Brian De Palma has gotten a bad rap on this one: the first hour of his 1984 thriller represents the most restrained, accomplished, and effective filmmaking he's ever done, and if the film does become more jokey and incontinent as it follows its derivative path, it never entirely loses the goodwill De Palma engenders with his deft opening sequences. An unemployed actor, invited to house-sit a Hollywood Hills mansion, becomes voyeuristically involved with his beautiful neighbor across the way and witnesses her murder. Those who have seen Vertigo will have solved the mystery within the first 15 minutes, but De Palma's use of frame lines and focal lengths to define the hero's point of view is so adept that the suspense takes hold anyway. De Palma's borrowings from Hitchcock can no longer be characterized as hommages or even as outright thievery; his concentration on Hitchcockian motifs is so complete and so fetishized that it now seems purely a matter of repetition compulsion. But Body Double is the first De Palma film to make me think that all of his practice is leading at least to the beginnings of perfection.
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