Wednesday, December 26, 2018

OBSESSION (1976) (Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review)

OBSESSION (1976) 

Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: PG
Duration: 98 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 & 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 

Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: Cliff Robertson, Geneviève Bujold, John Lithgow
Obsession opens in 1959 New Orleans where wealthy real estate broker Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson, Spider-Man) is a celebrating his tenth anniversary with lovely wife Elizabeth (Genevieve Bujold, Dead Ringers). It's a grand occasion with a large celebration at their home, an event attended by friends, associates and his business longtime partner Robert La Salle (John Lithgow, Blow Out). After the festivities have ended and every one's departed for the evening the family are settling in for the night when the unthinkable happens, his wife and daughter are kidnapped, leaving behind a ransom note demanding $500,000 cash for their safe return. He contacts the authorities who arrange a sting operation which sadly spins wildly out of control, an ensuing car chase results in the fiery deaths of both mother and child.

Fifteen years later Michael is still deeply distraught over the deaths of his beloved family, blaming himself in part for going to the authorities. He regularly visits a grand monument he's erected in their memory on a lucrative parcel of land which has remained undeveloped, to the chagrin of his business partner. Robert convinces Michael to accompany him on a business trip to Florence, Italy where their firm is brokering a real estate deal with a group of wealthy Italians. While there Robert attempts to distract Michael from his mourning with women and wine, but it has little affect on him. We learn that Florence is where Michael met his late wife, years earlier at a historic church. He makes a day trip to that church, there he is quite startled to meet a young woman named Sandy (Bujold) who is the spitting image of his dead wife, it's uncanny. Michael immediately begins courting the young woman, becoming completely obsessed with her, at one point training her to walk like his late wife. If you've seen Hitchcock's Vertigo this will be very familiar territory, De Palma makes no efforts to disguise the film as anything other than a love letter to Hitchcock's body of work, that film in particular. It's a whirlwind romance with the pair falling deeply in love with each other, despite Sandy being young enough to be his daughter. Michael whisks Sandy away back to New Orleans with the intention of marrying her as soon as possible.

Settling into the house Sandy becomes more intimately aware of the circumstances behind the deaths of Michael's late wife and daughter, realizing how truly similar in appearance she is to his wife after viewing a portrait of the woman hanging in the home, and to the startled response of the housekeeper greeting her at the door. At the same time Michael's obsession is becoming worrisome to friends and business partner, they call in his psychiatrist whom it seems Michael have not seen in some time, and the encounter it's deeply unsettling for him, it's pretty obvious that he is lost in a fantasy world. Angered by his partner's meddling he sells his share of the business and severs ties with pretty much everyone, at the same time he is haunted by dreams of Elizabeth and Sandy merging into the same person, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, with his sanity is crumbling in the process. 

At the height of this confusion Sandy is kidnapped and Michael discovers a ransom note demanding $500,000, it seems history is repeating itself. Determined to not to make the same mistakes again Michael does not reach out to the police, leading to a truly twisted finale featuring Michael reliving the events from fifteen years earlier culminating in a series of reveals and betrayals that are disturbing on several different levels.

As the deeply troubled yet sympathetic widow Cliff Robertson sells the character's anguish and mental deterioration well, with Genevieve Bujold also turning in a solid performance, both anchor the films tragic love story with subtle performances. In only his second film John Lithgow is pretty great as the deceitful business partner, though he's clearly too young to play the part convincingly in my opinion, but he's great. 

For a thriller with such a deeply fucked-up finale the film is steeped in a lot of romantic melodrama, at tragic tale of grief and forbidden love, which is immeasurably enhanced by the score from Bernard Hermann (Vertigo), a sweeping, lush score that really stands out. The film has a lyrical lensing, the soft focus cinematography and gorgeous gliding camera movements from cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) really set a tone for the film. I found myself entranced with it, though I would say it does have a slow-burning pace which could throw off certain viewers looking for something more psycho-sexual or feverishly pulpy from De Palma along the lines of Dressed To Kill and Body Double, but stay with it, it's a well-crafted thriller that's evocative of a bygone era with a dizzying twist that won't disappoint thrill seekers. 

Audio/Video: Obsession (1976)was previously issues on region-free Blu-ray from Arrow Video, this new region A locked Blu-ray from Scream Factory looks to be the same transfer to my eyes. Presented in 1080p HD and framed in 2.35:1 widescreen the film's grain is nicely managed, with the soft focus cinematography having a slightly gauzy effect that adds a dreamy quality to the film but doesn't translate into the sharpest looking HD image. However, the fine detail looks good in context, and the colors looks natural, a bit muted, but a transfer that nonetheless is sure to please.

Audio options include English DTS-HD MA 5.1 or 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles. It's nice to have Bernard Herman's lush score in lossless surround sound, it's a powerfully dramatic presentation, some might say overpowering at times, but in a good way. The 5.1 gives the film some breathing room but I had no issues with the original mono audio either, both are clean and dynamic, with good depth and fidelity.

Scream Factory exceed the Arrow release by including new extras, but also carry-over the 2001 documentary 'Obsession Revisited' doc, featuring interviews with Brian De Palma, writer Paul Schrader, actors Cliff Robertson and Genevieve Bujold, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, editor Paul Hirsch and producer George Litto. De Palma right off the top tells of the film's origins beginning with screenwriter Schrader and himself seeing Hitchcock's Vertigo and immediately wanting to do something similar, he also speaks about the difference in opinion between the two about the film's ending which led to Schrader disowning the film. 

Onto the new stuff we get a new commentary from Douglas Keesey, author if 'Brian De Palma’s Split-Screen: A Life in Film', plus new interviews with both producer George Litto, and editor Paul Hirsh, both of whom are candid and fun. During his 26-min interview Litto speaks about his career trajectory from musician to agent, to  producer, his collaborations with De Palma, and the making of this film. He speaks about the casting of the film, a few differences in opinion with De Palma, including he wanting John Williams to score the film while De Palma was pushing for Bernard Hermann, and his dislike for the tanning make-up used by Robertson, and how writer Paul Schrader was not a fan of the third act changes made to his script by De Palma. Hirsch speaks for 21-min about his career, going from architecture student to film editor, his experience editing the film, how actor Cliff Robertson would only shoot in profile from one side and how that caused some editing issues, and how composer Bernard Hermann blew up on him over a simple misunderstanding during the final mic of the movie, comparing it to a scene from a Dostoevsky novel. He also says that this film is one of his personal favorites of the eleven he did with De Palma, allowing him to work both Hermann and Zsigmond. He also speaks about how Roberston would play tricks with his co-star Bujold, delaying his lines and walking away from her during close-ups to draw here eyeline, and how the incest angle was softened through some clever editing on his part. 

The disc is buttoned-up with trailers, radio spots and a still gallery of promo images, lobby cards, stills, pressbooks, soundtrack sleeves, and various movie posters. The single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with reversible sleeve of artwork, one side featuring the original poster artwork, plus a new illustration by the WBYK collaborative (Sonny Day & Biddy Maroney), who also did the artwork for the IFC Midnight Blu-ray release of Antibirth. I don't love it, but I wasn't a huge fan of the new Dude Designs illustration that Arrow used on their release either, but that's why we have the original artwork option, the new one here looks more like De Palma's Sisters by way of The Fury in a strange way, not capturing the feel of this film in particular in my opinion. 

For the sake of comparison, what Arrow brought to the table with their release that's missing from this one are two of Brian De Palma short student films; Woton's Wake (1962) and The Responsive Eye (1966). The Arrow edition also include a window boxed slipcase with four reversible artwork options, plus a massive 110-page collector's booklet containing with an appreciation from author Brad Steven's, plus Paul Schrader's original screenplay, originally titled Deja Vu which includes unfilmed sequences, including a completely different and unused third act, plus a foldout reversible poster. 

Special 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 (26 min) HD 
- NEW Editing Obsession – an interview with editor Paul Hirsh (21 min) HD 
- Obsession Revised – vintage featurette featuring interviews with director Brian De Palma, Cliff Robertson and Genevieve Bujold (38 min) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) HD 
- Radio Spots (1 min) HD 
- Still Gallery


Obsession (1976) is not as lurid or deliciously pulpy as either Dressed To Kill or Body Double, but it's a dark melodramatic thriller that's up to it's elbows in Hitchcockian devotion, and it has one heck of a satisfyingly disturbed shocker of an ending. This was still early still in his career, so it isn't quite the Brian De Palma of legend came to know, but the pieces are there and beginning to come to fruition, that's for sure. The new Blu-ray from Scream Factory is fantastic, the A/V is a draw when compared to the Arrow release, but the new extras make this the more desirable of the pair in my opinion, so buy it with condidence.  

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