I Do Not Do Animal Acts: Body Double (1984)

I really do not have the time in my day to throw out to blogging, because I keep squandering any free time available watching movies, but it is also spring break around these parts so I am mastering the art of unproductively quite expertly, paired ever so dangerously with the recent change in time via daylight savings.  I really wanted to talk about The Lego Movie when I saw it two weeks ago but kept putting it off, so you are now forced to read as I wax poetic about what might be my new favorite Brian De Palma film in Body Double.  While I know that I have promoted my adoration for Blow Out in the past and, indeed, have been known to even outwardly defend that film, it cowers in comparison to this meta, post-modern film about making films.  I often find myself deeply frustrated when cinephiles or fans of De Palma point to works like Scarface as his crowning acheivement, because to me those are rather cursory works that are accessible, but do not truly possess the seedy, grotesque absurdity that makes something like Blow Out, or Body Double work.  What pushes Body Double to the next level is more than it simply being the better of the two film, indeed, it also involves what I see as an outright homage to the work of Alfred Hitchcock to a point of knowing satire.  There are sequences that are ripped wholly out of Rear Window, while others are expertly inserted from Vertigo and even lesser works by the master of suspense.  However, what should be cinematic remains disconcerting, because De Palma works in a medium that no longer holds the unknown attachment of viewer to subject that was classic cinema.  Between the humorous homage to the now long forgotten video rental store and enough point of view cinematography to make a found footage film seem derivative, Body Double taps into a moment of change in the genre film and absolutely revels in the ensuing nonsense.

Body Double focuses on Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) a struggling actor whose claustrophobic tendencies lead him to fail miserably when cast in a part as a vampire.  To make matters worse for Jake, he returns home to find his girlfriend in bed with another man.  Distraught and desperate, Jake begins drinking and perusing ads for a new job opportunity.  During a tryout for a part in a Shakespeare adaptation Jake meets Sam (Gregg Henry) another actor who is on a string of success.  After befriending Jake, Sam invites him to stay at a friends house while they are out of town.  While Jake is already grateful for the offer, since he has moved out of his apartment, the added benefit of having a neighbor, one Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton) who performs stripteases in the house across the street is purely added benefit.  While Jake's voyeurism is unchecked at first, when he is enjoying the spectacle one evening he notices that an electrician has also taken a liking to the show and the two are witness to a moment when Gloria's boyfriend beats her.  Attempting to help Gloria, Jake begins stalking her, only to have the electrician from earlier do the same, even going so far as to steal her bag on the beach.  Jake attempts to stop him, but is slowed down by his claustrophobia.  It is after this that the electrician breaks into Gloria's home and manages to kill her, leading to Jake becoming a suspect with the police, although he is able to evade guilt as he was clearly out of the space of the murder.  Suffering from insomnia, Jake takes to viewing pornography, wherein he notices a girl named Holly Body who looks and dances quite similarly to the now dead Gloria, leading to the curious and still infatuated Jake entering the world of pornography.  When it is revealed that Holly's similarities were not accidental the narrative takes a turn regarding deception and identity all the way till the closing shots of the film, which are followed by an equally mocking final sequence that suggests all cinematic endeavors are predicated on duplication and deception.

I mention that De Palma's film is an exstension of the work of Hitchcock, precisely because it is so heavily and blatantly invested in voyeurism.  In a previous post I discussed the manner with which a film like Friday the 13th, if wholly accidentally, reimagined the understanding of voyeurism and the viewers involvement in violence on screen.  If it was purely a sign of a changing relationship of gore cinema to the viewer, then one could certainly argue that De Palma is acknowledging such a binary and knowingly mocking it.  Indeed, the opening panning shot of the film undermines the viewer complacency tradition by going for a jump scare immediately.  Yet, in a doubling down of subversion, the scene quickly becomes less scary when it is revealed that the scary figure is Jake in makeup and that Jake is failing at his job.  This is repeatedly drawn attention to throughout, whether by the narrative jumping spatial and temporal bindings to show the fragile mental state of Jake, or by never clearly distinguishing a diegetic divide between the voyeuristic acts of Jake and those of the viewer.  Indeed, this comes to nearly perfect fruition during Gloria's murder where the camera shows the murder happening in a more traditional sense, while Jake's point of view is invaded by an attacking dog, as if to imply that the viewer is invested in seeing gore so much so that they are willing to negate the viewer/subject construct when it no longer fits this mold.  One might recall the work of Linda Williams in Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess wherein she suggest that voyeurism and masochism occur in three genres of film, the slasher, the melodrama and hardcore pornography.  The former and latter being rather distinct within the film and openly mocked for their fabrication.  However, the use of melodrama is also knowningly incorporated to subvert viewer ideologies, when Jake and Gloria kiss, almost wholly borrowing from the famous Stewart/Novak kiss in Vertigo, here with the same disjointed paranoia, one whose doubled body implications layer on as the narrative moves forward.  If anything, Body Double is the concerns of Williams at their most realized.

Key Scene: While there is so much to choose from, the sequence leading up to Gloria's murder is perhaps the most realized, particularly in terms of editing and its affects on narrative constructs.

This is a must see film and a gem from De Palma's ouevre.  While I would say get the bluray, it appears to have gone OOP immediately after release.  As such, the DVD will suffice accordingly.

1 comment:

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