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Lonely actor Jake Scully house-sits an upscale apartment. He enjoys its view of a sensual neighbor... until he accidentally spies her shocking death. But in a labyrinth of erotic deception, nothing is what it seems — including the identity of the femme fatale! To unlock the mystery, Jake must lure the woman who holds the key: the sexy Holly Body.
For more about Body Double and the Body Double Blu-ray release, see Body Double Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 10, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry, Dennis Franz, Deborah Shelton, Guy Boyd
Director: Brian De Palma
» See full cast & crew
Body Double Blu-ray Review
American neurotic gazes through the rear window which gives him vertigo.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 10, 2013
Bret Easton Ellis incorporated Body Double as almost a secondary character in his hugely controversial novel American Psycho, a plot point that was left largely by the wayside when the film adaptation appeared in 2000. If one takes the title of Easton's novel as a deliberate riff on Alfred Hitchcock's iconic Psycho (despite the fact that Ed Gein, the serial murderer whose grisly killings provided the inspiration for both the Robert Bloch novel and Hitch's film adaptation, was American), one needn't look very far to see the subtext in Brian De Palma's title for the film Body Double. While De Palma plays things a bit too cutely by giving one of the central characters of the film the surname Body, there's little doubt that this Hitchcock obsessed writer-director is out to ape his favorite quasi-mentor at virtually every turn, albeit through a decidedly more lurid sensibility than Hitch himself ever would have indulged in (or in fact tolerated). While the Paul Schrader penned Obsession most clearly references Hitch's Vertigo and Dressed to Kill might be seen in some ways at least as mirroring Psycho, Body Double ups the ante a bit by working in elements of Rear Window just for good measure. The combined effect of all this multimedia miscegenation might therefore be better termed at least a body triple or even quadruple, but when taken on its own merits, Body Double is probably neither the masterpiece its most rabid fans insist it is, nor the much derided doppelganger many critics insisted it was upon its initial theatrical exhibition.
Here's the thing about De Palma and Hitchcock and the critics: some critics have torn into De Palma—repeatedly—for supposedly ripping off Hitchcock whole cloth, without the Master's finesse and especially without his sense of humor. A lot of these criticisms have included the unmistakable subtext that De Palma is nothing other than a mere charlatan, a huckster attempting to hawk someone else's wares. But as the featurettes included on the Blu-ray, as well as a host of other documentary evidence, prove, De Palma is actually a rather unabashed fan of Hitchcock who makes absolutely no bones about how he has attempted (yes, repeatedly) to pay homage to one of his favorite directors. De Palma actually comes off on the featurettes on this Blu-ray as a rather unaffected and frankly sweet guy, someone who is more than a bit surprised by the venom that has been aimed his way.
One thing that many analysts seem to have missed as they were disparaging Body Double is the fact that De Palma may in fact be thumbing his nose at the entire movie industry, albeit surreptitiously at times. There are all sorts of little brickbats thrown at Hollywood's way of doing things, from lying directors to lying producers to avaricious agents, not to mention a long subplot involving porn, the kind of "ugly stepchild" of the legitimate film world. We meet down on his luck actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson, who bears a rather remarkable resemblance to Bill Maher), who is told to take time off from a vampire film when his claustrophobia prevents him from completing a scene in a coffin. Things go from bad to worse when he gets home to discover his girlfriend in bed with someone else. A series of awkward auditions follows, and De Palma seems intent on showing how degrading the acting business is. A method acting class is particularly humiliating when the teacher attempts to get Jake to "sense remember" what initially led to his claustrophobia.
In the meantime, a casual acquaintance and fellow actor named Sam (Gregg Henry) whom Jake rather strangely keeps running into saves Jake from the class and then offers to let Jake stay at a place Sam has been tending for a rich friend of his. This improbably well appointed octagonal home (De Palma utilized John Lautner's iconic Chemosphere) has an added benefit: there's a telescope that looks directly down on an apartment complex where a gorgeous young woman does a striptease at an appointed hour every night. Sam graciously introduces Jake to the telescope and the peep show before heading off to Seattle for some repertory work.
Without spoiling too many of the ostensible surprises Body Double has in store, it seems kind of narrow minded to focus on De Palma's obvious tips of the hat to various Hitchcock films as the main "issue" with this film, when the real problem here is an absolutely unbelievable set of situations which unspools without the internal logic that typically graces actual Hitchcock films. Jake of course continues watching the peep show, getting more and more obsessed with the woman, whom he starts following around Los Angeles, Vertigo style, while at the same becoming aware she's being followed by a much more menacing figure. He learns she's named Gloria (Deborah Shelton), and is aghast when his spying seems to reveal she's being abused by a husband or boyfriend. He finally manages to meet her, but when she ends up getting killed—as Jake watches from above—Jake becomes the prime suspect, a la yet another Hitchcock entry, The Wrong Man. Things become even more contrived when Jake, drowning his sorrows in bourbon and some cable porn, notices a performer named Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) whose dance moves are exactly the same as what he witnessed in the apartment house. But that girl has been killed—hasn't she?
One final aspect to Body Double that is at least interesting but which I personally have never seen discussed, is its outright "artificial" look at times, something that Hitchcock himself played with at times. Take a peek at the weirdly skewed perspective of the dockside matte painting in Marnie or how when the station wagon peels away from the farmhouse in The Birds leaves a huge trail of dust, when the equally panicked drive over to the farmhouse did no such thing. Hitchcock played with the vocabulary of film that way, though those contributions were often overlooked. Similarly, pay attention to how the rear projections when Jake is driving are patently fake looking, as well as a kind of odd shot when he and Gloria first lock lips. This is no mere Xerox copying, but the finely tuned, if openly derivative, work of a student paying homage to one of his favorite teachers.
Body Double Blu-ray, Video Quality
Body Double is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time (licensing a master from Sony – Columbia) with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. Body Double has always been a rather soft looking film, with De Palma and cinematographer Stephen H. Burum favoring diffused light and even low light to establish their mood, and so those expecting a razor sharp looking transfer here are bound to be disappointed. Color and contrast have both been helped substantially in this high definition presentation, though even the resolution of the Blu-ray can't quite overcome some probably inherent crush in some of the darkest scenes (the worst moments are near the film's climax). Fine detail is quite good in the film's many close-ups. The image is very stable throughout this presentation and there are no compression artifacts to report.
Body Double Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Body Double's repurposed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track leaves most of the surround activity to a few discrete foley effects (the claustrophobic moment in the elevator with Jake and Gloria), while spreading the bulk of the activity during Donaggio's score and, especially, the great little "porn film" sequence that features Frankie Goes to Hollywood performing "Relax". Otherwise, activity is pretty resolutely anchored front and center, which is appropriate and which delivers the dialogue with excellent priority and fidelity. The dynamic range here comes courtesy of a couple of hokey sound effects added to spruce up some startle moments, including in the opening when Jake, as a vampire, bares his teeth at the audience.
Body Double Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
These four featurettes are kind of randomly separated by putative subject matter:
Body Double Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Frankly, in my not so humble opinion, De Palma's ostensible ripping off of Hitchcock is the least of Body Double's problems. The film is so beset with ludicrous prerequisites to make its already pretty silly plot make sense that it actually works against a suitable head of suspenseful steam ever getting developed. The film is a wonderful time capsule travelogue of some great Los Angeles locations circa 1984, and it features a host of winning performances, but it is no misunderstood masterpiece. It's also no misunderstood travesty. It's middling De Palma, with some nice bits and some silly aspects in about equal measure. This Blu-ray looks and sounds great and the supplemental features are appreciated. Recommended.
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