Sometimes I forget that I’ve actually seen some of Brian De Palma’s work. His movies have varied, but he will always be the director of one of my favorite movies, Carrie. I recently have been introduced to more of his work and am anticipating exploring his filmography. Like anyone with a pulse, I’m well aware of the powerhouse that is Robert De Niro. The man can make a shitty movie that nobody sees, but it doesn’t make one dent in his career. He always leaves his mark continuously decade after decade. Arrow Video has decided to put together a trilogy of what I assume to be lesser known films that the two worked together on in a limited set called DE PALMA & DE NIRO: THE EARLY FILMS. I honestly had no idea that their work goes back all the way to the sixties. Whether you like them or not, these three were interesting to watch and I even fell in love with one of them.
The first film in the set, GREETINGS, has an anthology like feel to it where we follow three different characters during the Vietnam War. All three are friends, but the narrative showcases their separate stories as each is a unique character. One is an amateur filmmaker, one a conspiracy theorist, and the third being a timid man who only wants love. The fourth wall is broken at times, but the pacing can be off at times as some characters prove to be more interesting than others.
Secondly, we have THE WEDDING PARTY was my least favorite of the bunch. A couple are soon to be wed and the groomsmen are pretty much anti-marriage. They have discussions over what marriage causes to end. Along with this, the groom engages with his family and other friends, which causes him to have second thoughts. Shot in gorgeous black and white, De Niro has more of a supporting role in this one and fans should not expect anything significant from his performance here as the script feels a bit staggered. There are several characters without much of a flow. This one had a hard time keeping me up, but fulfills the OCD of a completist.
The last film, which is my favorite, is HI MOM!. More of a spin off than a sequel, this follows De Niro’s character from GREETINGS as he becomes a peeping tom and tries to play it off as art. While exploring his creative side, he also gets involved in the Black Power movement. His experiences with a culture still alien to many Americans leads to one of the most extreme examples of immersive theater, but sets up a great discussion. Both the “actors” and the participants have reactions that made me question what I just saw, but there was no doubt how fascinating it was to watch.
There’s no doubt De Niro was a ladykiller and had the leading man charm even in the beginning of his career so it’s fun to watch the early work no one talks about. De Palma’s direction feels more experimental but he finds his comfort zone in HI MOM with controversial imagery and scenarios that are still taboo now. GREETINGS is the only film with commentary, but there’s interviews exploring their early work and specifics on GREETINGS and HI MOM with producer Charles Hirsch. This is definitely a must own for those into film history, especially for two creative types that are still working to this day.