The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents January 2007 Return to Table of Contents
Pan's Labyrinth
Allen Daviau, ASC
Little Children
DVD Playback
Double Indemnity
Body Heat
Body Double
Production Slate
Post Focus
Short Takes
ASC Close-Up
Body Heat (1981)
Deluxe Edition
1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1
Warner Home Video, $19.98

A heat wave hangs thickly over the coastal Florida community of Miranda Beach, an area that is, ironically, famous for its cool breezes. Sweaty lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt) is looking for relief, and her name is Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), a married siren in a white dress who also appears desperate for a break in the weather. The couple’s immediate chemistry ignites a clandestine love affair that takes place behind the back of Matty’s “small, weak and mean” husband, Edmund (Richard Crenna). Temperatures rise as Ned and Matty realize a divorce from the controlling Edmund might be difficult. Amid their humid trysts, the lovers devise a plan to kill Edmund and use the substantial wealth he will leave behind to start a new life together. Eventually, however, Ned and Matty’s plan comes undone in ways neither expected.

First-time director Lawrence Kasdan’s searing, sexually provocative thriller Body Heat updated the conventions of film noir to spin a morality play about a Reagan-era lothario accustomed to taking what he wants. Kasdan smartly tapped veteran cinematographer Richard H. Kline, ASC (winner of last year’s ASC Lifetime Achievement Award) to orchestrate Body Heat’s complicated visual design, which hinged on bringing the narrative’s sweltering textures to life. Despite the fact that the production shot on location in Florida during one of the state’s coldest winters, Kline was able to create a seductive atmosphere of soft colors and multilayered blacks within the dense, heavily diffused atmosphere of languid humidity. His simmering imagery is one of the film’s most distinguished qualities, giving it a memorably sensual and occasionally sinister tone.

Warner Home Video’s recently released deluxe edition of Body Heat presents an anamorphically enhanced picture transfer that is adequate at best and often frustrating, although it is certainly a major improvement on the pixellation-plagued DVD released in 1997. The color balance appears to be generally correct and the overall presentation is satisfactory, but the layers of darkness often seem lost in the new transfer, and there are more-than-occasional instances of print dirt and speckling that produce noticeable “white dots” in several dark sequences. The film’s title sequence and first scene exhibit clear and noticeable examples of this. Given that Body Heat relies so heavily on visual mood, these moments, which abruptly take the viewer out of the scene, are particularly unfortunate.

The original monaural soundtrack is presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital track that is limited primarily to the center channel, with activity in the front left and right channels usually occurring only when John Barry’s famous score is present.

The real fire in this package comes from the generous array of supplements. Prolific documentary-featurette producer Laurent Bouzereau assembles Kasdan, Turner, Hurt and supporting actor Ted Danson and asks them to reflect on their respective roles in the piece. Also present — and offering excellent aesthetic and technical information — are Kline, editor Carol Littleton, and composer Barry. This well-produced 47-minute documentary, which is divided into three segments, gives this gifted group of artists an opportunity to discuss their contributions to the picture. The disc also includes 10 minutes of deleted scenes; though incidentally interesting, they were excised for good reason. Rounding out the supplements are 12 minutes of interviews with Turner and Hurt from 1981 and the film’s effective theatrical teaser.

Though some initially dismissed Body Heat as too derivative, it holds its own alongside such films as Chinatown and L.A. Confidential as one of the most vivid and well-directed examples of the American “neo-noir” tradition. A box-office sleeper, the picture proved to be a springboard for its talented cast, particularly Turner, who was making a strikingly self-assured big-screen debut. Body Heat certainly stands out as one of the most impressive and audacious directorial debuts of the 1980s, and Kasdan went on to direct many films. Rich in narrative and stylistic complexity, Body Heat continues to radiate its power through its incandescent images, and despite this DVD’s flaws, perhaps it will pass the torch to a new generation of viewers.

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