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ROBBIE COLLIN: WHY 'BODY DOUBLE' DESERVES ANOTHER LOOK - "IT ISN'T TRASH, IT'S UNREPENTANTLY TRASHY"
The Telegraph's Robbie Collin previews the Indicator release by saying, "When it was released in 1984, Brian De Palma's follow-up to Scarface was dismissed as exploitative trash. And that's exactly what he wanted." Here's a bit of an excerpt:
Few directors seize an opportunity like Brian De Palma. In 1983, riding high on the success of Scarface, De Palma was offered a three-film deal by Columbia Pictures, who wanted to see where this stylish and controversial pulp auteur would go next.
The following year, he repaid them with a film that was so squalid, so bloodthirsty, and so critically pummelled that three weeks after its release – roughly, the amount of time it took to vanish from cinemas – the studio had torn up his contract, painted out his private parking space, and thrown him off the lot.
The film the then-44-year-old director gave them was Body Double: a Los Angeles-set erotic thriller in which a Peeping Tom becomes the key witness in the murder of a nymphomaniac trophy wife. Among its notable traits are an apparently wilfully bad lead performance from a virtual nobody, entire scenes openly plagiarised from Alfred Hitchcock, walk-on appearances from genuine adult film stars, and a sequence in which the aforementioned desperate housewife is skewered on an enormous safe-cracking drill. As far as Columbia was concerned, it was a $10 million fiasco. But for De Palma, the outrage was worth every last buck...
...Talking to Quentin Tarantino for a 1994 edition of the BBC’s arts series Omnibus, De Palma admitted that “after these battles…I said, ‘OK, you want to see violence? You want to see sex? Then I’ll show it to you.’” In short, the film was an almighty up yours – aimed not just at the censors, but also the critics, commentators and Hollywood players for whom Brian De Palma films were just brand-name misogynistic trash.
Except Body Double isn’t trash, misogynistic or otherwise. It’s unrepentantly trashy – not the kind of film you watch while your parents or kids are in the house, or with your curtains open. But it’s also a complex, provocative suspense thriller that bears comparison with the three immaculate Hitchcock classics – Vertigo, Psycho and Rear Window – it gleefully drags through the sludge.
Following Wise Guys, which had co-starred Danny DeVito, Napolitano worked as first assistant director on DeVito's directorial feature debut, Throw Momma From The Train.
Napolitano can be seen shadowing De Palma on the sets of Body Double and The Untouchables in the two pics below:
When I was first offered the role, [my character had] three scenes. There were two where Craig Wasson’s character tries to talk me into going back with him, because my character had broken up with him. And then, in the last scene, he finds me in bed with another guy. So I was quite excited, right? I went in an auditioned for this role, and I got the part. I was thrilled that I was going to be working with Brian De Palma. But then the night before I was scheduled to work, somebody called me and said, “Listen, they cut the two acting scenes. You only have the scene where you’re in bed with the guy.” That’s it. No dialogue. I said, “Really? You’re cutting all of the dialogue?” And he says, “Yeah, but they’re going to shoot it all day, and they really want to make a big deal out of it. You’re going to be on screen on a long time. They really want you for the role.” And I thought, “Well, it’s Brian De Palma. I should do it, because it will lead to other things. They always work with the same people, so I’m going to do it.”
So, I show up on the set, and I shoot my scene, and in fact, I did do that scene all day. We did it for six or seven hours. I mean, all day. And I became friendly with Brian, and I had a party at my house the following week, and he came. I even started dating his first AD for a short time. I felt all cozy with these guys. And then, years later, I still hadn’t gotten a call. Even years later, when I’d been working, and people knew my work a little bit, [I was] still trying to get a job with Brian.
Then I’m sitting in the Century City mall, which doesn’t exist anymore—this is maybe 10 or 15 years ago—with my friend Shanti. [We] were sitting there having lunch, and somebody walks up, and he says, “Hey, Barbara.” And I look up, and it’s Brian De Palma. And I look at him, and I say, “Brian!” And he goes, “How are you? What are you doing?” I was kind of amazed that he remembered me and that he came up and talked to me, because he could have been having lunch and decided he was going to pay his bill and leave. Well, he came over, and noticed me, and said hello. So, I thought, “I’m going to use this opportunity to tell him my little story about, you know, I got the part, then I lost the scene, but I did it because I want to work with you again, and maybe you’ll use me again,” and he’s like, “Oh, yes! I will, Barbara. You’re right. I’m going to call you. Yes. You’re on my mind. I’m going to think about you. I am definitely going to use you in something else.”
Well, I am still waiting for that call from Brian De Palma. I haven’t given up, but I’m still waiting. But all in all, I will say that even if that was the only time I ever got to work with him, I’m glad that I did, because it was an honor to work with one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. To be on on set with him and have him direct me. So, in whatever small capacity of a role that I had, I’m really happy that I did it. And Brian? Are you listening? Are you reading this? [Laughs.]
"A CLEVERLY CONTRASTING DOUBLE BILL THAT BOTH VENERATES THE GENRE AND PUNKS IT"
The Artery's Sean Burns previews the double feature with fine insight:
Things kick off on Wednesday, Jan. 6, with the dynamic duo of “Body Heat” and “Body Double,” a cleverly contrasting double bill that both venerates the genre and punks it. A case can be made that “Body Heat,” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan’s 1981 directorial debut, kick-started this entire noir revival, updating old-timey 1940s tropes for Ronald Reagan’s America by adding a healthy hunk of R-rated eroticism. Riffing on Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity,” Kasdan’s picture stars William Hurt as a dim-bulb, ambulance-chasing lawyer who finds himself head-over-heels and in way over his head with Kathleen Turner’s man-eating Matty Walker. “You aren’t too smart, are you?” she notes upon their first meeting, “I like that in a man.”
Turner, then just 27, commands the screen with the brassy presence you’d expect from a Stanwyck or Bacall or any of the bygone icons in whose period fashions Kasdan has Matty rather anachronistically dressed (during the rare scenes when she’s wearing clothes). The hilarious Hurt has an awful mustache and the self-satisfied smirk of a man not nearly as clever as he thinks he is. She’s constantly touching him, keeping the schmuck in a slack-jawed state of arousal while he stumbles through her nefarious plan. Check out where Turner’s hands are just beneath the frame-line during a crucial scene and you can see she’s literally leading him around by the you-know-what.
Amusing as this may be, there’s something a bit studious about “Body Heat.” Kasdan’s ceiling fans and, yes, Venetian blinds often come across as film school affectations. Much of the film’s second half is the inelegant dispensing of information crucial to the plot. It’s rescued by loosey-goosey performances from the supporting cast, most famously a brief, star-making turn from Mickey Rourke as a gentle-hearted arsonist lip-syncing to Bob Seger. But watching the film again I was even more taken with Ted Danson’s ballroom-dancing prosecutor. His job is basically to stand next to Hurt and provide exposition, and yet the future Boston bartender is tirelessly toying with props and putting unexpected spins on unexciting lines. These original side characters break through Kasdan’s hermetic homages and references. They keep the movie from feeling too much like a museum.
You’ll see no such reverence in Brian De Palma’s “Body Double,” a spectacularly sleazy send-up that finds the puckish, thin-skinned director confronting his critics and, if you’ll forgive the term, doubling down on everything that upstanding, respectable people hate about Brian De Palma films. In his New York Times review, Vincent Canby described the director as “someone at an otherwise friendly dinner party who can’t keep himself from saying the one thing that will infuriate everybody. It’s as if he were daring the host to ask him back.”
Chafing at the then-widespread complaints that he was just a misogynistic Hitchcock knock-off obsessed with graphic violence and nudity, De Palma concocted this hilarious mash-up of “Rear Window” and “Vertigo” that just so happens to be chock full of graphic violence and nudity. Middle finger aloft, he cast the daughter (Melanie Griffith) of one of Hitch’s iconic blondes (Tippi Hedren) as a porn star and has the villain penetrating helpless women with a massive power drill held at crotch-level as the most unsubtle phallic symbol in the history of cinema.
If you can get on its perverse wavelength the film is screamingly funny — one of the more playful entries in De Palma’s filmography, boasting one of his rare happy endings. “Body Double” teases and explodes those old noir conventions that Kasdan and “Body Heat” hold so dear, simultaneously coating every sinuous camera movement with a slick sheen of totally ’80s gloss. The notorious centerpiece sequence is a dialogue-free porno movie shoot scored with Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax” that doesn’t look anything remotely like any porno movie ever made, but it’s a pretty good excuse for some cheeky virtuosity and dirty jokes.
As you might imagine, “Body Double” was not warmly embraced by audiences upon its theatrical release in 1984. (It opened the same day as “The Terminator” and was gone in three weeks.) But the film found a second life on late night cable, where Melanie Griffith became an object of considerable fascination for a generation of pubescent boys. Indeed, one of the nice chances afforded by the Brattle series is to finally see these films in an actual theater, instead of sneaking around the house watching with the volume turned down low after your parents or the babysitter have gone to sleep.
Atanasov writes, "This is a film with endless twists, but the majority of them are actually irrelevant. The bulk of the lines that are exchanged in it are also irrelevant. That's right. What matters here is the style that blends everything together and the mood that emerges from it.
"The events that ensue after Jake moves into the luxurious house send the film into two drastically different realities. In the first hordes of mainstream actors try hard to become stars while the wealthy enjoy the very best Los Angeles has to offer. This is the clean and healthy reality most people want to spend their time in. In the second a different group of actors are making the type of films the other reality does not recognize. It is here that Jake meets Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), a bubbly beauty and prolific adult actress, who agrees to help him get the mysterious man.
"The film's charm comes from De Palma's ability to effectively target various cliches that characterize the two realities. (See the incredibly funny sequence where Holly Body humiliates the mainstream actress). And while he does it, he also plays with the many genre rules Hitchcock's films established. The end result is truly remarkable. Despite the intended overstylization, or perhaps because of it, the film offers a strikingly accurate summation of Los Angeles from the 1980s and its people. This is a place of remarkable contrasts, wealth and power, beauty and cruelty, and people with admirable ambitions and dangerous desires.
"Pino Donaggio collaborated with De Palma on a number of different projects during the years, but his contribution to this film remains his best work. There are various sequences where the light electronic music -- not the visuals, the camera movement, or the actors -- actually changes the rhythm of the film. Also, there is a fantastic sequence that uses Frankie Goes To Hollywood's monster hit Relax."
And in his conclusion, Atanasov states, "I think that Brian De Palma's Body Double is similar to David Lynch's Mulholland Drive -- it offers a very unusual but strikingly accurate summation of Los Angeles, its culture, and its people during a particular moment in time. Like most of De Palma's best films, Body Double is full of fascinating contrasts and over-the-top visuals which together with Pino Donaggio's stunning soundtrack create a truly unforgettable experience. French label Carlotta Films' technical presentation of the film is excellent. I must also say that this new deluxe set is the most elegant Blu-ray release to reach my desk this year. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (In addition to the deluxe set, Carlotta Films will have available for sale a standard Blu-ray edition of Body Double. However, we have not tested it yet and at the moment cannot confirm its region code status)."
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