A key pioneer of the appropriately named New Hollywood movement of the late sixties, Brian De Palma has helped to bring in a whole new era of film-making, and still remains a prominent figure today. De Palma introduced the second half of the twentieth century to a brand of directing that produced such classics as Scarface, Carlito’s Way, The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. The same movement brought works such as The Godfather, Alien and Taxi Driver from his contemporaries Francis Ford Coppola, Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese respectively.
The New Hollywood film-makers were recognised as having emerged from new film schools, developing new styles. The movement, also known as American New Wave, placed more emphasis on the directors, taking the medium of film into bold new areas, and allowing us to theorise more on film in the forms of psychoanalysis, structuralism, feminism and post-modernism. By way of the Auteur Theory (Author Theory), or to look at a film from the voice of it’s ‘author’, critics and fans have seen films from a director’s point of view more than ever since the birth of the New Hollywood Movement.
Scarface (1983) spat De Palma out onto the big scene in ’83
After a fifteen years in the film game, Brian De Palma released Scarface, and some say this is when he started to gain recognition as a serious contender for big name films. With Al Pacino putting in an excellent and arguably unmatched performance as a driven immigrant with a strong desire to be king of the world, Scarface is an adept and accomplished account of one man’s ruthless climb to power. Set against the palm trees and sunshine of Miami, Tony Montana’s (Al Pacino) machine-gun bursts and cocaine-and-whiskey-fuelled rampages, show the dark side of the American Dream and the situations hungry men are magnetised to. Introducing the world to highly-parodied catch phrases such as ‘Say hello to my little friend!’ and many other profanity-filled words of wisdom, Scarface raised the bar for mob-films and gangster films that would follow.
The Untouchables (1987) : portraying Al Capone and solidifying the ‘gangster film’ genre
Having Robert De Niro act as Chicago’s most notorious criminal, Al Capone, was always going to be a mean feat to take on, but De Palma handled it with style in The Untouchables. De Niro didn’t take the role lightly either, forcing himself to gain 30 pounds and completely transform his image. De Niro reportedly obsessed over the shape of his face during the shoot in order to get the perfect poses and angles to best represent Capone.
Carlito’s Way (1993) : Sean Penn plays everyone’s most loved lawyer
Al Pacino and Sean Penn star in this flick, and the storyline is the grand tale of Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino), who has just served 5 years in prison and is looking to rid his new life of crime and debauchery. Getting caught up in the day-to-day deeds of his crook friends however, makes this extremely difficult, especially when he comes across a large sum of money and opens up a nightclub, which soon becomes a hub for shoot outs and blood-hungry criminals. The real star of the show however, is Sean Penn, who plays Brigante’s crooked lawyer Dave Kleinfeld. Kleinfield’s addictive personality, and addiction to cocaine and excess, makes him an exciting and constantly ecstatic persona on the screen, but his emotional baggage and problems with gangsters lead him into downward spiral as he attempts to bring Brigante down with him.
Brian De Palma came out of the other end of the New Hollywood movement not just unscathed and alive, but strong and established. He went on to create such films as Mission: Impossible, Mission To Mars (2000) and Femme Fatale (2002), where he explored genres such as Spy, Sci-Fi and Mystery films. Now a universal household name, Brian de Palma’s back catalogue reads like a ‘what’s good and good’ of the second half of the twentieth century.
Check out the full list in our full A to Z of Film Directors.