CD Review: Body Double

Composer: Pino Donaggio
Label: Intrada
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Grade: A

Throughout his career, writer-director Brian De Palma has been accused of making his bones on the still-warm flesh of Alfred Hitchcock. At least his once-frequent composer Pino Donaggio can be thankful that his resume has been varied enough to mostly deflect those critical arrows, even over the course of five suspenseful scores that have copiously mined the musical vaults of Hitchcock’s muse Bernard Herrmann.

First alerted to Donaggio’s dark talents through his score for DON’T LOOK NOW, De Palma brought the Venice-born composer to Hollywood in 1976 for their breakthrough film CARRIE. Donaggio’s beautifully lush melodies, slashing strings and endlessly suspenseful build-ups paid memorable tribute to Herrmann’s classic scores for Hitchcock, in particular the brooding, romantic sound of PSYCHO and VERTIGO. Donaggio’s wonderfully slavish approach would continue through DRESSED TO KILL’s erotic art museum pursuit, BLOW OUT’s political killings and the psychotic reminiscences of RAISING CAIN. The duo’s one exception would be HOME MOVIES, a virtual student film where Donaggio showed he could score comedy, even if De Palma couldn’t direct one to save his life.

But if De Palma’s Hitchcockian rips were the sincerest form of flattery, then none of the filmmaker’s enjoyable pastiches came off like the berserk, bloody valentine of 1984’s BODY DOUBLE. It was a film whose salacious nature would make even the master of suspense blush. One could even imagine Herrmann jumping from the crypt in one of his usual furies as to how dead-on Donaggio copped his style. Yet when it comes to the sheer gonzo giddiness of DOUBLE’s anything-goes parade of porno shenanigans, a power drill impalement, boner-inducing stripteases and an obviously fake Indian mask, no movie, or score in the De Palma-Donaggio repertoire comes close. And now after having to make do for the last 24 years with just a few available selections of Donaggio’s score, Intrada has now released another soundtrack grail in this limited edition cup of ersatz Hermann greatness.

Brian De Palma’s pictures of this sort were always fun for their movie-movie winks, the feeling that the whole thing was some sort of absurd set-up. While the beginning of BLOW OUT spoofed the 80’s slasher rage, the hero of BODY DOUBLE is hapless schlock actor Jake Scully, who blows the lead in VAMPIRE’S KISS because of his overpowering claustrophobia. Donaggio immediately hammers in the crashing horror chords in “Vampire’s Ceremony,” its bat-swirling pizzicatos and foggy string sustains better music than any Z-grade production of this sort could hope for. KISS’ music cleverly becomes the sound of real-life horror for Jake when he has a vertiginous flashback in acting class during “Childhood Memories,” or endures “Tunnel Claustrophobia” at the rubber face of a real killer. The same kind of shock chords captures Jake’s girlfriend In flagrante delicto with “Bad Girl; Loneliness.” Yet the score soon turns beautifully despondent for this out of work, and out of luck lead.

While De Palma was making an A thriller in B-movie clothing, the look and sound of BODY DOUBLE was nothing if not classy, especially with Donaggio’s thematically rich scoring. Jake is given a surprisingly tender piano motif, which crosses over to a lush orchestral version as he fixates on Gloria Revelle, a lonely rich woman who isn’t as sexually freaky as she first appears to be. Jake’s pursuit of her through “The Rodeo Collection” is a rousing accompaniment to Donaggio’s “The Museum” from DRESSED TO KILL, the beautifully melodic music constantly trading between desperation, passion and danger. Then when Jake nearly consummates his pursuit on the beach in “Rendezvous,” Donaggio accompanies the would-be adulterers with the swooning, circuitous motion of De Palma’s camera. When he repeats this approach in “Remembering Gloria,” the theme is taken over with synth chiming and strings, reflecting the sordid fact that Jake is now getting it on in a porno with the actress who impersonated Gloria.

De Palma and Donaggio know that cheesy synths and sex go together like Mac and Cheese, and few cues in film scoring history have the cool erotic heat of DOUBLE’s standout cue “Telescope.” It’s a slow, come-hither groove of synths, percussion and siren voices that plays like porno music taken to some unimaginably great level. And as it sounds over Jake’s REAR WINDOW-via-Mulholland Drive spying on the sashaying, half nude “Gloria,” Donaggio’s unbelievably erotic music sets up everything that will drive Jake all the way to uncover the woman’s mystery. But his incompetence and fate make that a bloody messy business in DOUBLE’s eight-minute action set piece “The Big Drill.” With a sinister, pulsating synth motif, Donaggio sets up the drill-wielding “Indian” intruder who Jake watches helplessly from across the way, the music feinting and dodging all of Gloria’s near-misses before she’s gets one of the most phallic dispatches in film history. It’s a combo of orchestral panic and impending nastiness that’s a great example of the kind of musical storytelling that’s the stuff of great, old school thriller scores.

Even with this great sound and fury, BODY DOUBLE offers another terrific cue in inverse with “Detective McClane, Please!” Using his “Indian” pulse motif with brilliant repetition, Donaggio becomes Irving the Explainer in the best musical way, a background riff that helps Jake solve DOUBLE’s preposterous, plotted-ahead chain of sex and murder while also being suspensefully in the moment for the danger that’s about to befall the villain’s porno pawn Holly Body. Then in the climactic cues “Terror in the Grave,” and “Phobia Release,” Donaggio launches into a furious, PSYCHO-on steroids string frenzy as Jake overcomes both his inner fear and an outer wall of mock B-movie music terror to finally rescue the girl, music that both satirizes the struggle and plays it for real.

As Donaggio ends BODY DOUBLE with a humorous mix of string tension and goofy pseudo-Theramin electronics, the CD reveals itself as a satiric near-masterpiece. It’s something the film has done all along, even if the critics and feminists didn’t get the joke. More than ever, that kind of wonderfully satiric musical voice is absent from De Palma’s increasingly lackluster films. Yet as much as I wish the coolest composer-director collaboration since Herrmann and Hitchcock would resume, hearing BODY DOUBLE here in all of its impertinent glory reminds us of the great spirit of “homage” that filled some of De Palma and Donaggio’s best work. They may not have been the real deal. But few musicians and filmmakers robbed their hero’s graves with more flair.

Sneak a peak at BODY DOUBLE here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *