Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Earlier this year I was my great pleasure to strike up a cyber-friendship with Peter Gelderblom, founder, editor of, and contributor to, the terrific Web site 24 Lies A Second. Peet (as he is known on the Web) lives and works in Holland; he originally dropped a very nice line or two in the comments column of one of my posts and invited me to rework an old article of mine for publication on the site. I took this as a very great compliment, as I had followed the site for some time previous to his contacting me, and it turned out to be a whole lot of fun to work with Peet and 24 Lies editor Jim Moran to get my big, ungainly, bloated piece of work into something close to fighting shape. Not everybody liked the piece when 24 Lies turned it loose, and I really didn't expect that everyone would-- I got criticism of it when I originally published it on this blog too-- but Jim and Peet were endlessly supportive and have always made me feel welcome to submit new ideas for further articles. In fact, I may have finally tumbled one around in my head long enough to actually start working on getting it ready for them to see.

In the meantime, Peet and I have kept in contact, peering in at each other's Web presences and dropping the occasional e-mail and/or comment on the sites. I got an e-mail from him last week, actually, alerting me to the presence of a new 24 Lies Brian De Palma poll (check this one out, Blaaagh!) and an article freshly minted from the Gelderblom pen (keyboard) called "The Shape of Substance: Brian De Palma and the Function of Form." As I want to give this one more than just the cursory bathroom once-over, I've printed it out and set aside some time this weekend to read it, as I have all of the articles from the contributing writers on 24 Lies. But I was very happy that Peet felt compelled to write to me and solicit my reaction to this one in particular, and I'm relishing the anticipation of consuming it as much as I am the inevitable actual enjoyment of engaging with his ideas in the piece.

From left, Rasmus (the disillusioned dinosaur fan), Luka (my future son-in-law?), and blogpal Peter (Peet) Gelderblom

Attached to his e-mail was a very amusing anecdote than I wanted to pass along, and now that I have secured his permission I shall do so. (This originally appeared as a post on the 24 Lies reader forum, but Peet passed it along to me for reasons that will become obvious):

"A while ago, I also posted a funny story on the forum about my oldest son and me, considering the REAL horrors of Jurassic Park. I guess it's the sort of thing only daddies like you can truly understand...

My son Rasmus has been a dinosaur fan for as long as he can remember, and there's no other movie he yearned to see more desperately than Spielberg's modern classic Jurassic Park. Again and again, Rasmus begged me throughout the years if he would be allowed to see it. Finally, by the time he reached the age of seven I deemed him old enough.

As we sat down before the television together, I wondered what would gruel Rasmus the most: the T-rex scene or the velociraptor chase? Little did I know that it turned out to be something else completely.

You remember the cartoon, about one-third into the movie, that explains how the dinosaurs were recreated from fossil DNA? Since Rasmus doesn't understand English, I was directly translating everything that little string of cartoon DNA said into Dutch, until the bomb dropped and out of my mouth came something along the lines of: 'That's why every dinosaur in Jurassic Park is female.'

Now, for those of you less familiar with the mindset of the average seven-year-old boy, let me assure you there is nothing - I repeat: nothing - more appalling to them than girls...

Rasmus turned to me in utter shock and said, 'What?!? Are all the dinos GIRLS?' Instead of being smart enough to deny it, I confirmed him of his deepest terror. Try to put yourself in his shoes: what he considered to be the coolest creatures on the planet turned out to be what he detested most of all. In a few seconds time, Spielberg had crushed the love of his life and I was partly responsible. It seriously pissed Rasmus off. 'What a stupid movie is this,' he said. 'I will never find it exciting now!'

Luckily, the T-rex scene was able to change his mind. Nevertheless, he may never fully recover from that initial shock. Neither may I."

Thanks, Peet, for the terrific story, and for the fine work you do at 24 Lies A Second. I thoroughly recommend anyone interested in serious, accessible discussion of film to stop by this site right away and make it a regular destination. And the forum topics are always interesting too. I haven't been as active in there as I should have been over the past summer, but some of the topics under discussion now have convinced me to modify my behavior right away. As for that De Palma poll, Blow Out is the current leader (and my choice), with precisely twice the support of the nearest contender, Body Double. Who will cast the first vote for Carrie? Come on, people! And surely Sisters is worthy of a first-place vote from someone. You can even cast a vote for The Bonfire of the Vanities if you want to (I'm talking to you, Mysterious Adrian Betamax), but just follow it up with a good reason or two in the comments section. (Oh, and yes, Peet, we will have to talk about Body Double, which I haven't seen, by the way, in at least 10 years-- it's one of the few De Palma films I have little use for, and I'm very interested in hearing out an opposite point of view, especially yours.)

As Bugs Bunny might have said, ain't the blogosphere grand?


Anonymous said...

People will start to think Jim and me are paying you serious amounts of money to advertize our site, Dennis. By all means, continue!

OK, BODY DOUBLE... I've always had a huge crush on this movie. I'm sure hormones played a part in that, since I was 13 or 14 at the time. But the film has never failed to mesmerize me since. It's one of the most hypnotic movies I know of and a masterpiece of mise-en-scene. I could marvel at that beach scene forever.

The subtext of the film is all about De Palma raising his middle finger to the critics who slaughtered him for DRESSED TO KILL and SCARFACE. He openly confronted them with the very things they accused him of (excessive violence, misogyny) and made sure to enthrall them at the same time, just to point out their hypocrisy.

Feminists who hate the film will love me agreeing on this, but I really do think Gloria Revelle - her name says it all - is strictly an object of desire. Besides a bunch of other things, BODY DOUBLE is very much about male fantasy. Gloria's good looks and vulnerable attitude make her the perfect projection of male obsession. There's nothing real about her. She's an ideal, a goddess. (Mind you, the way De Palma uses a sexual archetype in order to explore the theme of male desire is hardly the same as portraying ALL women as sex objects.)

Her death scene isn't exactly devastating, but a cold shower. Because De Palma puts so much effort into the visual "foreplay", Gloria becomes our object of desire as well. When the killer breaks into her house, we are torn between two extremes: wanting to save her and wanting to have her (there's no way I'll ever accept the drill is not a symbol for penetration, no matter what De Palma has said to defend himself). Especially because we don't get to see the actual killing ourselves, the emotional result is a double anti-climax. Not Gloria but Jake is the victim here, and it's ourselves we pity. In the end, the audience is revealed to be just as voyeuristic as Jake, and that thought made a lot of people uncomfortable. If Gloria's death scene doesn't seem emotionally satisfying, well... that's the whole idea, really... It's just about the cinematic equivalent of premature ejaculation if you think about it. De Palma's death scenes are really love scenes and his love scenes are really death scenes.

Despite the likes of Armond White calling him a "weak actor," I've always thought Craig Wasson was perfectly cast in this. Yes, he totally lacks the star power that could have helped to make the film a commercial success and he doesn't exactly deliver what can be described as a powerhouse performance. But the man's playing an unemployed actor, for God's sakes--a born loser, a regular Joe longing for a little excitement in his lousy life. A charismatic star like John Travolta in the same everyman role wouldn't have been believable.

Because Craig Wasson plays Jake as such a goody two-shoes, you never really believe he's a pervert, eventhough he's peeking at naked women and digging up panties from trashcans. I even like the part where Jake is pretending to be a sleazy porn producer. His performance is quite impossible to take seriously and it makes perfect sense, since we're looking at the reason why the guy's unemployed to begin with...

I guess it's more the character that the actor that annoys people, because weakness isn't exactly considered a virtue. But this is the story of somebody who tries to overcome his weakness. The story of an actor trying to act. The story of a sexless nobody wishing to become a stud. The weakness is an essential element of the narrative.

Anonymous said...

All right, Dennis, you made me read that DePalma poll, and naturally I couldn't resist putting my own pompous comments and votes on there. It was a lot of fun to read, as was this essay!

Peet--great job in support of "Body Double"! You've made me want to give it another shot, and I won't blame you if I still dislike it. I especially appreciated your discussion of Craig Wasson's performance, and I agree with you. I have a memory, possibly wrong, of the color of Wasson's eyes and his blue attire being incredibly saturated, a la Jimmy Stewart in "Vertigo." Kind of a cool effect, if it really was there.

I can't help saying that DePalma gave a bit too much energy for awhile to raising his middle finger to critics, rather than making good films. Witness "Scarface" and many others. I can't remember the last film of his I thought was any good, and I used to be a big fan.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, blaaagh, and thank you for posting on the 24Lies forum too!

You're right that anger and frustration is not always a healthy ground for creativity, but I think De Palma turned his negative energy to his advantage. Then again: I'm an admirer of Scarface and Body Double.

I forgot to mention that, apart from the obvious REAR WINDOW influence, much of BODY DOUBLE plays as an inversion of Hitchcock's VERTIGO. Just compare Scottie's fear of heights with Jake's claustrophobia. An old, far from warm business acquaintance becomes a newfound friend. And whereas Scottie forces Judy to become Madeleine, Jake reinvents himself to enter Holly's world. And so on...

In an email to me, Dennis also complains about Gregg Henry's obviously bad makeup job as the Indian. To me, this seems entirely intentional. The Indian's face is a gross bad-guy exaggeration that is, in the end, peeled off to reveal the true face of evil in the all-American good looks of Gregg Henry.

Don't worry. I can be negative about De Palma too. You won't hear me defend Bonfire of the Vanities...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Peet: Thanks for the comments. I'm with Blaaagh in appreciation of the points you make about Craig Wasson and his appropriateness playing an unemployed actor, giving off exactly the vibe that makes it quite understandable why he's an unemployed actor. (I remember seeing Wasson quite a lot around 1985 and wondering how he managed to land so much work when he seemed less than magnetic on screen...) And your spirited defense has really made me want to go back and look at Body Double again. In fact, after a very busy weekend (which, at 9:00 pm on Sunday evening, alas, isn't quite finished yet), I have marked off tomorrow night as my time to spend revisiting one of my least favorite De Palma films. When I do, I promise to post my reaction!

Blaaagh, I don't remember if we ever talked in great detail about it, but where do you stand on Femme Fatale? I thought it went beyond a return to ('70s) form for De Palma into the realm of a masterpiece, but I got the impression from your comments elsewhere that you didn't find it so compelling. But I'll tell you what, your comments on The Fury have gotten me all fired up about seeing it again too. Maybe a Fury/Body double feature tomorrow night!

Anonymous said...

Peet--it's a real pleasure to read 24 Lies, and to comment there, too. Your intelligent observations have convinced me that it's time for a DePalma film festival, even to include "Body Double," God help me.

Dennis, I can't honestly remember "Femme Fatale" very well, so I guess I'll have to brave it again before I take a stand; certainly your strong feelings about it make me curious to see it again, and maybe pay closer attention!