Body Double is a 1984 film, written and directed by Brian De Palma. The film was made at the height of De Palma's involvement of the ongoing debate regarding morality in Hollywood film, which had found flashpoints in films such as Cruising and the Penthouse-produced Caligula, as well as De Palma's Dressed to Kill and Scarface.

Dressed to Kill had sparked controversy over its infamous elevator murder scene, where Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is brutally murdered by a razor-wielding, transsexual killer. Both Dressed to Kill and Body Double featured scenes of graphic violence against women, which got De Palma labelled a misogynist. A number of film critics also attacked him for the sometimes overt Hitchcock influence in his films, and dissmissed his work as derivative. De Palma often did little to assuage his opponents; when the MPAA threatened Scarface with an X rating in 1983, De Palma responded: "I want to be infamous. I want to be controversial. It's much more colorful. . . . if they want an X, they'll get a real X."

If Scarface was offered as a slap in the face to those who criticized the moral nihilism of his films, Body Double could be seen as a rejoinder to those who derided him as a Hitchcock clone. However, the film is more than that: an argument could be made that it's an even more quintessential portrait of the 1980s than Scarface.

The film is an unrepentant pastiche of Vertigo and Rear Window, featuring an actor, Jake Scully (Craig Wasson), asked to house-sit a posh apartment for an acquaintance (Gregg Henry). With the aid of a telescope he discovers a seductive woman (Deborah Shelton) in a nearby house who appears each night to perform a striptease in front of her window. Soon he uncovers someone else watching, and becomes a witness to the woman's gruesome murder (with an enormous power drill, in the film's most notorious scene). Scully probes deeper into the murder and soon finds himself in the world of '80s pornography (a scene where he goes to a video store for a copy of a film, complete with the clerk asking "VHS or Beta?" is a terrific signpost of the period). He becomes a porn actor himself and meets an actress named Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) who is connected to the murder. The film moves quickly along toward its conclusion, which is relatively upbeat by De Palma's standards.

Critical reception was ambivalent. Roger Ebert hailed it as an "exhilirating exercise in pure filmmaking", celebrating De Palma's "unique courage to go over the top." Pauline Kael, a longtime champion of De Palma's, argued that he was "working with material that he has grown past" and lashing back at his critics, "spiting himself and giving them reasons not to like him." Kael also laments that De Palma apparently "shows more sexual feeling for the swank buildings and real estate" than the characters in the film. Other critics (predictably) condemned Body Double outright as tawdry and derivative.

Though the film's merits and failings can be debated extensively, one aspect of the film is more or less indisputable: that it is fundamentally and relentlessly an '80s film. The elements of pastiche (Hitchcock tones and borrowed tropes from 1940s film noir) mixed with contemporary touches make it a companion to Lawrence Kasdan's masterpiece Body Heat, which also projects a sense of time's collapse. However, the contemporary elements in Body Double are infinitely more forceful: the inclusion of the pornography industry (which some saw as unnecessary, though it fits into the plot's logic perfectly well) referenced the debates surrounding the film, and a surreal performance midway through the picture by Frankie Goes To Hollywood is a fantastic touch. Body Double is a film which blends superficial glitz with depth and substance like few others from the time period.

Prince, Stephen. A New Pot of Gold: Hollwood Under the Electronic Rainbow, 198-1989. University of California Press, 2000.
Kael, Pauline. 5001 Nights at the Movies. Henry Holt and Company, 1991.

Jennifer waits in her dressing room. It's a small, square room with tan carpeting and cream walls. A long white counter extends the length of the back wall. Above the counter is an equally large mirror, surrounded by lights. Jennifer has been working in the movie business for about 3 years now and if there's one thing that is constant on every movie set, it is the waiting. A lot of waiting.

"Jennifer, we're ready for you", the assistant director says as he leans into the dressing room's doorway.

Jennifer is not getting ready to act in a dramatic scene. Her purpose on every movie set is to be a body double.

Many A-list actresses make arrangements with their directors to have someone else step in during a scene involving nudity. Jennifer's face is never seen but her breasts, bare legs and butt have been in over 100 movies. This seemingly easy job is much more demanding than the average person realizes.

For this role, Jennifer has had to lose 15 pounds. The previous movie she had appeared in was starring a much more curvaceous woman. Not only did she have to lose the 15 pounds, she had to do it in 3 weeks. Jennifer worked out twice a day and only consumed about 800 calories each day. The hard work paid off though.

"Ok everyone, let's take our marks", says the director.

Jennifer opens her white terry-cloth robe and an assistant is there to take it. Black satin sheets cover the bed in front of her and she carefully gets in. About 5 people rush over as she lies down to put her and the sheets in just the right position. She is told to lay on her left side, with her back to the camera. The top sheet hugs her right thigh, as she appears to be sleeping. Meanwhile thoughts run through Jennifer's mind,

"Did he just say something about my ass? Suck in your stomach. Is my arm in the right position? Is my hair okay?


Jake enters and recites his few lines. Jennifer's heart is pounding and she is holding her breath, trying to keep very still. The few minutes seem to last hours.

"And, CUT"

The assistant runs over with the robe, Jennifer gets out of the bed and is escorted back to the dressing room to wait for her next scene.

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