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DRESSED TO KILL

((Essay from: "The Art Of Everyday Joe: A Collector's Journal.")) 

Late last night, a work night, I was flipping through cable channels and landed on what has become one of my favorite films.  Right then, I knew that I was going to be up even later.  The film was, "Dressed To Kill."

If you like art or even art house films, you know where I'm going with this.  First off, it's hard to believe that this Brian DePalma film was released way back in 1980.  Someone really should re-make it.  (Sharon Stone could do it, but start shooting ... NOW!)  All these years later, it holds up, but for dear life.  Secondly, Angie Dickinson.  She was not 20-something when this film was made, but she was certainly hot enough to pull it off.  As we all know, even though her character is unfortunate, the film is really about her stardom. 

Yet whenever I catch this film in progress on television, I always think, "Oh, I hope it's toward the beginning!"  Which brings me to art (surely you knew it would).  Have you ever seen a film that is more complimentary (and complementary) toward art?  That sequence where Angie Dickinson's sex-starved character is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is fantastic.  I have a tough time deciding what to look at ... Ms. Dickinson or the art in the background.  It begins with her staring at one of Alex Katz's many paintings of wife Ada.  That's such a great piece.  Then, that creepy guy behind the dark sunglasses shows up, Angie’s character drops her glove and the cruising for sex begins.  By the way, have you noticed how characters in thrillers are always dropping things or falling?  What's up with that?  I suppose tripping, dropping and falling are the main criteria for victimhood.

Anyway, what makes this part of the film so intriguing is the chase between the two characters, the almost merry-go-round-like camera movement and the suspenseful music.  Brian DePalma mixes these elements and creates the very thrill that art itself should invoke in any observer.  It’s really one long dance sequence.  Yes, that Philip Pearlstein behind Ms. Dickinson is a kick-ass piece!  Yes, I love that De Chirico painting that she passes by!  Yes, I'll take that carmel-colored Jacobsen Egg Chair in the background!  Looking at great art is an adventure, a thrill, a ride, a spin, a suspense-filled journey.  What's next?  Where did that guy go?  Where is she going?  Will she drop her other glove or get dizzy and fall?  What new expression will she have on her face?  What will we see around that gallery corner?  Will the masterpiece that makes my heart stop be there?

Like that twirling, swirling scene, art is a riveting, breathtaking, drop-dead joy ride. 

Then, of course, we see her walking down those dramatic stairs outside that we all know so well.  DePalma plays with the glove theme again and she ends up in this guy's cab and his art-filled apartment (more art!).  He has modern art that you can barely see, but yup, it's great.  What makes "Dressed To Kill" such a great advocate for art is the fact that DePalma made the art CENTRAL to the lives of the characters.  He wasn't preaching about art (like I am now), but rather showing its function in everyday life.  We can visit art, experience its whirlwind effects and we can LIVE with it.  "Dressed To Kill" isn't about art, but it's about its significance.  Even throughout the film, you can think of Michael Caine's blank expressions as a blank canvas for any emotions or thoughts YOU believe he's having.  You become an artist.  It's just a cool film that promotes art in a back-door kind of way.

Despite all of the suspense in this film, nothing is more stunning than when Ms. Dickinson's married character is rummaging through the bureau of the guy she just slept with.  She just doesn't know when to stop.  When DePalma does a tight panning shot of those words, "YOU HAVE CONTRACTED A VENEREAL DISEASE," all you can think is ... YIKES!  The nightmare begins.

Let's thank God that the only disease art can give you is the "collecting bug".  If a painting gives you VD, I suggest that you divest ... NOW!

 

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