Thursday, January 28, 2010

De Palma a La Mode - Part Five: And Where is The Body....?

That's not a quote from the movie I am critiquing today, rather it is a line from the Salt n Pepa song called "(I Am) The Body Beautiful"...but I thought it was appropriate as the film I am talking about is called Body Double and it does deal with that question...as well as the question of which body is it?  But first, I must say a few warning words.  This film is considered sleazy, violent, and misogynistic...or at least it was when it was first released in 1984 (the year of my birth).  De Palma, fresh off his critical success yet box-office failure of Blow-Out and his box-office success and critical failing of Dressed to Kill, needed a little time to vent.  People were calling him a misogynist and a sleaze monger after Dressed, even though in hindsight the nudity and violence was more tasteful than exploitative (certainly compared to the Friday the 13th films that were just beginning at the same time), and he was rather upset with being mis-analyzed.  Some might say that De Palma got what he deserved and that his critics were right...I'm of the opinion that he was simply trying to do things before people were ready (such as suggestive nudity, masturbation, and explicit violence) and got thumped for it.  Friday the 13th was vilified too at the time.  At any rate, Body Double was his response to those who thought Dressed to Kill deserved an X rating.  It was full of nudity, masturbation, murder, and violence, all the things that critics said there was too much of in Dressed to Kill...and no one seemed to get the joke.

Jake Sully (Craig Wasson) is a claustrophobic actor who is having a bad day...he froze on his new film job (having to play a vampire in a coffin) and he's discovered that his girlfriend has been cheating on him.  How did he find out?  He walked in on her and her lover while they were doing the nasty.  After moving out (it was her house afterall), he finds that he's lost the film job and no one will hire him.  Lucky for him, he runs into Sam Bouchard (Gregg Henry) another actor who is trying to find someone to take over his housesitting gig.  Jake immediately jumps at the chance to live in the high rent district, in an octagonal house that looks down over the valley.  The house has a full bar, a rotating bed, and a telescope with a great view from the back window.  What's great about the view?  Well, it just so happens to look right into the bedroom of Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton) who seems to enjoy doing a little striptease and masturbation routine in front of the open blinds.  Jake quickly takes to watching and soon becomes fascinated by her...even becoming concerned when he sees a creepy Indian watching her as well.  Jake follows Gloria the next day when he sees the Indian tailing her, and prevents him from stealing her purse (though the Indian does take a card before he escapes).  In return for his heroism, Jake and Gloria share a passionate kiss on the beach before she runs away (stating fear of her husband as her motive).  That evening, Jake sees the Indian enter Gloria's house and sees him attack her with a large power drill.  Jake is unable to save her and sinks into deep guilt.  It is only when he is watching a sleazy porno film called Holly Does Hollywood does he perk up...not because he's aroused, but because the star, Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), is doing the exact same dance that Gloria had done in the window.

To say more about the plot would give the intriguing twists away, but suffice it to say that Jake's adventure has only just begun.  Body Double is everything people said Dressed to Kill was, and yet wasn't...and yet it seems almost tamer than Dressed to Kill.  Part of that is because, even though Columbia Pictures agreed to let De Palma make his X rated film, they recanted at the last minute...afraid to risk it not making money in theaters that will only show up to R.  De Palma still worked in plenty of nudity, but its not as close up as Dressed to Kill was...nor is it as violent as the prior film.  The drill scene is often talked about as being nasty and mean spirited, but De Palma always cuts away before it becomes truly gruesome.  Unlike the slashing of Angie Dickenson, which showed many open wounds and even the cutting of certain elements of anatomy, the killing of Gloria is more about what is imagined.  Of course, the idea of the drill is upsetting to many people...its is like the chainsaw murders in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which also are more about what is imagined, and yet were considered too gory and unpleasant.  However, the drill also represents something more unpleasant in this scene...the male phalus...and it is 'violating' Gloria in an unnatural way.  This isn't just a 'film school' analysis either...the drill is carefully framed in several shots to either be at groin level of the Indian or showing between his legs so I find it hard to believe that De Palma did this on accident.  I think that this may be why the scene makes people uncomfortable and makes them cry misogynist...it is almost like watching a violent rape.  However, it is done in such an over the top and dramatic way...that it can almost come across as dark comedy.  It all depends on how you watch the film, and there is a great deal of humor in this film...much of it directed at how the porn industry is run.  It keeps the film from being quite as serious as Dressed to Kill was, and also tries to let the audience in on the joke...the joke of how the film is meant to be everything that critics said they saw before.  Of course, they didn't get it...they just saw it as more of the same.  Hopefully you won't think that if you watch it...it is more of an engaging thriller than Dressed to Kill was and features a wonderful breakout performance by Melanie Griffith.  The enjoyment of this film comes from getting past the sexual content and paying attention to the story...which is exactly what Jake Sully needs to do as well.

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