The kinetic energy of Brian De Palma


Title: Dressed to Kill

By: Brian De Palma

With deference to Altman and Scorsese, my favourite American director from that great decade, the 1970s, is Brian De Palma. De Palma’s visual sense, his understanding of how the camera can be used as a tool of manipulation, is masterful – his films have a kinetic, visceral energy that’s analysis-defying and that transcends their often-pulpish subject matter. Watching them, I get a sense of cinema as a medium in its own right, rather than an extension of literature.

Much of De Palma’s work is built on templates created by Alfred Hitchcock, and Dressed to Kill uses Psycho as its model. In this case, the attractive protagonist who is unexpectedly murdered early in the film (in an elevator, not a shower) is a middle-aged lady cheating on her husband. Her science-nerd son teams up with a prostitute and a psychiatrist (!) to find the killer, who turns out to have a split personality. This premise affords De Palma plenty of scope for his visual flourishes, beginning with a superb, dizzying (and entirely wordless) scene set in a museum, which creates the sort of tension and ambivalence Hitchcock would have been proud of. And don’t miss the trademark split-screens and tracking shots.