Friday, February 20, 2009

Follow up to "Body Double"

Even though this movie may have been made out of spite, to me it came across as a labor of love.  Perhaps that makes it more personal. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Brian De Palma's "Body Double" (1984)

“Of course the ending of the Production Code was a good thing and filmmakers should have full control over what they show and not show the audience, and showing a graphic scene doesn’t automatically devalue a film or the filmmaker’s art by any means. It is just interesting to me that the more horrifying movies I have seen only give you hints and glimpses of a monster or murder. I’m going to get more into this later.”

Earlier I had written a short paragraph about directors showing graphic violence and the amount of imagination directors require from their audience today, specifically in horror films. With the thrasher movies like Friday the 13th and Halloween (including their even gorier recent remakes) the movies themselves became about the killing scene or the sex scene. How many different ways can Jason or Michael kill? How many beautiful early twenty somethings can we see f*** and then get slashed? There are also the torture films like Saw or Hostel where the purpose is to watch bad people getting brutally tortured or killed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and these movies are self aware, of course. I understand the transition from fearing what we don’t see (the idea of the monster in our imaginations) to fearing what we do see (the monster). However there is an undeniable difference in graphic violence adding to a story and it being the story. Sometimes the movie itself is just about the gore or the torture. Sometimes the story, even the simplest one, gets lost. Or maybe that is the point. However some of the greatest films are specifically gory or graphic. Examples are: Dawn of the Dead (George Romero), Dead Alive (Peter Jackson), the Evil Dead series (Sam Raimi), Scanners (David Cronenberg), Body Double (Brian De Palma). I could go on and on. This will probably be an ongoing conversation with myself, so feel free to leave comments! Now onto a review of one of the movies I mentioned above, “Body Double”.

Supposedly this film was made in response to critics disliking the director’s previous films, calling them misogynist. The director, Brian De Palma, has been accused of stealing from Hitchcock as well for several of his movies, which he does. I like to think of him as a Hitchcock without the Production Code (see earlier review for description), or if Hitchcock made films in the 80’s. For “Body Double” and in earlier films like “Dressed to Kill”, De Palma uses Hitchcock’s tools and takes it to an over-the-top level. “Body Double” is a trashy sexed-up, dirty, gory, weird mix of “Rear Window” and “Vertigo”. I love it! Can you blame someone who steals from a master? And I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it stealing. Every artist is a thief in one way or another, using or recycling each other’s ideas.

The main character, Jake Scully, played by Craig Wasson (looks like he could be a stunt double for Bill Maher) is a struggling actor in Hollywood who because of his severe claustrophobia has lost his acting job as a vampire along with his apartment and girlfriend. He is asked by a friend to house sit a ridiculous spaceship-like apartment that’s propped up on an edge of a cliff over- looking the Hollywood Hills and a neighbor’s window. With the help of a telescope and his friend’s suggestion, he watches his neighbor Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton, former miss USA contestant). Every night she dances seductively in front of her window. Jake can’t look away and becomes an obsessive voyeur, later following her into a mall in an amazing sequence of cat and mouse. In the ending of the mall scene he sees her throw away panties she just bought. He picks them up, sniffs them and then pockets them. This is a great detail, showing this guy’s furthering sexual fascination with this stranger. This guy is a pervert, but we are all perverts, I think, in our own way. Later he witnesses her murder that is in true slasher-flick gore excessiveness; she is murdered with a giant drill, essentially getting penetrated. Then we are introduced to the porn actress Holly Body, played with true spunk by Melanie Griffith. Jake and Holly together try and solve the murder mystery. In order to meet Holly, Jake becomes a brief extra in a porn movie. During their porn shoot there is a scene in the movie that turns into a music video for the 80’s group Frankie Goes to Hollywood and their single “Relax”. I loved this song and it’s over the top, homosexual metaphor for men cumming. “Hit me with your laser beam!” This combined with the campy visuals and sex; the film seduced me and opened up a whole world of cheesy 80’s pop music. I know most of what I have described of this movie so far might sound horrible to many people, but think back to an experience you have had with a movie you saw when you were younger and I’ll tell you my experience with this film…

I saw this movie when I was about twelve. Seeing this movie as a twelve year old girl was such a weird exposure; it excited me. The combination of sex and violence jump started my awareness of my own sexuality and at the same time conforming me into a culture in which sex and violence are so ingrained it is a norm, especially for women, where they are both the victim and the intended audience in horror. This movie is sexist and the women in it are the objects of men’s desire and also the victims of the phallic drill. However, all of the players are such caricatures of themselves, almost like they are puppets in a funhouse that is called Hollywood. It is so phony and cheesy and has that air that most 80’s B movies have, that dream like foggy quality. For some reason I love this film. This is the best “B” movie you will ever watch and one of my favorite movies. Maybe those who love this movie as well can tell me why, so I can better understand why I do.