Obsession review by Tom Blain

For every movie-obsessed wacko there is usually a beginning. That moment after watching one movie where you said "Man wouldn't it be cool to do that." Each year thousands of stupid starey-eyed kids with bright futures ahead of them think they can replicate the movie magic they experienced during a film such as Citizen Kane, Jaws, Plan 9 from Outer Space, etc. Heck, when I saw The Third Man for the first time I said to myself and anyone that would listen "Man wouldn't it be cool to remake that movie." Brian De Palma is like every single one of naive film student wannabes accept for the fact that he a highly successful director both critically and finacially. I'm sure when he was in his teens or early twenties there was a moment while watching Vertigo when he said "Damnit I want to do something like that." In 1976, the magic genie granted De Palma his third wish and along came, Obsession , a.k.a Bizarro Veritigo.

Michael "Court" Courtland (Cliff Robertson) is a real estate property investor from New Orleans who seems to be on top of the world.. He has a plot of land that he is about to make big money off of, a beautiful home with a beautiful wife Elizabeth(Genevieve Bujold) and daughter Amy. His perfect world gets turned upside down in one night when his wife and daughter are kidnapped. The kidnappers ask for $500,000 and Courtland goes on the cheap per one detectives advice (never listen to a New Orleans detective with an Inspector Clousseau accent.) The plot to capture the kidnappers and recover his loved ones goes horribly wrong and his family ends up in a firey get-away car that plunges into the mighty Mississippi; big downer.

Flash forward a good 15 years. Michael's goldmine land in New Orleans remains an undeveloped Ponchetrain Park (in memory of his wife and daughter). Although he is a bit of a recluse, he still works in land development with Robert Lasalle (John Lithgow) and takes a business trip with him to Rome. While there he sees a girl named Sandra (played again by Genevieve Bujold) who is a dead give-away for his deceased wife. Courtland stalks her in the way that Jimmy Stewart stalks Kim Novak. He follows her to a hospital, to her work, to her apartment. When he finally meets her he gets creepy with her like Jimmy Stewart getting creepy with Kim Novak. He pressures her into meeting him for dinner in just a few hours, pressures her into changing her appearance and walk, etc. Its a creepy sundae complete with a cherry on top.

Not even an hour into the movie and he is already flying her back to New Orleans with plans for a big wedding at the St. Louis Cathedral. His sanity and decision making comes into question by characters and audience members alike. As one can imagine there are still some twists and turns left in the movie at this point.

I wonder if the name Obsession refers to Courtlands obsession over his dead wife, or De Palmas obsession with becoming Alfred Hitchcock. He tramples in nearly every footstep laid out by Hitchcock in Vertigo and then tries to take it a step further. The timing of moments, the repetition of sequences, the idea of redemption and moments of weakness affecting the ones you loved. Using a mysterious U.S. city (I often though of New Orleans as the Southern compliment to San Francisco). He even has Bernard Hermann to create a similar score (Hermann's last). If I had to take a gander at what Bernie titled his work for this movie I would say Rhapsody on the Themes of Vertigo. At times the score comes on a bit heavy; especially at the beginning when it nails you like a crescendo. I was ready for the embrace, kiss and credits.

Obsession came before De Palma's larger movies (Carrie was a year later, Scarface and Untouchables were ten or more), so it's safe to assume that the director was just flexing his muscles in his youth. With De Palma though, this seems be the norm... like his films are exploded from single ideas to reference a great film (Blow-Out to Blow-Up, Phantom of the Paradise to Phantom of the Opera).

During the discussion of restoring frescos between Sandra and Michael, the decision was made that a Virgin Mary painting on top of an older painting should remain; that we shouldnt scratch the surface deeper to dig up the past. This was meant to be a metaphor for Michael forgetting his old love and embracing a new one. Ironically thats also the decision the director made as well. He takes his brush and paints over the classic with his new interpretations and ideas. Obsession is neat to watch if you are a Hitch fan looking for clever references, but in the end it looks like some film schools twisted ode to a master. It just doesn't stand well on its own.




5 out of 10 Jackasses
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