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September 09, 2009


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Damon Houx

This makes me think that Body Double would be the perfect double feature movie with Blue Velvet. It's interesting in pairing the two, it highlights that both MC's go through similar things, though - arguably - De Palma's view is the more progressive one. It also makes me think about how Scully is also in a Bildungsroman.

Great piece, though it suggests you like Body Double more than you previously intimated.

The Siren

Excellent post, fascinating to read. I am glad you see good things in Body Double. I'm somewhat surprised to discover, from reading the prior thread as well as various bloggers, that I don't have a lot of company in loving that movie. I thought it poked at a lot of pieties, both pro and con, that surround the sex industry. The film's stylization deliberately makes the audience uncomfortable even as the images titillate and I loved the way the script and the shots mock AND pay tribute to genre conventions. Wasson is weak but the direction is not.

Glenn Kenny

I have to admit, looking at "Double" with fresh eyes after a long time really made me reconsider it. What I ended up writing was much different than what I had had in mind when I first proposed my topics! Interesting how that can work...

The Siren

Funny you should say it improved on re-viewing; I think one of the reasons I liked Body Double was that I saw it years after it was released. In 1984 De Palma was looking to piss people off and many critics were looking to BE pissed off, and I vividly remember all the articles about how shocking the movie was going to be, how graphic. So when I saw it, about six or seven years ago, I thought, "well, I've seen much worse than this," and it didn't feel like a **personal** poke in the eye, as it may have on release.

The scene outside the tunnel is just great.

Tony Dayoub

I think Body Double, along with Raising Cain, and Femme Fatale, are points in his career in which De Palma has stopped to regroup after a critical or commercial failure of some magnitude.

These films all seem to reflect him at his most impish and self-deprecating, with each having elements that could almost be likened to spoofs of his own cliches, inclinations, etc.

As such, they all seem important to me if only to be able to examin his technique at its most transparent.

D Cairns

Those three movies Tony mentions are also ones where DePalma seems to go flat-out ridiculous, so they act as test cases. In something like Obsession, the non-Depalmaphile can say "This is pretty good, he gets carried away at times, but it shows talent," whereas he's on some insane kick all thru those three films, the only thing you can do is embrace the absurdity as part of the experience, or reject the whole film. So after I decided to accept DePalma for what he is, instead of wishing he had more taste/logic/sensitivity, I could deal with those movies a lot more enthusiastically.

James Keepnews

I should've posted my paean to Body Double here, instead of the "l'il friend" comment thread (& Glenn, I was primarily responding there to my memory of your "yeesh" above). Mr. Wasson does seem to get under some people's skin, though it's that perpetual haplessness that I think makes him an interesting actor.

papa zita

David's comment reminds me of what I called the view of the world that DePalma shows in his more ridiculous films - DePalmaland. It's anything but real, but it can be fascinating. You either enter it or stay out, there's really no middle course.


Tony wrote: "I think Body Double, along with Raising Cain, and Femme Fatale, are points in his career in which De Palma has stopped to regroup after a critical or commercial failure of some magnitude.

These films all seem to reflect him at his most impish and self-deprecating, with each having elements that could almost be likened to spoofs of his own cliches, inclinations, etc.

As such, they all seem important to me if only to be able to examin his technique at its most transparent."

Yes, this is what happens when he takes a real drubbing -- he makes a passionately personal film addressing what really interests him, rather than try to work those elements into stories and scripts written by others.

I'm not saying that these films are therefore better than his larger studio projects, or that those other films are compromised in ways that work against DePalma's interests. Like any auteur, the proof is in the pudding of blending one's themes into projects that don't contain those things explicitly, or as explicitly as they might be expressed before the filmmaker adds his imprint. DePalma does that, often quite admirably. I thought "The Black Dahlia" was marvelous, for instance, as is "The Untouchables."

But in recent years, I've gravitated -- hard -- to the movies you mentioned. They're simply more interesting than his polished, higher profile films, and I say that as someone who finds much of "Body Double" laughable (although I'll always watch it, given the opportunity). Thus, when DePalma has a high-profile failure, I don't weep and worry about his future as an artist: I know one of his best films is on the way soon thereafter.


Sexy, sexy Barbara Crampton. Wish she'd become a bigger star instead of being doomed to a career in soap operas.

Aaron Aradillas

I often held that DePalma purposely hired Wasson because he was such a nondescript actor. There's no way any seasoned director would let an actor be so bland without a purpose.

What's ironic about the Wasson bashing is that he can give a good performance. He's quite moving in some of the quieter scenes in Arthur Penn's uneven but effective Four Friends.

Wasson's best performance is in the little-seen, Forest Whitaker-directed made-for-HBO gangs-and-guns drama Strapped. Made in 1993, Strapped is a shattering portrait of the urban gun culture. Wasson plays a suburban gun dealer who has no problem selling guns in bulk to inner-city kids. He gives a wonderfully hateful performance of the type of smug white guy who loves his 2nd ammendment.


I have a question. When erudite and insightful film critics praise Femme Fatale, are they part of some elaborate prank? Are these critics communicating subtly with each other in their reviews the way bridge players pass signals with their discards that it will be riotously funny to praise this giant butterball turkey of a bowser of a rotten egg of a film because it's so obviously so terrible that no one could take their appreciation seriously and that decades of Cahier de Cinema comments about it will therefore be a hilariously funny in-joke?

I used to think that rock critics were doing this with Slade records back in the mid-1970s. They would write reviews or drop comments about the greatness of Stamp You Hands Clap Your Feet (or whatever the title is), secure in the knowledge that it was so self-evidently awful that no one would buy the record because of what they wrote.

So, Glenn, I'm curious. When did you all get together and arrange this about Femme Fatale, and how many of you are there?

Aaron Aradillas

@Nick: That is just about the funniest thing I've read this week. It's funny because there is truth to it. There is definitely a connection between certain brands of rock crticism and the fandom surrounding DePalma.

I wouldn't lump Glenn in with that group. His review of Femme Fatale was pretty reasonable. I recall Glenn was very aware of the ridiculousness of the movie.

It's also interesting to note that both Armond White and Roger Ebert loved the movie.

I admit to loving the opening Cannes-heist sequence. Too bad the rest of the movie couldn't live up to it.

Tony Dayoub

I agree that the movie is extremely ridiculous. That doesn't make it bad. It's just one of De Palma's "gonzo" films, and still enjoyable and worth seeing.

IMHO, De Palma's indefensible movies are Black Dahlia and Bonfire of the Vanities, which not only weren't good on a story level, but lacked the technical mastery we're accustomed to seeing in his films.

Mark Salisbury

I thought the opening of Bonfire, the long Steadicam shot following Willis through the building, was pretty cool.

Plus it has a De Palma cameo, as a security guard. Apparently the only way he could keep an eye on the shot was by being in it...

Dan Coyle

I'm all right with Bonfire of the Vanities. I even like it a little bit, though it's probably the least DePalmaesque of his films.

I'd put Mission to Mars along with Black Dahlia, which should have been a slam dunk but instead was the most spectacularly miscast film in recent history, in the "indefensible" camp. I hear some really terrible things about Redacted, too, though it amuses me to no end that the primary press that film got was conservatives complaining that it got made at all. Seriously, did anyone see this movie, or talk about it? That wasn't Chris Muir, Christian Toto, Andrew Breitbart, Debbie Schlussel, Kyle Smith, or John Nolte?

Femme Fatale and Raising Cain are good, but I like them for the perverse reason that they seem calcuated for one purpose and one purpose only: to annoy the fuck out of people who hate Brian DePalma. And they succeed on those terms. DePalma seems to be satirizing himself, and having a good chuckle doing it. Body Double is in the same vein, but it has more on its mind.

DePalma really missed the boat with the superhero craze, I think. It may be that the late 80s and my starting to read Marvel comics are inextricably linked in my mind, but the Untouchables, and to a lesser extent Casualties of War*, are stories that really get to the sort of revenge fantasy that the Frank Millers of the world used to be so good at. Standing up to the bully, doing the right thing at great personal cost, seeing that justice is done when the system won't do it for you. Ness and Nitti's rooftop duel is the best Wolverine/Sabretooth fight never made, as crazy at that sounds. There's a personalization and impact that I find riveting. The Untouchables overall is just cracking wall to wall entertainment that never, ever bores me.

DePalma should have directed Daredevil. Or Miller's Elektra Assassin.
Sin City felt kind of like DePalma at times, didn't it?

*It was Stephen Hunter's review of that film that also helped me realize how full of shit he was, as he accused DePalma of slandering the troops, ignoring that it was based on an actual event.

Dan Coyle

Oh, and I agree with Aaron that Wasson is great in Strapped, which I didn't like as much as he did but is an underlooked film, especially if your only experience with Whitaker as a filmmaker is something like First Daughter. Strapped was also the only one of that genre that really looked at how 2nd Amendment uber alles culture enabled the gang wars partially.

Tony Dayoub

I agree that De Palma for Daredevil is great. One could only hope that the conflux of his career currently at a lull, and Fox's idea to reboot that franchise could lead some weird exec to have such an awesome idea.

On the DC side, he'd also be a great director should they ever adapt Mike Grell's version of Green Arrow.

Aaron Aradillas

DePalma has said he isn't interested in big-budgeted "event" movies. He did Mission: Impossible and that was enough. The funny thing is, although I like all the M:I movies, DePalma's is the best of the series. It's the one that feels most like an episode of the show. Remember when critics and fans of the show jumped all over DePalma and Towne and Cruise for the "complex" plot? It's actually a pretty simple double-cross plot told in a backwards kind of way. I only wish DePalma had used more of the M:I theme. That sneaking-into-CIA sequence is still one DePalma's best.

Tom Russell

Mr. Coyle makes some good points, though if De Palma were to make a long-underwear movie, the De Palma nut and the superhero nut within me would be at eternal war. I'd be simultaneously terrified that he wouldn't be faithful to the source material (thus resulting in a movie that might miss the point of a given superhero) and terrified that he would be faithful (thus resulting in a movie that misses the point of De Palma). A conundrum, to be sure.

But I agree that it's a genre that would allow De Palma to indulge his gifts and obsessions both, in the most maddeningly idiosyncratic (and thus most delightful) way possible.

David Fiore

I agree that a De Palma superhero film could be extraordinary--although I don't see much of a link between the director and a guy like Frank Miller (who actually embodies all of the retrograde social and political attitudes that inattentive viewers somehow used to attribute to De Palma)

I would love to see De Palma on something by Grant Morrison though... don't know if it's possible to make a film out of Animal Man, Doom Patrol, or The Filth, but the only two directors I'd even care to see make the attempt would be De Palma or Lynch


I'll cross-post my own comment from over there vis a vis De Niro's cuckolding story:

"I have not seen Body Double but I love Hi, Mom and am planning to include it in my own piece later in the blog-a-thon*, which will also focus on De Palma's sexual predilections (along with his taste for violence, and various combinations thereof). I like that DeNiro's character is such a slippery customer - you say he puts on the mask of a sensitive square, which may be true, but we never really know WHAT he is, because he's always wearing some sort of mask - hip young filmmaker, creepy voyeur, political militant, sensitive square. Also, I don't take his cuckolding tale very seriously as the whole point is to reach a phony climax in which he reveals that this Some Dude (whose "evil grin" bares a striking resemblance to Jennifer Salt's identical description of the man who rather flippantly took her virginity) has the exact name as Salt's male enemy. And so they bond over their sexual humiliations at the hands of the same (in one case, fictional) scoundrel..."

*The piece is up - it's a video piece, and I actually ended up including De Niro's cuckolding story in addition to the Salt anecdote, so thanks to Glenn for reminding me of it...

And the video is here:


The Siren

Nick's comment has made my week. Possibly my year.


Add Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin to the list of esteemed critics who embraced FEMME FATALE when it came out. I don't think it's an elaborate conspiracy so much as agreement among people who engage closely with film style instead of just "reading" the content. The film, by conventional dramatic standards, seems a "rotten egg" because the dialogue isn't very rich, the characters aren't particularly well-drawn, etc. But it's doing a lot of inventive, interesting things formally that aren't just showy embellishments -- for instance, the way it uses architecture and the David Hockney-inspired mural of photographs to expand the possibilities of split-screen montage. It's the sort of film, I think, that asks us to seek out evaluative criteria appropriate to it, instead of straight away subjecting it to whatever criteria we haul around from one film to the next.

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