1984 // USA // Brian De Palma // February 15, 2011 // Theatrical Print (Webster University Moore Auditorium)
[Body Double was screened on February 15, 2011 as a part of "How (Not) to Mind Your Own Business," the Webster University Film Series' three-feature retrospective on the films of Brian De Palma.]
Permit me the most facile observation about Brian De Palma's perversely mesmerizing thriller, Body Double: In every shot, and every frame, it is a self-consciously Bad Movie, one that teeters on that narrow ledge where all intentionally ridiculous kitsch artifacts attempt to position themselves. It's hard to know what to make of a work of cinema so garish and goofy, and yet capable, in its best moments, of evoking both aching loneliness and white-knuckle tension. Certainly, a film as contradictory and bizarre as Body Double isn't unexpected when the director in question is De Palma, but the film does strike me as his most deliberately trashy work, a precursor to the legion of disposable "erotic thrillers" that would crowd video store shelves and late-night television in the 1980s and 90s, at least in terms of its superficial content. Body Double is, of course, far more visually enthralling than such lesser kin. Its most cinematically conspicuous component is an extended, mostly wordless sequence in which out-of-work actor and amicable everyman Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) shadows his object of desire, Gloria (Deborah Shelton) first through a mall and then at a seaside motel. It's a stock murder mystery setpiece masterfully rendered by De Palma and cinematographer Stephen H. Burum. How, then, are we to react when it concludes with a ludicrous, lustful embrace, complete with the characteristic De Palma 360-degree panning shot and hideously saccharin score? Is this the director simply attempting, as he does much more explicitly elsewhere in the film, to rub our noses in the artificial and manipulative nature of the medium?
Body Double touches on many of the same thematic elements as Blow Out, but the lingering 1970s cynicism of the latter film is here replaced with a Reagan-era middle finger, complete with power-tool-wielding maniacs, vampire "punks" clad in black leather and chrome, and porn stars who specify their "wills" and "won'ts" in terms of orifice, substance, and species. I'm still not sure how I feel about a work perched so restlessly on the border between schlock and art, but Body Double is so obviously striving for the former that its silliest moments don't disrupt as they do in other De Palma ventures. Carlito's Way lulls you into nodding along with its personalized and almost spiritual approach to the gangster film... until Joe Cocker wailing out "You Are So Beautiful" makes you sit up and go, "Whaaaa...?" Body Double, by contrast, is chock-a-block with "Whaaaa...?" moments, and therefore nothing ever really seem out-of-place. Not even, say, a bizarre but admittedly lively music video sequence set to Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax," with lip-syncing from a Joel Grey type by way of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Post-Script: Am I the only one who thinks the music used in the U-North advertisements in Tony Gilroy's stupendous white-collar thriller Michael Clayton bears an uncanny resemblance to Pino Donaggio's score for this film, and specifically to Gloria's "striptease theme"?