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Thursday, June 9, 2016
Last week, as the Brian De Palma retrospective was beginning at The Metrograph, The New York Times' Stephen Holden took a moment to appreciate De Palma's "underappreciated" Obsession, which he calls a high point of the De Palma series. "As history begins to repeat itself," states Holden, "the film, based on an original script by Paul Schrader, takes extremely emotional hairpin turns that Hitchcock would never have dreamed of. A surging Wagnerian score by Bernard Herrmann, the composer for Vertigo, is the luscious icing on the cake."

Posted by Geoff at 10:49 PM CDT
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Wednesday, March 16, 2016
In honor of the new movie Midnight Special, which apparently pays heartfelt homage to the films of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, A.V. Club's "Watch This" column is "recommending excellent homages to other films and filmmakers" this week. In today's post, Noel Murray looks at Obsession, Brian De Palma and Paul Schrader's direct homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.

"Obsession is both crazy and quasi-relevant," states Murray, "as well as being the most boldly Hitchcock-derived movie in De Palma’s filmography. (Body Double is a close second, with Dressed To Kill lurking just behind.) Screenwriter Paul Schrader patterned the story directly after Vertigo, a movie that circa 1976 was out of circulation, and had a mixed critical reputation. But Schrader and De Palma weren’t trying to fool anybody. They just both loved Vertigo, and rather than writing an essay for some film journal, they made a movie together that expressed what fascinated them about it."

And in his closing paragraph, Murray writes, "Obsession doesn’t exactly plumb any depths that Vertigo didn’t hit first, nor do its insights into one dangerously driven man differ much from what Hitchcock and screenwriters Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor had already done. But the movie’s extended, dialogue-free set pieces are mini-masterpieces of cinematic choreography. And the heightened luridness of Obsession does succeed in making Vertigo’s twisty plot seem all the more inessential to that film’s power. What both movies do is cut a tale of murder and madness down to its essence, exploring characters who’ve been damaged by social expectations and their own desires. The difference is that in Vertigo, James Stewart’s Scottie Ferguson is, deep down, probably a decent guy—while [Cliff] Robertson’s Michael is an empty suit, defined only by his wants. That’s the De Palma touch."

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, March 17, 2016 12:03 AM CDT
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Sunday, April 19, 2015
Brian De Palma's Obsession will screen from DCP this Saturday, April 25th, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as part of the BAMcinématek series, "The Vertigo Effect". The series, which began April 16th, and runs through April 30th, is co-curated by C. Mason Wells. "Christian Petzold’s remarkable new film, Phoenix, is the latest in a long line of movies influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo," reads the BAMcinématek description of the series. "Nearly six decades after its release, this towering 1958 masterpiece continues to tantalize filmmakers with its many potent themes: erotic obsession, identity, doubles, and the link between sex and death. BAMcinématek presents a series of rich, fascinating works in which Vertigo’s shadow looms large."

De Palma's film will screen two times April 25th, at 7pm, and 9:30pm, along with Les LeVeque's 9-minute long 4 Vertigo, in which "Hitchcock’s film is sped up, compressed, and jumbled into a nine-minute, kaleidoscopic hallucination," according to the BAMcinématek description. Of Obsession, the website states, "Nearly twenty years after his wife’s tragic death, a guilt-ridden man (Robertson) meets her exact lookalike (Bujold)—cue obsessive makeover and intricate series of double crosses. With a script by Paul Schrader, endlessly swirling camerawork, and a deliriously romantic score by Vertigo composer Bernard Herrmann, De Palma’s florid tribute to Hitchcock creates a spellbinding mood all its own."

Other films in the series include Larry Cohen's Special Effects, Lucio Fulci's Perversion Story, Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys, Mel Brooks' High Anxiety, and Chris Marker's La Jetée, among several others.

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, April 20, 2015 12:22 AM CDT
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Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Brian De Palma's Obsession will screen this Friday, February 6th, at New York City's Rubin Museum Of Art. The screening, which begins at 9:30pm, is part of a Friday night series called Cabaret Cinema, "Where Movies and Martinis Mix." The films chosen explore "themes featured in the museum's galleries," according to the Cabaret Cinema page. "Each film is introduced by a notable guest to provide context."

For Obsession, the notable guest is neuroscientist Stephen Macknik, co-author of the book Sleights Of Mind. The description at the book's website states that Macknik and co-author Susana Martinez-Conde are "founders of the exciting new discipline of NeuroMagic — and also members of the Magic Castle, Magic Circle, International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the Society of American Magicians," and that they "have convinced some of the world’s greatest magicians to allow scientists to study their techniques for tricking the brain." So it all makes sense-- in Obsession, De Palma and Paul Schrader, inspired by Hitchcock, have created a masterful magic trick of the cinema.

The Rubin Museum's website includes an excerpt from Richard Schickel 1976 review of the film for TIME: "...Exquisite entertainment...The film also throws into high melodramatic relief certain recognizable human truths: the shock of sudden loss, the panic of the effort to recoup, the mourning and guilt that blind the protagonist to a multitude of suspicious signs as he seeks expiation and a chance to relive his life. In a sense, the movie offers viewers the opportunity to do the same thing—by going back to a more romantic era of the cinema and the simple, touching pleasures denied the audience by the current anti-romantic spirit of the movies."

Posted by Geoff at 5:52 PM CST
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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thanks to Randy for passing along the news that Music Box Records will release a newly remastered and expanded edition of Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack to Brian De Palma's Obsession. The set, limited to 3000 copies, will be released February 16th. Here is the press release posted at Film Score Monthly:
In collaboration with Litto Enterprises Inc., Music Box Records is very proud to present one of its most ambitious releases yet - a classic Bernard Herrmann score from one of his last efforts and an important milestone in his immense career for Brian De Palma´s classic melodrama Obsession (1976) written by Paul Schrader and starring Geneviève Bujold, Cliff Robertson and John Lithgow.

In a career often spent paying tribute to Alfred Hitchcock with the likes of Dressed to Kill, Blow Out and Body Double, Obsession even today stands as De Palma’s ultimate fever dream homage to the director who’d made Bernard Herrmann a household name as the romantic master of musical suspense during an eight film collaboration, no more so than with 1958s Vertigo. Yet Obsession’s reincarnation of that masterpiece showed just how devious De Palma always was in his admiration, cloaking a truly seditious plot twist that would’ve given even Hitchcock pause within sleek, star-filtered visuals.

Obsession remains his most fervently romantic, and dare one say innocent attempt to recreate the studio gloss of a time when outright violence and sex were left to the mind’s eye, its rage and sensuality truly made explicit in its music. It’s a powerful, stylistic subtlety that increasingly made Obsession into the filmmaker’s most discerning cult film.

When at last Herrmann returned to his grandly symphonic style for a movie with a major pedigree, 1976s Obsession resounded with more haunted passion than ever before. It was a much movie score as it was Herrmann’s own requiem for an uninhibited scoring style that had become a ghost of itself in Hollywood. He composed a stunning score, filled with powerful themes, ominously underlined by an organ, or a harp, sometimes with abrupt choral flourishes, in eerie evocations of a mystery. He again creates an unusual combination to underscore the drama: a large cathedral organ and tympani as primary musical signature characters, and a small choir of wordless and sighing female voices, horns, winds and strings. The score was nominated for an Oscar for 'Best Original Score' in 1977.

For this special archival edition 2-CD set, Music Box Records has gathered the best sources available to this day in order to present faithfully the original score written by the composer.

CD 1 presents “The Film Score'. With the precious technical assistance of our sound engineer, we did our best to reconstruct and restore the score from the 5.1 Music Stem (courtesy of Sony Pictures) and a safety copy of the original tapes. The result is stunningly convincing. As such, we kindly ask you to listen to our samples and make a decision on the quality yourself.

CD 2 presents 'The Original 1976 Soundtrack Album' (courtesy of Universal Music) that was edited from Herrmann’s sessions and was specially remastered for this edition. We also corrected the cue titles of the 1976 London Decca release which were misnamed and incomplete in tracks 4 and 5. Now you have the details of all the right cues used in the original LP.

Our release offers a rare opportunity to hear the magnificent romantic Herrmann score in two different presentations and preserves the composer’s own irreplaceable interpretation, bringing this marvelous music back to life just 40 years after it was written. This Deluxe Edition with slipcase is limited to 3000 units and includes a 24-page full-color booklet with in-depth liner notes by Daniel Schweiger, sharing his comments about the film and the score, including new interviews with editor Paul Hirsch and producer George Litto. Everyone will no doubt be 'obsessed' with this true original masterpiece!


Posted by Geoff at 6:49 PM CST
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Thursday, August 28, 2014

John Lithgow shares his reflections on seven of his films with The Hollywood Reporter's Tatiana Siegel. Moving chronologically, he begins with Brian De Palma's Obsession:

"I was of a different generation from Cliff Robertson, but we were playing best friends who age over 25 years. As a 25-year-old I had to play a 50-year-old, and as a 50-year-old he had to play a 75-year-old. He was very much of the movies and I was very much of the theater, so we sort of had to find common ground and that was a very odd experience, but you know we had Brian De Palma on our side. He was super, super prepared. He sort of tore a page out of the Alfred Hitchcock playbook. Everything was done in his mind and shooting a film was a necessary evil, because in his mind it was already done. The actors just had to deliver it. He spent a lot of time sitting in the director's chair just waiting for us to do our work."

Posted by Geoff at 10:34 PM CDT
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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Posted by Geoff at 6:27 PM CDT
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Friday, April 25, 2014

A 35mm color and scope print of Brian De Palma's Obsession will screen this Sunday (6:30pm April 27th) at the Cinematheque, at the Cleveland Institute of Art. The screening is part of the Cinematheque's Bernard Herrmann weekend, which began Thursday. Other films in the series include Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground, Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie, William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster, Nathan H. Juran's The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and Orson Welles' Citizen Kane.

Posted by Geoff at 1:37 AM CDT
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Thursday, November 28, 2013

A 2K restoration of Brian De Palma's Obsession will screen December 13 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California. The screening is part of a series exploring 2K and 4K restorations from Sony Pictures, which, according to Steve Seid on the BAM/PFA website, has been restoring films it acquired from Columbia Pictures. Some of the 4K retorations in the series (including Taxi Driver, Bonjour Tristesse, and Alamo Bay) will be introduced by archivist Grover Crisp, senior vice president of asset management, film restoration and digital mastering at Sony Pictures, according to Seid.

In the series description, Seid explains what will be discussed:


But first the facts: what we see in digitally equipped movie theaters is high-definition digital cinema. It’s termed 2K, meaning a picture standard that produces an image that is 1920 x 1080 pixels or just over two million bits of information. [*Editor's note-- see the comments below for James Curran's clarification of this description.] However, there is a standard beyond 2K that is used for scanning older films called 4K, which contains about eight million bits of screen info. This same 4K standard is used for film restoration because it allows for the manipulation of picture elements at a level far superior to its general exhibition format. Occasionally, as in this series, 4K is used as an exhibition format for special screenings.

Contemporary films originate on a digital platform, making digital cinema the native exhibition standard. A prickly issue arises when an older film, born photochemical, is transferred to digital for projection. Suddenly, the “film” finds itself occupying the screen in absolute stability, the subliminal flicker gone, the light values subtly altered, the contrast and depth redefined. Does this misrepresent the experience of film history? Perhaps. Or does it resurrect a history that might otherwise be lost to us? Again, perhaps.


Posted by Geoff at 12:26 AM CST
Updated: Monday, December 2, 2013 12:16 AM CST
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Sunday, August 11, 2013
Issue 90 of Cineaction, available now, carries the theme of authorship. To that end, David Greven has written a terrific essay about Brian De Palma's Obsession for the issue. Titled, "De Palma's Vertigo," Greven starts out by stating that he thinks Obsession "is one of De Palma's finest" films. Greven suggests that instead of playing down the ties to Hitchcock in De Palma's work, as is the tendency of De Palma's supporters, "we should do the opposite." Throughout the article, Greven notes echoes of Hitchcock in Obsession, from, obviously, Vertigo, but also from Rebecca, Notorious, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Psycho, Dial M For Murder, Suspicion, and Marnie.

Along the way, Greven makes some keen observations about Obsession, such as this one about Courtland:

"The ostensible hero of this film, Courtland is quite an ambivalently rendered character. While the movie sypathetically evokes his pain over the death of his wife and daughter, it also frequently invites us to regard him skeptically. He is a dark, brooding, disturbing figure, and De Palma's treatment of him is characteristic of the director's critical disposition towards American masculinity in his work generally. In my view, this is the most important political dimension of De Palma's work.

"A telling example of the film's detached position toward Courtland is the brilliant pure-cinema sequence in which he makes the drop-off of the fake ransom money, as a French-accented detective urges him to do, during the first kidnapping. Herrmann's score charges the entire sequence with grandiloquent portentousness. As he journeys on the ferry the 'Cotton Blossom' (which evokes images of the Old South), its huge red wheel churning in the water like the tragic gears of fate, Courtland, in dark sunglasses and dark suit, macabrely tapping his wedding-ringed finger on the black suitcase full of blank paper, seems more like the villain, a coldly impassive hired assassin on his way to a hit. If the sequence can be read as a critique of normative masculinity, an entirely incongruous but also richly symbolic detail reinforces this critique. A troupe of Boy Scouts scamper aboard the Cotton Blossom as it departs. We pull back to see, from a distance, the stoic, impassive, opaque image of Courtland standing on the deck as the Scouts board the ship. Later, after Courtland has hurled the suitcase on the wooden planks of the drop-off point, we see only the ghostly shadows of the Scouts. Here is the payoff of the Boy Scout motif, an eerie dream-image of boyhood and lost promise, suggesting that adult masculinity derives from a corruption of a former state of innocence. Even stranger is the shot of Courtland after he has dropped off the money, standing alone in a passageway, dark sunglasses and dark suit intensifying his dark-haired appearance, as the brown waters beneath the ferry churn. Discordantly, this shot further conveys the sense that he is a dubious, even frightening figure, far from the sympathetic male lead on the verge of losing everything."


In the final paragraphs, Greven discusses potential allegories that can be applied to the climax of Obsession, and suggests that De Palma's chief identification figure in the film is not Courtland, but Sandra/Amy. Greven argues that Courtland should be read "as an allegorical figure of the Hollywood machine, the movie producer and studio head figured as the dark, dubious specter of male power." He's the one who finally "comes up with the money." Hitchock, then, fittingly, aligns with the dead mother. According to Greven, "Hitchcock is... the figure of the dead mother whom Sandra [De Palma's identification figure] obsessively copies but also strives to surpass, of whom she attempts to become the new and desired and, most importantly of all, living version."

Posted by Geoff at 11:42 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:37 PM CDT
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