Movie Discussion: Brian De Palma’s Body Double (1984)

  • Monthly Theme: Erotic Thrillersbody_double
  • The Film: Body Double
  • Alternate titles: n/a
  • Country of origin: U.S.A.
  • Date of U.S. release: October 26, 1984
  • Studios: Columbia Pictures & Delphi II Productions
  • Distributer: Columbia Pictures
  • Domestic Gross: $8.8 million
  • Budget: $10 million
  • Director: Brian De Palma
  • Producers: Brian De Palma & Howard Gottfried
  • Screenwriter: Robert J. Avrech & Brian De Palma
  • Adaptation? No.
  • Cinematographer: Stephen H. Burum
  • Make-Up/FX: Tom Burman
  • Music: Pino Donaggio
  • Part of a series? No.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Scream queen Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, etc.) has a bit part.
  • Other notables?: Yes. Character actor Gregg Henry (Slither, Super, etc.). Actor Craig Wasson (Ghost Story, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors). Dennis Franz of NYPD Blue fame. Melanie Grifftih, daughter of Hitchcock blonde Tippi Hedren.
  • Awards?: Best Supporting Actress [Griffith] at the 1985 National Society of Film Critics Awards.
  • Tagline: “You can’t believe everything you see.”
  • The Lowdown: Body Double came out right after De Palma’s huge commercial success with Scarface, and it has a slightly more gonzo aesthetic than his other “Hitchcock movies,” incorporating some of the rock/glam elements he’d explored in 1974’s Phantom of the Paradise into the traditional thriller. The movie stars Craig Wasson as Jake Scully, an out-of-work horror movie actor who befriends Sam (Clark Gregg) through an acting workshop. Sam sets Jake up with a housesitting gig and informs him that there is a mysterious woman across the way from the house who gives elaborate erotic dance performances in her window. Jake spies on the woman through a telescope and soon becomes obsessed with her. He also notices a mysterious figure – the Indian – lurking around her property and following her during the daytime. Soon Jake gets embroiled in a murder mystery that leads him into the world of pornographic filmmaking, where he meets and befriends Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) a squeaky-voiced porn star who may or may not be the key to solving the mystery.

If you haven’t seen Body Double our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.

Kristine: Right on the heels of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! comes another movie that incorporates the grimy reality of the horror and porn movie industries. What do you make of it?

Sean: Well, obviously there’s the “lowbrow” connection between porn and horror. Both are about titillation and “explosions” of emotion. In real life, actors from porn who want to transition to mainstream work often go through the horror industry. Traci Lords is a good example of that.

Kristine: Right, and Marina in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! was doing exactly that.

Sean: Yup. I mean, Body Double is pretty meta about the film industry and filmmaking as an experience.

Look into my manhole…

Kristine: And both Jake and Holly Body are trying to make it in said industries… I feel like this movie is confusing along gender lines. There’s some really sexist idea that Jake – the struggling actor – is supposed to be a kind of “whore.” He’ll do anything to make it, but he can’t quite deliver. Then you’ve got Holly Body who, while not a prostitute, is a sex worker whose livelihood depends upon her objectification. I think the movie wants us, in some ways, to see them as twins/parallels of each other. In some ways it’s interesting and in some ways it’s gross.

Sean: Well, what makes it even more interesting is that Jake is the one who plays with gender roles. Along the way his character tries on and plays with all kinds of different archetypes: the androgynous vampire, the impotent neurotic, the disturbed voyeur, the swaggering stud, the nebbishy nerd and, finally, the unlikely hero. While Holly only gets to be one thing. So while the Jake stuff is fascinating, her role feels a bit more problematic.

Kristine: Sean, before we go too far…

Sean: Ok?

Kristine: “I do not do animal acts. I do not do S&M or any variations of that particular bent. No water sports, either. I will not shave my pussy, no fist-fucking and absolutely no coming in my face. I get $2000 a day and I do not work without a contract.”

Sean: Hahhaha! What’s interesting about Holly’s monologue there is how in charge she is of her own career. Even though this seems like a weirdly conservative list of demands for a porn actor (maybe “vanilla” would be a better word). What’s so bad about shaving your pussy? But I guess it’s about her refusing to be infantilized or fetishized in a specific manner. The fact that one of her demands is “no coming in my face” is interesting too – she’s like, not into being “degraded.” The contract detail is also key. She won’t be exploited.

Kristine: I agree. And I also agree with your point about the meta-commentary on filmmaking, since Jake is unwittingly also “acting” in a true crime narrative that is directed by Sam. I have to say, the layers upon layers of this movie’s plot are sort of fun to untangle. The movie is often about what it means to watch, to look and also, to perform. Holly’s erotic dance, Jake’s vampire film, both of their pornographic performances… It seems like the power often lies in the one being looked at, which is not a great idea or at least not one that makes me comfortable. There’s something gross about how it excuses the looker/voyeur, and how it seems to ignore the power dynamics between the one being watched and the one watching. Though I suppose that all shifts when the person being watched is aware that they are being watched (Holly, Sam) as opposed to being unaware (Gloria). In fact, part of Jake’s neurosis is that when he is being watched, he can’t perform…

Sean: Until porn. It is only by involving himself in the world of pornography that he is able to hold the camera’s gaze without shutting down or freezing up. I mean, in a lot of ways this movie is all about reconstructing Jake’s masculinity, bringing it from dysfunctional to functional. The hyper-virile porn persona he adopts is his ticket; it makes him a “man” again. He goes from cuckolded neurotic at the start of the movie to vampire seducer fuck machine by the end. Remember in his porn audition he says “I like to watch” and he is hired.

Thunderstruck by 1980s Miss USA/Mandy Winger realness.

Kristine: Yes, but it’s also not that simple or black and white. Because at the end when he’s reclaimed his vampire persona, he is now the one being watched, and Holly is one of the people watching him… She’s behind the camera by the end, he’s in front of it.

Sean: This is like, one of the only movies I’ve ever liked Melanie Griffith in. Milk Money!? Do you know of that movie?

Kristine: I know of the wretched movie Milk Money. So dumb.

Sean: I loved her in Cecil B. Demented and Something Wild. But that’s three movies out of a very long career. I mean, Melanie’s persona is of the ultimate Hollywood bimbo, right?

Kristine: Melanie is… Melanie is a cautionary Hollywood tale, I think.

Sean: I cannot get over her fucking Ryan O’Neal when she was besties with Tatum back in the day. She’s IRL Mena Suvari in American Beauty!

Kristine: I guess Tatum and Mel had an opium-fueled orgy in a Paris hotel room when Tatum was like 12 and Mel was 17. Can you believe? Let’s discuss this: De Palma prays at the altar of Alfred Hitchcock, right? Do you think Melanie was cast in this because she is Tippi Hedren’s daughter?

Sean: Yes. But she was also perfect for the part. I think she’s great in the movie.

Kristine: I agree.

Sean: But the Tippi connection is hilarious and perfectly in spirit with the “meta” nature of the movie. If De Palma’s entire career is a rumination and commentary on the films of Alfred Hitchcock (what they are, how they work) than him casting Tippi Hedren’s daughter in this is a total act of postmodernism.

Kristine: I agree that Griffith is great in the movie but I do think that her lineage Tippi’d the casting scales in her favor.

Joe Piscopo and Billy Idol film a love scene.

Sean: Oh boy.

Kristine: I am delighted with myself for my bon mot, by the way.

Sean: You are the Dorothy Parker of trashy Hollywood gossip.

Kristine: Sean, that is the nicest thing you have ever said to me and I mean that! I am dying to see The Girl. Though the casting is … well, I will wait to judge.

Sean: I am also excited.

Kristine: Okay, now, I don’t know as much about Hitchcock as you do but there are some pretty obvious things in this movie that even I saw right away. The whole voyeuristic scenario = Rear Window, even down to the mise-en-scène of multiple stories unfolding in the same frame.

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: And the protagonist being “helpless” to stop what he is seeing. Though that point can be debated in this movie, I think. Jake teaming up with a lovely lady to solve the mystery is also total Hitchcock (especially North by Northwest and Rear Window).

Sean: De Palma is sometimes derided as being just a Hitchcock imitator, very much like Tarantino is derided for being an just an exploitation imitator. I do think De Palma brings a kind of gonzo aesthetic to his films that is like Hitchcock on steroids, which I love. While Tarantino feels like a bunch of fanboy references, De Palma’s movies feel like a meditation on his source material. I mean, Jake’s claustrophobia is straight out of Vertigo, but De Palma is so much more lurid and Freudian, I feel like he gets to a different place than Hitchcock. That scene where Jake is paralyzed in the tunnel and Gloria has to rescue him…

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: Gloria is… a situation. 1980s soap opera glam ridiculousness.

Kristine: I loved her.

Sean: Tell me why.

Kristine: Because she was ridiculous. I loved her buying new, fugly $800 panties to go see her lover and then tossing her used panties in the trash – “Oh, I’ll just wear these out.” Who does that? I loved how the murderer’s white dog matched her home décor.

Sean: Haha!

Kristine: I loved her indeterminable accent. What was that supposed to be?

The uterine terror-space of the vampire’s coffin.

Sean: Hungaritalian?

Kristine: Was their make-out scene with the 360-degree camera rotation supposed to be hot? Because I was dying laughing. I did like the contrast between that “sexy” make-out scene on the beach, wind blowing, Gloria in her all-cream outfit and the grimy hardcore sexxxx of Holly Body.

Sean: Oh absolutely. The movie knowingly contrasts Jake’s unhealthy romantic obsession with Gloria with the down-and-dirty, no-frills reality of Holly’s life in the porn biz. I mean, the movie is aware of the kinds of fantasies men construct about women, and the mechanisms of the plot turn on that knowledge. Sam’s whole plan relies on Jake’s pathetic fetishization of the woman across the way doing her improbably sex ritual every night before bed. But then again, Jake is the biggest creeper/monster in America.

Kristine: He is such a creeper.

Sean: I loved that Det. McLean (a.k.a. this movie’s RIMA [Rational Inquiring Masculine Authority]) was constantly deriding Jake for being a disgusting pervert, which he WAS. [Editor’s Note: For the backstory on RIMA, see our discussion of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy.]

Kristine:  I loved that, too. I loved how Sam knew this loser would be a creeper, too, and basically constructed his entire elaborate murder plot around Jake’s gross voyeurism.

Sean: Indeed. And again, remember that it is because Jake has been cheated on by his girlfriend (who was played, by the way, by scream queen Barbara Crampton) that he is so susceptible to Sam’s machinations. In some ways, the entire “fault” lies with the cheating girlfriend, which is totally problematic and gross. That character gets very short shrift in this movie. If we could only have gotten some sense of why she cheated, why Jake wasn’t cutting it for her anymore, it would have been good. But the way the movie leaves it, it’s just like, “She’s a slut.” Ick.

Kristine: I do have a plot point question. After the “super romantic and sexy hot” (not) beach make-out, when the policeman ushers Gloria home, but we know the mesh-shirted “Indian” (we have to talk about that) is in the house? And Sam calls Jake to make sure he is watching?

Kissing from behind maximizes her objectification by the camera.

Sean: Right…

Kristine: If the Indian is Sam in disguise, then how did Sam call him from within the house?

Sean: Gigantic 1980s car phone?

Kristine: Ha ha ha! Seriously, did he have one?

Sean: I don’t think that is supposed to make a lick of sense.

Kristine: Oh, okay. I thought maybe I was a dum dum…

Sean: I guess he hides in a bedroom and calls from her house?

Kristine: I liked how the antiquated technology in this movie affected the plot at key moments, like the phone cord being used to strangle Gloria, and her near-escape thanks to the cord on the drill not being long enough. That was all great.

Sean: Yeah the mechanics of that whole power drill murder scene were amazing and ridiculously over the top. It is so drawn-out and so full of improbable choreography. How Jake manages to run like, 6 miles in the time it takes the Indian to slap her around for two seconds? The whole thing is insane. I mean, talk about a plot line pulled right out of a Scooby-Doo-mystery…

Kristine: The Indian. In the mesh shirt.

Sean: That was a Scooby-level ridiculous moment when the Indian makeup peels off and Sam is underneath it.

Kristine: So Scooby-Doo. One of my favorite parts is when THE INDIAN (he gets all caps) is robbing Gloria, so, naturally, he must tip-toe around her house.

Sean: Ha!

Kristine: Tip-toe in his mesh shirt. Address the mesh.

Sean: The mesh in unexplainable except as 1980s Ocean Pacific absurdity. Some perverse riff on hardbodies beachwear, made absurd by the fact that some mutant-faced pervert was wearing it.

Kristine: OP!

Sean: I was just thankful they didn’t outfit the Indian in like, a beaded Native American rawhide vest and have him kill Gloria with… a tomahawk. The racial stuff surrounding that disguise requires seven PhDs in postcolonial theory to unpack. But again, the whole attack on Gloria was just so ridiculous and ingenious all at once.

Kristine: I was shocked by the brutality, actually.

Sean: Right? The attack scene is giallo-esque, I thought. How the Indian takes a lot of time to slap her around and shit.

Murder cock.

Kristine: Sean, when you see THE INDIAN from the back with the drill between his legs, drilling her body over and over. It was too much.

Sean: What about how she falls all powerlessly to the floor and instantly loses consciousness? She is the most frail creature in the universe.

Kristine: Oh, I know.

Sean: The drill is a big dick. This is what I meant about De Palma being much more unapologetically Freudian than Hitchcock. It’s like classic Hitchcock mixed with the gonzo batshit madness of the giallo and filtered through skeezy 1980s Malibu realness. Isn’t the Indian wearing leather giallo gloves?

Kristine: It is a big dick, and he is wearing giallo driving gloves. Good call. I loved the part when Gloria gains consciousness and is able to call 911, but is not able to talk. That was super suspenseful and Hitchcockian, I thought, while also utilizing her comic powerlessness to good affect.

Sean: Yes, it all trades on her china-doll-fragility, which was frustrating. Kristine: Drill dick. What about the bloody ceiling hole, all gushing blood?

Kristine: Oh, that was pretty awesome. I also loved the 1980s jogging realness. When Jake stops those two joggers and rips off their enormous headphones?

Sean: Were those gays?

Kristine: I didn’t get that they were the gay.

Sean: Ok. Even though you have a documented propensity for denying all queerness and heterosexually oppressing me.

Kristine: Speaking of gays, did you hear that Anderson Cooper’s (hot) boyfriend was photographed kissing some random in the park? It’s a scandal.

Sean: Straighties don’t understand our perverted homo openlove.

Kristine: I am 100% certain that is the sitch. America can’t handle gay open relays.

Sean: Totally. So, Gloria’s murder scene was a ton of gory fun…

Murder cock pointed at her area.

Kristine: I agree. Did you know that scene is Patrick Bateman’s favorite in American Psycho (subpar book version, not amazing movie) and he masturbates to it all the time? And it is inspiration for his own power tool killings?

Sean: Really?

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: So you knew about this going in to watching the movie?

Kristine: No, I just learned this. I wanted to watch the kill scene again and when I Googled it, that information came up. Cool, huh? 1980s worlds colliding.

Sean: I have never read American Psycho. I should, huh?

Kristine: You know, it’s funny, because all of the 1980s references in American Psycho are still really solid references. There isn’t a wacky weird one that no one remembers. It’s important to remember it was written at the time of its setting, not 20 or 30 years later. So, yeah, you should read the book, but the movie really is 1,000 times better.

Sean: Okay. Back to Body Double, what about….. The musical number?

Kristine: You mean… “Relax”?

Sean: Yes! Frankie Goes Up Hollywood.

Kristine: I thought it was fun and great. And, umm, probably not what the porn industry is like?

Sean: The way that Jake is allowed to waltz into a porn audition and suddenly be the lead in the next Holly Body movie had me dying.

He is proud of the size of his murder cock.

Kristine: Oh, I know! Especially because, umm, not to be mean, but… do you want to watch porn starring him?

Sean: He was ugly. But that actually is sort of accurate to hetero ‘80s porn right? All the men are vile, Ron Jeremy-esque yetis and the women are all gorgeous? But I still didn’t buy Jake as a porn star for one second. He must have been Long Schlong Silver.

Kristine: Ha!

Sean: But I love the sex scene between Holly and him that caps off the musical number, in all its skeezy objectifying glory.

Kristine: I agree. You know what movie I think was heavily influenced by this?

Sean: Ooh, which?

KristineMulholland Drive. Down to the fact that the Chemosphere, where Jake was house-sitting, is on Mulholland Drive. But also just the weirdness and randomness of the movie industry, the film’s dream-like quality, the mixing of reality and fiction.

Sean: You are an amazing genius.

Kristine: I am proud of myself.

Sean: Amazing. Yes, and also the weird meta-fictional elements of both movies are totally similar.

Susan Powter’s shameful secret video.

Kristine: I want to knock David Lynch down, sit on his shoulders, and make him admit I am right about this. Also, Lynch would totally have THE INDIAN as a killer in one of his movies.

Sean: Oh god yes. The killer is basically Bob from Twin Peaks. So, is the construction of “the Indian” as Sam’s alter ego more racist or classist?

Kristine: I mean… six of one, half dozen of the other, right? But overall, I am going with racist. You are reminding me that the Rodeo Drive shopping/creeping session was one of my favorite sequences in the movie.

Sean: I love that scene, especially because it was so unapologetic about showing that Jake is a disgusting freak.

Kristine: I loved when the shopgirl called the cops on his skeevy ass.

Sean: The line between the killer and the hero is totally blurred in a great way. They are both following her, watching her, stalking her. Jake comes off as a only marginally less offensive in that scene, but only because his face isn’t a melted, pock-mark-covered mess. All the gross smiles THE INDIAN gives to Jake are awesome, by the way. He is legitimately scary.

Kristine: And also, as aforementioned, when Gloria throws her other silken panties in the trash! Her motto is “I only wear silken panties once…”

Sean: He stuffs those panties into his pocket.

Kristine: Yeah, all true. But I think the idea of the killer is more racist because, according to this movie, if you are “the other” you don’t even have to look remotely human. All anyone will remember is that you are THE INDIAN, not that you have a melting, fake face. As for the panties…

Sean: Is his face supposed to melted from all the whiskey he drinks?

Kristine: Sean, it’s called “fire water”. Get it straight. If you saw a super hot piece discard their pantaloons in the trash, would you pick them up for later huffing?

Sean: It depends on the day. So can I get a bit “big picture” here?

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: I want to explore my earlier claim that this movie is all about reconstructing masculinity…

Kristine: Make your case to me.

Open up and say “blah.”

Sean: It’s all about reshaping Jake’s masculinity from a standard, hard-boiled macho type into someone more emotionally open, but still virile. I’m thinking off the frame narrative of the vampire movie and how Jake is “paralyzed” (also, petrified, like a hard dick) in the beginning. He is unable to function and that is paired with his emasculation (his girlfriend fucking someone in their bed).

Kristine: Yes, absolutely.

Sean: But by the end of the movie, he has reclaimed this kind of queer but still markedly heterosexual masculinity.  When he is in the vampire get-up at the start of the movie, he is emasculated. He can’t perform, and I don’t think I’m reading too much into it that the design of his vampire character is significant. It is an androgynous, borderline effeminate character (eyeliner, hair dye, leather) that he cannot inhabit until this adventures in the porn industry decalcify his inner freak/pervert. It is a paradox but an interesting one: he becomes a fuck machine and thus can inhabit this borderline, semi-queer space. I feel like his vanilla, boring, monogamous identity at the start of the movie was less potent and less virile. He doesn’t tap into his own cock power. Throughout the course of the movie, he learns how.

Kristine: Because he learned to “relax”. He listened to queer Frankie!

Sean: Great point. Queer Frankie has a tale to tell…

Kristine: He does.

The nerd has two faces.

Sean: The porn world offers this alternative to Jake’s previous suffocating, neurotic identity. That’s why it’s so significant that he is dressed like a “nerd” during his sex scene with Holly – the argyle sweater, the glasses. He fucks his way past that square version of masculinity and becomes queerer, rawer and more dangerous. At the end of the movie, he’s able to perform again, he’s back in front of the camera in his vampire drag all Ziggy Stardusted out. I am also thinking of the acting workshop he takes, when Sam is in the audience and berates the teacher for being too touchy-feely…

Kristine: Right…

Sean: Therapy and that kind of emotion is not sexy, and in fact just emasculates him further. Or more accurately, infantilizes him. Remember Holly also insists that she won’t “shave her pussy” – she also refuses to be infantilized. I feel like this movie advocates adult, hardcore sexuality in a way that is kind of radical and awesome, but also kind of retrograde and problematic. The porn industry is one of the mechanisms through which Jake is able to get his machismo back. The other is the murder mystery itself, which is interesting.

Kristine: Agreed. The murder plot also serves to enervate Jake’s “cock power.” Sean, we’ve brought it back full circle to the parallels between porn and horror. The movie’s “horror” plot serves the same function as the porn narrative – it allows him to reclaim his manhood and push through his old, boring, neurotic self. A horror movie plot is no place for a Woody Allen-style neurotic. He’d get killed off posthaste. It takes a real “man” to survive a murder plot.

Sean: That’s brilliant. Which ties us back in to the whole “final girl” thing, and the gender politics of horror. There is a certain kind of female masculinity at work in the construction of the final girl, and this movie helps to clarify what that is and why it is. The final girl, or any horror movie survivor, has to work through and conquer any neurosis they may have in order to avoid death/being a victim. The horror movie plot strips everything down to its essence and forces the heroine/hero to act. Action is the antithesis of neurosis or paralysis, right?

Hello, I am inert.

Kristine: Which is what Jake’s big moment in the grave at the end of the movie is all about – overcoming his paralysis and acting to save himself… and Holly. I wish that Holly did more than lie there unconscious throughout the big climax. She’s literally reduced to… a body. And nothing more. Remember when all the action has happened and then she wakes up and is like “Who!? Wha?!” and it is literally like something out of an episode of Three’s Company?

Sean: Haha! Yeah, even though there’s some radical elements to Holly’s character – her ownership of her sexuality and her career, her non-normativeness – she is still trapped in a sexist horror plot. I mean, at least slashers let a woman get her ass up off the ground and fight the killer during the climax.

Kristine: Say word. Do you think De Palma is addicted to porn? I do.

Sean: He might be, um… just pro-porn. I feel like Holly’s role (both what’s cool about it and what’s icky about it) is encapsulated by her position during the final scene, watching Jake film the shower sequence of his vampire movie. One the one hand, she’s occupying the privileged position of “the one who watches” (and I say that because the movie, I think, has insisted on the power of voyeurism throughout the whole plot).

Kristine: I liked that, too, the reversal of the male gaze.

Sean: But is it a reversal, really? I mean, she’s the one telling the actress, “You’re gonna get a lot of dates because of this,” which is kind of a condescending thing to say. The emphasis is always and only on the woman as erotic object, and what’s more, as an object for men (where does female pleasure even fit into this movie? Or lesbian desire? Or any of that?) I feel like its more that Holly has become part of the male objectifying gaze, which she now turns on both the body double and the actress who is being doubled. Her sentiments are not pro-woman or feminist in the least. She’s just one of the guys now, standing there enjoying a nice pair of tits. For a woman so queer and non-normative, it’s sort of a disappointing epilogue for her.

Fallopian crisis tunnel.

Kristine: I see your point, and yes, there are a lot of problematic elements to Holly. But one thing that’s cool is that the Jake/Holly pairing at the end doesn’t feel like some heteronormative pairing. He is not back in “the girlfriend situation” with Holly, and I don’t think the movie suggests that she’s leaving porn behind. Think about how different this movie would be if she was the one playing the body double at the end there, or if she was all de-glammed in like, khaki shorts and no makeup, domesticated by Jake’s wild masculinity. No, she’s still her glam-punk self at the end, she’s still got this wry, un-precious attitude towards sexuality. There’s something cool about that.

Sean: Good point. Holly is the most interesting thing about this movie, no?

Kristine: Ha ha, yes. You know what role I was reminded of watching her performance? Myra in The Grifters (very well played by Annette Bening). I just Googled it and guess what… Mel almost got the role!

Sean: Hahaha! Weird.

Kristine: This is the one place where I feel like Mel’s baby voice works really well.

Sean: Yes. Mel’s voice is perfect for Holly.

Kristine: To keep bringing things full circle, aren’t there a lot of parallels between Holly and Marina from Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!?

Sean: Like they both earn a living playing dominant women in front of the camera, but off-screen are at the mercy of violent men…

Kristine: And they are both searching for a form of legitimacy, but not in the trap of a monogamous hetero coupling. Again, I like how Holly is empowered at the end, but not because she like, got married and had a baby. She’s still a dirty girl, “a guaranteed ten on the Peter Meter.” I feel like we are avoiding the elephant in the room.

Sean: Which is?

Kristine: The dance.

Ladies, you mean you DON’T rub your garter-clad crotch while topless in a sheer robe in front of your window EVERY NIGHT before bed?

Sean: You mean the “nighttime ritual” of Holly-pretending-to-be-Gloria?

Kristine:  So ridic! Who would fall for that? What a stooge. What a rube.

Sean: The fact that Jake thinks it is even remotely plausible that there is a woman in the world who would do that routine is so dumb and funny.

Kristine: Not just do it, but do it every night! It’s along the lines of men thinking ladies wear negligees and have pillow fights-cum-orgies at slumber parties.

Sean: He’s like, “Oh this is totally normal and also I am aroused.”

Kristine: “Let me grip my telescope and get a better look!”

Sean: I mean, is De Palma making fun of straight guys there? He probably isn’t. He probably thinks it is reasonable and sexy.

Kristine: I think he is.

Sean: The reason I think he isn’t is because of what an infallible construct the porn world is in the movie… Remember the actor sitting in the waiting room at the porn studio?

Kristine: The guy who is complaining about being a cock for hire?

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: His panties were in a wad. Panties, Sean. Does that turn you on?

Sean: Well, I think De Palma is really invested in the fantasy of the porn star (both male and female).

Kristine: That’s why I think he is obsessed with porn. Is porn prominent in his other movies?

The contemplation of bangs.

Sean: Um…. no, but explicit weird sexuality is.

Kristine: Figures.

Sean: In Dressed to Kill, the camera zooms into Angie Dickinson’s gigantic bush. What did you make of the Ziggy Stardust vampire movie directed by… Dennis Franz?

Kristine: Ha! This movie just somehow didn’t go the distance, for me. I was a bit underwhelmed.

Sean: That’s so interesting, because this is probably De Palma’s most batshit movie.

Kristine: De Palma may just be too masculine a director for me. I can’t put my finger on it.

Sean: Can you put your finger… inside it?

Kristine: Shut up.

Sean: Can you give me one example of the film’s masculine sensibility?

Kristine: The dumb hetero male protagonist. The female love interest with no discernable characteristic besides wealth.

Sean: Yeah, Gloria is a cipher.

Kristine: All the films aspirational desires. That is very “male” to me. Like, part of the reason Jake “loves” Gloria is because of her wealth and her world, which he is pretending to inhabit. Speaking of, is the mystery of the safe just another trifle we aren’t supposed to think about too closely?

I am a famous structure.

Sean: Oh totally. I think so. What about the set design of that space needle apartment?

Kristine: That’s the Chemosphere! It’s a very important architectural landmark in L.A.

Sean: It is a thing?

Kristine: Yes. Right on Mulholland Drive. It is very famous.

Sean: I know nothing about it. Why is it important?

Kristine: Because it was thought to be structurally impossible. The whole thing is on this like, 30-foot pole. How’s that for phallic?

Sean: Ha!

Kristine: A bachelor pad on top of a giant, 30-foot pole?

Sean: I love it.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: A worthy film, but won’t keep me up at night.

The Freak’s Rating: Sleazesterpiece!

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17 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Brian De Palma’s Body Double (1984)

  1. Did you know that as a teenager, Brian De Palma was a real-life protagonist from a Brian De Palma movie? His mother thought that his dad was cheating on her, so young Brian took his recording equipment and tailed his dad until he had evidence and then confronted him with it. So all of these movies – especially Dressed To Kill – are autobiographical in a way.

    I would say that Body Double is De Palma’s second most batshit movie. Have you ever seen a little movie called Raising Cain?

    1. I actually DID know that about DePalma and can’t believe I didn’t bring it up here. No, I have not seen Raising Cain, I just know it as “that one with John Lithgow I’m in no rush to see.” But it sounds like I need to watch it ASAP. I mean, have you seen The Phantom of the Paradise? OMG and WTF.

      1. It’s true that John Lithgow is not exactly a reason to watch a movie, but I think you might have fun with Raising Cain.

        I am deeply in love with Phantom of the Paradise. I like what you say about how Jake is emasculated as the androgynous vampire in Body Double – do you think there’sa connection to Beef in Phantom?

        1. I’ve only seen Phantom once and to be honest, I watched it in mostly stunned, unbelieving silence and would DEF have to revisit in order to get the characters/themes straight in my head…

        2. THANK YOU for recommending Raising Cain. My bf and I watched it last week and were literally dying, on the ground, gasping for air. The hair! The clothes! The dialogue! It was truly, terribly amazing. I give props to DePalma for still managing to cram some genuinely upsetting/unnerving images in a movie that is so difficult to take seriously.

      1. Ha! RIGHT? I read some oral history of DePalma’s career in which several of his actresses/crew talked about him and this came up. Nancy Allen, who starred in a couple of his movies and was involved with him (they were even married, I think) had some interesting things to say about this and other bits about him… I’ll try and dig that up.

      2. Yeah, De Palma was a bizarre dude. When he married Nancy Allen they actually threw a “surprise wedding” – guests thought they were just coming to a party at their apartment. Naturally the old voyeur had a film camera on hand to record their surprised reactions.

        A good source for stories about him is Shock Value by Jason Zinoman (as opposed to be John Waters), which is a great history of ’70s horror movies. It’s also the book which taught me that John Carpenter killed Dan O’Bannon – by making O’Bannon do many takes of a scene in Dark Star where he had to lay on a freezing cold floor, which caused the bowel injury that eventually lead to his death.

  2. I am sad to say that as a teen I found this movie incredibly hot.

    Re-watching it a decade later had absolutely no effect on me.

    1. Hilarious. I remember being so turned on by “Hardbodies” when I was too young to be watching such a thing. Also the show “Voyagers.” Neither has held up (pun intended).

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