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Washington Post
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Exclusive Passion
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Brian De Palma
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Leila Rozario

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AV Club Review
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Tuesday, April 21, 2020
CAMERAMAN NICK MCLEAN ON 'OBSESSION' & 'FAMILY PLOT'
"THAT'S THE KIND OF STUFF THEY DON'T TEACH YOU IN FILM SCHOOL!"
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/obsessionskyline.jpg

Nick McLean, the cameraman who, early in his career, worked frequently with Vilmos Zsigmond, discusses his work on Brian De Palma's Obsession and Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot in a new book he has co-written with Wayne Byrne, Nick McLean Behind The Camera:
Obsession was one of those rare opportunities, it was a chance of shooting in Florence, Italy, and in New Orleans, plus it meant getting to work with Vilmos again. It starred Genevieve Bujold, who i was already friends with because I had dated her sister back in the old days; they looked very alike but her sister really had her head together, unlike Genevieve, who was a bit of a maniac back then.

Cliff Robertson was another really good actor who made that film a pleasure to work on. He used to have this really smart ritual before each scene in order to get an idea of how he was going to be lit: Once the lights were set up, he would take a mirror to his face and he would walk exactly where his character was due to walk during the scene, and he did this in order to get a reading on the kind of light we would be using. I've never seen anybody else do that. If he found out that something was overexposed or there was something he didn't like, he would have us get on it and change it. I remember another great actor on that film who was just starting out: John Lithgow. He has gone on to have an amazing career and was an absolute professional.

...

De Palma has a lot of interest in the framing of his films and he can be very meticulous when he's working out a scene with the camera department. We would have a lot of discussions with Brian talking about the look of the film and he would give a lot of input into the compositions; he is the kind of director who likes to know exactly what you are going to shoot. But despite all the planning and precision, there's always the risk of something going wrong, especially when you are away on location and you are working with foreign crews. As such, we were presented with various problems. There was one scene where we had an incredible natural light from the sunset and we were rushing to set up the equipment and capture the scene with this amazing light, but the Italian crew were taking their sweet time and just said, "Don't worry, the sun will go down again tomorrow." We were going crazy trying to get the camera ready to shoot but the Italians didn't care, but with Vilmos and De Palma working on it, we got it. Another scene we had some difficulty with was the church scene with Genevieve. We really wanted the interior of that church but couldn't get permission and kept trying different ways of going about getting it, and then on the last week of shooting in Florence this Catholic nun came in and said, "I will get it for you." We said, "What do you mean? We've tried everything!" and she replied, "For 100,000 lire I will get it for you." It turned out she was the bishop's mistress, so with the money and with the connection, she got us into that church. That's the kind of stuff they don't teach you in film school!

...

De Palma went on to have an amazing career. It's like when I worked with Spielberg, you don't know beforehand that these guys are going to turn out to be major directors. The way I chose a lot of these films is just based on whether I liked the people; if I got along good with them in those first couple of meetings, I'd do it. It just so happens that they end up becoming these huge figures in Hollywood. But there was one director that I did make a deliberate effort to work with and that was Alfred Hitchcock. A lot of people were saying De Palma was the new Hitchcock but I actually got to work with the original Master of Suspense on Family Plot [1976].

...

I was a pretty hot camera operator at the time, a lot of people liked my work and so I was in demand quite a bit. One day I got a phone call from Hitchcock's cinematographer, Lenny South, and he told me that they had fired their camera operator. Now this guy was a very good cameraman but something was getting lost in communication between Hitchcock, Lenny and this guy, so they had to let him go. Lenny asked me if I would come in and audition for Hitchcock, which is something you don't do, but for Hitchcock I said, "I'll be there in a flash!" So I went in the next day. We were up in the mountains and Hitchcock would stay back and watch us setting up from the front seat of his car, a Lincoln Continental. He wouldn't get out of the car so Lenny would go up to the car to speak to Hitchcock about the shots, the car window would be cracked just enough for them to converse with each other. So seeing as the first camera operator got fired because he wasn't listening to what Hitchcock was saying to Lenny, I would make sure to go along and listen in so I knew exactly what he wanted. Hitchcock was very precise and would tell you exactly where he wanted his frame lines: "Lenny, I would like a close-up with the top of the frame line here and bottom of the frame line here"-- that was the kind of thing that the original camera operator wasn't listening to and therefore wasn't framing his compositions to the exact instructions that Hitchcock wanted, which meant he didn't last too long on the film. But I did listen in on these conversations between Hitchcock and Lenny so i knew exactly what to get and he was very happy with that.

You had to dress well on a Hitchcock film. I'm not talking suit-and-tie kind of deals, but a nice coat and neat pants-- and here I come, a Levi's guy. But for Hitchcock, I dressed up and looked the part. So I'm on the set and I'm told about the scene that we're going to shoot, which is a car going down this winding road and off a cliff. I say, "Okay, that's fine, but where's the other cameras?" And I'm told, "You're it! Hitchcock hires the best, and here you are, so you better get it!" Now I'm thinking, "Jesus, what if I miss this shot?" Most directors would have ten cameras on a shot like that, but we had one and that was me. I hadn't spoken to Hitchcock all day, and I'm getting ready to shoot when I hear the shuffling of feet and a chair pulling up beside me and it's Hitchcock; he says into my ear, "I presume your machine is functioning properly." In other words, "You better not screw this up!" So we start rolling, the car goes off the cliff, and we get the shot ... perfect! So Hitchcock gets up and walks away, never says a thing to me, he didn't even look through the camera lens because he knew exactly whether you got the shot or not just from observing how you moved the camera. He trusted that I got the shot and then got up and walked back to his Lincoln Continental when it was done. He never said a word, he just got up and shuffled away. Hitchcock really was the Master of Suspense because, boy, was I sweating it!


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, April 22, 2020 7:03 PM CDT
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Saturday, January 4, 2020
PAUL SCHRADER RETRO IN PARIS INCLUDES 'OBSESSION'
SERIES RUNS JAN 8 - FEB 2 AT FORUM DES IMAGES, SCHRADER TO ATTEND
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/obsessionposterdream2.jpg

Forum des images in Paris will host a full-on Paul Schrader retrospective, "In the mind of Paul Schrader," January 8th through February 2nd. Schrader will be on hand for several of the screenings. The program includes films Schrader has directed, as well as films he has written for other directors, such as Brian De Palma's Obsession, screening January 15th (Schrader is not scheduled to attend that one). Also included are films that inspire Schrader, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, which screens on the 15th right after Obsession.

Schrader spoke by telephone to someone in Paris (the interview is credited to DRBYOS), and the conversation, posted today at ArchyW, includes an interesting exchange in which Schrader discusses how his films are in constant dialogue with other films. He also talks about meeting De Palma and Martin Scorsese:

Because of your Calvinist education, you saw your first film at 17 years old. Having lived a childhood without cinema, does it make you different from filmmakers of your generation, early film lovers like Scorsese, Spielberg or Lucas?

I too have been influenced by films that have influenced my cinema, but these are not films discovered in childhood. This is my big difference from the filmmakers you are quoting. I started directly by loving Antonioni, Truffaut, Godard, Resnais, Rossellini, Dreyer … And you never forget your first love. I have never been seduced by films about children or directed at children. What interests me is to make the public think, to treat them as adults.

After having been deprived of cinema for a long time, how did you become a movie buff?

It started with my discovery of Bergman when I was studying at Calvin College (Protestant private establishment located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, editor's note), because he was preoccupied with the same spiritual issues that we discussed in the seminary. From there, I got interested in European cinema of the 60s and I fell in love with it. Then I went to study cinema at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).

In 1972, you just wrote a book that combines spirituality and cinema, Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer.

I wrote this book because I realized that there was a connection between my spiritual past at Calvin College and my secular present at film school. But the idea of ​​the book is that this relation of cinema to the sacred is a question of style, not content.

Apart from the obvious influence of Pickpocket and Diary of a country priest by Robert Bresson, of whom you have written or produced several variations, you do not seem to be a filmmaker who refers a lot to cinema…

I do not see what allows you to say that. Have you seen First Reformed ? It’s a film that is constantly in dialogue with cinema: the protagonist is inspired by that of Diary of a country priest, the decor by Communicants, the end by Ordet, the levitation scene by Tarkovski… And in Strange Seduction, filmed in Venice, there is a plan directly inspired by Last year in Marienbad and another oneOrpheus. There are references like that in all my films, but they are not necessarily obvious.

You seem to have been very marked by Japan. There are many references to this culture in your films, and not only in Mishima. It also shows in your taste for simplicity and refinement.

It comes from the fact that I was raised in a very austere Calvinist environment. Our churches are made up of four white walls decorated only with a cross. When I rebelled, I went to a culture that was basically very close: I fled Calvinist austerity by falling in love with Japanese austerity! It is a very human psychic mechanism: we believe we are freeing ourselves from the limits in which our education has locked us, but we are only changing cage!

Your cinema is also very marked by religion.

Yes, it's inside me, I was programmed with this software …

Are you still a believer?

I go to church every Sunday. Do I have faith? I'm not sure … Albert Camus said that you don't believe, but you choose to believe. The nuance is very interesting.

In First Reformed, you denounce a corrupt use of religion, for intolerant political ends or capitalist profits.

Spirituality and the church are two very different things. Spirituality is an intangible human need, while the church is a material organization, with rules, uniforms, dogmas … The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most influential corporation in the world, it is a fact.

Many people associate your name with Taxi Driver of Martin Scorsese, that you wrote, rather than the films that you made. Does it annoy you?

Not at all. It is an immortal film, which entered American popular culture and which continues to be a reference almost fifty years later. I am not sure why and how we managed to hit the bull's-eye, but we got there. It was very liberating to start my career with this film, it immediately validated my work. You know, there are artists who work without ever being recognized, I was very quickly and that is what helped me to continue, and which still helps me.

How did you meet Martin Scorsese?

After studying at UCLA, I became a film critic in Los Angeles. One day I interviewed Brian De Palma. We met again to play chess, then we became friends (Schrader will write the screenplay forObsession, directed by De Palma in 1976, editor's note). He was the one who introduced me to Marty.

By the time you met him, had you ever written the screenplay for Taxi Driver ?

Yes, it dates back to when I was still a film critic. I wrote this screenplay out of personal need, not to sell it. It was like therapy: I realized that if I didn’t write this boy’s story, I would become like him.

The character of Travis Bickle, played by Robert De Niro, is the matrix of many of your characters: solitary beings, divided between the search for purity and the temptation of violence.

There is a character who often returns in my scripts and my films. Let's describe it this way: a man sitting alone in a room, wearing a mask and waiting for something to happen, for life to manifest … This mask is his job, but whether he is a taxi driver, gigolo, dealer or priest, the same type is below. He's like a dead man waiting to be finally alive. Everyone finds their own way.


Posted by Geoff at 9:20 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, January 9, 2020 10:17 PM CST
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Friday, December 7, 2018
NEW KEESEY, HIRSCH, LITTO EXTRAS ON 'OBSESSION' BLU
PRE-ORDER FROM SHOUTFACTORY GETS YOU A FREE POSTER OF NEW ART BY SONNY DAY
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/obsessionspinescream.jpgShout! Factory today revealed details about its collector's edition Blu-ray of Brian De Palma's Obsession, which will be released January 15, 2019:
Bonus Features

NEW Audio Commentary With Author Douglas Keesey (Brian De Palma’s Split-Screen: A Life In Film)

NEW Producing Obsession – An Interview With Producer George Litto

NEW Editing Obsession – An Interview With Editor Paul Hirsh

Obsession Revised – Vintage Featurette Featuring Interviews With Director Brian De Palma, Cliff Robertson, And Geneviève Bujold

Theatrical Trailer

Radio Spots

Still Gallery

 


If you pre-order from Shout! Factory, they are still offering "a FREE 18" X 24" ROLLED POSTER" featuring the new cover artwork by Sonny Day, although "due to a manufacturing delay," Shout! "can no longer guarantee early shipping on this title." The original poster art for Obsession will be included on the other side of the reversible sleeve.

The chapter on Obsession in Keesey's book, Brian De Palma’s Split-Screen: A Life In Film, delves into the highly intriguing biographical links between the film and De Palma's personal life:

Like Sandra, the young De Palma tended to idealize his mother and to demonize his father. If Michael, according to Elizabeth's diary, was "busy at work all day," so was De Palma's father. Elizabeth's feelings of abandonment ("sometimes I wonder if Mike loves me as much as his business") were then dealt a killing blow by the ultimate desertion-- his failure to pay the ransom money, which led to her death. Young Sandra felt equally deserted, sharing her mother's pain. We recall that it was Sandra's voice on the tape recording, pleading for her father to save them. As a result of his neglect, she vowed to get revenge and undertook a secret plot against Michael. As we know, De Palma's father compounded his workaholic "desertion" by sleeping with a nurse at the office, which led to a suicide attempt on the part of De Palma's mother. (She was saved by De Palma himself, who took her to the hospital.) De Palma then used the tape recorder his mother had given him for Christmas to try to avenge her, secretly capturing his father's phone conversations-- and later surreptitiously filming him-- to gather evidence of adultery so that his mother could divorce him. "I identify with the avenging child," De Palma once said in a direct comparison of himself to Sandra.

But the comparison doesn't stop there. Just as Sandra eventually realized how much her demonization of her father was due to Bob's manipulation of her to believe what he wanted her to believe-- the very worst about Michael's motives ("[He] just can't come up with the money, not for Elizabeth and not for you"), so De Palma came to see that "my mother had manipulated me": "My brothers and I had only had my mother's point of view, and she spoke of daddy as an outsider, leagued against us. She told us, 'He's the bad one; you, you're with me; blame him.'" In the children's eyes (Sandra's, De Palma's, and his brothers'), the father was as guilty and despised as the mother was innocent and idealized. (It is interesting to note that De Palma's brother Bart painted the portrait of Elizabeth that Sandra idolized.) However, both Sandra and De Palma later gained a more mature understanding to challenge their one-sided, childish perceptions of their fathers: "I gradually came to appreciate my father's point of view"; "in truth-- but I understood this only much later-- he was just a man who threw himself into his work so that he could forget his marriage troubles." Similarly, in Rebecca, Fontaine grows to understand that her husband/father figure Maxim isn't as demonic as she feared and her predecessor/mother figure Rebecca isn't as worthy of idolatry.



Posted by Geoff at 9:27 PM CST
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Monday, October 1, 2018
SCREAM FACTORY 'OBSESSION' BLU-RAY JAN 15 2019
EXTRAS ARE IN PROGRESS, TO BE ANNOUNCED LATER
http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/obsessionshoutbluray.jpg

Shout! Factory/Scream Factory today announced a release date (January 15, 2019) for its previously-teased Collector's Edition Blu-Ray of Brian De Palma's Obsession. Also unveiled is the newly-commissioned cover art (seen above) by Sonny Day. According to Bloody Disgusting's John Squires, "This art will be front-facing on the slipcover and wrap. The reverse side of the wrap will showcase the original theatrical poster art design. Extras are in progress and will be announced on a later date."

Also worth noting: Order from ShoutFactory.com and get a free 18" X 24" rolled poster featuring the new artwork (available while supplies last), and they will ship to you two weeks early.


Posted by Geoff at 7:56 PM CDT
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Friday, October 14, 2016
THE CASTRO PAIRS 70MM VERTIGO w/DE PALMA
ALL THIS WEEKEND - 'OBSESSION'/'DRESSED TO KILL'/'BODY DOUBLE'

Posted by Geoff at 6:54 PM CDT
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Monday, June 27, 2016
TWEET: AMAZING 'OBSESSION'

Posted by Geoff at 11:16 PM CDT
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Thursday, June 9, 2016
STEPHEN HOLDEN ON 'OBSESSION'
"TAKES EXTREMELY EMOTIONAL HAIRPIN TURNS THAT HITCHCOCK WOULD NEVER HAVE DREAMED OF"
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
AV CLUB LOOKS AT DE PALMA'S 'OBSESSION'
"DE PALMA FINALLY WENT FULL HITCHCOCK WITH THIS 'VERTIGO' RIFF"
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
'OBSESSION' SATURDAY AT BAM in NEW YORK
DCP, PAIRED WITH '4 VERTIGO', ALL PART OF SERIES "THE VERTIGO EFFECT"
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
'OBSESSION' SCREENS FRIDAY IN NEW YORK
AT RUBIN MUSEUM OF ART - INTRODUCTION BY NEUROSCIENTIST STEPHEN MACKNIK
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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