It’s easy to put Brian De Palma in a corner. He rips off Hitchcock. He’s a misogynist in love with violence. His movies are all style, no substance. Even praising him can prove reductive. He’s an architect of beautifully crackerjack set pieces. He’s no Hitchcock rip-off artist but in fact the new Hitchcock. He made “Scarface,” that cultural defiler-turned-beloved cult object.
But plowing through his CV, as you can do through June 23 at the Metrograph's De Palma series, a more complex, shape-shifting artist comes to the fore, one who can be all these things and more. A man who posters for 1980’s “Dressed to Kill” described as “The Master of the Macabre” didn’t make his first thriller (1973’s “Sisters”) till seven films into his career. He’s been a populist hit-maker and, especially as his brand became retro, an acquired taste. He’s been a mere work-for-hire — as on the bravura if shallow “The Untouchables” — and a real artist, as in the deeply anguished and cryptically personal “Blow Out.” He’s survived, with 29 films in 45 years — some of them spotty, some of them masterpieces, all of them worthy of the kind of meticulous deconstruction with which he constructs his films.
Metrograph’s series arrives soon before “De Palma,” a career-spanning doc by fanboys Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, which grants near-equal real estate to each of his babies, even the ones he himself doesn’t like. There’s the obvious joy of seeing his undisputed — though often, more accurately, semi-disputed — classics on film prints. (Though there's a couple DCPs, plus two, namely 1964’s “The Wedding Party” and his 1979 “Home Movies,” so rare they’re actually being projected off VHS.) But also worthy is digging into the dim back alleyways of his career.