SECOND-SIGHT NOTES & ANGLES ON STEFFIE, BODY DOUBLES, ETC.
Some notes on re-watching Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way today, 25 years after its initial release:
We start with Steffie, the catalyst in the scene above, having just seduced Kleinfeld on the dance floor and pulling him into the bathroom for a quickie. Carlito, of course, already has his attitude issues with Benny Blanco from the Bronx, and Steffie knows this-- the first time the viewer sees Steffie, from afar, she's talking to Saso but watching with keen interest as Carlito tells Benny Blanco about the "new ownership/new rules," and she witnesses, from afar, Benny's obvious respect for Carlito's legendary status. Soon, Steffie is dating Benny Blanco, before she moves on to Kleinfeld in the crucially pivotal sequence of the film pictured above.
At one point, De Palma directs Stephen H. Burum's camera eye from outside the blinds of Carlito's office window downward, to spy Steffie grilling Pachanga about Carlito's meeting with Lalin above. As De Palma shows throughout the film's first 90 minutes, Steffie is obsessed with new owner Carlito from that first time we see her. And while that first time we see her, the shot is lingered on a bit, at this point in the film, the first-time viewer has no way of knowing that this woman will be a pivotal player in the narrative (when we look over from Carlito's point-of-view, the focus is ostensibly on Saso, as Benny Blanco is pointing toward Saso as he mentions him). In this way, the shot of Steffie, at this early point in the film, is somewhat akin to De Palma having Bobbi show up in the frame during a pan on the stairs outside of the museum in Dressed To Kill, prior to our knowledge that Kate Miller is being stalked. Of course, Bobbi is merely glimpsed in the pan in question, but in both cases, a sort of subtext is visually suggested.
Shortly after first watching Carlito's encounter with Benny Blanco, Steffie approaches Carlito, who is sitting and watching a tall blonde woman across the room attempt to get her boyfriend to get up and dance with her. This scenario will be played out by Gail and Carlito much later in the film, at a different nightclub, where Carlito tells Gail, "I love to watch you." The line, of course, harkens back to De Palma's Body Double (Jake's line of dialogue in the porn film-within-the-film, "I like to watch," itself nodding to Peter Sellers's famous line from Hal Ashby's Being There). Carlito's fantasy of Paradise in the billboard at the film's end shows a dancing figure who is surely Gail, yet could also be tinged by this other blonde woman who only reminds him of Gail-- a sort of delirious vertigo at twilight as the bars are closing down. And, as Carlito stares, there's our Steffie, trying to get Carlito's attention, asking him why a good-lookin' dude like him doesn't have a woman. "Nobody but you, Stef."