Mom! (1970). Both films star Robert De Niro and espouse a Leftist revolutionary viewpoint common to their era. Greetings was entered into the 19th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won a Silver Bear award.[10] His other major film from this period is the slasher comedy Murder a la Mod. Each of these films contains experiments in narrative and intertextuality, reflecting De Palma's stated intention to become the "American Godard" while integrating several of the themes which permeated Hitchcock's work.[11]

1970s: transition to Hollywood

In the 1970s, De Palma went to Hollywood where he worked on bigger budget films. In 1970, De Palma left New York for Hollywood at age thirty to make Get to Know Your Rabbit, starring Orson Welles and Tommy Smothers. Making the film was a crushing experience for De Palma, as Smothers did not like many of De Palma's ideas.[12]

After several small, studio and independent released films that included stand-outs Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise, and Obsession, a film based on the 1974 novel Carrie was released, directed by Brian De Palma. The psychic thriller Carrie is seen by some as De Palma's bid for a blockbuster. In fact, the project was small, underfunded by United Artists, and well under the cultural radar during the early months of production, as the source novel by Stephen King had yet to climb the bestseller list. De Palma gravitated toward the project and changed crucial plot elements based upon his own predilections, not the saleability of the novel. The cast was young and relatively new, though Sissy Spacek and John Travolta had gained attention for previous work in, respectively, film and episodic sitcoms. Carrie became a hit, the first genuine box-office success for De Palma. It garnered Spacek and Piper Laurie Oscar nominations for their performances. Preproduction for the film had coincided with the casting process for George Lucas's Star Wars, and many of the actors cast in De Palma's film had been earmarked as contenders for Lucas's movie, and vice versa.[13] The "shock ending" finale is effective even while it upholds horror-film convention, its suspense sequences are buttressed by teen comedy tropes, and its use of split-screen, split-diopter and slow motion shots tell the story visually rather than through dialogue.

The financial and critical success of Carrie allowed De Palma to pursue more personal material. The Demolished Man was a novel that had fascinated De Palma since the late 1950s and appealed to his background in mathematics and avant-garde storytelling. Its unconventional unfolding of plot (exemplified in its mathematical layout of dialogue) and its stress on perception have analogs in De Palma's filmmaking. He sought to adapt it on numerous occasions, though the project would carry a substantial price tag, and has yet to appear onscreen (Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Minority Report bears striking similarities to De Palma's visual style and some of the themes of The Demolished Man). The result of his experience with adapting The Demolished Man was The Fury, a science fiction psychic thriller that starred Kirk Douglas, Carrie Snodgress, John Cassavetes and Amy Irving. The film was admired by Jean-Luc Godard, who featured a clip in his mammoth Histoire(s) du cinéma, and Pauline Kael who championed both The Fury and De Palma. The film boasted a larger budget than Carrie, though the consensus view at the time was that De Palma was repeating himself, with diminishing returns. As a film, it retains De Palma's considerable visual flair, but points more toward his work in mainstream entertainments such as Mission: Impossible, the thematic complex thriller for which he is now better known.

1980s and breakthrough

In 1984, he directed the music video of the Bruce Springsteen's single "Dancing in the Dark". The 1980s were denoted by De Palma's other films Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double, and The Untouchables.

Later into the 1990s and 2000s, De Palma did other films. He attempted to do dramas and a few thrillers plus science fiction. Some of these movies (Mission: Impossible, Carlito's Way) worked and some others (Raising Cain, Mission to Mars, The Bonfire of the Vanities) failed at the box office, as did Femme Fatale, though this has since developed a cult status amongst cinephiles.

A more political controversy erupted in a later movie from De Palma, Redacted (2007), which had the subject of American involvement in Iraq, including the committing of war atrocities there. It received limited release in the United States and grossed less than $1 million.

In 2012, his film Passion was selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 69th Venice International Film Festival.[14] In 2015, he was the subject of a documentary film, De Palma.[15]

In 2017, De Palma began shooting the thriller Domino in Málaga,[16] and then they moved to shoot in Almería at the airport, the bullring and the port.[17] The film will star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and walk-on actors were selected at the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos.[18] After the first take, which was shot in the bullring,[19] filming had to be cut short due to a lack of extras. Additionally, the leading female character was changed from Christina Hendricks to Carice van Houten.[20] When the shoot finished, De Palma moved to Denmark.[21]

When he went to shoot Domino in Almería, he received a star at the Almeria Walk of Fame,[22] as did Coster-Waldau.[23]

Trademarks and style


De Palma's films can fall into two categories, his psychological thrillers (Sisters, Body Double, Obsession, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Raising Cain) and his mainly commercial films (Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito's Way, and Mission: Impossible). He has often produced "De Palma" films one after the other before going on to direct a different genre, but would always return to his familiar territory. Because of the subject matter and graphic violence of some of De Palma's films, such as Dressed to Kill, Scarface and Body Double, they are often at the center of controversy with the Motion Picture Association of America, film critics and the viewing public.[2]

De Palma is known for quoting and referencing other directors' work throughout his career. Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation plots were used for the basis of Blow Out. The Untouchables' finale shoot out in the train station is a clear borrow from the Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin. The main plot from Rear Window was used for Body Double, while it also used elements of Vertigo. Vertigo was also the basis for Obsession. Dressed to Kill was a note-for-note homage to Hitchcock's Psycho, including such moments as the surprise death of the lead actress and the exposition scene by the psychiatrist at the end.[2]

Camera shots

Film critics have often noted De Palma's penchant for unusual camera angles and compositions throughout his career. He often frames characters against the background using a canted angle shot. Split-screen techniques have been used to show two separate events happening simultaneously.[2] To emphasize the dramatic impact of a certain scene De Palma has employed a 360-degree camera pan. Slow sweeping, panning and tracking shots are often used throughout his films, often through precisely-choreographed long takes lasting for minutes without cutting. Split focus shots, often referred to as "di-opt", are used by De Palma to emphasize the foreground person/object while simultaneously keeping a background person/object in focus. Slow-motion is frequently used in his films to increase suspense.[2]




Personal life

De Palma has been married and divorced three times, to actress Nancy Allen (1979–1983), producer Gale Anne Hurd (1991–1993), and Darnell Gregorio (1995–1997). He has one daughter from his marriage to Hurd, Lolita de Palma, born in 1991, and one daughter from his marriage to Gregorio, Piper De Palma, born in 1996. He resides in Manhattan, New York.[24]


De Palma is often cited as a leading member of the New Hollywood generation of film directors, a distinct pedigree who either emerged from film schools or are overtly cine-literate.[2] His contemporaries include Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, John Milius, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Ridley Scott. His artistry in directing and use of cinematography and suspense in several of his films has often been compared to the work of Alfred Hitchcock.[2][4][25] Psychologists have been intrigued by De Palma's fascination with pathology, by the aberrant behavior aroused in characters who find themselves manipulated by others.[26]

De Palma has encouraged and fostered the filmmaking careers of directors such as Mark Romanek and Keith Gordon. Filmmakers influenced by De Palma include Quentin Tarantino,[27] Ronny Yu,[28] Don Mancini,[29] Nacho Vigalondo,[30] and Jack Thomas Smith.[31] During an interview with De Palma, Quentin Tarantino said that Blow Out is one of his all-time favorite films, and that after watching Scarface he knew how to make his own film.

Critics who frequently admire De Palma's work include Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert, among others. Kael wrote in her review of Blow Out, "At forty, Brian De Palma has more than twenty years of moviemaking behind him, and he has been growing better and better. Each time a new film of his opens, everything he has done before seems to have been preparation for it."[3] In his review of Femme Fatale, Roger Ebert wrote about the director: "De Palma deserves more honor as a director. Consider also these titles: Sisters, Blow Out, The Fury, Dressed to Kill, Carrie, Scarface, Wise Guys, Casualties of War, Carlito's Way, Mission: Impossible. Yes, there are a few failures along the way (Snake Eyes, Mission to Mars, The Bonfire of the Vanities), but look at the range here, and reflect that these movies contain treasure for those who admire the craft as well as the story, who sense the glee with which De Palma manipulates images and characters for the simple joy of being good at it. It's not just that he sometimes works in the style of Hitchcock, but that he has the nerve to."[4]


Julie Salamon has written that De Palma has been accused of being "a perverse misogynist" by critics.[26] De Palma has responded to accusations of misogyny by saying: "I'm always attacked for having an erotic, sexist approach - chopping up women, putting women in peril. I'm making suspense movies! What else is going to happen to them?"[32]

David Thomson wrote in his entry for De Palma, "There is a self-conscious cunning in De Palma's work, ready to control everything except his own cruelty and indifference."[33]


Feature films

Year Film Director Writer Producer Notes
1968 Murder a la Mod Yes Yes No Also editor
Greetings Yes Yes Yes Also editor
1969 The Wedding Party Yes Yes Yes Co-directed with Wilford Leach and Cynthia Munroe;
Also editor
1970 Hi, Mom! Yes Yes No
Dionysus in '69 Yes No No Co-directed with Robert Fiore and Bruce Joel Rubin;
Also cinematographer and editor
1972 Get to Know Your Rabbit Yes No No
Sisters Yes Yes No
1974 Phantom of the Paradise Yes Yes No
1976 Obsession Yes Story No
Carrie Yes No uncredited
1978 The Fury Yes No No
1979 Home Movies Yes Story Yes
1980 Dressed to Kill Yes Yes No
1981 Blow Out Yes Yes No
1983 Scarface Yes No No
1984 Body Double Yes Yes Yes
1986 Wise Guys Yes No No
1987 The Untouchables Yes No No
1989 Casualties of War Yes No No
1990 The Bonfire of the Vanities Yes No Yes
1992 Raising Cain Yes Yes No
1993 Carlito's Way Yes No No
1996 Mission: Impossible Yes No No
1998 Snake Eyes Yes Story Yes
2000 Mission to Mars Yes No No
2002 Femme Fatale Yes Yes No
2006 The Black Dahlia Yes No No
2007 Redacted Yes Yes No
2012 Passion Yes Yes No
2019 Domino Yes No No
TBA Sweet Vengeance Yes Yes No Pre-production
Predator Yes Yes No Announced

Short films

Year Film Director Writer Notes
1960 Icarus Yes No
1961 660124: The Story of an IBM Card Yes No
1962 Woton's Wake Yes Yes Midwest Film Festival 1963[34]
1964 Jennifer Yes No

Documentary films

Year Film Director Himself Notes
1966 The Responsive Eye Yes No Documentary short
Show Me a Strong Town and I'll Show You a Strong Bank Yes No
1969 Bridge That Gap Yes No
2015 De Palma No Yes

Music videos

Year Title Artist
1984 Dancing in the Dark Bruce Springsteen

Awards and nominations received by De Palma's films

Year Work Academy Awards BAFTA Awards Golden Globe Awards
Nominations Wins Nominations Wins Nominations Wins
1974 Phantom of the Paradise 1 1
1976 Obsession 1
Carrie 2 1
1980 Dressed to Kill 1
1983 Scarface 3
1984 Body Double 1
1987 The Untouchables 4 1 4 1 2 1
1989 Casualties of War 1
1993 Carlito's Way 2
2006 The Black Dahlia 1
Total 9 1 4 1 12 1


  • De Palma, Brian; Lehman, Susan (May 16, 2018). Les serpents sont-ils nécessaires? (in French). Translated by Esch, Jean. Paris: Payot & Rivages. ISBN 2-7436-4445-1. OCLC 1037152284.


  1. Rose, Steve. "Steve Rose Talks to Director Brian De Palma". The Guardian. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  2. Murray, Noel; Tobias, Scott (March 10, 2011). "Brian De Palma | Film | Primer". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2012-02-03.
  3. Kael, Pauline (July 27, 1981). "Blow Out: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Gadgeteer". New Yorker. Retrieved 2012-02-03.
  4. Ebert, Roger (November 6, 2002). "Femme Fatale (2002)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012-01-14.
  5. "Brian De Palma Biography (1940–)". Film Reference. Retrieved 2012-01-14.
  6. Clark, Ashley. "Brian de Palma: 'Film lies all the time … 24 times a second'". The Guardian. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  7. Kenigsberg, Ben (August 30, 2013). "Brian De Palma talks about his stylish new remake, Passion". A.V. Club. Retrieved October 26, 2014.
  8. Gelmis, Joseph (1970). The Film Director as Superstar. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc. p. 24.
  9. Knapp, Lawrence (2003). Brian De Palma Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. p. 26.
  10. "Berlinale 1969: Prize Winners". Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  11. Brody, Richard. Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard. p. 323.
  12. Salamon, p. 26.
  13. "Almost Cast: Who Lost Iconic Roles?". Life. Retrieved December 4, 2011.
  14. "Venezia 69". labiennale. Archived from the original on July 28, 2012. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  15. David Rooney (September 8, 2015). "'De Palma': Venice Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 28, 2016.
  16. A. Gómez, Víctor (May 5, 2017). "Brian de Palma y un Lannister, rodaje en Málaga". La Opinión de Málaga (in Spanish). Málaga. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  17. EFE (June 19, 2017). "Brian de Palma rodará el thriller "Domino" en Almería". ABC (in Spanish). Almería. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  18. Cabrera, Miguel (June 19, 2017). "Brian de Palma busca figurantes para el rodaje en Almería de 'Domino'". ABC (in Spanish). Almería. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  19. Rodríguez, Marta; Barrios, Juan Antonio (July 11, 2017). "Brian De Palma rueda ya en la Plaza de Toros". La Voz de Almería (in Spanish). Almería. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  20. Rodríguez, Marta (July 18, 2017). "El misterio del rodaje de 'Domino', de Brian de Palma". La Voz de Almería (in Spanish). Almería. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  21. Martínez, D. (July 17, 2017). "Brian de Palma abandona Almería y se lleva el rodaje de 'Domino' a Dinamarca". Diario de Almería (in Spanish). Almería. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  22. "De Palma recibe un homenaje en Almería". Faro de Vigo (in Spanish). July 17, 2017. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  23. Europa Press (July 14, 2017). "Brian de Palma y Nikolaj Coster-Waldau tendrán su estrella en el Paseo de la Fama por el rodaje de 'Domino'". La Información (in Spanish). Almería. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  24. Thompson, Anne (August 30, 2013). "Brian De Palma Q & A: 'Passion,' McAdams vs. Rapace, Sex Tools UPDATED (New Trailer)". Indie Wire. p. 2. Archived from the original on October 26, 2014. Retrieved October 26, 2014.
  25. Rainier, Peter. "The Director's Craft: The death-deifying De Palma". Los Angeles Times Calendar. Archived from the original on March 25, 2008. Retrieved December 26, 2007.
  26. Salamon, p. 27.
  27. Fitzmaurice, Larry (August 28, 2015). "Quentin Tarantino: The Complete Syllabus of His Influences and References". Vulture.
  28. Hammond, Stefan, Wilkins, Mike (August 19, 1996). "Influenced+by+Brian+DePalma"&source=bl&ots=yTdRXhJpAN&sig=zag3XT9xKS1DGdgBSUyMf9b0M8g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjz6Lnl_L3LAhUBfCYKHZefCA4Q6AEIHjAA#v=onepage&q="InfluencedbyBrianDePalma"&f=false Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head: The Essential Guide to Hong Kong's Mind-bending Films. Touchstone. pp. 201-202. Archived at Google Books. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  29. Topel, Fred (November 11, 2004). "Behind-the-Scenes of 'Seed of Chucky'". MovieWeb.
  30. Hatfull, Jonathan (August 25, 2014). "FrightFest 2014 Day 4 review: killers, singers and demons". SciFiNow.
  31. Wien, Gary (October 19, 2014). "Infliction: An Interview With Jack Thomas Smith". New Jersey Stage.
  32. Caputi, Jane (June 15, 1987). The Age of Sex Crime. Popular Press. p. 92.
  33. Thomson, p. 257.
  34. Current Biography Yearbook. H. W. Wilson Company. 1982.


  • Thomson, David (October 26, 2010). The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: Fifth Edition, Completely Updated and Expanded (Hardcover ed.). Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-27174-7.
  • Salamon, Julie (1991). Devil's Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood (Hardcover ed.). Houghton. ISBN 0-395-56996-6.

Further reading

  • Bliss, Michael (1986). Brian De Palma. Scarecrow.
  • Blumenfeld, Samuel; Vachaud, Laurent (2001). Brian De Palma. Calmann-Levy.
  • Dworkin, Susan (1984). Double De Palma: A Film Study with Brian De Palma. Newmarket.
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