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Body Double

December 3, 2012

(This post is being published under the category Mystery/Pyschological/Erotic Thriller, as part of the Scenes of Crime blogathon . Body Double was one cheesy, over the top, whacked out tribute by Brian De Palma to Hitchcock’s  Rear Window and Vertigo. This is a hard core 80’s style thriller, that screams  out “CHEESE”  at all levels, and De Palma is one of those directors who can make Cheese look really good.)
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YOU  CAN’T  BELIEVE  EVERYTHING  YOU  SEE
It  could  be  the  fact  that  Body  Double  is  set  against  the  backdrop  of  the  B-Movie and porno  world,  two  places,  where  nothing  is  what   it  seems.
Or  it  could  be  that  nothing  is  really  what  it  is  in  this   over  the  top, melodramatic,  cheesy   take  off  on  Vertigo  and  Rear  Window,  two  eternal  Hitchcock  classics.
Or   the  title  itself,  a  reference  to  the  visual  trickery  of  the  first  order, where  those  all  too hot  naked  shots  of  your  favorite  heroine  are  actually  that  of   some  unknown   struggler.  So  when  Brian  De  Palma  lets  his  camera  play  voyeur,  over  Angie  Dickinson’s   “nude  torso”  in  Dressed  to  Kill,   in  truth,  that   “killer  body”  which  made  you  sallivate, belonged  to  some  one  else.

The  camera lies all the time; lies 24 times/second-  Brian  De  Palma

In  Scarface   Brian  De  Palma   took  an  ironic,  twisted  up    view  of  ”The  World  is  Yours”   funda,   tracing  the  rapid  rise  and fall  of  its  lead   character.    In  Body  Double,  Brian  De  Palma,  takes  the  tagline  ”You  Can’t  believe  Everything  You  see”   and  crafts  a thriller   where   nothing  is   what  it   really  seems.   And   the   fact  that  the  entire  movie  is  set  against  the  ”illusionary”  movie  world  backdrop,  adds   that  much  more  meaning  to  the  tagline.   Body  Double  is  not  a masterpiece,  nor  is  it  the  kind  of   mind bender thriller,   where  you  could  spend  your  time  figuring  out  everything  and  still  not  be  clear.    In  fact  at  the  end  of  the  movie, when you  join  the  dots,  everything  seems  plainly  obvious.   What  Brian  De  Palma   has  done  here  is  to take  all  the  standard  Hollywood  cliches,    pack  them  together,  and  layer  them  over   with  dollops  of  cheese,  giving  us  a  movie  that  screams  out  every  moment “LOOK  AT  ME, I AM CHEESE”. If   you   are  seeking  subtlety,  understatement  you  sure   won’t  be  finding  them  here,   but   then  Brian De  Palma  has  never  been   associated  with  such  virtues.
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But  it  still  takes   skill,  to  craft  a  ”Cheesy”  movie  that   actually  grips  you from start  to  end,  never  letting  go  of  your  attention.    Tim  Burton  did  it  in  Mars  Attacks,   where  he  packed  in  every  known sci  fi  movie cliche,  got  hold  of  an  ensemble  bunch  of  actors,  and   then  turned  into  one  delicious  cheeseburger,  which  jumped  at  you  in every  frame.    James  Cameron  did   it  in   True  Lies,  where  he  spoofed  every  known  007  cliche,  culminating  in a  totally   whacked  out  climax.   And  closer  home,  Ram  Gopal  Verma,  did  it  in  Daud,   one  of  the  best   “cheesy”  movies  i  have  seen,  where  the  director,  and  all  the  actors,  seemed  to be  having  the  time  of  their  lives.  RGV  in  fact  was  one  of   the  best  in  making  those  mad  cap, cheesy  entertainers,  but   of   late  he  has  begun  to  take  himself  way  too  seriously.  And  this  is   what  Brian  De  Palma  achieves  in  Body  Double,   he  manages  to  keep  you  hooked  from  start  to  end.
In  fact,   Body  Double,  has  one  of   the  best  opening  credits,   starting  off   with  the  standard   wolf howling,  full  moon, and  then  the  camera   zooming  across a  graveyard,  smoke  and  mist  everywhere.  And  then  the  credits  appearing   in  white  shaky  letters,  blood  dripping  over  them,   reminiscent   of   older  B  vampire  flicks.  The  credits  roll  on,  camera  zooming  in  to  a  grave,  a vampire  rising,  white  hair,  all  made  up.  Vampire  turns  around,  baring  his  fangs,  hissing,  director  saying  ”Action”,  but  wait  the  fearsome,  snorting  expression,  gives  way  to  a  frozen  with  fear.  And  then  we  see  that  the  vampire  in  reality  is a  B movie  actor,  Jake  Scully(  Craig  Wasson),  and  what  we  were  watching was  a  movie  shoot  in  progress.   The  other  movie  i  recall  watching  with  this  kind  of  trick  opening,  was  “F/X  Murder  By  Illusion” another  favorite  80′s  thriller  flick of  mine.   Jake’s  claustrophobia  has  caused  him  to  muck  up  the  shot,  something   which the  director  establishes,  when  we  see  Jake being  frozen  with  fear  in  the  grave.  And  then  as  the  credits  roll  on,   the  movie  title,  appears  again,  white  shaky letters,  dripping  red  with  blood,   on  the  backdrop  of  a lovely  Californian  desert.   But  as  De  Palma  had  pointed  out,  ”Nothing is  what it  seems”,  the  ”title”  we  see  is  actually  a  backdrop   that  is  wheeled  away  by  people  on the  set,  and  then  De  Palma,  paying  homage  to another   favorite  Hollywood  shot  of  the  60′s,   the  hero  driving  in  his  convertible,  hair  in  all  place, and  the  road  behind  zooming  across.   Setting  up  the  opening  credits  against   the   fake,  backdrop  of   Hollywood  studios,  Brian  De  Palma,   sets up  the  overall   “What  you  see is  not  what  you  get” ethos  of  the movie.
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As   the  opening  credits  end,  and  Jake  comes  to  his  real  world  apartment,  he  gets  a   painful  reality  check.  His  girlfriend  Carol,  for  whom  he  had  bought  and  lovingly  laid  out  a lunch,  is  in bed  with  another  guy,  and  she  seems  to  love  it.   Jake  is  devastated,  and  spends   time  roaming  around,  its  in  effect  a  double  blow  for  him.  Earlier   he  had  been  fired by  his  director,  for  mucking  up  the  shot,  and   now   his girl  is  sleeping  around  with  some  one  else,  Murphy’s  law  in  full flow  here.   As  Jake  wanders  around  in a   daze,  Brian  De  Palma,  takes  the  opportunity  to  let the  camera  wander  over  some  of  the  known spots in Los  Angeles.    Actually  considering   that   Los  Angeles,  itself   is  a kind  of  ”tricky, fake”  city,  in  fact  its  more  like  ”suburbs in search  of  a city”,  than  a  real  city,  was  it  a deliberate  choice  by  De  Palma  to  shoot  the  entire  movie  here, keeping  in mind  the “Nothing  is  what  it seems”   viewpoint?   As  Jake  is  looking  for  a place  to  stay,  yeah  his   girl  has  taken  over  his  pad  also,   he  meets  Sam  Bouchard, a  stranger  at  the  bar,  who  agrees  to  sub  let  his  pad  out  for  Jake.
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Its  no  ordinary  pad  however,   its  some  kind  of  bizzare, futuristic   flying  saucer  shaped  home  with  a plush  interior  inside.  Forget  that  old cliche,  about  how  people  in  Hollywood  flicks   always  seem  to  find  a   plush  penthouse  in  New  York  City,  without  much  ado.  This   futuristic  pad   makes  the  NYC  penthouse  look  like  a  shack.  I  was  wondering  if   this  was  another  of  Hollywood’s   wild  fantasies,  and  then  later  came  to  know  that  such  a building  called  the “Chemosphere”   really  exists  in  LA.  Jake  now  settles  down  in  Sam’s   plush  apartment,  and   then  comes  the  movie’s   main  plot  point.   As  Jake  is  peering  through  the  telescope  at  the apartment  opposite  him,  he  sees  a  female,  doing  a sexy,  strip  dance.   Again  the  way  De  Palma  sets up  the  erotic  tone,  here  is  brilliant.  Using  the  80′s  music  video feel,  we  find  the  female  doing  a  self  masturbatory  routine,  with  all  kinds  of   passionate  movies,  stroking  herself,  to  a soft  lullaby.   Also  here  De  Palma  wonderfully  sets  up  the  contrast  between  the  2  characters,  Jake   taking his  gaze  off, look  of  total  disbelief  on  his face,  the  female   doing   her  ”erotic  pleasure”  dance,  the  ”normal, every  day”  voyeur  and  the  ”sexy  siren”,  the  object  of  his  attention.
Jake  is  now  obsessed  by  the  ”sexy, siren”  opposite  his  pad,  and  he  again  does  the  ”Peeping tom”  act.   However  this  time  there is  ”trouble  in paradise”,  a nasty  looking  guy  is  threatening  the  woman.   And  to  his  horror  he  discovers,  that  he  is  not  the only  one  spying  on  his “obsession”, a  nasty  looking  Indian.   In  another  Vertigo,  reference,  where  James  Stewart  follows  Kim Novak,  all  over  San Francisco,   Jake   begins  to  follow   the  ”woman”   all  over   the  suburbs  of  LA.   Brian  De  Palma   showing  effectively  why  he  is  considered  one  of   the  best  when  it comes  to  visualization.   The  steady  cam  track  shots,  showing  Jake’s   POV,  as  he  follows   the  woman,  Jake   peeking at  her,  changing  her  panties,  and  then  again  intercutting  between  Jake, the  woman,  and  the  nasty  Indian.   Brian  De  Palma,   sets  up  the  tension   her,  as  we  see  two  characters,  shadowing, and  then  Jake  following  her   along  the   beach.   In  this   entire  sequence,   one  moment  particularly  stands  out,   Jake,  in  a tunnel, suddenly  struck by  claustrophobia,   De  Palma,  depicting  it  in a  superb  manner,  with  the  car  horns  blaring  around,  and  the  camera  going  totally  crazy   tilting  at  weird  angles.   This  entire   sequence  of  Jake  shadowing  the female,  Gloria  Revelle(  Deborah Shelton),    needs  to be  watched,  just  for its   dazzling  camera  work,  especially  the  shot  of  Jake  stuck  in  the  tunnel.
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After   getting  a guy  chopped  up  with  a chainsaw  in  Scarface,  and  another  guy’s  head  getting  cracked  up  with  a baseball  bat  in Untouchables,   Brian  De  Palma  uses  a  power drill  here  as  an   instrument  of  murder.  This  is  the  Scene  of  the  movie,  for me.    Again  the  set  up  here  is  excellent,   Jake  spying on  Gloria’s  apartment,  finds  that  the “Indian”  is  now  creeping up behind her.  He  tries  to  warn  her, but in the  best  tradition  of  Hollywood  flicks,  where  phones  don’t  work,  when  they  have  to,  he  manages  to  warn  her,  but  its  too late.    The   tension   here  is  the  way  Brian  De  Palma  uses  close  ups  of  Gloria  teriffied, though must  say  Ms.  Shelton’s   “expression of  terror”  is  more  chuckle  worthy  than  scary,  then  the  nasty  Indian  grinning  devilishly,  as  Gloria  breaks  free.   The  intercutting  between  the  scenes  of  Gloria  being  assaulted  by  the  Indian,  Jake  running  frantically,  and  Pino  Donnagio’s   racy  background  score,  shoots  the  tension  levels  up.  Gloria  chased  all over  the home,  Jake  struggling with a dog, thats  attacked  him. The  real  horror  lies  in  what  is  not  seen,  and  so  here   it  is  with  the  actual  murder,  we  only  see  a shot, of  the  drill, jerking  before it enters  Gloria’s  body,  and  as  Jake struggles  with  the  dog,  the  drill head, bursts  through the floor, drenched  in blood,  leaving  us in  shock.

If  you hadn’t been so busy getting off by peeping on her, if you had called the police about your blood brother, the Indian, she’d still be alive. You’re the real reason Gloria Revelle is dead.

As  the  cop’s  parting  words  after  the  investigation,  hit   Jake,  he  gets  the  guilt  consciousness,  about  being  responsible  for Gloria’s   grisly  murder.   Jake  is  shattered,  depressed,  and   is  watching  a  porn  show  on TV.  And  then  he  sees  a  porn  star  Holly Body(  Melanie  Griffith) doing  the  same  ”self  masturbatory”  routine,  he  had  witnessed  in  the  apartment.  Was  Holly,  the  one  actually  doing  the  dance?  Was  she  the  body  double,  who  had  fooled  him  all  the  time into believing  that  the  female  was Gloria?   The  movie  now  shifts  into  another  fake  world,  the   world  of  porn  cinema.  A  world   that  is  wildly  over  the top, dripping   with  excess,  and  creating  a   fake  universe  of   impossibly   perfect  bodies,   indulging  in  sexual  acrobatics,  that  some  one  in  real  could  never  even  attempt.  Another  world  that  celebrates  the  cheesy,  the  ridiculous,  the  impossible. And  that’s  where  you   see   why   De  Palma  choose  to  shoot  the  movie  in the  cheesiest  possible  manner,  he  was  dealing  with worlds   where  the  ”cheesy”  is   actually  celebrated,  and  a  decade( the  80′s)  where  excess   was  the  norm.   The  porn  movie  does  not  even  make  a pretence  to be  ”serious”   unlike  Hollywood  at  times.  During  a  shot,  when  Holly  and  Jake  get  into  a passionate  cinch,  the  camera  zooming  180  around,   Holly  leans  back  her  head  in  the  way,  most  of   the heroines  did  during the  steamy  scenes  in  Hollywood  flicks,  and  then  the director  barking  out

Where’s the cum-shot? I thought we were doing Body Talk, not Last Tango.

Beyond  its   apparently  cheesy  facade,  over  the top  story  telling,  and  the  excessive  ”In your  face”  treatment,  Body  Double  is is  a  well  constructed,  fast  paced  thriller,  working  around  the  central  idea  of  ”You can’t  believe everything  you  see”.  Right  from  the  opening  shot   where  De  Palma  tricks us  into  believing  we  are  watching  a vampire  movie,  to  the  crazy  twists  and turns, to  the  actual  plot  point  of   a  Body  Double  holding  the  entire  key to  the  mystery,  nothing  is  what  it  seems .  Jake, Holly, the  Indian  are  all  just  mere  props  in  the  entire  set up,  of  a gruesome  murder  conspiracy.   Body  Double  references  Hitchcock  in it’s   normal  guy  getting  into  a  mess  scenario,  in  it’s  plot  twists,  in  the references  to  Vertigo  and  Rear  Window,  but  De  Palma  adds   the  contemporary  80′s  touches,  the  music  video,  the  over  the  top  narration,   the  deliberately  cheesy  tone  and  setting it against  a  movie  backdrop,  to  create  a  wonderful  thriller.
6 Comments
  1. I remember reading that DePalma was so angry over the controversy caused by Dressed To Kill and Scarface he partially made this film as a way to piss them off even worse! haha. I loved this review and you hit it exactly right on all points just why this is such a great thriller. Cheers! – http://www.furiouscinema.com

    • Pete exactly, this was De Palma’s way of saying cheese, in a much larger way. It mocked and satirized, the standard Hollywood cliches, and was one big fun ride.

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