ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Body Double (1984) Blu Ray & DVD (Powerhouse/Indicator)
Craig Wasson plays Jake Scully, a struggling Hollywood actor whose role in a tacky vampire flick is hampered by claustrophobia brought on by a childhood trauma. To make matters worse, when he gets home he walks in on his girlfriend having sex with another man. The next day he learns that Rubin (Dennis Franz), the director of the film he was appearing in, is fed up with his inability to play the part and has fired him. He's now without a job and without a place to stay.
He goes to acting class and through a session that forces him to relive his childhood trauma. Sam (Gregg Henry) witnesses his panic attack and protests to the teacher for putting him through it. The pair quit the class together, and Sam suddenly makes an incredible accommodation offer to him: to housesit a flying-saucer shaped condo overlooking the Hollywood hills for a rich friend and "make sure he keeps the plants watered". Sam also reveals that a telescope in the living room provides a perfect view of a mysterious woman who dances half-naked every single night in her house downhill from them.
The following night Jake decides to sneak another peak of this woman. This time however he sees a trilby-hatted man with her, who roughs her up and then leaves. The night after that, when she performs her dance again he spots her being watched by a satellite dish repair man who looks like a particularly ugly Native American. When the sun comes back up he is driving around the streets nearby when he sees her being pursued by her ugly (other) stalker. He decides to follow them.
Who is this mysterious woman? Why does the perform this dance each night? Who is following her and what do they want?
Watch a trailer:
It's the general critical consensus that Brian De Palma is a director who has always aspired to be the successor to Alfred Hitchcock, and sometimes comes close to being as great. The trouble is that his flirtations with brilliance manifest more in individual setpieces than in whole movies. Such is the case in Body Double - De Palma's homage to Vertigo, Rear Window and even a slight dash of Frenzy.
The film’s midsection involving Jake Scully following the mysterious woman he is obsessed with while also observing her pursuit by the mysterious Native American is a wonderfully orchestrated mini-movie. The scenes with the three main players scoping each other out (in an open-air shopping mall and a series of stepped Venice Beach front apartments) are frequently shot from a bird’s eye perspective, giving the feel of an elaborate chess game playing out. DePalma throws something new into the mix at every turn, be it plentiful roving camerawork, a couple of dramatic episodes of Scully’s claustrophobia, our “hero” nearly being arrested for stalking and a hint (a la Dressed To Kill) that the woman, fully aware of his pursuit, is subtly flirting with him (by leaving a gold bag with a pair of knickers in it rather conveniently placed so it pops conspicuously out of the top of a full waste bin). It all reaches a false (pun intended) climax with Scully and the woman steamily making out while the camera rotates 360 around them, the backdrop an obvious but vivid matte painting as if to deliberately play up the fantasy aspects of the moment.
The real climax comes soon after - a murderous penetration with a massive drill and its accompanying ejaculatory squirts of blood. Jerry Greenberg’s editing is masterful and tight, making it seem that the viewer has seen more than what has actually been displayed onscreen.
Unfortunately the film’s last 40 minute stretch - where the details of the plot are finally pulled together - is less good. There are far too many conveniences and contrivances for it to seem convincing, and the feel turns a lot more towards lengthy stretches of dialogue whereas the preceding 40 or so relied so singularly on camerawork and movement. There is also a moment when it turns into a gratuitous Frankie Goes To Hollywood video for some reason. This is leaving aside the fact that the whole thing is a male fantasy about unfettered obsession being not only reciprocated but also an act of heroism.
Mind you, there are hints that the bulk of the film might have taken place in Jake’s imagination. The unreality of the erotic beach scene, the blatantly false disguise the killer wears and the ending where one specific detail is put to rights in a way that just wouldn’t be at all plausible if all that preceded it were reality. There’s an earlier hint too when we seem to get a scene on a palm tree-strewn beach lit in gold-tinged sunlight, only for it to be a fake backdrop that is carted away by a pair of handlers. De Palma, are you playing with us?
It’s the kind of stuff that, along with its wonderfully audacious midsection, make it something of an entertainingly bonkers cult favourite, even with its obvious structural issues when viewed as a straight-on thriller.
Runtime: 114 mins
Dir: Brian De Palma
Script: Robert J. Avrech, Brian De Palma
Starring: Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton, Guy Boyd, Dennis Franz
Allzthings entry: http://www.allzthings.com/ShowCollectoritem.aspx?thingnumber=15077
This 4K restoration does look fantastic at times, in particular during the scenes with a large colour palette. The sequences at Venice Beach, the video store and the Frankie Goes To Hollywood section are fantastic. At others, the hue is a bit too yellow, and some moments are overly dark. So - a bit of a mixed bag.
Both Stereo an a 5.1 Surround Sound soundtrack are included. Aurally this is a very good presentation; the various layers in the orchestral/electronic Pino Donaggio score can be clearly picked out. Heartbeat-raising stuff.
This limited edition comes with a glossy 40 page booklet featuring a critical analysis by Sight & Sound’s Ashley Clark, talking about the film’s influences, its knock-on influence on other films and its own playing with the difference between reality and imagination. There is a vintage 1984 interview with Brian De Palma from Film Comment discussing the controversy laid against him at this time (when he was accused of misogyny and inciting violence), his views on censorship, the anti-porn movement and so on. We also get an article by De Palma from Film Comment in 1987 where he discusses a collection of his favourite “guilty pleasure’ films. Finally, we get a 1985 negative review originally written by Richard Combs of Monthly Film Bulletin which provides a snapshot of the film’s critical consensus at the time. It’s a wonderfully revealing and frank set of extras that embrace the critical and thematic controversy surrounding both the film and De Palma in general.
On the disc itself are the following:
Craig Wasson Interview
Vintage interview where the actor talks about how he has a good feeling that Body Double will break him into the big leagues (in the event it sadly didn't), about how he views De Palma as a great artist who makes the viewer really feel something about his films, and how friendly he finds people in the Southern US (the interview was conducted in Dallas). He comes across as a likeable and unassuming guy.
First assistant director Joe Napolitano discusses how he perceives this role and goes through the complexities of filming the different setpieces around the various LA locations and soundstages. The overall impression is of an elaborate and tricky production. This 38 minute documentary is a goldmine for anyone with an interest in the filmmaking process.
16 minute documentary with De Palma discussing the casting (with some additional interview footage with some of the cast members), the theme of illusions and his use of humour. We learn that he originally cast a porn actress as Holly Body but found that her experience in the industry had meant she had lost her ability to flirt. He eventually recast the part with Melanie Griffith and used the porn actress in a consultant position to teach her how to dance in the seduction scene and for her to copy her personality. Another interesting doc.
Another 16 minutes of documentary, this time with De Palma plus cast members on the filming of several key scenes and the audience's reactions to them. It's a great companion piece to the longer "Pure Cinema". We learn from Deborah Shelton that the central kissing sequence was as elaborately choreographed as a dance, but De Palma admits that it didn't work with audiences (who apparently laughed at it) because the tone leading up to then was more illicit than purely romantic. The murder scene had apparently caused many audience members to believe they saw more than was actually shown.
Various other aspects of the film are covered here - it seems like a bit of a catch-all of odds and ends. Apparently the Frankie Goes To Hollywood scene was initially intended as the promo video for the song Relax but was considered too racy for MTV.
At just over 5 minutes in length this is the shortest of the accompanying docs; a succinct look at the critical panning Body Double got at the time (partially around the perceived undertones of misogyny) and its subsequently acquired cult status. Gregg Henry notes that the film has many different aspects as it pokes fun at showbiz, horror movies and more. A neat little dessert to a banquet of docs.
We also get a theatrical trailer, isolated score and image gallery. An excellent set of extras.
A fine package for fans of the film - which I really enjoy despite its flaws; it's a Lifeforce-sized guilty pleasure.