Body Heat or A Few Historical Points to Understand Positioning

23 May

Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan, 1981) is unique in that not only does it have a new beginning postmodern form of the femme fatale, it’s also one of the first films that falls into the neo-noir category.  This film also harkens back to old noir while attempting to embody slightly more modern sensibilities.   It tends to be a mixed bag of narrative elements that while on the surface make the entire story feel traditional, but, surprises the viewer by updating the ending for a modern audience and, for the first time, allows a mainstream Hollywood female lead get away with murder.

A few years ago, I interviewed Mr. Kasdan about his creation, Matty Walker, the ‘new’ femme fatale for neo-noir. It wasn’t hard to see what inspired him – he had a giant one-sheet (movie poster for any of you not in the film business) of Double Indemnity. We had an interesting discussion about why his femme fatale got away with murder – which was…she’s a modern woman in a modern noir world. In my estimation: the rules had changed. But why???

I would argue, there are several reasons why. First, the disintegration of the ratings system in the 1960s changed the rules for film content. Once the Production Code Authority was obliterated, and the Ratings System we know today was instituted, film studios were free (to a much larger extent) to make films which included sex and violence (two of my personal favorites!); unfortunately, taste didn’t always come into play.

Another reason there was an opening for the more ‘evolved’ femme fatale was the type of film distribution setup in place in the early 1980s.  The studios were having a hard time in the 1980s. They were competing with home video and cable television. The studios were scared – the audience was evolving and they (the studios) were not necessarily keeping up with the pace. The studios tried to keep a handle on home video and cable/film rights, but they were dealing with increasing costs for production. While studios struggled, the home video and cable markets allowed for small, independent production/distribution companies to emerge that served niche markets such as art house cinema (think Orion). Even the studios were allowing some of their independent producers more leeway with their film choices, which is how Body Heat came into being. Alan Ladd Jr. who had a fresh new deal at Warner Bros. choose this film to be one of the first projects to be released for his independent production company, The Ladd Company. He wanted a film that appealed to women.

And although this is a bit more in depth than I meant to go, and I haven’t even begun to analyze how Matty Walker functions in the film, I feel it is important for you to understand the context in which this particular film was made because from this point on, whenever I discuss film noir in the 1980s, you can know that this was really the first ‘noir’ film of the 1980s that has embraces and celebrates the new femme fatale, one that gets away with her crimes.

One Response to “Body Heat or A Few Historical Points to Understand Positioning”


  1. In the Shadow, stylish French film noir short « Mind Your Language - June 15, 2011

    […] Body Heat or A Few Historical Points to Understand Positioning ( […]

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