Thursday, June 16, 2011
Dressed To Kill. (1980) Brian De Palma
Essentially, this is the story about a woman in a one-day affair, along with a hooker, a transvestite, a psychologist, a cop, and a nerdy teenage brainiac. These people would never meet at a party, they'd never share a drink at a bar. In fact, nerdy teenager is too young for a drink anyway. Stuffing such a vast blend into one cuu-razy story (and all of the characters' juvenile plasticity) makes the film only worth a look if you're doing a Brian De Palma month like I am. But at this point, I am starting to wish I'd just dedicated the month to Hitchcock.
It's not a very good film at all, but if you'd like to see the best parts of it watch the very first murder scene, and then fast forward to about fifty-eight minutes, the moment when De Palma's signature split screen shows up, and man, does it ever. The use of a TV in two separate rooms combined with excellent design and placement of the shot brings another magical De Palma moment.
Sadly, as in The Fury, the magic is only momentary. A Scooby Doo wrap-up and a chiller thriller finale (ripped straight from the end of Carrie -- hey! That worked, let's do it again) finally pushes Dressed To Kill into the bowels of complete nauseousness.
. . .
As one travels through De Palma's back catalog, you see things that suggest a fascination with the dark side, in particular, the vile nature of exploitative sex.
BFI's review of De Palma's second film but first theatrical release, Murder à la Mod (1968), a film I have yet to see, "Finds various young women... being auditioned by their boyfriend (the offscreen voice is De Palma's own) for a skin flick he's got to make to pay for his divorce." How interesting even in the early part of his career that De Palma's actual voice is being heard; one could say that his "voice" is heard through many of the rest of his films as well. The themes which captivated him early on are scattered throughout his work, never suggestively. Manipulation and bartering through sex, often leading to murder, began early in his oeuvre and continue through much of his career:
In Sisters it was a brutal murder by butcher knife the morning after a one night stand; Obsession leaves us with the idea that incest might be more biologically natural than we'd once thought; Blow Out, blogged here tomorrow, tells of a politician's affair resulting in death; in Scarface (blu-ray coming out this September), most of the sex is gift wrapped like an exchange, quid pro quo; Femme Fatale creates the kind of sex that is so enrapturing one can actually thieve off another's body in the process; Body Double and The Black Dahlia both lens prostitution and pornography in a "cool," glorifying manner, while dealing out a sad end for those who participate in such activities. (These two films want their cake and eat it, too.)
Sex isn't respected or honored in the context of these stories. It's always, "You got it, I want it, I've got this to give if I can get it."
After watching too much De Palma, you sometimes feel you need a cold shower. And just hope that nothing like the picture above gets you while you're in there.
Resembling Carrie, the opening scene of Dressed to Kill is that of a naked woman in the shower. But in comparing the two films, you can actually feel the more shameless way Dressed to Kill is shot. Whereas the opening shower scene in Carrie set the viewer up for an introduction to the innocence and confusion of its lead, a similar scene in Dressed to Kill is hyper-sexualized, focusing blatantly on Angie Dickinson's breasts - she's looking turned on by the bar of soap. The tone is utterly gratuitous, so over the top that it's ridiculous to watch, like an even worse Nine 1/2 Weeks, spiced up with murder so double your fun.
But, Reality Check: This film, and many from the director, are not supposed to be a reflection of reality.
So what are we watching? And why?
I guess we are fascinated by stories about people who do that sinful or immoral thing we're not supposed to. Sleep around. Commit murder. Make love in the shower with your bar of soap.
I am personally fascinated by the lens itself, the way it relays image to our eyes and, from there, straight into the soul. I am not persuaded that all stories are really good for us unless we're willing to challenge them, to pick them apart and take them on.
Dressed to Kill, in that sense, feels like voyeurism and a waste of time. Hardcore De Palma fans will find plenty to absorb in the way the camera draws us in, the split screens at the middle, the intrigue over sex, despair and murder.
That we're fascinated by some sort of code that's broken, some sort of gate we're not supposed to go through, makes the watching feel like a lonely fellow addicted to pornography. It's the thing that he can't have that he obsesses over. He's engulfed in it, addicted to it, willing to give his eyes to that thing that escapes him.
We are a strange bird, us humans. We've built the greatest means for entertainment. We can bask in a million different stories at which we'll marvel. But for some of us it always comes back to those things we just can't have: an affair, a cover-up, a murder.
Seems kinda boring when you think about it like that.