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September 07, 2009


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Ryan Kelly

I'm torn between those two, as well. On one hand, "Body Double" is one of the few movies of his I DON'T like, so I'd love to see you discussing the failures of it. However, ""The Pleasure Of Being Cuckolded..." is such a bloody marvelous, lyrical title that I absolutely need to see where you take it...

So, as usual, I am of absolutely no help. If I had to pick it, I'd say go with the second because it's a much broader topic.


The Pleasure Of Being Cuckolded, please.

Tony Dayoub

Thanks for the plug, Glenn.

The Body Double one intrigues me because I'd love to read a takedown of one of my favorite De Palma films. And the "Cuckolded" one sounds like more of an in-depth examination, which would be equally fascinating.

I'm really excited to read either.


The BODY DOUBLE one. There are things about De Palma that I like, but that film isn't one of them.

Sonny Bunch

I'd vote for "Ten Mistakes," as long as one of the ten is "Picked a Bill Maher doppelganger to play the lead." Talk about body doubles...

Earthworm Jim

I vote for the Body Double one! For whatever reason, that's my favorite De Palma film, and I would love to get your take on it.

Kent M. Beeson

Only ten?

The Siren

I like Body Double a lot and wouldn't mind a contrarian viewpoint--or is it even contrarian? That's a love/hate movie. But fact is, there are a lot of dissections of its flaws already out there, though I am sure yours would be the one to beat.

But a title like "The Pleasures of Being Cuckolded"--that NEEDS to be written up. You can't come up with a title that great and then leave it hanging. Plus maybe the post would involve some talk about Nancy Allen, who was so fantastically adorable in Dressed to Kill and then went pffffffft, it seems.

So Cuckolded it is.


I vote Cuckolded, simply because I haven't had a chance to see Body Double yet. BAM is showing Blow Out in October, and I am unbelievably excited. It's a movie I've literally been waiting years to see (because of my impractical fixation on seeing films for the first time in celluloid form).

D Cairns

They both sound great, is there any reason you can't do both?

The Siren

Vadim, I have the same fixation and it's dangerous. I have a rather long list of movies I haven't seen yet for that reason (coughBressoncoughcough).

And I like Mr. Cairns' philosophic bent; with that attitude, I want him to go shoe shopping with me. At Barneys.

Tom Russell

I think you mean "The Ten Things That Are Incredibly Freakin' Awesome About BODY DOUBLE", the first four of which are:

1. Frankie,
2. Goes,
3. To,
and 4. Hollywood.

But as a passionate De Palma partisan-- I actually have twice as many De Palma DVDs in my collection than any other director-- I'd be up for anything you or anyone else writes about him.

Well... almost anyone else. Armond White's defense of Mission to Mars leaves a lot to be desired.

Oh, and Vadim: BLOW OUT is De Palma's masterpiece. Thrilling, stylish, with strong performances all around-- Travolta, Allen, and Lithgow playing specific people. (If Allen gets on your nerves in this one, she's supposed to.) Not a bland archetype or everyman in the bunch. The specificity of De Palma's characters/writing is one of the things that catapult him above and beyond Hitchcock and his fetish-blondes.

Yeah, I said it.

Damon Houx

I'm all for a BODY DOUBLE takedown, if only because I love it so.

D Cairns

Tom, you can say it, but it won't mean much until you actually watch some more Hitchcock. Because you're really reacting to a critical cliche rather than anything that's actually in the films. "Fetish-blondes" maybe do feature, but I'd say less than 10% of the time.

Glenn Kenny

Thanks all, for the kind words and votes. Well then. The reason I would be inclined to do one or the other rather than both is simple: I have finite time, and resources. (Can you tell, by the way, that I've been reading a lot of Rex Stout lately?) Although now I'm tempted to tackle both. We'll see. In any case, I"m going to tackle "Cuckold" first, and it will have a strong "Body Double" component. Just got done debating whether my screen caps of the delightful Barbara Crampton should be S or NSFW. I punked out and opted for safe.

@ Tom: I love ya, but like they say on "Maury," "O no you di-ant!" I just happen to have watched "The Birds" and good God, De Palma's never concocted a script that could lick a stain off of Evan Hunter and Hitch's hem....And I LIKE DePalma.

Tom Russell

@Glenn: Okay, so I'm being a little impish, but my taste does err more towards De Palma than Hitch. I think both are great filmmakers, and both have their share of masterworks and their share of junk-- but I will say that I enjoy De Palma's junk a whole hell of a lot more. FEMME FATALE is easier for me to get through than, say, TOPAZ.

@D Cairns: I've actually seen a lot of Hitchcock, thank you very much, and the Master of Suspense did indeed make some great great films: SHADOW OF A DOUBT and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN are probably my two favourites, with FAMILY PLOT a close third. VERTIGO is excellent, as are REAR WINDOW, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, REBECCA, THE LADY VANISHES, THE 39 STEPS, THE LODGER, and FRENZY. PSYCHO is okay; I like William Castle's HOMICIDAL better.

Story time: One of my brothers is, shall we say, not particularly cinematically inclined. He's the sort that, if he walks into the room when CITIZEN KANE is on, will say something to the effect of, "What is this gay shit? This is the gayest shit I've ever seen. It's like a pile of poop with mascara on it." That's my brother.

But some years back, I was watching DIAL M FOR MURDER, and he walks in, and makes his usual comments-- it was so "old" and so "gay"-- but after a while, he shut the hell up about it. And when the picture came to its close-- you know the part, the husband is just about to get caught-- he was absolutely riveted, both of us breathless in excitement, waiting to see what would happen or, more accurately, when.

That's the power of good cinema, and of Hitchcock.

My point, which I may have obscured by the "fetish-blondes" crack, is that a lot of Hitch's female characters are either idealized or at the very least archetypes, whereas De Palma's women, for my money, are a great deal more specific. The only really specific (and thus, to my mind, interesting) women in Hitchcock's films are Bel Geddes in VERTIGO, Harris in FAMILY PLOT, and Teresa Wright in SHADOW OF A DOUBT.

If I'm letting any kind of critical cliche colour my reactions, it's the cliche that De Palma is a misogynistic rip-off of Hitchcock. De Palma gives his women personalities and thus he regards them as people; what's misogynistic about that?

The Siren

Tom, I don't see either Hitchcock or De Palma as misogynists but if you poll female film-lovers I think you will find more Hitch than Brian fans. Hitchcock knew how to tap into female anxieties as well as male. De Palma creates strong women with personalities but is more blatant and aggressive about placing them in plots driven by dark, kinky sexual urges; that can be harder to get past.

Tom Russell

Siren: Good point. Very good point. Damn. I should have you rebut all my arguments.

Another thing about De Palma's work that attracts me to it is that same aggressiveness, that bluntness, that sense of transgression. Not just in terms of racy content, but also in terms of structure-- cf. "Hi Mom!"-- and form-- cf. splits (screen & diopter).

And don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that transgressiveness makes De Palma better than Hitch-- who could certainly be audacious structurally (PSYCHO) and formally(ROPE)-- only that it's a quality of De Palma's work that I enjoy.

One problem with comparing these two artists-- and I know full well that I'm the one who brought up the comparison, in these parts at least, and I should have known better-- is that they really are quite different. Both might work in the thriller genre, and De Palma of course is the first to acknowledge the impact that Hitchcock made on his work, but to my mind both present idiosyncratic, personal visions that use both genre and medium in very different ways to do very different things. I just happen to dig what De Palma does more often and more consistently than what Hitchcock does.

Part of my, well, not exactly anti-Hitch but rather pro-De Palma at the expense of Hitch stance comes from having rankled at the Just-a-pale-imitator assessment I've heard from so many critics/pundits who can't see what are, for me, major differences. (One thing that really made my blood boil was this book that presented one representative frame from 100 filmmakers to illustrate their distinctive visual style, and included the image from De Palma's SCARFACE at the top of this post as an example of how cliched, unimaginative, and derivative he was. So, to summarize, some asshole gave a precious 1% of his space just to make a joke.)

But, having had some time to think about it (and being reminded by my wife that I promised to be more careful about stirring the pot online) "catapulting" De Palma beyond Hitchcock (or vice-versa, for that matter) is like saying Coppola is better than Scorsese (or vice-versa). Both bodies of work might be filled with romantic explosions of cinema, both might be heirs of the Archers, but in the end, they're really doing very different things.

So, I apologize, I withdraw, and I won't mention Hitch and De Palma again in the same sentence if no one else does. Let's appreciate (or depreciate) each for their own work.

Oh, and Mitch Hedberg is better than Steven Wright.


My only experience with De Palma has been Scarface, bits of Carlito's Way and The Untouchables, Snake Eyes (of which I remember very little beside the showy steadicam shot) and...uhm...The Black Dahlia. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt despite my abhorrence of pretty much every turgid frame of Dahlia.

So my impression of the guy's work is limited - any ideas on where to start?

Tom Russell

@Zach: Blow Out or Carrie are in my estimation very good places to dip your toe into the water. I'd definitely stay away from Casualties of War right off the bat-- it's great, with Michael J. Fox giving what is really a very fine performance (the best in his career), but it's very, very heavy stuff, to say the least.

Dressed To Kill is great but is a bit sleazier and so could be off-putting initially but might be a good place to venture after Carrie and Blow Out. I remember Sisters as being kinda uninspired but still pretty good (hey, it's on Criterion, so it must be... oh, wait, I forgot that Criterion released ARMAGEDDON. Never mind).

Stay away from Hi Mom!-- I think it's kind of casually brilliant, actually, and Bobby De Niro is great in it, but it's not what you'd call representative of most of De Palma's work.

And, you know, let's be blunt, he's made his share of bad films. Pretty much the last fifteen years or so have been off-years for the De Palminator, and so I'd stay away from those right off the bat. But, as I said before, most of his bad films are still watchable. FEMME FATALE might be pretty terrible (with the leads giving really putrid performances), but I can still watch and enjoy parts of it. (And no, I'm not talking about the five or six minute lesbian make-out heist scene. Though the twist it sets up is pretty brilliant bit of filmmaking misdirection.)

The only film that I found completely and totally unwatchable (haven't seen the dreaded BLACK DAHLIA yet, and I'm not sure if I want to) was MISSION TO MARS. Twenty minutes in, it felt like I had been watching it for an hour. It's just the slowest, dumbest, most boring film I've ever seen from a major director.


@Tom -

Thanks for the recommendations. I've been intrigued for some time by Blow Out and Body Double, and this post is a good excuse to finally see them...I had completely forgotten (somehow) about Carrie, which I did see and enjoyed.

On to the Netflix queue.

Dan Coyle

Black Dahlia will be Exhibit A in the trial of Josh Hartnett for Crimes against Good Taste.

Jeff McM

Dan Coyle, obviously you haven't seen 40 Days and 40 Nights.

Account Deleted

@ Tom Russell - I'd forgotten all about 'Mission To Mars', what a strange, strange film that was. Almost enough to make me give up on DePalma completely. Thankfully some of the old DePalma was back in Femme Fatale. But it's been a disappointing decade for him hasn't it? Mission to Mars, Femme Fatale, The Black Dahlia and Redacted. He hasn't made a truly great film since Carlito's Way back in '93.

D Cairns

Thanks for the clarification, Tom. I've been inclined to think that DePalma makes most sense if we put Hitch to one side. For one thing, Hitch disdained long POV sequences uninterrupted by reaction shots, whereas DePalma uses them all the time. So for all his talk of using Hitchcock's grammar, DePalma is on his own particular mission.

I do find Hitchcock's films crowded with specific characters, I wouldn't like them otherwise. And I think a character can be idealized in terms of glamour and still be human and flawed and particular: both Tippi Hedren's Hitchcock characters are extremely elegant, but both are, in entirely separate ways, rather high-maintenance, psychologically.

DePalma's specific too, but partly because of differences in the periods the filmmakers work in, and the kind of stars they use, the form of specificity (that's not so easy to say!) isn't really comparable.

James Keepnews

Here's another fun game to play with your favorite film critic and/or blogger (and/or LEAST favorite film critic, come to think of it; this is an example of where I'd love to read Armond White's opinion, purely for the entertainment value): what was Brian DePalma's last good film?

My money's on Raising Cain -- simultaneously the most focused yet most unhinged of his many (sometimes, considerably) less accomplished obsess-o-fests over the past two decades. What a cast, too, from the ever-underrated Steven Bauer to maybe the greatest film performance yet from John Lithgow, who does seem to save his very best stuff for Mr. Brian.

Tom Russell

Mr. Cairns: Good points all. I do have some trouble getting into the two Hedren movies/enjoying them, a quality that's been further exacerbated by certain unpleasant anecdotes. But I might give them another shot due to your recommendation.

@Zach: I'd recommend staying away from BODY DOUBLE right away-- my (comically-intended) hyperbole about its unimpeachable awesomeness aside, I do think it's a good film but a very, very goofy one. And it's hard to look at Craig Wasson without becoming physically ill. Not that he's a bad-looking dude; he just oozes a weird kind of creepiness that's both palpable and unpleasant. I'd recommend only coming to BODY DOUBLE after you've done BLOW OUT and DRESSED TO KILL to puts its goofiness and excesses into some sort of context.

Michael Dempsey

As for where to start with Brian De Palma's work, damn the torpedoes and waste no time seeing "Casualties Of War," the most shattering and emotionally overwhelming of the Vietnam War pictures, with (as Tom Russell properly indicates) Michael J. Fox's performance deserving a lot of the credit, especially for the all-time-great moment when he declares to his squad mates, "You don't have to kill me, I told them -- AND THEY DON'T CARE!"

If De Palma's career really needs just one film to justify it, as many (wrongly) appear to think, that film is "Casualties Of War". But it has many stellar companions: "Hi,Mom," "Sisters," "Dressed To Kill," "Blow Out," "Scarface" (richer than the Hawks "Scarface," though that picture is also excellent), and "Carlito's Way", plus significant portions of several others.

Naturally, there are plenty of failures, too, and perhaps even some outright junk in the lineup. Still, how much, after all, does someone have to accomplish as a director in the insane-from-the-beginning American filmmaking system to avoid dismissal from even the ranks of the marginally talented, let alone anyone's Pantheon?

Earthworm Jim

Agree with Michael Dempsey: no reason for newbies not to start with Casualties of War, which to my mind is both his best film and the least crazytown of his great films; in other words, it's not likely to alienate anyone the way that starting with Body Double or even Dressed to Kill might alienate a newcomer. It also stands on its own nicely; no De Palmian context is really necessary to appreciate it, rare for such a self-reflexive filmmaker.

I really want to see The Black Dahlia a second time. I was just on the cusp of being truly cine-literate when I saw it in theaters in '06. Three years later, I'm semi-well-versed in both the films of De Palma and the books of James Ellroy, and I've read Matt Zoller Seitz's impassioned defense of the film, so I really want to give it another go.

Jon Hastings

All films have their defenders:

I think Mission to Mars is one of De Palma's best: a moving and thrilling sci-fi take on some of his favorite themes - the limits of technology vs. the limitless potential for human compassion. His stuff since then, though, I haven't liked so much.

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