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Body Double (Brian De Palma) 1984


    By the time Brian De Palma made 1984ís Body Double, he seemed to have taken the Hitchcock homage about as far as he could take it. This time out, he most explicitly references a trio of Hitchís films (Vertigo, Rear Window, and Psycho) that he had previously paid extensive tribute to with better end results (most notably in Obsession, Sisters, Dressed to Kill). Doubleís references to Hitchcock often seem forced and obligatory (though there are briefly sustained passages of brilliance), and itís often tough to tell if the excitement that arises during the movie is emanating from the predicament of the protagonist or the anticipation created mostly by memories that are left over from viewing the referenced Hitchcock movies. It doesnít help much that the Double centers on Jake (Craig Wasson), a struggling actor who utterly fails to compel any sort of audience sympathy since heís such a schmuck. Though one could argue that Jimmy Stewart played a similar role in the Hitchcock films, his repressed sexuality at least had an air of sophistication about it, mostly because his impulses didnít have any sort of socially acceptable outlet in the time that he lived in. Since Jake takes place in Hollywood during the Ď80s and he has seemingly unimpeded access to the seedy porn industry that thrives there, his inability to express his sexual frustrations seems pathetic in comparison.


    That might be precisely the point, however. Watching Body Double, thereís more than a passing suspicion that to De Palma the entire enterprise is a gag. Nothing seems to have much dramatic weight to it even though itís amped up beyond belief by the director, and though De Palma had proven himself in the past capable of creating congenial lead roles and maintaining suspense for inordinate periods of time, it seems that here he can scarcely be bothered to do either. He underlines the bland characteristics of his lead actor at every opportunity and he seems as interested in chastising him for his voyeuristic tendencies (notice how Jake so quickly judges his fellow voyeurs) as exploring them. Though De Palma has confounded audience expectation in many of his other films, his directorial derring-do has rarely has felt as spiteful as it does here (though Raising Cain is similarly audience-hating at times). Worse still, instead of delivering the epic set pieces found in such De Palma films as Sisters and Blow Out, most of the directorís suspense sequences are technically inferior and come off as rather pale extensions of the Hitchcock originals. Thereís a lovely circular kiss midway through that becomes a process-shot blur and a ghastly murder a bit minutes later thatís exciting because of its sheer phallic audaciousness, but otherwise things seem tame. Even the extreme amount of sexual content seems studied and fetishized instead of erotic or dangerous. Ultimately, Body Double feels like a film that seems more interested in pleasing itself than pleasing the audience.

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Jeremy Heilman