Home Movies

Home Movies

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At once Brian De Palma’s most slapdash and most autobiographical picture, Home Movies takes playful stock of the director’s tenacious motifs while positing a lighter, even more hopeful relationship between the characters at play and the eye of the camera surveying them; call it a benign Peeping Tom, or, considering the foregrounded personal intimations of the title, a rather less corrosive version of Hi, Mom! Indeed, it is as a throwback to De Palma’s skittering countercultural comedies of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that this brash oddity is most often situated in the filmmaker’s oeuvre, an allegedly failed attempt to recapture Godardian radicalism after “selling out” to the Hollywood jungle. On the contrary, the film builds progressively on the auteur’s understanding of the entrapping/liberating possibilities of cinema, consciously shedding the technological spectacle of, say, The Fury, to better parade the raw anxieties lying underneath the blanket of screwball farce. From the opening credits caricaturing the cast to Nancy Allen’s emotional crescendo with her hand up a puppet-bunny’s ass, Home Movies is an unashamed farce, though the comedy is tinged by De Palma’s obsessions; the narrative is continually recorded, and every character is defined by his or her relationship to the lenses. The hilariously dysfunctional Byrd clan is the main subject: Young Denis (Keith Gordon) is saddled with a philandering father (Vincent Gardenia), a self-pitying mother (Mary Davenport), and a brawny older brother (Gerrit Graham), to say nothing of a lingering feeling of being “an extra in his own life.” Personal growth (and love, embodied by Allen as Graham’s ex-slut fiancée) hinges on being able to master the ongoing mise-en-scène that is life, a task as perilous to the hapless Byrd protagonists as to the Maestro (Kirk Douglas), the “star therapy” professor who oversees their foibles and whose cinematographic paraphernalia constantly intrudes upon their realities. Made as a workshop class project with De Palma’s students during his 1979 Independent Filmmaking course at Sarah Lawrence College, the film is a cluttered, often very funny and even more revealing portrait of the artist as cinephile truth-seeker. Gordon’s sensitive whiz-kid is often tagged as a stand-in for De Palma, though the artist’s ties to Douglas’s all-controlling overlord, even as he challenges the Maestro’s “The camera never lies!” declaration, remain just as inescapable.

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DVD
Distributor
Westlake Entertainment Group
Runtime
90 min
Rating
PG
Year
1980
Director
Brian De Palma
Screenwriter
Kim Ambler, Brian De Palma, Dana Edelman, Robert Harders, Stephen Le May, Charles Loventhal, Gloria Norris
Cast
Kirk Douglas, Keith Gordon, Nancy Allen, Gerrit Graham, Vincent Gardenia, Mary Davenport, Theresa Saldana, Loretta Tupper