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Saturday, July 18, 2020
KOCH'S 'SISTERS' ADAPTS ITALIAN POSTER FOR COVER
NEW GERMAN EDITION INCLUDES THE USUAL EXTRAS, PLUS A 20-PAGE BOOKLET BY JAKOB LARISCH
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sisterskoch1.jpg

Koch Films has just released a German Mediabook edition of Brian De Palma's Sisters. The set includes one Blu-ray and two DVDs with all the usual extras, plus a 20-page booklet by Jakob Larisch. I think they did a fine job with the cover, which is an "adaptation" of the Italian poster for Sisters (see below).


Posted by Geoff at 10:31 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, July 18, 2020 10:33 PM CDT
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Thursday, April 2, 2020
'SISTERS' HITS MUBI UK
REVIEWS AT LITTLE WHITE LIES, VODZILLA
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sistersmubi.jpg

Brian De Palma's Sisters was added to MUBI UK a few days ago. Little White Lies' Tom Williams posted a review on Monday-- here's an excerpt:
What elevates Sisters above a standard Hitchcock rip-off, and makes it authentically De Palma, is its typically unsubtle and scathing social critique. Latching on to the disillusionment of late-1960s America amid the broadcasting of the Vietnam War, he makes his concerns about morbid fascination apparent. By framing the game show scene as a television studio set, De Palma positions us as the live audience, making it impossible to ignore his on-the-nose satire.

As evidenced in this scene, the act of looking is central to the plot of Sisters and is unavoidable as a by-product of its Psycho-meet-Rear Window narrative. Crucially, budding investigative journalist Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) is introduced as the lead character through a voyeuristic episode: the viewing of Woode’s murder at the hands of psychologically unhinged Dominique, Danielle’s since-separated Siamese twin and ulterior personality.

After a frenzy of blood and Bernard Herrmann’s screeching score, Collier’s identity as Danielle’s distant neighbour, and witness, is revealed via a tantalising zoom out. De Palma uses his notorious split-screening to show this ordeal unfolding from both apartments simultaneously, suggesting that no one is immune to being spied on in this twisting, slasher escapade.

This begins the reporter’s story of female crisis as distrust haunts her at every turn: whether it’s the police, her own mother, or a private investigator she hires. De Palma makes this disbelief as frustrating to watch as possible, to both point at a repressive patriarchy and indicate the dangers of her invasive, suspense-fuelled investigation.

He achieves this by frequently positioning the audience as voyeurs of the story rather than being immersed in one character’s perspective: effectively punishing them for peeping too. One excruciating split screen sequence shows Grace’s fracas with the police side-by-side with Danielle’s ex-husband Emil (regular De Palma collaborator William Finley) hurriedly covering up the murder and hiding the body in a sofa bed.

Collier’s persistence heightens upon viewing a Breton Twins exposé, reminiscent of the exploitative real-life documentaries that fed perverse curiosity in the sixties. Her own morbid fascination leads her into captivity under Emil and she is forced to witness the journey of the twins whilst sedated in a harrowing dream sequence.

This is where De Palma really flexes his directorial muscle, physically launching Collier into the perspective of Dominique through her own pupil, which transitions to become a peep hole into the twin’s nightmarish history. Switching from 35mm to 16mm, colour also ceases to exist as she witnesses life on the other side of the lens, including the invasive recording of the documentary and the neurotic behaviour of the general public.

Such an explosive crescendo rounds up what De Palma was saying all along: our voyeuristic tendencies are unhealthy, perverse, and ultimately dangerous. The final shot and the last act of looking is one of obsession and zero resolution. Through binoculars, the private investigator observes the sofa bed intrinsic to the murder. No one is coming for it and the case is dead in the water. Still, he watches on.


Meanwhile, Vodzilla reshared Anton Bitel's review of Sisters from this past January:
Sisters opens with a double-bluff. First, as the credits roll to the instantly recognisable dramatic strains of a Bernard Herrmann score, we see up-close stills (courtesy of Lennart Nilsson) of a foetus developing in utero, before it is revealed that there is a second foetus hidden behind the first. Next, in the opening scene, ad man Phillip Woode (Lisle Wilson) is shown in a changing room watching as a blind woman enters and starts undressing – only for it to be revealed that this is a sting operation, with Phillip’s moves and moral choices being filmed by hidden cameras for a television show called Peeping Toms. By turning away, Phillip passes the test of chivalry, and is rewarded with dinner for two at Manhattan’s nightspot. The ‘blind’ woman – in fact, a perfectly sighted Quebecoise model called Danielle (Margot Kidder) – puts herself forward to join Phillip at the club, and then invites him back to her apartment on Staten Island. The following morning, Phillip is murdered there, stabbed with a knife from the cutlery set that had been Danielle’s prize on the show.

These two openings, one short and one much longer, introduce what will prove key themes in Brian De Palma’s first thriller: twins (and other doubles), and voyeurism. It turns out that sweet Danielle is a Siamese twin, surgically separated from her more disturbed sister Dominique (also Kidder) as an adult, and still bearing scars (both physical and psychological) from that traumatic rupture. Linked by their otherness – he is African-American, she is French-Canadian – Phillip and Danielle are brought together by a television show devoted to wandering eyes, and as they spend the night and morning together, they are still being observed – by Danielle’s ex-husband, Emil Breton (William Finley), who possessively stalks the model, by Dominique, who lingers jealously in the next room, and by budding journalist Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt), who lives in an apartment opposite and is partial eyewitness to Phillip’s murder. Even the newspaper for which Collier currently works is called the Staten Island Panorama – that last word signifying the full view of the film’s plotting which, in the end, the audience can see even if the surviving characters remain blind.

It is no coincidence that Herrmann was hired to provide the score. For Sisters, like so many of De Palma’s subsequent films, pays homage to, even makes pastiche of, the thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock. Grace snooping from her apartment replays Rear Window (1954), while the killing and cover-up that unfold in Danielle’s apartment come with echoes of Rope (1948) and a gender-reversed Psycho (1960). If these allusions represent one kind of doubling, there are certainly others, from De Palma’s expert use of split screens to divide the film’s narrative perspective in two to the convergence of Danielle’s and Grace’s storylines until they become hypnotically conjoined. Sisters is a film of two halves, with Phillip’s murder and disappearance followed fast by Grace’s amateur sleuthing – in which she is paired with professional detective Joseph Larch (Charles Durning). Their two-pronged investigation will lead to some crazy places, and indeed to a place for the crazy, where one man’s gaslighting ways are made to coalesce with a psychiatrist’s clinical use of mesmerism, and two very different women will find themselves trapped in the same Shock Corridor.

Both Grace and Danielle are trapped. Grace may have high ambitions to pursue her career as an investigative reporter independent of any men, but voices around her, like the urgings of her mother (Mary Davenport) that she give up her “little job” and get married, keep driving her to conform to the prevailing, male-oriented system, while the policemen and Detective Larch broadly patronise and ignore her. In a different way, Danielle is even more trapped, still mentally conjoined to her now-separate sister as though she were a phantom limb, and caught in her ex’s abusive web of control. The two murders in the film are both presented as acts of revenge – one tragically misdirected – against patriarchy itself. Indeed, both begin with castrating slashes at the male groin, the seat of phallocentric power. Yet, by the end of the film, Grace has thoroughly internalised a male voice that undermines her own best interests – and prevents her from ever being able to publish her big journalistic scoop. For this is a film where sisters, and the sisterhood, are shown to fail in their bid for success or freedom, all thanks to a domineering, manipulative Svengali who gets into their heads and brainwashes them to meekness, madness and murder.

“There’s nothing simple about any of this,” complains perplexed police detective Kelly (Dolph Sweet) near the close of Sisters, unable to comprehend how or why the once determined and dogged Grace is now “just not quite herself” and insists that no crime has even been committed. Perhaps the reason is that the real criminal here, patriarchy, is able, not unlike Danielle’s twin, to continue exerting a malign influence long after it has been cut out of the scene. In any case, De Palma’s brassy, bonkers film will have you seeing double.


Posted by Geoff at 11:44 PM CDT
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Sunday, February 9, 2020
'SISTERS' PART OF 'NEW AMERICAN NIGHTMARE' AT TIFF
SEQUEL TO ROBIN WOOD-CURATED SERIES FROM 1979, AS GENRE RESURGES TODAY
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sisterssplitmirrorsmall.jpg

Brian De Palma's Sisters is included as part of "The New American Nightmare," a TIFF Cinematheque retrospective that began January 24th. Sisters will screen on Friday, February 21, with programmer Peter Kuplowsky providing an intro, as well as a Q&A after the film. The series takes the recent resurgence of the horror genre as an opportunity to revisit the Robin Wood-curated horror series, "The American Nightmare" from 1979, by looking at some of the films Wood had examined, and taking a similar approach to "provocative new explorations of the genre by Jordan Peele (Get Out), Ari Aster (Hereditary), and Robert Eggers (The VVitch)," according to the series description. Here's the programmer essay by Richard Lippe and Barry Keith Grant:
The period from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in 1960 through to the Reagan '80s constitutes a "golden age" of horror cinema, an era that saw the breakthrough work of directors whose notion of horror constituted a radical challenge to bourgeois society and a rejection of middle-class notions of normality. Films like George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Brian De Palma's Sisters, Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Larry Cohen's It's Alive were made and released during the turmoil of the Vietnam conflict and the Watergate scandal, and it is no coincidence that these and other horror films of the period contain some form of social and political critique.

Responding to this phenomenon, in 1979 Wayne Clarkson — who had recently been appointed executive director of the Festival of Festivals (later TIFF) — invited film critics Robin Wood and Richard Lippe to program a series of 60 horror films for the Festival's fourth edition. Opening with F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic Nosferatu and concluding with John Carpenter’s recently released Halloween, the programme featured onstage interviews with a number of the featured directors (including Carpenter, De Palma, Hooper, Romero, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, and Stephanie Rothman) and an accompanying book of essays. Although it had a small initial printing of only a few hundred copies, The American Nightmare: Essays on the Horror Film was a pioneering work that set the terms for critical study of the horror genre for decades to follow.

Ironically, following the publication of this landmark study the horror genre began to experience a period of exhaustion. Making once-fresh innovations stale by repeating them ad nauseam, the largely unimaginative and conservative movies that emerged in the 1980s effectively removed the radical frisson from horror, draining it of social criticism and turning their characters into mere targets for whatever weapon the respective killer happened to be wielding. That drought persisted for a long time: even as many of the foundational films of the genre's great period were remade (sometimes repeatedly), it is hard to think of many horror films from the last few decades that approach the allegorical resonance of Romero's remarkable zombie movies, the greatest film series in the history of American cinema.

In the last few years, however, horror has entered another period of revival and experimentation, as a new generation of filmmakers — including Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, and Robert Eggers — has mobilized the genre's basic conflict between normality and the monstrous Other in distinctive and provocative ways. It thus seemed to us appropriate to revisit one of TIFF's pioneering programmes now, as the horror genre is once again becoming a vehicle for progressive awareness in a mainstream cinema that, for the most part, continues to pretend that ideology and entertainment are two distinct entities.


The event page has a programmer's description of Sisters:
ARCHIVAL PRINT!

The first of Brian De Palma's Hitchcock homages conceals a more serious, and ultimately more truly horrific, layer beneath its jocular salute to the Master. From the opening of the film, De Palma invokes familiar Hitchcock themes from foundational works like Rear Window and Psycho (voyeurism, normality vs. the monstrous, etc.) in tongue-in-cheek ways, as a one-night stand between French-Canadian model Danielle (Margot Kidder) and a fellow contestant on a voyeurism-based game show called Peeping Toms ends in morning-after murder — an early-act killing that invokes Psycho's shower murder, but is considerably more brutal and explicit. Our identification then shifts to Grace (Jennifer Salt), an intrepid but occasionally overzealous reporter who witnesses the killing and tries to get to the bottom of the subsequent cover-up. Her quest leads her to a delirious, narcotically stimulated hallucination in a sinister medical clinic, where she relives a traumatic incident from Danielle's past at the hands of a creepy surgeon (William Finley). Abandoning Hitchcock and radically shifting tone in its final movements, Sisters finds its horror not in the masterful manipulation of audience expectations, but in patriarchy's pervasive control over women.

Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Monday, February 10, 2020 12:45 AM CST
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Sunday, October 6, 2019
FEMINIST FRIGHT FEST TO ANALYZE 'SISTERS' WEDNESDAY
EMILY TAYLOR CENTER FOR WOMEN & GENDER EQUITY EVENT, 7PM IN LAWRENCE, KANSAS
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sisterspairssmall.jpg

The Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity will screen Brian De Palma's Sisters at 7pm this Wednesday, October 9th, as part of its weekly Feminist Fright Fest. The screening, which will take place at the Lawrence Public Library (in Lawrence, Kansas), will be "followed by a critical feminist analysis and discussion of the film’s representation of gender, race, class, sexuality, and dis/ability," according to the organization's Instagram post.

Posted by Geoff at 11:07 PM CDT
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Tuesday, August 20, 2019
TARANTINO ON HERRMANN'S SISTERS SOUNDTRACK
ONE OF THE 10 FAVORITE RECORDS HE CHOSE FOR MELODY MAKER INTERVIEW, CIRCA 1994
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sisterssoundtrackcrop.jpg

"Seeing Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood the other night," Michael Bonner writes at Uncut, "reminded me to dust down this interview I did with the director many moons ago. It first ran in Melody Maker -I’m guessing it was done around the time of Pulp Fiction, so 1994 – and then again in the first issue of Uncut."

In the interview, Tarantino chooses his ten favorite records, and includes Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack score for Brian De Palma's Sisters:

“This is from a Brian De Palma movie. It’s a pretty scary film, and the soundtrack… ok if you want to freak yourself out, turn out all the lights and sit in the middle of the room and listen to this. You won’t last a minute. When I’m first thinking about a movie I’ll start looking for songs that reflect the personality of the movie, I’ll start looking for songs which can reflect the personality of the movie. The record I think most about is the one which plays during the opening credits, because that’s the one which sets the tone of the movie. Like in Reservoir Dogs, when you see the guys all walking out of the diner, and that bass line from ‘Little Green Bag’ kicks in – you just know there’s gonna be trouble.”

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, August 21, 2019 12:07 AM CDT
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Saturday, March 2, 2019
BEATRICE LOAYZA ON DOUBLES IN 'SISTERS', OTHERS
AT BLOODY DISGUSTING - "THE TERROR OF SEEING YOURSELF IN AN OTHER"
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sisterspairssmall.jpg

"Look-alikes, doubles, or doppelgangers are a common trope in horror," Beatrice Loayza writes in an article posted yesterday at Bloody Disgusting. "There’s the Jekyll and Hyde dichotomy, that pits an evil side against a good one, and there’s the appearance of an imposter that threatens to replace by force. In any case, a double implies a tension, and therefore a struggle between two forces that must either find a way to live in harmony or recede, while one side reigns dominant. Decades of excellent horror films have kept the tool fresh, reinventing and adjusting the eerie encounter of the duplicate to resonate with the times — suffice it to say, we’re really excited about what Jordan Peele has up his sleeve.

"To celebrate the upcoming release of Peele’s Us," Loayza continues, "we thought it’d be timely to look back at some of the most iconic uses of doubles in horror, and how the visual and narrative tool is used to convey psychological distress, societal tension, generational anxiety, and the ol’ crippling fear of death."

Along with films such as David Lynch's Lost Highway, Bryan ForbesThe Stepford Wives, David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, and Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, Brian De Palma's Sisters is included:

If the patent on doppelgangers could go to only one filmmaker, Brian DePalma might very well have the strongest claim. With a filmography bursting with body doubles, the iconic director has proven he has quite the obsession with dueling manifestations of replicated bodies (see what I did there?). But if I had to pick one representative, the sash would go to DePalma’s phantasmagorical riff on Hitchcock– Sisters. Starring Margot Kidder as both halves of a pair of formerly conjoined twins, this tightly executed slasher has Danielle, the normal or “good” twin, wrestling with the deranged demands of “evil” twin, Dominique — all captured with the disorienting pizzaz of DePalma’s split-screen compositions. A voyeuristic glean activates this 1973 classic with erotic energy and a touch of humor, a tension that moves us forward as we get to the bottom of just how interdependent and fucked up these sisters really are.

Posted by Geoff at 11:29 PM CST
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Monday, January 7, 2019
'SISTERS' RESTORATION MAKING THEATER ROUNDS
JENNA STOEBER - SISTERS "DELIVERS WEIRDNESS IN A WAY MODERN MOVIES DON'T"
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sisterstexastheatreposter2.jpg"The movie might not get many midnight showings," Polygon's Jenna Stoeber stated about Brian De Palma's Sisters last month, "but it’s still a cult classic." Well, here we are just a month later, into the new year, and Sisters is in the middle of a two-screening run at The Texas Theatre, and also played tonight at The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA. Last month, Stoeber's article caught the attention of Joyce Carol Oates, who tweeted the headline and link: "Brian De Palma’s Sisters delivers weirdness in a way modern movies don’t."

"Watching Sisters," Stoeber's article begins, "Brian De Palma’s 1973 psychological horror film, is like meeting your best friend’s parents for the first time and suddenly understanding something about your friend that couldn’t have known otherwise — where they came from, and how far they’ve come. A relatively early entry in De Palma’s long and storied career, Sisters features plenty of the style he would become known for, with eyes firmly on Alfred Hitchcock."

After some plot description, Stoeber continues:

Sisters features de Palma at his most Hitchcockian. It’s full of homages, with cheeky nods to the repercussions of voyeurism and the instability of sanity. It even features a piercing score by frequent Hitchcock-composer Bernard Herrmann.

But more than that, the technical skill inherited from Hitchcock can be seen in de Palma’s ability to make even mundane events sinister and captivating. Before the stabbing, when Danielle and Phillip are getting frisky on the couch, we get a careful zoom-in on the wide mound of scar tissue down her hip. A low-angle tracking shot follows Phillip as he brings in a birthday cake — and a knife to cut it with. It brings to mind shots of the house looming over Bates Motel, or Norman Bates surrounded by taxidermied birds. The anticipation of violence heightens the tension long before the knife flashes.

From start to finish, Sisters is weird, but it rarely feels like it’s just for the sake of being weird. Some of the plotting might feel familiar to modern audiences; the idea that one conjoined twin is evil and the other good is borderline cliché at this point. But the story is infused with so many off-kilter details that even when you know what’s going to happen, you can never predict how you’ll get there.

In the scene in which the police investigate of the apartment, you imagine that Danielle is going to charm her way out of the situation. Collier discovers the birthday cake bearing two names, proof Danielle lied about being in the place alone and for a moment it seems like she’s going to be caught. But in her haste to present it to the police, she fumbles and drops it directly on the detective’s shoes.

It’s a shockingly funny moment, and it’s the sort of strong tonal shift that most modern thrillers or horror movies don’t dare attempt. Sisters has a lot of diversions that are almost slap-stick, and it can afford to because de Palma is so deft at creating tension. Even in this early stage in his career, he breaks the mood knowing he can rebuild it later, more than practically any other director, including his contemporary peers or Hitchcock himself.

In an interview published as part of the new Criterion Collection edition, de Palma explains that he was emulating Hitchcock “in order to work out my own problems as a storyteller.” Since then, he’s directed a startling number of movies that have indelibly changed American culture, like Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables, and Mission: Impossible. As far as exercises in self-improvement go, I’d say Sisters is a remarkable success.


Posted by Geoff at 11:12 PM CST
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Sunday, November 4, 2018
'SISTERS' LINKS - REVIEWS OF NEW CRITERION EDITION
PETER SOBCZYNSKI, SLANT, TRAILERS FROM HELL


Several essays and reviews of Brian De Palma's Sisters were posted this past week, as Criterion released its new director-approved edition on Blu-ray and DVD:

Glenn Erickson, Trailers From Hell

The nigh-perfect score is by Bernard Herrmann, who was probably the biggest item in producer Pressman’s budget. Sisters launches with a gripping title sequence consisting of a progression of macro-photographed fetuses set to Herrman’s crashing horns and screaming Moog synthesizers. One could put that music to pictures of baby kittens, and we’d know they were Kittens from Hell. Herrmann’s prestige keeps the Roe-vs-Wade baby monsters from becoming exploitative: the disturbing opening makes the neutral one-word title instantly sinister. We’re prepared for anything.

Out here in Los Angeles, Sisters ‘premiered’ in November 1972’s Los Angeles Film Exposition (FILMEX), and was acquired one month later by American International. I saw parts of it at FILMEX while working as an usher (talk about immediately recognizing music by a specific composer!) and later saw a preview screening in Westwood. Some of the filmmakers were in the lobby afterwards, and I almost walked into a wall when I caught sight of Margot Kidder, who was losing no opportunity for self-promotion.

Variety reviews could usually be relied upon to point out fresh creativity, even in exploitation films. For this show they weren’t as enthusiastic, noting the gory details but minimizing Sisters’ appeal as an ‘okay shocker for the action market.’ The reviewer rather grudgingly noted the filmic references to The Master of Suspense, adding that the ‘Hitchcock-style music’ smooths over the film’s rough edges.

I can’t imagine a 1973 film student not being energized by De Palma’s movie — many of us were in film school because we were inspired by reading about Alfred Hitchcock. As a card-carrying Hitchcock- obsessed film student, I went home and scribbled down a list of Hitchcock allusions, plot points, themes, shots, setups, etc. The only previous movie that I’m aware was consciously constructed of Hitchcock homage material is Riccardo Freda’s L’orribile Segreto del Dr. Hichcock (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock). It wasn’t until much later that I realized Sisters was also a veritable travelogue of witty references to classic horror films that I hadn’t yet seen: Peeping Tom, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, etc.

Here’s the rundown of what I once rudely called ‘Hitchcock Rip-Offs.’
They’re Big Spoilers, so see the film first if you have an analytical memory:

Rear Window: A murder seen by an ‘amateur’ is doubted by a police professional. Actions are observed and investigated with binoculars between apartment buildings. Durning’s detective Durning waves, ‘ain’t found nothin’ yet’ from afar.

Psycho: The major prop introduction of the butcher knives. The unexpected knife killing of a likeable character in whom we’ve invested our emotions. The murder clean-up shown in detail. A private detective that disappears from the film mid-case. The revelation that ‘Dominique died on the operating table’ (= ‘Who’s that buried up in Greenlawn Cemetary?’). Various subjective/objective walks, especially the walk leading to the mystery asylum. A trucking-zoom into the pupil of an eye. The psychiatrist blurting out essential exposition for uncomprehending audiences. Kidder’s double identity and the entire Norman Bates personality transference theme. ‘Special guest transferences’: one between psycho killer and psychiatrist, and another between killer and investigator.

Spellbound: The Dali-like dream nightmare (granted, in style it is more akin to a Fellini nightmare).

Suspicion: Philip’s walk with the cake mirrors the walk with the poisoned milk.

The Birds: The pastry clerks (including Olympia Dukakis!) argue behind the counter, just like the hardware proprietor in Bodega Bay. The ‘huh’ ending features an innocuous-sinister exterior landscape with telephone poles.

Lots of Hitch films: Grace’s troublesome Mother, arguing with the cops (calling the police always leads nowhere).

Yes, the ‘borrowed’ situations do stack up. But this is not a lifeless copycat movie. De Palma mounts several inspired set piece sequences that are wholly his own, not merely witty or clever. The Life Magazine newsreel story on the twins provides very effective exposition. But Sisters is best remembered for two killer scenes, the asylum nightmare and the split screen murder.

Enthusiastically received and much discussed was De Palma’s split-screen experiment during and after the opening murder sequence. Hitchcock never tried a split-screen sequence. He had tried many gimmicks in his long career — claustrophobic staging, ultra-long takes, subjective flashbacks, 3-D. But by the time the multiscreen movie at the 1966 World’s Fair made big news, Hitchcock was no longer tinkering with such experimentation. At the time we thought De Palma had been inspired by Richard Fleischer’s 1968 The Boston Strangler, but De Palma’s own Murder à la Mod, released first, uses the technique as well; it also featured actor William Finley.

As was also seen in parts of the Fleischer film, De Palma’s split-screen replaces standard parallel cutting: he simultaneously shows both halves of actions that would normally be intercut one with another. The suspense of the murderers cleaning away traces of the crime while investigators dawdle only a few feet away is very effective. Audiences I saw Sisters with applauded the double-vision synchronous hide ‘n seek game near the elevators.

Grace’s witnessing of the actual murder is equally effective, but brings up a glaring inconsistency, a big Hitchcock no-no cheat. Grace is shown calmly walking to her window perhaps thirty seconds after the actual murder takes place. Seeing a bloody hand writing ‘help’ on a window, she recoils in alarm, indicating that she was unaware of any problem before. And what can she (we) see? She can barely tell that the man is black. The rest of her view, which we see on one half of the split screen, is obstructed by the reflection of a brick wall on the glass. Yet Grace tells the cops she witnessed a murder, knows it was a stabbing, even describes the assailant, who never came anywhere near the window to be identified. It’s a very cute confusion – on first viewing the murder is so shocking and the events so riveting that Savant just took Grace at her word. Maybe it’s another Hitchcock reference — to the ‘lying flashback’ in Stage Fright.

Brian De Palma’s second bravura sequence is the B&W nightmare, an almost perfect horror vision visually unlike anything in Hitchcock. Assembled as a master tracking shot through a fantastic horror scene, it’s stylistically more akin to Federico Fellini. It also has a purpose, to impress on Grace’s mind a traumatic false reality, ‘Manchurian Candidate-style.’ The zoom into the eye of the drugged Grace was probably inspired by Repulsion; it also has the ‘diamond bullet to the brain’ effect of 2001. Inside the mind’s eye is a convincingly warped B&W Dali-scape of elements and characters we’ve seen earlier on, plus a menagerie of grotesques.

Our ability to take the scene literally vanishes as we recognize people that ‘don’t belong’: Grace’s mother and the famous journalist (Barnard Hughes) are among the creepy inhabitants of this asylum. The fisheye nightmare is too theatrical to be one of Polanski’s quietly disturbing dreams in Rosemary’s Baby, and is much more ‘felt’ than the remote creepshows in Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf. Of course, the spectacle is greatly enhanced by Bernard Herrmann sledgehammer music scoring. When Charles Durning is suddenly revealed holding a meatcleaver, the irrational reigns supreme. It’s the director’s doing: nothing in De Palma’s later horrors matches this moment.


Chuck Bowen, Slant

Though Brian De Palma had directed several accomplished features before it, Sisters feels in many ways like a debut film. It’s certainly De Palma’s first attempt to marry the edgy satirical textures of his earlier work with a recognizable genre narrative. Or, more bluntly, Sisters is De Palma’s first horror thriller, which is the genre that has allowed him to express himself fully. Like many debut films, Sisters is self-conscious and intellectually guarded, lacking the emotional vibrancy of its creator’s future productions, but it’s also a stunning work of style that erupts into ferocious madness.

Sisters opens on what was already then a classically auto-critical kind of De Palma joke. A blind woman, Danielle (Margot Kidder), strolls into a dressing room where a man, Phillip Woode (Lisle Wilson), is changing. Unaware that anyone else is in the room, Danielle begins to disrobe. Until this point, the sequence plays as a perfectly conventional opening for a thriller, or maybe a comedy, until it’s revealed to be part of a Candid Camera-style show within the film called Peeping Toms, with Phillip as the mark. Danielle isn’t blind and works for the show, which follows contestants as they bet on whether Phillip will watch her undress, turn his head, or alert her to his presence. A polite man, Phillip turns his head, causing the contestants to lose points.

Most obviously, this scene functions as one of De Palma’s references to Alfred Hitchcock, acknowledging the voyeuristic functions, and interrogations, of much of the latter’s filmography. And the title of the game show within the film references Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, which was also concerned with the dehumanizing qualities of media. These references are clever, relatively easy to parse, and safe—representing the sort of violations of a viewer’s trust that ironically broker an audience’s greater complicity in the post-Psycho age, as such rug-pulling encourages us to gleefully anticipate the next trick.

Yet De Palma laces all this potentially smug cleverness with an uncomfortable detail that echoes the social satire of the “Be Black, Baby” sequence from Hi Mom!, and that reveals a major element of his own distinctive voice: his scalding humor and distrust of conventional surfaces. Phillip is African-American, and the game show’s audience and contestants are all white. Which is to say that we’re watching a scene in which white people try to lure a black man into sexually harassing a white woman for their own amusement.

Phillip weathers this offense the way people of color have been conditioned to, with a resigned restraint that’s intended to prevent further accosting. De Palma dramatizes the racial savagery of the game show with an off-handedness that’s amusing and disturbing. In case we miss the point, Phillip is given two tickets to a restaurant called The Africa Room for being a good sport, and Danielle is given a set of knives. These prizes epitomize De Palma’s brutal cleverness, as each play a role in Phillip’s destruction.

This racial satire continues to inform Sisters even as the film morphs into a delirious fusion of Psycho, Rear Window, and Rope that retrospectively suggests a test run for Dressed to Kill. Phillip is this film’s Marion Crane, a subjugated person, initially assumed to be the protagonist, who must die so as to satisfy the whims of a white establishment that’s spinning out of control. De Palma plays with our awareness of Hitchcock’s films, deriving suspense not from the pulling of the narrative rug but from the timing of the pulling.

Phillip has sex with Danielle, who’s being stalked by her ex-husband, Emile (William Finley). Phillip overhears Danielle arguing with her twin sister, the pointedly unseen Dominique, who’s enraged that Danielle has a man over at the apartment. Then, Phillip goes to sleep and gets up and buys the sisters a birthday cake—a poignantly thoughtful gesture that seals his doom. Though we empathize with the character, we’re conditioned to become impatient for Phillip’s death so that we may begin to recover from it.

Dying a death as painful and lonely as the one that Marion Crane suffered before him in Psycho, Phillip crawls across the floor of Danielle’s apartment—his blood perversely echoing the color and texture of the icing on the birthday cake—and hands the film’s narrative baton off to Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt). Grace sees Phillip’s hand pressed against Danielle’s window from the neighboring angle of her own apartment and calls the police, whom she’s often criticized in her liberal-minded journalism. And the indifference of the police to Grace’s sensational story of a potential hate crime is visually expressed by one of the greatest split-screen sequences in De Palma’s career: two simultaneous nine-minute shots that contrast Emil’s efforts to conceal the murder with Grace’s efforts to expose it. In an astonishing flourish, we see Grace and Emil just miss each other in a blood-red hallway, suggesting desperate mice in an elaborate labyrinth. And this struggle, to become aware of social atrocity and to expose it, is capped off at the end of Sisters with a galvanizing punchline: Grace, the film’s social crusader, is willed into amnesia.

In prolonged bits and pieces, Sisters shows De Palma to be on the cusp of achieving the mastery that he would display in full by the early 1980s. What the film lacks is the seemingly intuitive sense of emotional escalation that sustains Dressed to Kill and Blow Out, which are so fluid that they almost feel as if they’re composed of a single, breathless shot. Though it climaxes with a mind-fucking in an insane asylum that’s classic in its own right, Sisters is also freighted with tongue-in-cheek exposition that occasionally stops it dead in its tracks, putting unnecessary quotation marks on a grimy, starkly sophisticated fusion of social satire and body horror.


Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com

Even though “Sisters” was De Palma’s first full-out attempt at the suspense genre, one would never be able to discern that thanks to the sheer filmmaking skill that he demonstrates here. After lulling viewers into a state of complacency during the long opening sequence, De Palma begins turning the screws on them with his ability to generate tension thanks to his detailed visual approach. The scene in which Grace’s argument with the cops is juxtaposed with Emil and Danielle trying to clean up Dominique’s mess before anyone else arrives is a virtual master class in filmmaking all by itself in the way that it effortlessly supplies a wealth of information regarding the relationship of Emil and Danielle and the mutual antipathy between Grace and the cops while simultaneously generating equal levels of tension on both fronts. It is a bravura moment that still stands as one of the greatest set pieces in De Palma’s filmography and while nothing else in the film can quite match it, a darker and moodier feel begins to dominate the proceedings—aided in no small part by the spectacularly moody score by the legendary Bernard Herrmann—and the nightmarish final sequence in the asylum, featuring key flashbacks shot in 16mm by De Palma in a manner designed to resemble “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), is a knockout.

One aspect of “Sisters” that makes it a pure product of De Palma is in the usage of voyeurism, a theme that the director would return to time and again throughout his career. In this film, everyone is watching each other, it seems, but from skewed perspectives that prevent them from actually seeing what is right before their eyes. The game show where both Philip and the audience are seeing two different things that are not quite as they seem. Philip sees Emil but can only look at him as a jealous ex-lover of Danielle’s and not as a potential warning sign. Grace witnesses the murder but cannot actually prove anything that she saw and when she does find proof, her inability to watch where she is going ends up destroying it. It is only at the end of the film that people like Grace and Larch are able to see the truth head-on but due to circumstances, neither one is able to communicate the truths that they have seen to anyone, a notion that is perfectly articulated in the haunting shot that brings the story to a close on a deeply ambiguous note.

Even De Palma’s most devoted fans will admit that narrative logic and structure is not always of interest to him and that some of his stories do not exactly stand up to rigorous analysis when all is said and done. Therefore, watching “Sisters” proves to be a bit of a shock because the screenplay that he and Rose have conjured up is actually pretty strong and sound in the way that it provides a sturdy dramatic structure for him to build upon with his weirdo humor and elaborately designed suspense sequences. The opening 20 minutes or so are interesting in the sense that nothing really happens—none of the sex or violence that viewers might be expecting—but the characters of Danielle and Philip are so likable and engaging that it is easy to get lulled into a false sense of complacency that only makes Philip’s murder at the hands of Dominique all the more horrifying. (By employing this kind of slow burn opening, De Palma is utilizing the same approach that he would later deploy in his original version of “Raising Cain” (1992) before restructuring it into the eventual theatrical version.) With all of that going on, he manages to deftly introduce another winning and appealing character in Grace, a contemporary version of the kind of hard-driving crusading female journalist that Glenda Farrell used to play back in the day—the kind who is all about the work and becomes exasperated when her mother (Mary Davenport, Jennifer Salt’s real-life mother) keeps noodging her about when she is going to give up her hobby and finally settle down and get married. As the story progresses, things become increasingly strange and outlandish but De Palma never departs from the logic that he has established early on and indeed, one of the pleasures of watching the film again, once the surprises have been revealed, is to observe just how intricately the elements come together.


Posted by Geoff at 10:36 PM CDT
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Monday, October 29, 2018
JENNIFER SALT DISCUSSES DE PALMA IN CRITERION CLIP
"HE PICKED PEOPLE HE ENJOYED WORKING WITH, AND KIND OF LET THEM GO THEIR WAY"
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sisterssetjenniferbriansmall.jpg

Earlier today, Criterion posted a video clip from a new interview with Jennifer Salt. The full interview is one of the extra features on Criterion's new edition of Sisters, released last week. In the clip, Salt describes Brian De Palma on the set:
So, on the set, when we were shooting, Brian was... kind of grumpy-- didn't love being on a set, didn't like being asked all these questions, didn't like the amount of time that everything took. He was impatient. He didn't like sitting around. So, he was never in the best of humor, and so he wasn't like somebody who said let's talk about this and let's rehearse it and let's go deeper. He never said anything like that. He just would say, "A little more of this," or some-- you know, it was minimal, what he was giving us, in terms of direction. He picked people he enjoyed working with, and kind of let them go their way and, you know, hope that they would do their thing. And it was easy to do that, because you were getting so much respect from him. You know, I found it very easy. I was never nervous on the set, or, I just, like I said, I just wanted to make him laugh.

Posted by Geoff at 9:50 PM CDT
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Wednesday, October 24, 2018
'SISTERS' - CARRIE RICKEY'S CRITERION ESSAY
A KEY THEME - "LOOKING IS NOT SYNONYMOUS WITH TRULY SEEING"
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/criterionsisterstweet.jpg

Carrie Rickey's essay for the new Criterion edition of Brian De Palma's Sisters (released yesterday) has been posted on the Criterion website. Here's how it starts:
In 1973, the arrival of Sisters, the first film by Brian De Palma that is recognizably his, almost concurrently with the release of Frenzy, the penultimate feature by Alfred Hitchcock, incited heretical talk among cinephiles. Many argued that the former was superior to—and, curiously, more Hitchcockian than—the latter. At the time, I thought those movie geeks were being provocative and/or blasphemous. With distance, I’ve come around to their way of thinking. That U-turn was, for me, a first brush with George Bernard Shaw’s insight that all truths begin as blasphemies.

Posted by Geoff at 7:57 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2018 8:01 AM CDT
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