Body Double(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 10.3.2006)
Brian De Palma's cinematic relationship to Alfred Hitchcock is the equivalent of a son finding his father's dusty stack of porno mags behind the bathroom toilet and rechristening each and every one of them for himself. De Palma has made a career out of tearing The Master of Suspense's career to pieces by re-thinking Hitch's obsession with sexuality, altering familiar character arcs, re-combining plots from entirely different movies into single narratives, and even nudifying the updated versions in ways that Hitchcock wasn't allowed to "back in the day."
Body Double is no exception to De Palma's modus operandi. This 1984 film cleverly combines the narratives of Rear Window and Vertigo, except B.D.P.'s leading man Jake Scully (Greg Wasson) isn't simply a hybrid of James Stewart's respective roles from those films. Instead, Scully is a variation on both Vertigo's Scottie Ferguson and Rear Window's L.B. Jeffries with De Palma allowing more of Scully's unbridled sexual id to hang out. Plus, the violence Scully witnesses is highly graphic, rather than implied.
Scully is a struggling Los Angeles actor, who suffers from extreme claustrophobia at the most inconvenient times. A friend in need of a house-sitter sets Scully up in a spaceship-like bachelor pad overlooking Hollywood, even pointing out an added perk of a neighbor who explicitly strips and masturbates every single evening in front of an open window. Soon after, dopey but likeable Scully is pulled into a complicated murder plot involving mixed up identities (the film's title is a clue), double crossings, extreme prosthetics, wigs, and even a porno shoot resembling Gene Kelly's contemporary dance segment in Singin' in the Rain.
This all probably sounds insane yet vaguely familiar, which largely is the point. Remember, you've entered The Brian De Palma Zone which, if you ask me, is about ten blocks past The Twilight Zone into the suburbs of strangeness. With The Twilight Zone, at least you knew that strangeness was always just around the corner. But with De Palma, things often start out normal enough until, in typical fashion, he begins relentlessly poking fun at himself, the viewer, the medium of film itself, and especially the story being told. And once he gets going, he can't stop `til he gets enough. Which is never.
So why all the poking and how does he do it? De Palma accomplishes his sly (some say annoying) technique of turning everything he can get his hands on into a cerebral network of cinephilic in-jokes and dashed audience expectations by adopting stylistic elements and innovations from a variety of sources, namely the films of Douglas Sirk and the theatre of Bertolt Brecht. But whereas De Palma adopts the intentionally artificial, self-reflexive, and exaggeratedly melodramatic stylings of Sirk and Brecht to make his own stories seem fakety-fake-fake-fake in their very own ways, he doesn't seem to be making any political or social commentary with his narratives, which was the entire point of Brecht and Sirk's techniques in the first place.
Instead, De Palma is quite content to comment on whatever genre he happens to be working in at the time. In the recent The Black Dahlia, for instance, De Palma tickled film noir into submission, while in Body Double he comments on the tropes of erotic thrillers, horror movies, hardcore pornography, and murder mysteries, as well as typical audience reactions to each of these genres.
De Palma's focus on genre specifics is what makes his films so oddball and, at times, challenging to understand. If he weighed his films down in obvious political commentary, however, his best films might feel less like balloons floating along chaotically, barely holding together and threatening to float away at any second with every crazy new plot turn and more like -- just so I don't hurt myself with this metaphor -- lead balloons. In fact, can't you just see De Palma, sombrero on his head, poncho on his shoulders, sitting on a mule shouting, "Socio-politics? Socio-politics? We don't need no stinking socio-politics!" Actually, neither can I.
The sole extra on this new special edition is an excellent, newly produced four part documentary on the casting, shooting, and controversies surrounding Body Double. Again, providing details would only give away the juiciest bits, but anecdotes are aplenty throughout with the likes of Melanie Griffith, Dennis Franz, Deborah Shelton, Gregg Henry, and of course De Palma himself having nothing but pleasant recollections about working with one another. It sounds like Columbia Pictures was a big pain in the ass during much of the shoot, but unlike what those Paramount mofos did to the ending of Snake Eyes, Body Double hasn't been altered. Plus, the transfer looks and sounds great, so everything worked out fine in the end. -- Jason Woloski