Body Double

When this movie came out, all anyone could talk about was the nudity, sex and outrageous violence.  That, and the shameless borrowings from Vertigo and Rear Window.

Yeah, it’s got all those things.  But De Palma uses the sex and violence the same way the villain does, as a distraction.

Because while this movie is only serviceable as a murder mystery, it’s brilliant as an art film, a dense, witty, unpredictable, multi-layered fugue on the themes of illusion, perception and reality.

Scenes from movies seem real at first, no matter how obviously fake they are, and scenes of “real life” are shot using obviously fake devices like rear-screen projection.  Characters weave in and out of reality without warning, keeping us constantly on our guard regarding what’s “really happening,” even though we’ve seen by now that “what’s really happening” is quite low on the list of things De Palma is interested in.

In interviews, Scorsese is always talking about “Well, but is it real?”  Something tells me that’s not a phrase that comes up a lot on a De Palma set, although Scorsese and De Palma have a similar discomfort with the demands of genre.  Scorsese is happy to ignore the demands of genre in order to get at the core reality of his characters, and De Palma has grown so unhappy with genre that he seems to deliberately throw silly, hackneyed plot points into his movies almost as if to remind us that we’re not supposed to take any of this as literal truth.  There isn’t “really” a psychiatrist who’s dressing up in women’s clothing to murder people, there isn’t “really” a demented subject of evil psychiactric experiments running around and murdering mothers.  De Palma isn’t interested in suspension of disbelief, he’s interested in suspense for its own sake.  And while that might seem cold, slight or elitist to some, he’s actually doing his best to invite us in to his point of view by creating movies as fiendishly entertaining as this one.

The acting in this is quite good, by the way.  Craig Wasson and Guy Boyd, to pick two, are terrific in this and I’ve never seen them in anything else.  Very strange.

And another great credit crawl.
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8 Responses to “Body Double”
  1. craigjclark says:

    Have you ever read Double De Palma? It’s a book that was written during the making of Body Double and, curiously enough, is quite critical of the film. I think the author (Susan Dworkin) may have fallen into the camp that found De Palma’s films at the time very misogynistic and degrading to women. Even so, it’s a fascinating depiction of his process.

    And if I have to single out any of the actors for praise, I definitely have to go with Gregg Henry, whose performance takes on an extra dimension the second time you see the film. Can’t wait to see him again in The Black Dahlia. (And hey, William Finley’s in that, too. Now I’m doubly excited about seeing it.)

    • William Finley’s back in a DePalma film? The great creepy character actor of Sisters, The Fury, Phantom of the Paradise and Dressed to Kill (where he was the voice of “Bobbi” on Michael Caine’s answering machine)?


      I remember Double DePalma as a critical, but not unfriendly book — something along the lines of “DePalma isn’t misogynist, but he’s naive to think his films don’t come off that way — he doesn’t consider what he’s doing enough.” Friendlier than if the author’s sister had written it, I’m sure.

      After Dressed to Kill and Blow Out, I was really disappointed with Body Double when it came out. It seemed like a huge step backwards for BDP. I watched it again recently, to see if time had mellowed my opinion, and nope, sure didn’t. However, The Fury came off a lot better than I remembered . . . maybe I should try Obsession again.

      • craigjclark says:

        Obsession is definitely the one that gets lost in the shuffle when discussing De Palma’s films.

      • Todd says:

        I’d say Blow Out is probably a more “important” movie, but Body Double is more playful. I’m sure I’ll see it again soon.

  2. popebuck1 says:

    I’m with you on De Palma – but I reserve the right to still think “Mission to Mars” was the biggest hack job ever.

    • Todd says:

      Yeah, strangely enough De Palma insists that it’s not a hack job, that that movie really meant something to him. Perhaps he felt his hands were tied because of the special effects, they were all done in a hurry and he may have felt that he didn’t have the time to re-think anything.

      • I believe him. In the midst of the mess are some of BDP’s loveliest little moments — I think the opening scene of Sinese, Robbins, and Cheadle sitting around talking is one of the best and most “real” (within a movie context) scenes I’ve ever seen of a group of close male friends talking. In a very short time, you “get” the friendship. And here and there throughout are some of his best character-oriented scenes (not often thought of as BDP’s strength, but when he’s on, he’s on).

        • Todd says:

          I watched Mission to Mars not that long ago. I don’t think it’s a total failure, and who knows how history will judge it. With his Hitchcock borrowings, I remember without exception thinking “Well, if you’re going to just lift the plot of Psycho, why bother?” But now those things don’t bother me at all. Similarly, he’s painted a big “kick me” sign on MTM with the Kubrick borrowings.

          And like I say, Woody Allen often seems very deep until you watch the European movies that he’s imitating. I thought Stardust Memories was a great film until I saw 8 1/2.

          The other thing I will say about MtM is that I think, because of its gee-whiz, can-do, big warm humanist hug tone, it feels weird endorsing it as a De Palma film. One expects cold, cynical manipulation from De Palma; so if a movie disappoints both as science fiction and as De Palma post-modernism it’s considered a failure.