Films with body

Or at least films with the word ‘body’ in the title. The other weekend I watched three of them. (I also watched the Kylie concert DVD Body Language but we don’t need to discuss that, as it could get embarrassing.)

Body Shots (1999)

A look at the mating rituals of twenty something yuppies in LA. Four girl pals and four guy pals meet for a night out in downtown tinseltown, and we follow the action. There’s the guy who sees his true love go off in the arms of the alpha male and consoles himself with a quickie on the hood of a car with the lonely girl. There’s the couple who wake up in bed together with no real memory of what happened, and both wonder if this could be the start of the real thing. There’s the deeply unattractive guy who pairs off with the closet dominatrix, to the great satisfaction of both, and possibly an element of viewer satisfaction in seeing this obnoxious person have his arse roundly tanned by Emily Procter (her out of CSI: Miami). And then there’s the spacey girl and the jock, and the morning after she claims that he raped her and he says that it was rough sex, and we get to see the perspective of both in flashback and decide for ourselves what really happened, who we believe.

I picked this up for pennies at CEX or somewhere like that, and really I had rather low expectations, but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. It played rather like Sex and the City: The Next Generation or Friends With Benefits with some witty conversation and, for me at least, insight into the alien realm of twenty something dating in the dog days of the last millennium. Of particular appeal was the meta-fictional element, with characters addressing the camera directly and things such as an interlude where we get to sit in on a class conducted by sexologist Lou Paget. When I was this age (thirty years ago at least) the cliché/default setting was that guys wanted sex and girls wanted love/marriage, or at least that was the credo we all paid lip service to far as I can recall. I found the mix here, the conflict between superficiality and the profoundly serious, the idea of wanting different things from different people, to be endearing and slightly more honest in its depiction of male/female interaction. But of course there are pitfalls, mixed messages and crossed wires, as with the alleged rape that’s central to the story and the fallout from that for everybody else. For the record I believed the girl’s story, simply because I couldn’t see any reason for her to make it up. Interesting times.

Body Heat (1981)

Womanising Florida lawyer William Hurt finds himself very much out of grace and favour when his past comes back to taunt him and he’s set squarely in the sights of femme fatale Kathleen Turner. It’s the second or possibly even third time that I’ve seen this, but it’s still every bit as enjoyable; as the plot unwinds it’s rather like watching a finely tuned machine perform exactly as it’s supposed to, and it really doesn’t matter that you know how it’s going to pan out (though I envy those seeing it for the first time). There’s a real chemistry between the two leads – Turner sizzles in her role as the manipulative Matty Walker, with Hurt’s Ned Racine an engaging mix of puppy dog charm and male hubris, so that you both like him and feel that he gets what he deserves. For some reason I’d convinced myself that the film was based on a James M. Cain novel – it has the same noir feel and sensibility as books like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, with the same preference for amoral characters, the juxtaposition of steamy sex and betrayal, and underlying that a reinforcement of conventional values (the sexually precocious Matty, the femme fatale, is not to be trusted) – but glad to see it was an original story by director Lawrence Kasdan.

Body Double (1984)

Craig Wasson is out of work actor Jake Scully, who suffers from claustrophobia. A guy he meets at a casting call sets him up to house sit a luxury desres, and in an act of male sharing points him at the telescope aimed at the flat over the road where, every night, the female resident performs a masturbatory dance routine that looks entirely staged and fake to anyone not thinking with his dick. Jake is being set up to witness a murder and provide the real killer with an alibi, and in the aftermath of this he sets out to get to the bottom of things with the help of porn actress Holly Body (a gum chewing, peroxide blonde Melanie Griffith), the body double of the film’s title.

This is, I would say, a film that puts style ahead of substance, with a plot that proceeds to unravel the minute you think about the implications/requirements to work etc. The central idea struck me as ludicrous, a fix up the police would be onto within hours, if not sooner (the witness to murder is ensconced in a house belonging to the wealthy victim’s husband, for example). It’s all meant to be very clever, but in reality its best trick is to keep the viewer, as well as the character of Jake Scully, off balance so that we don’t think too much about what is taking place. We are lured into the net of voyeurism, but it’s more about what we’re not supposed to see than what we are shown. The director is Brian De Palma, so there are some beautifully composed shots, and of course the de rigueur references to Hitchcock’s oeuvre (Rear Window, Vertigo) and expected ‘chase’ scenes. On the down side, Jake really doesn’t appeal – no getting round it, the guy is a peeping tom, with borderline stalker issues, and his solution to meeting Holly (become a porn star) is a bit of a stretch. Just to add the cherry, at the end we get some totally gratuitous nudity as Jake makes his acting bones in a low budget vampire flick. On the plus side, there’s some comedy, but not enough and it doesn’t sit well with the rest. Overall, it’s a film that’s pretty to look at and one that holds the attention right up to the moment when you wonder why on earth you’re watching such tosh. De Palma has done better.

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