‘Body Double’: Brian De Palma’s Illusion of Voyeurism

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When rewatching Body Double for the third time, its most striking element was, as on my first viewing, Craig Wasson’s performance. As central character Jake Scully, Wasson turns his conventionally attractive looks into an endlessly fascinating nebbishness and awkwardness. In an early scene, Jake simply walks to his car and jumps in the driver’s seat, yet Wasson manages to turn this casual action into one of the most amusing instances of purposefully bad acting. This unquestionably intended ridiculousness in fact informs an audience of the approach required by the entire film: just as it is difficult to take this ludicrous failed actor and naïve man seriously, Body Double itself is better enjoyed with a grain of salt. Right before Jake goes to his car, he orders a hot dog from a street stand that De Palma shoots from the side before gliding to its front. With this voluptuous tracking shot, he creates a grotesquely sexual visual trick completely at odds with the hopeful tone of Pino Donaggio’s soundtrack and Jake’s cheerful dialogue with the clerk. Body Double isn’t a serious film, but it takes its outrageous fancifulness seriously.