Dressed to Kill (Brian de Palma, 1980)

The editing in the first part of the lengthy museum scene in de Palma’s Dressed to Kill is exemplary both in terms of creating the limited space of the exhibition room that expresses Kate Miller’s (Angie Dickinson’s) suppressed desire and in terms of telling by showing, without dialogue. The genius in the scene comes from the way Kate is positioned stably on the bench in the center of the exhibition room, the coordinates of which are never given to us with an establishing shot. Kate is motionless. Her only activities are staring blankly at the paintings across her and occasionally turning her head to the opposite corners of the room where she notices three different couples in conversation in other rooms through the connecting doors. Her reactions to these situations imply what may be on her mind: flirt and seduction, and lack thereof, in married life.

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Among the things Kate looks at, two paintings hanging side by side – though never shot in the same frame – deserve attention. The detail of writing “nuts” in her notepad after looking at the final image – the monkey painting – is whether an ordinary act of adding an item on her shopping list or a note to us to explain she is going insane is questionable.

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After a mysterious man in dark glasses sits next to her, the mood of the scene changes. Her animal instincts are definitely triggered as we see her sit up, nervously knock the tip of her shoe towards the man and finally turn to him to smile. When she does not get the attention she seeks, she is upset. And when the man leaves after seeing her wedding ring, she is no longer the passive onlooker. We see her movement in the space for the first time when she gets up to leave. Pausing briefly by the nude painting, she decides to turn around and becomes a predator chasing her prey.

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