November 14, 2012

The killer drove a white Ford Bronco

Which peak-era De Palma film has the worst reputation? Dressed to Kill, Scarface or Body Double? It’s probably still Body Double. I think Dressed to Kill is the best of the three (the most coherent, the most unforced), Scarface is the most operatic, the most violent and the most serious, and Body Double is the most entertaining, the most ridiculous and easily the most movie-conscious. Like David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, Body Double takes Hollywood as its subject – the seedier end, where B-movie indie blurs with the porn industry. In the early 80s, the porn world is going video, and the wider atmosphere of De Palma’s film seems contaminated by its ever-lowering production values. The central image of Body Double, repeated in posters and stills, was a man watching a woman through a telescope: the Hitchcock-quoting De Palma was citing Rear Window but there is actually more of Vertigo in this set-up (the man, Jake Scully, suffers from claustrophobia as Scotty suffered from vertigo; like Scotty, he follows a woman around a shopping arcade but takes spying to its inevitably seedy conclusion; there is blonde/brunette confusion) and in its doubling. Meta-levels multiply ­– De Palma sends himself up, casting Dennis Franz as a movie director reshooting the shower scenes from Dressed to Kill for his horror cheapie, Vampire’s Kiss ­­– and at its craziest moment, the softcore action stops so that Body Double can become a Frankie Goes to Hollywood music video, with Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford standing by. At this point, another Holly appears, played by Melanie Griffith, who is herself a Hitchcock quote (as daughter of Tippi Hedren), but the leading man is a let-down, less everyman than nobody. Craig Wasson plays Jake Scully and did anyone ever hear from him again? Dressed to Kill had dreamlike texture and terror. This has the same kind of logic but little genuine fear. And also, weird prescience: there is an uncanny line of dialogue that goes, “there is a woman being killed in that Ford Bronco right there”. A few months back, I noticed that David Lynch was saying that Lost Highway had some OJ Simpson in it; Body Double got one of that story’s key details, as well as its wider murder-in-Hollywood sleaze-ambience, eight years early.