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THE MAN WHO KNEW WHERE HE WAS GOING--AND HE'S STILL GOING STRONG

 

When I interviewed Brian De Palma for The New York Times in 1976, he seemed confident that he was one of the leading directorial lights of his generation. I thought maybe yes, maybe no. As it turns out, he was more right than wrong. Among the impressive movies he crafted after the exhilaratingly horrific “Carrie”--which was awaiting release at the time of my interview with De Palma--were “Dressed to Kill,” “Blow Out,” “Scarface,” “The Untouchables” and “Casualties of War.” (Let’s be kind and erase “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Mission to Mars” from our collective memory). And one of the movies I most look forward to this year is “The Black Dahlia,” De Palma’s intriguing spin on a real-life murder mystery, scheduled to premiere at The Venice Film Festival on August 30 and to open theatrically on September 15, four days after his 66th birthday. --GUY FLATLEY

 

Despite gloomy predictions that Hollywood will soon expire in an epidemic of sequels, disastrodramas and nostalgic fever, Brian De Palma is defiantly sunny about the condition of the American film.

“This is going to be an exciting year,” he insists. “Talented directors – people like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Marty Scorsese and John Milius – are directing the projects they want to direct, making difficult and inventive films. I’d set these men up against the best of today’s European directors. Their movies have more energy, are more audacious and tell us more about our own times and culture than any of the European films do.”

Modesty prevents the 36-year-old director from citing himself as one of the top directing talents of the day, but critics have praised both his technical virtuosity and his quirky – some might say perverse – point of view. Mr. De Palma, whose creative impulses were presumably shaped by his youthful habit of watching his father perform intricate surgery, first gained recognition with “Greetings” (at right, with a young and eager Robert De Niro) and “Hi, Mom!” – a pair of savagely comic swipes at 1960’s complacency – and later went on to direct “Sisters,” a bloodily vivid portrait of a murderous Siamese twin. Currently, “Obsession,” a bizarre tapestry of kidnapping, murder, vengeance and incest, is drawing crowds and generally favorable reviews. Appropriately, his next film, “Carrie” – about an ugly duckling who uses her telekinetic powers to get even with her teenage taunters and her fanatically religious mother – will be previewed around the country on Halloween and will open shortly thereafter.

“‘Carrie’ is a parapsychological horror story set in an ‘American Graffiti’ milieu,” De Palma explains. “It starts with Carrie getting her period for the first time, in the school shower, and it shows her hysterical reaction, as well as the reaction of others to her hysteria. The film deals with the strong religious morality we have in the West, the juxtaposition of sexuality and guilt, the concept of corruption and evil being engendered by women.”

In selecting films, De Palma searches for material that will "carry audiences into a surrealistic world, but not one so peculiar that they become disoriented. It takes a while for a director to know enough, to live enough, to have the ability to express what is on his mind and in his heart. Directing is like playwriting; the middle years are the peak years. The next 10 films I make will deal with things touching me.”

The first of the 10 will be “Where the Children Are.” “It’s about a woman accused of murdering her children,” says De Palma with child-like enthusiasm. “It looks as if she did it, but she gets off on a technicality. Later she gets married again and has two more children. Then, on the anniversary of the death of the first children, the other two disappear…”

FOR AN INDEX OF GUY FLATLEY'S ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEWS WITH FILM AND STAGE STARS AND DIRECTORS, CLICK HERE.