Brian De Palma’s sixteenth film is lurid Hitchcock (a novel idea the Master almost nailed in Psycho, had he not included that abysmal Talking Psychoanalyst at the end), souped up with doses of sleaze and swank, and more Fuck You potshots at the movie industry (and De Palma himself) than you could appreciate in one viewing.
From what I can tell, few if any critics in 1984 got the joke. Feminists decrying misogyny couldn’t see the humor in the woodenness of the acting, or the playful male gaze (e.g., the stand-in who’s in fact not the body double is drilled to death by a masked marauder who likes to watch; and the D-list actor who excels at playing the D-list actor hero is impotent to save the woman in peril [that last, too, a classic cinematic trope] after watching her perform within a performance, in a film made by a director who gloats in the hackdom for which he is ceremoniously trashed by the clueless taste-makers of the time). De Palma grins at us mischievously: The De Palma (2016) documentary reveals he had carte blanche to be as glossy and gauche as he dared. And, be it a Beverly Hills shopping plaza, or a Z-grade film set, the lovingly lit locations — and the way he lets the camera gracefully zoom or dolly in on them (the camera is the most important character here) — connote a director who revels in the flash, even as he pokes holes in it. In good Brechtian fun, he even throws in a Frankie Goes to Hollywood music video that at first seems anachronistic, but which we realize has grown organically from the story.
The film is about voyeurism, and the Hitchcock language of cinema; but it’s riveting because it chooses to be funny about it, and because De Palma has the balls and the chops to pull it off. We are constantly aware we’re watching a movie, and people who watch each other, deviously, lustfully — however they happen to do it. Body Double is also a parody of bad filmmaking — and by extension, a take-down of 80s Hollywood culture.
Maybe that’s intellectual bullshit.
Still, I defy anyone even remotely entertained by the film to not see De Palma (fresh off Scarface, and at the absolute peak of his powers, with full producer-director control) spying on, stalking, and finally busting a gut at the movie and the viewer in damn near every frame. This all adds to the film’s trance. He’s having a ball, yet his craft (his command of it) remains sincere.
It’s a comedy, folks. A violent as hell, tits-in-your-face laugh riot. Do you not see?
Of special merit: Pino Donaggio’s syrupy, half-electronic score, itself breathtaking and overwrought; and Melanie Griffith (Holly Body), a porn star who happens to be the only character who is “in her own skin” from beginning to end — except when she pretends to be someone else, and even then she exudes total confidence and sex appeal.