(This post is being published as part of the Brian De Palma 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.