Brian De Palma

Occupation: Director, Screenwriter
Date of Birth: September 11, 1940
Place of Birth: Newark, N.J., USA
Sign: Sun in Virgo, Moon in Capricorn
Relations: Wife (separated): Darnelle De Palma; ex-wives: Gale Anne Hurd, Nancy Allen; kids: Lolita De Palma (with Hurd), Piper (with Darnelle De Palma)
Education: Columbia University, New York; Sarah Lawrence College, New York


NO one would argue that Brian De Palma likes to watch, but what the director stares at incites disagreement between his fans and foes. De Palma's always-seeking eyes, his supporters say, contribute to a visually inventive style of moviemaking that is eerily reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock. His detractors say that the filmmaker's often violent voyeurism reveals a disturbing penchant for cutting up women on film and an appreciation for Hitchcock that borders on plagiarism.

As a teenager growing up in Philadelphia, De Palma enjoyed observing his father, an orthopedic surgeon, operate on bones, install artificial femurs, and amputate legs. When the strong-stomached lad required extra visual stimulation, he sneaked a peek at brain and eye operations performed by his father's colleagues. These bloody images sunk deep and built the foundation for a high gore tolerance and a fondness for elegant slicing. After high school, De Palma enrolled as a physics student at Columbia University, where he soon discovered a taste for drama and joined the Columbia Players, a student theatre group. It wasn't long before he got hold of a second-hand 16mm camera and filmed his acting buddies in several short movies, including Wotan's Wake (1962), a film that earned the budding director a graduate fellowship to Sarah Lawrence College.

De Palma spent the next two years writing his first feature, The Wedding Party. Shot on the streets of New York in 1966, the $43,000 film examined Vietnam-era politics in cinema veritT style and starred Jill Clayburgh and Robert De Niro in their feature debuts. Although initially unreleased, the movie was a learning experience for De Palma, and he churned out a string of increasingly appreciated low-budget satirical and horror movies. During this period, De Palma began to draw inspiration from Hitchcock thrillers; he frequently imbued his camerawork with rhythmic motions that seemed to run along with the tormented characters. In 1976, De Palma achieved his commercial breakthrough with Carrie, a film adaptation of Stephen King's story about a telekinetic teenager (played by Sissy Spacek).

As De Palma's clout in Hollywood strengthened, so did the volume of his critics, who found the director's depiction of violence unprecedented in its artistic pretense and sexual overtones. His cinematic slayings featured murder weapons ranging from an ice pick (Murder a la Mod, 1968) to a chainsaw (Scarface, 1983). Had they given an award for "Most Non-P.C. Filmmaker," De Palma would have won hands down with 1984's Body Double. Set amid the world of pornography, the thriller depicted a murder of a beautiful woman with a very phallic (and very large) electric drill. ("It's a little tongue in cheek," De Palma remarked.) The erotically charged scene would, justifiably or not, become an emblem of De Palma's controversial career.

Although strong, elegant images are consistent among De Palma movies, commercial and critical success are not. For example, the director erased the smash success of The Untouchables (1987) by turning The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) into one of filmdom's biggest turkeys. (Erratic behavior has marked De Palma's personal life, as well. He's been married three times: first, to Carrie actress Nancy Allen; second, to producer Gale Anne Hurd, who gave birth to a daughter, Lolita; third, to Darnelle De Palma, from whom he split after seven months of marriage, and who gave birth to his second daughter, Piper.) Hitless during the first half of the nineties, De Palma signed on to helm a couldn't-miss 1996 remake of the TV show Mission: Impossible starring golden boy Tom Cruise (and loads of special effects). He followed the highly lucrative actioner with the so-so 1998 thriller Snake Eyes, which starred Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise.

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