Media itself has played very integral roles in DePalma's most successful thrillers. Without exception in every one of DePlama's key films media has been organically integrated into the themes and plots of these thrillers. Of course, DePalma's use of media in these movies are a technological and societal development of voyeurism, something that Hitchcock also utilized to highly effective extents in Vertigo, Psycho, and of course, Rear Window. With Hitchcock's films, it was telescopes, windows and peepholes. DePalma turns a technological twist to all of this, as with the opening to his film Sisters, where he simultaneously engages his fiction characters and the audience themselves in an act of voyeurism through a filmed television screen which is broadcasting a clip of a new reality-game show that has its own basis in voyeurism – Margot Kidder is pretending to be a blind woman who has accidentally walked into the men's changing room at a gym, and proceeds to undress in front of one of the male clients. The idea of the fictitious game show is “What would he do?”, to which the studio audience and contestants (inside the film) have to take a guess in order to win the game show prize. And while this is all happening, DePalma is also slyly critiquing the whole idea of television media as just another, albeit accepted and even celebrated, form of voyeurism. An extension of Hitchcock's peephole-voyeurism that all of television-watching society condemns – and so DePalma is pointing out our, his film's audience's (and accepted society's), own hypocrisy when it comes to where the line is drawn with our sometimes vampiric voyeuristic tendencies. Media as a plot device then comes around again, this time in the forms of cameras and photography, in Dressed to Kill, where the young hero played by Keith Gordon sets up a hidden automatic time-lapse camera outside of his mother's psychiatrist's office so that he might capture evidence incriminating the psychiatrist in his mother's (Angie Dickinson's) murder. Camera and photography come around again in Femme Fatale, where a crucial photograph taken of a woman-in-hiding throws her fairy-tale world into turmoil when the photograph becomes a printed-media advertising sensation and is plastered all over Europe. In Blow Out, photography is present in the deepening complexity of the plot, but this film is more about the media utilized in the making of b-movies, specifically, recorded sound. In Blow Out it is John Travolta's sound recording that is, in effect, the first witness to a conspiratorial murder, but when Travolta teams up with the good-hearted prostitute Nancy Allen to utilize sound recordings and hidden microphones to solve the murder and capture the villain (John Lithgow), things go spinning out of control and Trovolta winds up completely lost and adrift in his personal world of sound, which throughout the film has become his own personal circle of hell. A precursor to Body Double, DePalma's Blow Out also perversely toys around with the heroine's “doubles”, as villain John Lithgow, needing to be rid of Allen's character as she was also a witness to the key murder in this story, decides to create an alibi for her impending murder by first murdering several other prostitutes who bear an uncanny likeness to Nancy Allen's character. This way, Allen's character's murder would look like a random one in a line of serial killings that had been plaguing the city. Here, then, we also begin to get a mix of slasher-film aesthetics in a film where Travolta is first seen sound-editing a b-movie slasher film; and also DePalma's increasingly flirtatious tango with the misogynistic controversy, something that celebrated writer Harlan Ellison had some very opinionated things to say about within the introduction of a paperback re-print of his book “Shatterday” in 1981.
Voyeurism went from the telescope and directly to the then-cutting-edge media technology of the videotape industry in Body Double. While windows still remained a key element through witch our characters' voyeurism could be accomplished in Body Double, Vertigo, and obviously Rear Window, it was the mass acceptance of videotape technology that gave a welcome twist to Body Double; when hero Craig Wasson peruses the video rental shelves in the Hollywood videostore, launching his amateur investigation into the murder of Deborah Shelton, it's a curiously electrifying scene as we're waiting to see what could possibly come of this. When he finds the VHS videotape featuring the porn star (played by Melanie Griffith) who's erotic-dance routine eerily echoed the murder victim's window-dance, he's able to find, through the production credits, a thin track to follow in possibly finding Melanie Griffith's character, and hence, the possible key to solving a murder. Wasson not only finds Griffith and the key to solving the puzzle, but also manages to find far more danger than he was prepared for. At the end of Body Double, DePalma returns us to the scene of the b-movie production, with film cameras rolling and body doubles put into place for the leading b-movie actress, and this all intentionally circles back to the opening erotic-fantasy sequence in Dressed to Kill (1980) comically triggering memories of Angie Dickinson's shower scene and the practical use of her body double – and so then DePalma has created a mini meta-world of circling media and voyeurism by cleverly utilizing b-movie production, camera, sound, VHS tapes, slasher films, and body-doubles throughout his key thriller trilogy. In all of this, DePalma's inherent good-humour about films and filmmaking are completely in evidence by the time Body Double's end credits begin to roll up over the body double's funny shower scene.
Media also rears its head, again integral to the plots, in DePalma's later films, both of the throwback thriller with which he's gained his fame from, as well as his Hollywood studio summer blockbuster. In Raising Cain, the leading married couple (John Lithgow and Lolita Davidovich) have set up video baby-monitors which become both a storytelling and a camerawork element of that film; and in Mission Impossible, the whole plotpoint regarding media files stored on a hard-disc eventually becomes one of the biggest, most elaborately sought-after-and-captured MacGuffins in spy-movie history, once again providing a grinning example of DePalma's sly, cinematic humour. Funnily, both of these DePalma films also relied heavily on flashback storytelling, something that he'd avoided in his key thriller trilogy (Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double) – a slight exception being Travolta's character back-story in Blow Out – but that flashback did not have any bearing on the exposition of the solving of the mystery in the movie, unlike Raising Cain, Mission Impossible, and unlike Hitchcock's Vertigo, wherein each of these films the cinematic flashbacks actually explained the entire mystery.
Sisters (1973) actually cleverly weaved the cinematic flashback trope with DePalma's interest in media technology by providing a construct for the movie's flashback sequence through warped memory (echoing Stewart's dream sequence imagery in Vertigo) and recorded laboratory research as projected through black-and-white 16mm documentary film footage. From there, DePalma drew far more specific flashback inspiration from Hitchcock's Vertigo in both storytelling and framing mis-en-scene technique, twisting it for his own exhilarating cinematic means, in his 1978 film The Fury. Following The Fury, from 1980-1984 DePalma dropped the on-screen flashback storytelling trope in favour of expositional-dialogue as had been used during the conclusion of Hitchcock's Psycho. Dressed to Kill, in particular, was more of a remake of Psycho just as Body Double was a remake of Vertigo. Listening to the summing-up-the-entire-mystery dialogue at the end of DePalma's Dressed to Kill, we can't help but think of the conclusion of Psycho, which then causes us to reflect on the whole of DePalma's film and the fact that each scene is really an updating of Hitchcock's film within the expanded boundaries of sexualism, realism, and secret hypocritical voyeurism/coveting of “professional” people in society of the 1980s.
As a remake, Body Double also included a circling-camera shot lifted directly from Vertigo, the shot was also exhilaratingly employed in Blow Out – circling John Travolta in Blow Out's most celebrated camera shot as he discovers, tape by tape, that every sound recording in his sound studio has been systematically erased. The circling camera shot is used to maximum effectiveness during the beach scene where Deborah Shelton and Craig Wasson finally interact without telescopes, windows, or lingerie-store changing rooms between them. As the unlikely couple kisses, giving into desire, this is a more lustful and technically updated version of the same take from Vertigo where James Stewart and Kim Novak finally begin connecting. While DePalma's take emotionally mixes love, lust, obsession, and anxiety in Body Double, his take on this same twirling camerawork in Blow Out strictly served to masterfully induce deepening anxiety. DePalma, if anything, is a master of camera movements, to the point that when he was ready to go into production for Femme Fatale (2002) he would require camera rigs that would need to be invented specifically for his film. His virtuoso camerawork, mixed with the heightened sexuality of his content (and context), is what makes his work stand out and stand apart. He is a technically more proficient filmmaker than Hitchcock, but without Hitchcock's experiments in cinematography, from the opening sequence in Psycho to the ongoing takes in Rope (which also required specialized equipment and operators at that time) to the inventive camerawork that permeates nearly every frame of Vertigo, DePalma might not have had such a critical base from which to launch from.
(To be continued...)