“In any movie, as soon as you see a girl, you’re waiting for her to take her clothes off. You’ll sit there and watch her forever for this to happen.” – director Brian DePalma
A thrilling violent mindbender that was ahead of its time. Brian DePalma’s Body Double (1984) is gleefully over the top as it traverses an everyman’s attempt to interfere with a woman in trouble. It takes a certain confidence for a director to cast someone as bland and wussy as Craig Wasson, an actor I can’t recall seeing in another film besides this one. Yet his very ineffectual qualities finally draws you in, and his hidden pluck even surprises you. DePalma’s film, a perverse mold of the Hitchcockian classics “Rear Window” and “Vertigo,” has Wasson’s struggling actor Jake Sully spy on a beautiful woman through her bedroom window, becomes aroused and captivated by her, and then finds himself following her because he believes she is a target of a hideously disfigured “Indian.” Much of the film progresses through pure cinema, which means the emphasis is not on dialogue but devout visual storytelling.
Wasson does not create a manly hero. He is introduced to us as to claustrophobic which disables him to perform as an actor on a movie set, he finds himself a cuckhold a few scenes later, bums his way into a housesitter gig, is portrayed as a shameless peeping tom, and is generally an easy sucker to other’s schemes. Deborah Shelton nevertheless appears to be a great beauty and camera subject through that bedroom window, who is equally alluring when the hero bumps into her, and is of course, vulnerable enough to need a hero to rescue her. Besides retrieving her stolen purse, however, Wasson is not a very dependable hero.
Throughout the years, DePalma has joyfully indulged in R-rated eroticism. The striptease is erotic, and DePalma doesn’t edit too much, but lets the camera gaze upon the girl. Wasson has tunnel vision, he is obsessively into the woman in trouble, a ghastly act of violence takes place, and then his attention turns to somebody else. Melanie Griffith enters late into the picture as Holly Body, a porn star of such titles as “Holly Does Hollywood,” and coincidentally, dances the same way that Shelton danced her striptease. What is the connection, Wasson wonders. Wasson gets a job on the set of one of Holly’s movies, and undergoes a personality change after he slicks back his hair and poses as an “adult film producer.” But ultimately, “Body Double” is the plunge into the psyche of not a very cool guy. That takes some balls by a filmmaker to do that.
There are reasons I believe as to why DePalma’s film has been forgotten over the years. Graphic nudity, one gnarly and gratuitous act of violence, the world of adult films, the general untraditional narrative, and various weird and unlikely transgressions, keep it from airing on television or cable. Despite some rave reviews, those ingredients gave it a bad rap in its initial theatrical run. Critics were ready to gun DePalma a year after the ultra-violent “Scarface” was found to be very tasteless at the time. I think “Body Double” would have been more easily swallowed had it come after the critical raves of something like David Lynch’s 1986 film “Blue Velvet.”
Exquisite and fluid camerawork is simply not appreciated enough, not unless you are a bona fide film buff. DePalma has been a visual virtuoso throughout his entire career, I can’t name a film in which he plays it safe. Viscerally, “Body Double” is a provocation that will disturb or trouble you, which are the kind of emotions ordinary movie watchers are turned off by. The more serious film buffs should be intrigued that a film attempts such things. Here is a suspense-mystery that is puzzling and weird, as well as sometimes tasteless. If you can believe it, DePalma was nominated for a Razzie award for Worst Director for it. I happen to think it’s one of his best films. Today, hipper filmgoers get it.
Lastly, I want to mention the song “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood is a weird but irresistible musical number (taking place on the porno set) that is quintessential DePalma humor. The song actually was overlooked at first until it became famous because of the movie.
114 Minutes. Rated R.
ADULT THRILLER / MIND-BENDER / LATE NIGHT WEIRDNESS
Film Cousins: “Rear Window” (1954); “Vertigo” (1958); “Dressed to Kill” (1980); “Blow Out” (1981).