Obsession – Brian De Palma week

Okay here are some very late postings from last week due to the holidays. This is Brian De Palma week. Obsession is currently available on instant Netflix.

Obsession

WATCH: Obsession (1973) – Rated PG

“While vacationing in Italy, Michael Courtland (Cliff Robinson) spots a mysterious woman (Genevive Bujold) bearing an eerie resemblance to his late wife — who, along with his daughter, was killed 15 years earlier. Blinded by grief, Michael pursues the beautiful doppelganger, but winning her heart turns out to be a dubious prize. Brian De Palma helmed this unabashed homage to director Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Vertigo.”

Up until he made Scarface in 1983, almost all of Brian De Palma’s movies come off as homages to or extensions of Alfred Hitchcock’s work. Obsession is certainly no exception. It bears more than a passing resemblance to Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

In addition to directing, De Palma also wrote the story with Paul Schrader who wrote the screenplay. Strangely, Schrader eschews his usual focus on the seedy side of life for an old-fashioned if somewhat creepy mystery.

The story does build slowly but the payoff is quite worth it. An odd casting decision late in the film (to explain would be a spoiler) actually works quite well. A lot of De Palma’s camera angles and shot compositions are quite impressive.

Oddly Netflix did not spell either actors name correctly in their description. It is Cliff Robertson, not Robinson, who capably plays the male lead. That is Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben to those of you that don’t watch older movies. Genevieve Bujold wonderfully plays dual roles here as wife and mystery woman.

For the music, Brian De Palma wisely turned to Hitchcock veteran Bernard Herrmann. Obsession was nominated for an Oscar for Herrmann’s score. While not Herrmann’s best, it is quite haunting and lyrical as befits the tone of this film.

This is a very good mystery but is slow to get going despite starting with a kidnapping. The third act is wonderful and I highly recommend this film. One caveat: For some bizarre reason, instant Netflix’s transfer of this film ends abruptly with no credits so one is left wondering if that is really where the film ended.

People Watch: Watch for a much younger and blond (?!) John Lithgow as Michael Courtland’s southern-fried friend LaSalle.

Taxi Driver – Robert De Niro week

Augh! Pardon the delay in posting this as we’ve been having a few internet issues over the weekend. This week I’d like to celebrate one of our great American actors – Robert De Niro. Netflix has a slew of instant movies featuring De Niro including the Martin Scorsese classic Taxi Driver.

Taxi Driver

WATCH: Taxi Driver (1976) – Rated R

“Martin Scorsese crafts a violently prophetic, gripping vision of urban decay and insanity in which mentally unstable Vietnam vet Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) drives a cab through the sleaziest streets of pregentrified New York City and befriends a child hooker (Jodie Foster). The groundbreaking film earned four Oscar nominations, including nods for Best Picture, Best Score, and for De Niro and Foster’s haunting performances.”

Thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk.”

Martin Scorsese’s camerawork and composition here is not as polished as most of his later works. This actually works for the film as too much trickery would have detracted from the raw power of this descent into madness. There is still some great cinematography of 1970s New York and a nice interior building 360 early on in the film.

The performances are excellent. Robert De Niro carries the film and almost every scene in the movie is centered on him. Jodie Foster’s supporting performance as the 12-year-old prostitute, Iris is superb – particularly coming from a child actor. Both were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances. Cybil Shepherd is wonderful as Betsy as is Albert Brooks in a non-comedic role as her friend Tom. Harvey Keitel was offered the Albert Brooks role but turned it down in favor of the much smaller role as Sport the pimp and he is superb.

Paul Schrader’s script is wonderful and logical up until the climax. He is excellent with scripts involving the seedy side of life (Hardcore, Rolling Thunder, Light Sleeper). Scorsese changed the roles of the pimp, the hotel manager, and the Mafioso to white people. This was a very wise decision because otherwise it would have seemed that Travis was simply a racist which would have blunted the whole thrust of the film. Reportedly Travis’ famous monologue in front of the mirror was ad-libbed by De Niro.

This was brilliant composer Bernard Herrmann’s last score. It is mostly composed of soft jazz with some sad soulful saxophone mixed in. With the exception of some of the post-denouement music which is a bit too jarring, his score here is excellent (as befits an Oscar nomination). Bernard Herrmann’s first job as composer was on Citizen Kane for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He is perhaps best known for his Harryhausen and Hitchcock films. Taxi Driver was dedicated to him.

This film is an absolute classic. You can view it as a harrowing descent into madness or simply as a treatise on loneliness. If you haven’t seen it yet and want to see an actor’s showcase then by all means I highly recommend this film. As for the very odd ending – remember that the story is told from Travis Bickle’s point-of-view and that the events following the denouement may have a rather different explanation.

People Watch: Martin Scorsese has a brief  but pivotal role as a psychotic passenger. Scorsese’s parents portray Iris’ parents in a photograph.