cinema Essay

Demented Deranged De Palma

Body Double (1984)

Poor Jake Scully. 

What else could he be, but a failure. 

He is playing a goth vampire in a B-Horror movie called ‘Vampire’s Kiss’, only to realize that he has claustrophobia.

Paralyzed in a coffin. Think about a frozen vampire who cannot come out to terrorize at night, a frightening thought. As if on cue, the set of Vampire’s Kiss catches fire. 

But Jake’s been here before. 

Here meaning under the ever growing shadow of disappointment, after all he’s a struggling actor in LA; rejection and failure are any actor’s constant buddies. With his chin back up and small smile on his pale face, Jake drives home, only to find his partner in bed with someone else. 

She also seemed to enjoy it. The face.

Poor Jake Scully. 

When someone is down, one kind word, even a smile might make the person feel that this is godsend.  But cynical De Palma knows that in the real world unlike the ideal, there is no kind word without malevolence, no smile without a secret and no help without expectation. 

Those who fall for these ‘godsend’ acts, risk lowering themselves into the bottomless pit of irredeemable failures. 

Jake Scully’s face is that of pure failure, the one that you want to slap and bring back to life and shout “don’t trust these guys!” when he accepts a caretaker job in the hills of LA. 

It was Hitchcock, who said something about putting the bomb under the bus and making the audience go mad knowing that it is going to blow-out (pun intended) ,Jake’s serial failure to the path to foolishness is DePalma’s answer to Hitchcock’s bomb under the bus.

We can see what’s going to happen to Jake, but he cannot.

A lot’s been said about De Palma’s Hitchcock obsession (yes he’s also made film with the same name- double title pun here, well done me), yet he goes all the way in this neatly laid down trifecta of a plot which includes the best of Vertigo, Rear Window and Dial M for Murder. 

It almost feels like De Palma having his vengeance on the critics who had dubbed him Hitch minor. Ok here you go, maybe thought De Palma, here’s three suspense classics- watch me put them in a blender. 

Hitch would have probably recognized the cruel intentions (no pun intended here, no reference too) behind the plot, but would have never muddied his hands and knees in the sewer that De Palma bravely (and gleefully) goes into. Slumming it proudly by making a movie about moviemaking which begins at the fringes of Hollywood and descends into pornography. It’s really too much, but never not enjoyable. 

Never not enjoyable- that’s De Palma as a tagline there for you. That could literally be the title of a career retrospective of De Palma, but they made one such and simply called it De Palma, the fools I tell ya.

Coming back to failures.

Failures make the best reflective protagonists and you can never get a better one than a failure in love; here’s Jake Scully in this fancy house in the hills with the rotating bed and when the lights go down his ‘nearest’ shapely neighbour starts to put on a show. 

Stop looking Jake! Stop looking for God’s sake. 

Easier said than done, but look he does.

Maybe it’s love, maybe it’s a fascination, maybe it’s just that he feels he is owed some relaxation after all the effects of failure kick in. When the relaxation kicks in, also does Pino Donaggio’s astral music plays over her routine, Body Double pushes its weight and reputation from being just another erotic thriller to the realms of art. 

In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, one who would have thought that De Palma just is the swoop of the camera, he is just the crazy angles and he is just the slow motion- this would have just been that, an erotic thriller from the 80s which probably was given as an alternative when Basic Instinct was under circulation at your local video store. 

But this is De Palma. 

Nothing is generic, nothing is expected and nothing is out of bounds- you would think an attractive neighbour doing a self pleasure routine is going overboard but then comes the shock of the power drill (did he really do that in the 80s?- first time Tarantino-heads ask lol) and then he surprises you with a musical number shot on an X-Rated film set which weirdly asks us to “Relax, don’t do it, when you wanna go do it.” 

While the voyeuristic elements are drawn out of Rear Window, the movie smoothly blends into long stretches of Jake Scully jointly (?) pursuing his neighbour ala Vertigo which rightly feels like a silent film, here too it’s just on camera and with music that De Palma builds the tension. I cannot stress this enough because Jake Scully is a nobody or say the person could be anybody like you (the reader) or me and not the stars like Grace Kelly, Kim Novak or James Stewart about whose life and death we care about. 

It’s a different way to look at filmmaking to reduce the stress of the characters themselves and put more pressure into the visuals (and in effect on the director himself). 

Roger Ebert opens his review of Body Double, calling it an exhilarating exercise in pure filmmaking and all through praises the direction but notices that there is very little point to the film. 

Sorry Roger, bless your soul, the point is that De Palma wished to hoist this story of an everyday failure and construct around it one of the most visually stunning thrillers. 

Psst: Ebert also uses the word construct twice, just saying. Would like to state that when the movie came out, critics were not as charitable as Ebert was and promptly dismissed it. Body Double’s reputation has only grown from then on. 

Maybe I’m reading too much or maybe i’m trying to drill (no pun intended here too) home the point of “filmmaker of failure” too much, but to me this clearly is a “it could happen to you” type film and Hollywood does a lot of “this could happen to you” films, ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances; the you in “it could happen to you” is probably played by Cary Grant whose is heroism personified. 

In contrast, Craig Wasson’s Jake Scully (poor Jake) is emasculated in full technicolor, his helplessness is at the core of his failure and when a person is at their depths and when there is no internal motivation to proceed, nature comes to his aid. 

Nature in the form of women, of course. 

First in the form of Deborah Shelton and then in Melanie Griffith. 

There’s a phrase that people going through shit are familiar with- the dark night of the soul. The seemingly unending period of trials and tribulations that a soul has to go through before it’s communion with the ultimate.

Body Double can be seen as Jake Scully living through his long dark night of the soul (it is not necessarily one night) getting one bad hand dealt to him after another, just when you thought he hit rock bottom, there’s another blow waiting for him in the corner. 

The biggest of them all is when his helplessness couldn’t prevent the death of the woman he thinks he is fascinated with, it’s a double blow at the end when he comes to know that he is in some way responsible for it. 

And this is where it turns. 

Body Double is one of the rare happy ending films from De Palma, maybe because it was too much even for him.

Jake Scully does find himself in the end and illustrates that one can simply stop being a failure by just taking control of their life in order to not only to better oneself but to help others. 

But since there is a deadly director like De Palma calling the shots, the difference between success and failure could be as serious as life and death. 

The end.

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cinema cinema:english Essay





While the subtitle clearly explains what this piece is going to be about, it shouldn’t be treated as one specifically but more like an opening of a door or say a slight window of opportunity into what obsessions mean or lead into.

While the heading as a whole might sound like a paper left behind at a medical seminar, this writer thinks that these two documentaries are in fact quite similar on things that this writer holds close and is yet quite unclear about. The products of Obession, if there are any.

Passion is a word that is heard almost every day, it is the pretty sister of Obsession whom everybody somehow wants to marry, while poor Obsession is forced to settle for bearded men with complex thoughts.

Stating passion in your CV would get you a job, may be even earn you some amount of momentary admiration, but obsession is a sort of practising the dark art, to delve deep into the abyss and may not come back.

In a sense, obsessions are not about results; to put it further the result of your obsessions is not the concern, it is more about why one is taken to some things so quickly.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is about one such obsession of one man to make a film on Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune, ok it is more about how he could never make it.

While viewers may be concerned with the fact that this project goes under fancy tags like “the greatest movie never made” and how even prototypes created by Jodorowsky’s team still continue to inspire the movies that we continue to see on screen.

It is a year, well before Star Wars was even thought about; Alejandro Jodorowsky goes all over the world on a spiritual quest recruiting artists and actors for Dune. It isn’t about the spiritual nature of the content, but what strikes is that Jodo really believes that this movie is his calling, more than once calling it a messiah and not a movie.

And this is when he hasn’t even read the source material, one can only wonder from where such conviction comes from in a creative process.

It also leads to questions like how perfect were Jodorovsky’s visions in his head as part of this creative process, surely there must have been some moment that would have brought out that conviction, now that the movie has never been made and that a vision is lost forever; what use is a creativity then?

The only inference that I can relate to is that beyond the real life limitations stated explicitly in the documentary (like studio executives, money etc) there was some limiting factor that has not been accounted for, this non-starter of a project was big blow for the director and he could hardly make the movies he wanted to.

While the passionate rant against money in the movie is infectious, the director has still not been able to recover personally (even if he does say he has); also the fact about how great a film could have been, can never be taken for granted when the movie has never been made.

It is always a problem when there is one man and his emotions is in the center of it all, it also does not help when one thinks that this amount of obsession has gone into a mass of nothing.



The background research is staggering and all well to see, now being contained to about a thousand page picture books which details shot by shot drawings by the artist Moebius.

While Jodorovsky’s might be the center of his obsession (he does call it his Dune and not Herbert’s), here is another documentary on the reflections of a film made by a man who wanted anonymity a good part of his life.


Rodney Asher’s Room 237 is something like nothing this writer has seen before, a compendium of theories put out by viewers on seeing Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film The Shining.

These aren’t the superficial ‘like and don’t like’ movie writings that we get to see on social media, but by people who have slotted part of their lives to watching the Shining again and again and again…and again.

While it is easy to argue that too much of repetition ultimately leads to theorising, it cannot be done so while you are dealing with a film by Kubrick.

Theories range from stringing a collection of visual in jokes and the way how Kubrick has played around with our head, but then you keep going a level deeper and deeper after every viewing.

For one person, The Shining is a lament on the killing of American Indians to establish ‘civilisation’ in the USA.

For another it is Kubrick’s never ending preoccupation on the holocaust and that Shining is an even more fitting movie about it than Schindler’s List.

The Shining also is viewed from multiple points as a comment on history itself and the collecting remembering and forgetting of history, Room 237 is about all these things and much more, but a common thread that resonates is that The Shining is no mere shocker.

Let’s leave all that and come to how beautiful to see these anonymous men and women all over the world for which this movie means something that is undefineable, an obsession here but also a pointer towards their lives or how they want to live.

A rare art that means so many different things to so many different people, a rare occasion in which a movie can actually turn your thinking process by the head; Room 237 is not about how great a movie The Shining is, but really about what Kubrick was trying to say by making it, which no one really has any clues about

The makers of the documentary also acknowledge that this might be a search in the dark, but by trying to uncover the mind of the maker these people have found new meanings for themselves and more new questions.

It is also telling about how good you are when your real genius lies in elevating the thinking of countless unconnected people by really not trying other than making a movie in 1980.

As the tagline of Room 237 goes “Some movies stay with you forever and ever…and ever.”