Those ‘DePalma Moments’ and why they are just so damn special

Posted in Blog, Movies, Retrospective, Theatrical by - June 13, 2016
Those ‘DePalma Moments’ and why they are just so damn special

It’s another week and yet another retrospective kicking off at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this week as Split/Screen: The Cinema of Brian DePalma runs from June 18th until September 3rd and it got me to thinking.  DePalma is truly one of those directors (much like one of his major influences; Alfred Hitchcock) who never quite got the recognition that he deserved in his peak period.

With this retrospective along with the release of the documentary about his life;  DePalma hitting screens this week it felt like a good as time as any to reach out to friends, colleagues and experts about their favorite DePalma Moments as we celebrate all things Brian DePalma this week here at In The Seats.


Jen & Sylvia Soska-Directors of American Mary and the upcoming remake of Rabid

DePalma is such a versatile director. His films are infamous, but our favorite of his is actually one of his lesser known efforts, Phantom of The Paradise. It’s such a beautifully executed film that’s a twist on a story that is known all too well, so we won’t spoil it for you here.  Plus, the soundtrack is so hauntingly beautiful that once you hear it, you’ll never forget it. It’s a masterpiece in a career filled with masterpieces.


Andrew Parker-Toronto Film Scene

I know this isn’t the coolest or necessarily best answer when someone asks what my favourite moments in the filmography of Brian De Palma are, but I have always unabashedly had a soft spot for Snake Eyes, one of his most under-loved films. While clearly the result of studio interference and a complete changing of the third act (which was originally supposed to include a massive flood, footage of which can be glimpsed for the first time in the documentary De Palma), there’s a lot to love about this really funny, outlandish mystery. Granted, the heavily lauded and wonderfully intricate opening 20 minutes aren’t one continuous shot, but rather several carefully pieced together, but it’s still a stellar bit of filmmaking and sly misdirection. Also, watching Nicolas Cage’s less than honourable cop bounce around a sleazy casino like a manic pinball has a huge amount of charm. I’ll never stop being entertained by Snake Eyes.

Charles de Lauzirika-Director of Crave & Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner

Whether it’s being the first to bring Stephen King to the big screen, or doing uncredited writing on the opening crawl to the original STAR WARS, Brian De Palma has always been somewhat of a secret weapon director to me. But in a mercurial career that spans lavish historical epics, brutal crime stories and fun, kinky noir, my favorite film of his remains the spellbinding thriller BLOW OUT. The whole movie is wonderfully effective – especially its rollercoaster of a final act – but no moment in the film wows me more than when John Travolta’s Jack trashes his editing room, searching in vain for his precious recording. De Palma’s camera is always an important character in his films, but in this particular scene, the dizzying camerawork fuses us with Jack’s building panic on a psychological and emotional level few directors can match.

Yonah Lewis & Calvin Thomas-Writers/Directors of The Oxbow Cure

We love De Palma in his entirety. His films have shaped much of our work over the past few years, in particular, Greetings and Hi, Mom! both of which directly influenced our third (still in post) feature, Spice It Up. We were taken aback by the contrast of absurdity and dread, best exemplified in the startling “Be Black Baby” section of Hi, Mom! The juxtaposition of those two disparate feelings is the Rosetta Stone of his work.


Nadia Litz-Writer/Director of The People Garden

I like what De Palma did with Sisters.  Ostensibly he switches the gender roles of Rear Window and the result is a wonderfully weird gender politics gore horror film about a feminist ad hoc detective solving the crime of a murderous French Canadian model who was a famous Siamese twin.  They just don’t make movies like that anymore.

Anne Brodie-Contributor at What She Said & Monsters and Critics

I interviewed De Palma for Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double, Untouchables, Bonfire the of Vanities Snake Eyes, Redacted and Passion, maybe a few more. He was always wary, as though he was going to be put on the spot or told the film didn’t work. For someone who had such success, it was unnerving that he seemed so insecure. But his intensity and personal investment worked well for him. His films come from a place where it hurts.

Eric Marchen-Host of Cinema Seen

The POV tracking shot deriving out of 1987’s The Untouchables where an unknown assailant enters into Jim Malone’s (Sean Connery, in his Oscar-winning supporting performance) home perfectly encapsulates Brian De Palma’s sleazily, voyeuristic approach to filmmaking within prestige studio fare. From there, suspense quickly builds to dreaded bloodshed because that’s The De Palma Way!

Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson-Writer/Directors of Resolution & Spring

Despite having seen and loved both movies, I somehow didn’t immediately piece it together that Blow Out was a remake of Blow-Up. And despite those movies both being massively memorable, there’s something about Blow Out that particularly sticks with me, which is that scene where (spoiler alert) Travolta’s character discovers that somehow, every tape in his studio has been erased.

The camera revolves the room like a doomed, patient, selfish manipulator — its pace unchanging for Travolta as he frantically destroys the sound studio trying to find anything still useable. The the horrible tones of empty reels, a ringing phone, digenetic sounds growing to overlap each other into what ends up sound like an overwhelming monster on all sides. It’s one of the greatest examples I can think of where the awful feeling the character has in the pit of their stomach is being perfectly mirrored on the screen to transmit that same emotion into the audience. It’s using every tool a filmmaker has: Travolta’s performance, sound, camera, editing, pacing…nothing is just “serviceable” in this scene, it’s firing on all cylinders to amplify the best moment in the film, while still somehow not being something you could call flashy or gaudy — it’s humble.


 Bonnie Laufer Krebs- Executive Producer, Smart Entertainment Group

The year was 1976 and I will never forget watching Carrie in the theatre. It was my first “Restricted” movie and I was both nervous and excited.

Carrie is one of the most visually compelling films I can remember seeing. It’s a film that has stuck with me for my entire life and there are images in that film that I will never be able to forget.  I think Brian DePalma masterfully directed what has become one of the best classic horrors in film history. Who can forget Sissy Spacek’s brilliant performance? Her steely-eyed stares? The bucket of blood being poured over her head at the prom? However, being in a theatre at 13-years of age and watching that hand pop up from the grave is something that scared me so much I had to sleep with the lights on for months!

DePalmaCarlitoAllan Ungar-Writer/Director of Gridlocked 

My favorite De Palma scene would have to be from the underrated classic Carlito’s Way. The climax involves an incredibly taut and timeless sequence that follows Al Pacino’s character attempting to slip out of his nightclub, undetected, and makes it to the train station where his pregnant girlfriend Gail is waiting for him. The suspense is masterfully staged as we stay with Pacino in real time, trying to evade a group of Italian mobster’s intent on killing him. Every time we think that Pacino is safe, DePalma throws another wrench into the formula that heightens the stakes. Even more impressive is the uninterrupted steadicam sequence that glues audiences to the action, taking us along for the ride. While many may note DePalma’s more ubiquitous train station sequence from The Untouchables as a prime example of his ability to stage suspense, Carlito’s Way exemplifies his ability to invest viewers on a much deeper level due to everything that Carlito has on the line.

Kiah Roache Turner-Writer/Director of Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

It’s hard to pick a favourite DePalma movie or favourite scene ‘cause the guys done so many but if someone put a gun to my head I’d probably have to say Scarface. That film is like a rock and roll opera of violence and sweet, sweet cinematic mayhem. The cinematography, the brilliant over-the-top script by Oliver Stone the insane career best performance by Pacino, the massive score, all come together to make a film with almost unrivalled intensity. My favourite scene? The ‘chainsaw scene’ in the hotel room with the Columbians. The tension DePalma is able to eke out of that extended sequence sits on a par with anything Hitchcock ever did – if I could ever direct a film moment that came close to even approaching half of what he accomplished there I could die a happy filmmaker …

Juan Martinez Moreno-Director on ABC’s of Death 2

It’s impossible to choose only one favorite De Palma film, I like all of them (even Wise Guys!). However, if you put a gun in my head, I would say (before you shoot) that Carlito’s Way has a special place in my heart: it came out when I was just about to direct my first short film, and it made a big impact on me as I was trying to think as a film director for the first time, specially the use of the voice over, which I was planning to use in my short.

Every scene of that film is absolute perfection, not a single useless shot.  Again, gun in my head, I would say that my favorite is the famous “you are gonna fuckin’ die – big time!” scene.

Or the hospital scene between Pacino and Sean Penn just before Penn gets killed.


…fuck, too many!

And Pacino delivers his best performance ever!


Kristian Bruun (Orphan Black, Murdoch Mysteries, LIFE, HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN)

I saw Mission: Impossible on opening day in the balcony section of a packed theatre. During the scene when Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has to be lowered into a chamber and be completely silent I remember looking around and seeing EVERY audience member on the edge of their seat, dead silent – no one eating or drinking, everyone just transfixed to the screen barely breathing so as not to make a sound. It showed me cinema’s ability to kidnap an audience with storytelling. I’ll never forget it, it was one of the most amazing cinematic experiences I’ve ever had.

Norm Wilner-Senior Film Writer at Now Magazine

Not being a De Palma super fan — honestly, I get impatient whenever he goes into one of his Hitchcockian fugues — I’m going with the CIA heist in Mission: Impossible as my favorite moment in his filmography, because it’s a sequence that turns even his weaknesses into strengths.

His occasional pettiness comes out in the incidental poisoning of that poor technician, for example, and his habit of “borrowing” entire scenes from other movies to claim them as his own leads to that gorgeous reworking of Dassin’s Rififi (as directed by Stanley Kubrick,apparently) when Tom Cruise descends into the clean room.

But even then, De Palma’s strengths remain strengths: His sense of pacing gives the sequence a sweaty-palmed immediacy, his facility with key images lets him tell an entire story about Jean Reno and that mouse in four or five shots, and his trust in his technical crew results in an amazingly crafted soundscape of gears whirring, fabric shifting and the occasional clenched jaw.

Yeah, it’s all in the service of a studio blockbuster, but that’s one of the reasons the sequence plays so well: Tom Cruise action movies never needed to be smart before. With this sequence, De Palma creates a bar that all subsequent MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies will have to at least acknowledge, if not surmount. This is a franchise that’s going to have to impress us with its wits, not explosions.

DePalmaCarrieRichard Crouse-CTV’s News Channel

As a young film goer the Prom Scene in Carrie was burned into my eyeballs. It begins slowly, almost sweetly as Carrie and Tommy get to know one another. They dance and giggle but soon she is covered in pig’s blood and all hell breaks loose. The sight of her, so delicate, so humiliated, dripping with gore as flames lick the walls in the background is one of the high points of seventies horror cinema and one of the most indelible images De Palma ever committed to film.

Richelle Charkot-Programming and Market Associate at the Royal, Curator of the Retropath screening series at the Royal Theatre and a programmer for the Toronto chapter of the MUFF Society.

I remember the first time I heard about Phantom of the Paradise, it sparked my interest because of just how zany it looked. I asked my father, ‘Dad, do you think I’d like Phantom of the Paradise?’ to which he responded with an astonishing amount of assurance, ‘Yes. It’s a 70s drug movie. You’ll love it.’ In spite of being a super dark movie thematically, it’s neon colours, amazing soundtrack and bizarre characters still captivate me and make me smile just as much as the first time I watched it. My dad knows me well.


Brendan Ross-Founder & Curator of the Neon Dreams Cinema Club that holds monthly screenings at The Royal Theatre.

Picking just one De Palma title to gush over is no easy task, but since I have to I’m going to go with the first BDP (and second ever) film I programmed for Neon Dreams; Body Double. For a director famous for being stylishly excessive, Body Double is arguably his most stylish and unquestionably his most excessive. Come for Pino Donaggio’s perfect score that strikes that delicious balance of class meets trash, but stay for Craig Wasson’s uncanny impression of a special needs Jimmy Stewart.


George Mihalka-Director of My Bloody Valentine (1981)

My favourite Brian DePalma film is Phantom of the Paradise. Not necessarily because it’s his best, but because I still remember sitting in film class at Concordia University, blown away by the sheer coolness he brought to the classic tale. After all these years it is still imprinted in my mind…

Gabriel Carrer-Writer/Director of In The House of Flies & The Demolisher

Brian DePalma is a true master of the build up. My favourite scene would have to be the museum scene in ‘Dressed to Kill’. It’s a short film all on its own with no dialogue. It illustrates so much longing and temptation with the score that you can feel it resonate from the actors performances. It’s a masterful piece of work that can convey how important an actor’s eyes, walk, body movement and framing is to the overall sense of anticipation and buildup. I love it.

Brad Deane-Senior Manager of Film Programmes at TIFF Bell Lightbox

Body Double is one of Brian De Palma’s best — not only an homage to Hitchcock but also a hyper-aware take on his own work. The film is a satire of Hollywood, of B-movie making and the porn industry, mixed with the brilliant use of John Lautner’s architecture to create a perfect portrait of Los Angeles, circa 1984.

Plus see this scene breakdown from Body Double.

Split/Screen: The Cinema of Brian DePalma is quite honestly going to be the retrospective event of the summer.  Get your tickets now.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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