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Body Double is the film that kicked off "De Palma December" on the weekly podcast, Cinema Recall, two Fridays ago:
We begin the month of December by covering the films of director Brian DePalma. He has been compared to Alfred Hitchcock but many of his films are a lot more mature in content. Not only does he direct thrillers, but he has worked in horror, action, dramas, and musicals too.
On this episode, Ryan of Coolness Chronicles and Reels of Justice returns to discuss DePalma's homage to Hitchcock's Rear Window and Vertigo with Body Double. Listen to him and The Vern go over moments of this intricate thriller.
Then the host brings up a radical possibility that makes the other two involved in the discussion stop to think: was Sam Bouchard the man who is, er, with Carol when Jake Scully walks in on them? It would make Sam's scheming even more extreme, but I do think after the people on this podcast go back and review the film, they will spot the telling moment when Sam, already on the lookout for a poor schmuck to play the part of the witness in his murder scenario, overhears Jake asking a friend if he knows of any apartments available.
Sam Bouchard here is a bit like Jon (Robert De Niro) trying to manipulate Judy (Jennifer Salt) in Hi, Mom!, taking what his pawn gives him and then bonding with him, improvising a story that may have been roughly sketched in his mind beforehand. Although De Niro's Jon in Hi, Mom! has actually weaved his way into Judy's life after surreptitiously spying on her with his camera from across the street, I think we can see the very moment in Body Double when Sam Bouchard begins to pay attention to Jake Scully:
The article by Craig D. Lindsey looks at Body Double as De Palma's "balls-to-the-wall response" to critics of his then-recent works.
Double has to be the most I’m-doing-this-for-shits-and-giggles movie De Palma ever directed. (His little-seen Home Movies, which he made with his Sarah Lawrence College film class, comes a close second.) It’s surprising how many people took this trolling so seriously. The movie was a flop at the box office and mostly trashed in the press, though a few critics got the joke. (Vincent Canby called it “[De Palma’s] most blatant variation to date on a Hitchcock film,” while Paul Attanasio said it is “carefully calculated to offend almost everyone”). Audiences hated it, too: In a 2002 salute to De Palma in Vanity Fair, critic James Wolcott recalled the “catastrophic public screening” of Double he attended “where the audience hissed the notorious low-angle shot of a power drill pointed at a supine woman’s body like a steel penis.”
Right from the jump, De Palma revels in Double’s Hollywood artifice. Every time we see Jake at a studio, fake backdrops and boulders are being wheeled away. But the fakery doesn’t stop when he leaves the lot. It extends to scenes of Jake driving his drop-top convertible around town, for which De Palma deploys an old-fashioned rear-projection shot. Without question, the movie’s most over-the-top moment, when Wasson and Shelton share a passionate kiss on the beach, is also its most deliberately inauthentic. It’s obviously meant to resemble the revolving make-out session between Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo. But De Palma goes way the hell out for his version, cutting abruptly from footage of the actors smooching outdoors to them clearly on a soundstage, on some revolving platform, against a projected backdrop of a beach, just ravaging each other as the camera does multiple, accelerated swirls around them.
By the end, De Palma has given both his fans and his haters what they crave. He ends his movie with a sequence in which a De Palma-like director (played by Dennis Franz, a one-time De Palma regular) shoots Jake, playing a vampire, biting a naked girl in the shower. A gum-smacking body double steps in for the actress, cementing the whole scene as a nod to Angie Dickinson’s shower scene in Dressed, where she used a double. Even after all these years, Body Double is still tawdry, twisted, and smart-assed, right down to the final frame.
"There’s an alternate reality out there in which we’re all at the multiplex, or at least able to go, and watching all of the big blockbusters that were originally scheduled to come out in the summer of 2020," Wonder Woman 1984, we can still go back to 1984 and watch all the movies that would have been playing in theaters while Wonder Woman was fighting supervillains."
Bibbiani's alphabetical list also includes Joe Dante's Gremlins, Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves, Tim Burton's short film, Frankenweenie, Wes Craven's A Nightmare On Elm Street, and several others. Here's what Bibbiani says about Body Double:
Brian De Palma’s lurid pastiche of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Vertigo and Dial M for Murder stars Craig Wasson (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) as a sad-sack struggling actor who takes a housesitting gig and falls in love with a beautiful neighbor through a telescope, watching her as she seductively dances at night. His late night voyeurism makes him the only witness to her brutal murder, but the plot takes a bizarre turn when he notices that a famous porn star named Holly Body, played by a never-better Melanie Griffith, has the exact same sensual dance routine in her films.
The creepy psychosexual subtext of Hitchcock’s films is laid bare, front and center, in De Palma’s Body Double, a film which showcases some of the most ambitious and playful camerawork of the director’s career. Even when it’s not shockingly violent Body Double still feels shocking, as Wasson’s hapless protagonist discovers the depths of his own obsessions and the bizarre lengths he will go to in order to seduce the woman (women?) of his dreams. Meanwhile, Melanie Griffith challenges all expectations in her performance, revealing Holly Body to be as complete, as radical, and as intriguing a character as any in De Palma’s filmography.
The latest episode links Garry Marshall's Pretty Woman and Brian De Palma's Body Double, which, Amanda and Tara note, both take place in Los Angeles, with shared themes of authenticity and performance. "Can we call ourselves feminists and still enjoy these movies?" they ask in the episode description. "(We can and we do.) But we can admit it’s a BIG problem. BIG. HUGE. The lesson this week: Life is not a fairytale. Princesses need to save themselves. So pry yourself away from the telescope and join us."
Hello! It's Jonathan (@tall4all) here from @ThePCCPodcast. This week on the podcast myself and co-host Fil (@dogz_i_metz) are joined by the The PCC Podcast's very first guest—all the way back from Episode 2 (The Warriors)—Front of House member Tamsin Cleary!
Tamsin is an incredibly knowledgeable student of film and aspiring film essayist. As a fan of cult cinema, Tamsin sat with us (via video chat) to discuss 1984's #BodyDouble and the psychosexual thrillers of Director #BrianDePalma.
Steeped in #Hitchcock influence, pals with New Hollywood legends #StevenSpielberg, #FrancisFordCoppola, #MartinScorsese and #GeorgeLucas, and a career that has seen more ups and downs than a rollercoaster; Brian De Palma may be one of the most underrated directors of his generation. This 88 min instalment takes a look at one of his most bonkers films; where 36 years on, we are still left wondering why it features a video for #FrankieGoesToHollywood's "Relax" smack-bang in the middle.
Bateman’s reflection and appearance are crucial to him in a pathological and modern way. Harron cleverly turns his lengthy morning routine into a cosmetics ad selling you an entire lifestyle. Bale’s descriptive voice-over speaks in velvety tones as a delicate piano (by John Cale) bathes the scene in luxurious serenity. Bateman’s sculpted body is presented in full as it is perfected through exercise and lotions. His outward appearance is the modern ideal, which he also confirms for himself by videotaping his straight sexual encounters, for which he carefully selects sex workers for their looks (one of them is asked to dance, and her moves are clearly inspired by Melanie Griffith’s in Brian De Palma’s 1984 erotic thriller Body Double, a film all about the illusory power of images). These moments, too, are athletic workouts: In the midst of acrobatic poses, Bateman winks at himself in the mirror, triumphant. He is the ultimate “boy next door,” as his fiancée Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon) calls him: the poster boy for individualistic upper-class America.
Brian De Palma is a filmmaker who has always attracted controversy. Not only does he attract it, he seems to openly encourage it, and that was certainly the case with Body Double, a lewd and violent thriller which set out to offend with the wry impudence of someone who is sick and tired of having the same old accusations levelled at them. Described by Paul Attanasio of The Washington Post as a movie that …”has been carefully calculated to offend almost everyone—and probably will,” the queerly elusive Body Double proved a huge commercial flop on the heels of the equally controversial and hugely successful gangster epic Scarface, managing a paltry $8,800,000 dollars at the US box office. “Body Double was reviled when it came out,” De Palma told The Guardian in 2016. “Reviled. It really hurt. I got slaughtered by the press right at the height of the women’s liberation movement… I thought it was completely unjustified. It was a suspense thriller, and I was always interested in finding new ways to kill people.”
With this comment, De Palma was referring to the movie’s most controversial scene, one that sees the elegant Deborah Shelton stalked and penetrated with a phallic drill in a moment deemed so shocking that Bret Easton Ellis referenced Body Double in his equally violent and controversial novel American Psycho, decadent protagonist Patrick Bateman admitting to having seen the film no less than 37 times (just take a moment to absorb that image). Like Body Double, Ellis’s novel was called out for its blatant depictions of violence against women and general misogyny, and when the book was finally adapted for the silver screen after years in production limbo, director Mary Harron focused more on the source material’s wit than it’s profound depictions of murder, describing Scarface scribe Oliver Stone, another controversial director initially tied to the project, as “the single worst person to do it.” Just imagine that movie in the hands of a director who gave us Natural Born Killers.
Another accusation levelled at De Palma over the years is that he aped the works of legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, something else that is plainly obvious in Body Double, which has more than a shade of Hitch classics Vertigo and Rear Window ― particularly the latter, since Body Double is basically an exercise in voyeurism that taps into our darkest urges. There is so much of Hitchcock in Body Double that you practically drown in it, and the movie often makes you feel like you’re drowning, it’s woozy, dreamlike aura leaving you feeling disoriented, stumbling through a rich and often perplexing suspense thriller that is so masterfully executed you’re completely engrossed, despite its fantastical nature and offbeat flourishes. If Body Double was De Palma’s attempt to show us just how well he could do Hitchcock, then message received. The legendary Hitch would have been proud.
Body Double is so indulgent that you’ll either love it or hate it. It’s not something you’ll watch passively time and time again. Criticism for the movie was mostly negative, due largely to a backdrop of women’s rights events, but others would praise the film from a technical standpoint. As was typically the case, long-time allies/rivals Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert would have opposing opinions. Both were known detractors of the infamous slasher film, which Body Double, released towards the end of the sub-genre’s Golden Age, inevitably tapped into, and once again Siskel couldn’t help himself, writing, “When the drill came onto the screen, De Palma lost me and control of his movie. At that point ‘Body Double’ ceased to be a homage to Hitchcock and instead became a cheap splatter film, and not a very good one at that.” Known De Palma advocate Ebert had a very different opinion, stating, “Body Double is an exhilarating exercise in pure filmmaking. A thriller in the Hitchcock tradition in which there’s no particular point except that the hero is flawed, weak, and in terrible danger — and we identify with him completely.”
The movie stars Craig Wasson as Jake Scully, a struggling actor with a history of alcohol abuse who falls off the wagon after catching his adulterous wife red-handed. Scully is struggling on the bottom rung of Hollywood when a fellow thesp offers him temporary accommodation in a wealthy contact’s apartment — a futuristic building with the towering, unreal presence of the Bates mansion. As an extra treat, unexpected saviour, Sam Bouchard (Gregg Henry), offers Jake the pleasures of the apartment’s telescope, giving him a perfect view of a sultry neighbour who performs an erotic dance each night after returning home. Wasson quickly becomes obsessed with the beautiful stranger, particularly when he notices a second man stalking her, but since he can be accused of the very same crime, he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands and quickly becomes a convenient pawn in an unreal mystery with so many twists and turns it would be a crime to reveal them.
Aesthetically, the movie is so lush it’s almost hypnotic. The director’s pronounced use of lighting and slanted camerawork create an overtly fictional dreamworld that you just kind of fall into, and it never feels like you’ll hit the ground, however hopelessly you plummet. The film is often like a nightmare that you don’t wish to wake from, that you’re intent on exploring in spite of yourself. The more I watch Body Double, the more it seems like a platform for De Palma’s critical grievances. Firstly, we have the highly sexualized Shelton as the seedy apple of our protagonist’s eye, her demise shot through a rather familiar Rear Window lens. Wasson’s Scully has much in common with Rear Window‘s L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart): a growing obsession, an inescapable predicament and questions of personal morality. Scully is drawn deeper into the mire against his own best judgement. The infamous drill scene is unashamedly chauvinistic. It is also masterfully executed and fraught with tension, a painstaking exercise in suspense that leaves you gritting your teeth and narrowing your eyes as you await the inescapable. Of course, the scene wouldn’t have been half as effective if the victim of our priapic killer were a man — the equivalent of having John Wayne take on Marilyn Monroe in a bout of pistols at dawn.
Ten days ago, Steph Green, film news editor at The Indiependent, posted a highly amusing article titled, "Bad Films to Watch During Self-Isolation." "As people around the UK are either in self-isolation, let go from their jobs or working from home," Green begins, "a lot of free time has opened up in our normally hectic schedules. As a semi-agoraphobic Millennial whose idea of a perfect evening is eating instant ramen on the sofa and going to bed at 10pm, this is not news I’m devastated by. With many publications from The Guardian to Refinery29 publishing ‘Films to Watch During Self-Isolation’ lists, we’re here to mix things up a bit. Here’s a watchlist of stuff you should actually, probably, be avoiding. This also includes Anything by Quarantine Tarantino. I mean Quentin Tarantino.
Included along with picks such as Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, Todd Haynes' Safe, and Steven Spielberg's The Terminal, among others, is De Palma's Body Double. Of the latter, Green writes, "It may be one of my favourite films, but it’s also about a man who spends too much time at home, spies on his neighbour, and inadvertently sees a murder. And claustrophobia."
Earlier this week, Emmanuelle Alt, editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, listed "her film recommendations for this period of confinement," which includes Body Double. "With all the allure of a Hitchcock thriller," says Alt, "Body Double is one of Brian de Palma's best films, which combines style, sex, manipulation and violence. It follows the tumultuous journey of an agoraphobic actor who has taken refuge in a magnificent villa (the famous Chemosphere) perched on the heights of Hollywood and witnessed the murder of his beautiful neighbor.
A day later, The Architect's Newspaper posted its editors' "picks for architecture-themed movies and shows to enjoy while housebound." Associate editor Matt Hickman chose Body Double. "There’s nothing like a sleazy, ultra-stylish erotic thriller from Brian De Palma to take one’s mind off the troubles of the world," says Hickman. "Highly controversial on its release, Body Double, now a cult favorite, serves as both an homage to Alfred Hitchcock and a tribute to the architectural weirdness of Los Angeles. While numerous L.A. landmarks serve as backdrops including Tail O’ the Pup, the Farmers Market, and the Hollywood Tower Apartments, the real star of the film is John Lautner‘s Chemosphere House (1960), a space-ship-y octagonal lair mounted on a concrete pedestal high in the Hollywood Hills. Reached only by funicular, the home, declared a Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Monument in 2004, is currently owned by publisher Benedikt Taschen."
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