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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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Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Thanks to Christian for pointing us to a new series that began last week at Filmwell, in which Ryan Holt discusses Brian De Palma's cinema and Chris Dumas's recent book Un-American Psycho. Dumas has admitted the error of dismissing De Palma's Obsession in his book as a "work-for-hire," and of course, it is to be expected that many reading the book as it currently exists will find serious fault with this stumbling block, as did Adrian Martin. Nevertheless, Holt sees that "Dumas’ conception of De Palma as a failed revolutionary who has embedded the narrative of that failure in his films leads to some compelling engagement with De Palma’s work." This leads Holt to examine Obsession by looking at the "analogical structures" contained within the film, and contrasting it with those contained in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. Doing so allows Holt to argue that Obsession is part of the same line of political filmmaking "built on a Hitchockian skeleton" (to quote Dumas) that, according to Dumas, began with Sisters.

Far from simply a mere attempted remake of Vertigo, Holt shows how Obsession veers from its source:

"Critics have often remarked on the presence of analogues for the screen-spectator relationship in Vertigo. Vertigo’s protagonist, Scottie, can be seen as progressing from the role of 'film watcher' (his interaction in Gavin Elster’s fictional ghost story) to 'film director' (his obsessive recreation of Gavin Elster’s fictional ghost story). However, this understanding cannot be applied to Obsession. Obsession’s protagonist, Michael Courtland, never progresses from 'film watcher' to 'film director,' though he can at least be said to the former. Obsession actually opens with a film of sorts: a title sequence montage of home photos that turns out to be the slide-show at Courtland’s wedding anniversary party. But this is really not a 'film' at all, as much as it is Courtland’s actual life; insofar as there is a 'film' Courtland watches, it is the intricately-conceived fantasy masterminded by his sinister business partner, Robert Lasalle.

This points to a key shift of narrative emphasis and structure from Vertigo to Obsession, the latter of which places significantly greater emphasis on the role of the manipulator. In Vertigo, the manipulator, Gavin Elster, fades from the picture around the halfway mark, but in Obsession, Lasalle remains a significant presence right up until the film’s climax. Obsession goes to great pains to emphasize Courtland’s business relationship with Lasalle, the details of which are explained in the opening minutes of the film and ultimately provide the key motivation for Lasalle’s villainy. De Palma further emphasizes Lasalle’s role in other ways, by directing John Lithgow to deliver an outrageous performance, accentuated by his outrageous Colonel Sanders appearance and accent—which puts the lie to Dumas claim that Obsession “may be said to be without humor” (59).

Lasalle may be built on the framework of Vertigo’s Gavin Elster, but in the way Obsession emphasizes his role as a devilish business partner, he seems closer to Phantom of the Paradise’s Swan, a manipulative businessman whose greed leaves no room for innocence. Swan and Lasalle both relentlessly seek to exploit the naïve in pursuit of their own interests. Take the Lasalle/Courtland confrontation scene, which has no precedent or parallel in Vertigo. Vertigo’s Scottie uncovers the scheme by himself, proceeding to very carefully deduce every feature and aspect of the plot, and takes his aggression out on Judy, not on Elster, who has since vanished from the picture. In Obsession, Lasalle reveals the plot to Courtland—Courtland is so desperate to believe that his wife has returned to him that he ignores all warnings and signs to the contrary—and taunts Courtland about his privileging of romanticism over financial gain. Like Phantom’s Winslow Leach, Courtland turns violent, murdering his manipulator.

Of course, the scheme hinges on romance, and once again we find substantial differences between the leading ladies in Vertigo and Obsession. Vertigo’s Judy/Madeleine remains defined by Scottie’s perception of her; she exists in the film only in relationship to Scottie. Obsession breaks away from this—leading Dumas to proclaim that Obsession fails locate 'the central theoretical issue in Vertigo (that la femme n’existe pas)' (59). But he does not consider the significance of this break, the shift from 'the woman does not exist' to 'the woman exists, but she is not who you think she is, and she is also a victim.' Amy/Sandra, Michael’s daughter who pretends to be his reincarnated wife, shares Michael’s tragedy, but from a different vantage point, and has become obsessed with her father’s failure and absence, and therefore mirrors Courtland in a way that Madeleine/Judy could never mirror Scottie. The love story of Obsession is the story of two damaged, exploited people, each playing a part in Lasalle’s scheme, never completely aware of their shared relationship with one another until the finale.

That final scene proves to be Obsession’s master-stroke, a brilliant revision of Vertigo which collapses reunion and loss into a single event. Where Vertigo concludes with a repetition of death, a brutal, devastating loss and a literal gaze into the abyss, in Obsession, the abyss is present in the reunion. Father and daughter are reunited at last, but what they have gone through has hopelessly shattered their relationship to one another and their sense of self (in the original cut of the film, their relationship had been demolished by consummated incest; concerns about censorship led to the transformation of their consummation of marriage into an ambiguous dream sequence, leaving incestuous overtones without sexual consummation). The camera whirls around them, in the same move from Vertigo’s famous 'reunion' sequence—but here, the camera is manic, spiraling out of control as Amy endlessly mutters 'daddy, daddy' and Courtland moves from shocked realization to mad laughter."


The second essay in the De Palma/Dumas series, De Palmian Dissonance, was posted yesterday. In it, Holt examines De Palma's strong urge to expose the lie in the illusion of cinema (most blatantly applied in Body Double, according to Holt), and how this contrasts with De Palma's love for pure cinema. "But what makes De Palma such a beguiling filmmaker," states Holt, "is that he isn’t just a trickster, but he is also a true-blue believer, which no film encapsulates quite like Mission to Mars. What makes the much-maligned Mission to Mars such an odd experience for those familiar with De Palma’s work is that it serves up standard Hollywood tropes and conventions without a hint of satire or parody. Instead, Mission to Mars utilizes the Hollywood blockbuster format in an attempt to achieve a sense of awe, offering a paean to scientific achievement and human determination. The film climaxes with an audience analogue that is as notable as the one Dumas singles out in Body Double: scientists come into contact with their creators through an extraterrestrial movie screen that plays out the history of the solar system and the birth of life on Earth. It’s humanity meeting God in a movie theater."

Posted by Geoff at 8:27 PM CDT
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Sunday, August 12, 2012
Wild Side Video released new region 2 DVD and Blu-Ray editions of Brian De Palma's Obsession last month in France. Both editions feature a remastered version of Obsession, with new special features, including a brief interview with De Palma, presented as part of a 26-minute video essay by Samuel Blumenfeld, coauthor of Brian De Palma: Conversations with Samuel Blumenfeld and Laurent Vachaud. (According to the Principal Archivist at the Swan Archives, the De Palma interview appears to be from 2004, perhaps from the same interview De Palma did for the French Sisters DVD that was released around that time-- see comments section below.) The DVD edition of Obsession is a two-disc set that includes a PDF of Paul Schrader's original screenplay (not included in the Blu-Ray package, according to Amazon). Both editions include two bonus De Palma shorts: Woton's Wake and The Responsive Eye. They also include Laurent Bouzereau's "Obsession Revisited," as well as a trailer for the film.

Longtime reader screenfreekz has sent in a tentatively translated (from French, after it had already been translated from English) quote from the De Palma interview: ""People don't understand Hitchcock. I'd love to be in a room with my detractors so I could prove them wrong whenever they compare me to him."
(Thanks to screenfreekz!)

Posted by Geoff at 12:59 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 5:10 PM CDT
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Friday, January 20, 2012

Vertigoed: Brian De Palma's "Obsession" from Brandon Brown on Vimeo.

Brian De Palma famously started off on a treacherous foot with Bernard Herrmann when he showed the composer a rough cut of Sisters sprinkled with cues from Herrmann's scores for various Alfred Hitchcock films. Herrmann immediately told De Palma to turn off the music, because, he said, he couldn't possibly hear the music for this new movie in his head while listening to works he'd composed for other films. The two hit it off, however, and Herrmann returned to score De Palma's Vertigo-inspired Obsession. Herrmann's music for Obsession is widely considered one of his greatest works, as is, of course, his score for Vertigo.

In the wake of Kim Novak's recent cry of "rape" over the use of one of Herrmann's cues from Vertigo as soundtrack for a scene in Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist, Indiewire's Press Play blog held a contest, called "Vertigoed," that concluded earlier today. As editor Matt Zoller Seitz explained, "Novak's word choice was unfortunate -- more than one person, including yours truly, said that was akin to somebody sitting through the Star Wars prequels and witlessly declaring, 'George Lucas raped my childhood.' Press Play contributor and film editor Kevin Lee followed this Novak/Lucas line of thought to its logical -- or illogical -- end. Just for the hell of it, he matched the Vertigo cue used in The Artist with the last three minutes of the Death Star battle in Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, uploaded it, and sent the link to several Press Play contributors to get their reactions. And it's here that things got interesting: rather than generate cheap laughs at the expense of Novak, Lucas, The Artist or Star Wars, the mash-up inspired delight. Simply put: Kevin's experiment confirmed that Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo score is so passionate and powerful that it can elevate an already good scene -- and a familiar one at that -- to a higher plane of expression. Score one for the master of film scoring!"

So these were the rules to the contest:

1. Take the same Herrmann cue -- "Scene D'Amour," used in this memorable moment from Vertigo -- and match it with a clip from any film. (You can nick the three-minute section from one of Kevin's mash-ups if it makes things easier.) Is there any clip, no matter how silly, nonsensical, goofy or foul, that the score to Vertigo can't ennoble? Let's find out!

2. Although you can use any portion of "Scene D'Amour" as your soundtrack, the movie clip that you pair it with cannot have ANY edits; it must play straight through over the Herrmann music. This is an exercise in juxtaposition and timing. If you slice and dice the film clip to make things "work," it's cheating. MONTAGES WILL BE DISQUALIFIED.

3. Upload the result to YouTube, Vimeo, blipTV or wherever, email the link to pressplayvideoblog@gmail.com along with your name, and we'll add your mash-up to this Index page.

The above Obsession entry, by Brandon Brown, creates a sort of Bernard Herrmann mind warp, but actually works pretty well. It came in at number 86 in the contest. Number one was Kevin B. Lee's entry for Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.

Posted by Geoff at 8:53 PM CST
Updated: Friday, January 20, 2012 8:55 PM CST
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