Apr 302019

Body Double is a 1984 psychological thriller directed by Brian DePalma.

Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is a struggling actor who loses a job in a vampire movie because of his claustrophobia. He’s then kicked out by his girlfriend who’s with another man. Down on his luck, Jake agrees to house sit for a friend. The luxury house comes with a view of a beautiful woman in another apartment, who dances nude every night.

When Jake witnesses the woman’s murder, but he suspects he has been set up as a witness. He infiltrates the LA porn scene to find the body double of the murdered woman

Did Jake (Craig Wasson) see what he thought he saw?

Body Double is patterned after Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thrillers, like Rear Window and Vertigo. In this case, the perversions are mostly about voyeurism. There are the scenes of Jake spying by telescope on the woman, Gloria, dancing nude. Later, there’s an extended sequence of Jake following Gloria around LA, spying on her. Ostensibly he’s doing this to protect her from another man stalking her. But that man keeps disappearing, and we’re left wondering if Jake is a protector or a pervert.

Jake is left watching impotently while Gloria is murdered by the other man with a giant power drill, the first of many woman-in-peril situations.

Once Gloria has been murdered, a police detective grills Jake, who calls him a peeper, a pervert and a sex offender.

By chance, Jake watches a cable-access show about the porn industry and sees a porn star named Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) doing a dance similar to the one Jake saw earlier. He infiltrates the porn industry and gets a scene with Holly immediately.

The “Relax” sequence is pure musical fantasy, and probably bears no resemblance to any real-world porn shoot ever. Jake is cast as an argyle-sweater wearing dweeb who is invited into a club by a fey-looking Holly Johnson (lead singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood). Inside, punk-styled people are dance-grinding. One woman does a Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard impression. Gay leathermen cruise. Goths dance in the background. Doors are labelled “Sluts” and “Whores”.

Cover of the single for “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1983)

“Relax”, released in October 1983, was already pretty notorious both for the lyrical content, i.e. a thinly-veiled reference to oral sex, and the S&M-themed cover of the single, designed by Yvonne Gilbert. The song was pulled from the BBC’s radio and TV outlets, which immediately sent it to the top of the UK charts for 5 weeks.

The initial video, shot to look like a pansexual orgy at a nightclub, was also banned by the BBC and MTV. What we see in the film is the substitute video, directed by DePalma.

Later in this film, Jake gets to know Holy by claiming to be a porn director who wants to cast her, and Holy gives him her limits.

Holly: “There are some things I like to get straight right up front so that there are no misunderstandings later on.”

Jake: “Well, I don’t blame you.”

Holly: “I do not do animal acts. I do not do S&M or any variations of that particular bent. Um, no watersports either. I will not shave my pussy. No fist fucking. And absolutely no cumming in my face. I get $2,000 a day and I do not work without a contract.”

(By 2019 standards, Holly wouldn’t do very well in porn.)

Though Holly says she doesn’t do S&M, she’s constantly being put in costumes suggesting BDSM. In the commercial for Holly Does Hollywood, one of her outfits is a black bra and panties and collar with studs, plus stockings, shoes and gloves.

At the end of “Relax”, Jake (Wasson) finds Holly (Griffith)

In the “Relax” shoot, she wears black leather assless chaps, a black thong, a black leather bustier with chrome studs, and black leather gloves. One of her earrings is a miniature pair of handcuffs. (This also sets up a contrast with Gloria, who mostly wears whites and other light colors in silk and linen.)

Obviously, Body Double couldn’t have a bunch of naked people having sex, not without getting an X rating and therefore no theatrical release. The heightened sexuality had to be displayed somehow, so putting everybody in punk or goth outfits suggesting sadomasochism was the answer. This is extreme sex, heightening the idea that Jake, a regular guy, is out of his element.

Jake (Wasson) cast as a vampire in the concluding scene.

This also sets up an interesting comparison with the vampire character Jake plays at the beginning and the end of the film, with bleach blonde hair and an outfit with black leather and metal studs. (Imagine the illegitimate child of Billy Idol and Christopher Lee.)

I don’t know how much of this was directorial decisions, how much was Melanie Griffith’s own boundaries as an actress, and how much was commercial concerns about not getting past the MPAA. There may have been some restriction that the character could only be frontally nude for a certain number of seconds. Regardless, the visual signifiers of sadomasochism are used to suggest heightened sexuality, even if they can’t actually show anything sadomasochistic, and the character wearing the outfit says she doesn’t do anything like that.

  2 Responses to “Body Double (1984): The Celluloid Dungeon”

  1. […] had the guts to give its protagonist a sex drive. 8MM is not like, say, Brian de Palma’s Body Double, which interrogates the voyeurism of the protagonist (and the […]

  2. […] movie was getting stale by the turn of the millennium, and many scenes seem strongly reminiscent of Body Double (previously discussed) and […]

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