The Chase sequence from De Palma's Body Double; film
Last week you saw the title sequence for this film, the pastiche lettering,
blood draining away, the joke established of the vampire who suffers
from claustrophobia. You've seen the Art Gallery scene from Dressed
to Kill. In preparation for the section of the lecture tonight on camera
movement and the point of view shot, we'll look at the Chase scene from
Body Double , an exercise that has little justification in plot terms,
but which is another example of The Big Tango, an involved set piece
where a director (it is often Hitchcock) uses some piece of action as
an excuse for bravura film making, eg to create a thrill, to set the
viewer a puzzle. Often the Big Tango seeks to use technology to amaze
the viewer, eg Kubrick's use of special lenses in Barry Lyndon that
capture real candle light.
The story so far: an out-of-work actor (Jake)watching a beautiful woman
(Gloria) through a telescope, (Hitchcock's Rear Window )
realises that she is also being watched by a mysterious Indian who
has evil designs upon her He sees that she is also brutalised by
her husband. His fascination with her grows correspondingly. Jake
follows her to a beachside hotel where she finds she has been jilted
by her lover. As he follows her out on to the beach, the Indian appears,
snatches her bag and runs off. Jack runs after him into a tunnel
where his claustrophobia returns and incapacitates him. The Indian
runs off with what turns out to be the woman's key card to her front
The sequence has been chosen to demonstrate certain designed features
which I hope will be relevant to your study of sequence,
1. Pacing of event
3. Point of view
Today we'll look at the deliberate quotation from Eisenstein's Battleship
Potemkin in De Palma's The Untouchables.
Perhaps it will help to compare this section in Body Double with a
corresponding section from Hitchcock's Vertigo . The following notes
are intended to reinforce your memories of the sequence after the teaching
session. The remarks are from Susan Dworkin's Double De Palma,
Newmarket, NY 1984.
1. Joe Napolitano, assistant director describes the
sequence of shots."It is very important to make the neighbourhood
of this pursuit not dangerous. The area is sparsely populated and at
that mostly with old people. It is they who disarm us even as they
set the pace of the tango."
2. Steve Burum, cinephotographer, " Jake
gets out of his car and starts to follow her. He's doing this at
a certain distance because he doesn't want her to know she's being
followed. Immediately there's a little bit of tension.....He's following
her. You don't lose her in the shadows. You play her out in the open.
Him too. ..... You shoot her walking down the stairs. You lose her
for a minute, she goes to her room. She goes to her room. Jake can't
follow her so he goes down to the beach. Now you see her behind him.
You know he wants to turn around and look at her, but she's looking
at him, so he can't turn around. Tension. Does she realise what's
going on ? Tension. All the camera is doing is having him in the
foreground and her in the background, and you can see them both clearly...
He finally turns around. He thinks maybe that she might recognise
that he has been following her (sic). So he steps behind a little
tent. .... All of a sudden she goes out of frame and you see something
above frame. The camera follows his eyes. It's these people going
across out of their room at the motel."
3."Now we do the big crane shot where we bring him all the way
across the beach, up the stairs faster and faster, and he gets on to
the terrace above her....By putting him on a high level and her on
a low level, it gives him a certain amount of psychological power.
You're setting up a significant dynamic right there, which is about
to be paid off. Now. The Indian. The audience sees the Indian before
Jake. We do that with a geography shot. We've had the point of view
of her walking back and forth. We've had the reverse of that - him
looking down at her. Now we cut back to another objective geography
where we see him on top, her on the bottom, she makes a cross out,
he makes a cross out, and out of the bushes comes the Indian.."
4. "Now Brian has the option. He can cut into a closeup of the
Indian (which he will probably not do, because the Indian's already
been revealed. Or he can cut to Gloria.. or he can cut to Jake. You
can hold this situation in four or five cuts, building the suspense
in the sequence. Now you let Jake in on it. He hears the Indian coming
down stairs.... Now the tension is; is he going to get to her to warn
her before the Indian gets to her ? So how to shoot the tension. You
have Jake down on the beach and Gloria ahead of him.... as he goes
he is checking for the Indian. You go past a second row of tents and
you just see a flash of the Indian.... Jake's ahead of him and you're
seeing this from Jake's point of view , shot from the dolly that is
running alongside Jake......
5. "So there are three shots, a view going 90 degrees to the tents
a shot of Jake straight on a shot of Gloria walking . "
6. "The chase is shot like every other chase. You see the Indian
running off with the purse; you see Jake taking off after him. Then
you cut to a side shoot of the Indian running. So you have a full figure,
and a medium shot, and then you have a close-up of feet running, the
Indian and Jake's. Also you have a shot of Gloria standing there with
her mouth open."
7."We shoot the first part of the chase with a really long lens.
It looks like both Jake and the Indian are hardly going anywhere. Then
you separate the sideshots into sideshots so you see one mak looking
like he's going faster than the other. If the other person doesn't enter
the frame, then you know there's a great distance between them. Finally
we use a big long shot, where they both come running down the beach,
we pan them around and we take them into the tunnel." "The
whole picture has to go like a freight train."
Body Double, directed by Brian De Palma, 1984, written
by the director and Robert Avrech, produced by De Palma, music by Pino
Donaggio, photography by Stephen Burum, designed by Ida Random, edited
by Gerald Greenburg, costumes Gloria Gresham. Not mentioned in the
book are the themes of the consequences of voyeurism, and the paradox
of the word to "ACT". Jake (Tattoo," Born to Lose")
cannot act, and De Palma sets this in the context of his own hatred
of the Hollywood Establishment. References abound to Hollywood as a
sink of iniquity. De Palma explores the viual conventions of many types
of film making in Body Double, the Driller Killer film, the Porn Movie,
the Pop Video (Frankie goes to Hollywood hired just for their name),
the Hitchcock suspense film, the Film Noir. Like so many of his other
films, Body Double is a series of brilliant cinematic
setpieces that deconstruct the illusions of Film making.
Other films by De Palma;
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)*;
The Fury (1978);
Dressed to Kill (1980)*;
Scarface (1983)* ;
The Untouchables (1987)*