Friday, January 22, 2010

De Palma A la Mode - Part Two: Brian De Palma's "Vertigo"

Wait, what's that you're saying?  Brian De Palma never remade Vertigo!  That was and always will be Hitchcock's masterpiece!  Well,'re right.  De Palma never remade Vertigo, but he came very close in his followup to his Sisters and The Phantom of the Paradise.  The film was called Obsession, and it closely resembled Hitch's film in both tone and style.  It is a high romance (anyone who tells you that Vertigo isn't a love story is crazy) and also a tale of one man's unhealthy obsession with a love he lost to death (oh, and Bernard Herrmann is back as the composer).  Unlike the former, however, Obsession begins its major thrilling plot much quicker...whereas Vertigo was happy to slowly set up the relationship of Scotty and Madeline before killing her off (and then having her lookalike show up).  In Obsession, Cliff Robertson loses his wife and daughter to kidnappers in the first 10 minutes of the film and then a horrible accident takes their lives before he can save them.  Several years later, still wracked with guilt over the ordeal and unwilling to let go of his wife's memory, he heads back to Florence where he met his late wife.  And there she is, a woman who is almost her exact double (Genevieve Bujold).  He immediately enters into an obsessed love affair with her, wanting to go forward into a marriage but certain that danger lurks around the corner...waiting to repeat itself.

I didn't care much for Obsession when I first saw it...nor the second time I saw it.  I suppose this is to be expected, as I have enjoyed more of De Palma's maligned efforts and this one was rather critically I guess my hopes were probably too high. Yet as I watch it again tonight, I find that my tendency towards dislike is not without merit.  Yes, there is a technical savvy there is with all De Palma's work.  But yet I feel, as a regular viewer of his work, that it feels like one of his most pedestrian efforts.  The shots are dull and fuzzy, there's little split screen going on, and De Palma's usual imaginativeness seems sadly absent (the one standout shot being a long pan around that takes us from 1959 to 1975 and shows how everything has changed except for Robertson's mourning).  Others have critiqued its acting, saying that Robertson and Bujold light up the screen.  I think this is being much too generous, because I hardly think that De Palma's script gives them much to do.  Robertson is the most disappointing as he seems to sulk around with the same blank expression on his face for the entire movie.  Bujold is good as the double later on in the film...but early on they don't let her speak at all so we have little reason to fear for her in the opening kidnapping because we haven't gotten to know her yet.  I suppose one could say that De Palma's skill is shown here by what he manages to convey with no dialogue at all, but once again...he's been better both before and after this.  So now the only thing left is the story...which has been praised for being compelling and complex.  I suppose one could see it that way, but I don't see it.  I suppose its all a matter of taste, but I don't find a man who can't let go of the death of his wife and daughter interesting for an entire movie.  And that's really all it is.  Sure, its a movie about obsession and so a man who is obsessed is essential...I guess I just don't care much about his obsession.  I think if the opening were longer and had allowed us to really relate to Robertson and Bujold, as we do for Scotty and Madeline in Vertigo, and if Robertson was better at his job...then I might be more involved in the plot than I am.  I will say that the one neat thing about the movie is its ending.  You both kinda see it coming, and also can't quite believe it...and it opens several creepy avenues of thought.  I won't spoil it for you of course, but the film is worth seeing to the end...definitely.  So, with all this criticism and negativity, you probably think I really hate this movie.  On the contrary...I watch it, and enjoy bits of it (especially the ending)...but I will never quite understand the praise that is lavished on it when I feel as though De Palma's later work such as Dressed to Kill and Body Double have done everything that this film does and does it all better.  Then again, I started this blog telling you that I often differ from everyone else.  Should you see it?  Yes.  I think Obsession is a great film for those who can't stomach the nudity or gore found in De Palma's other works and it does boast a lovely score and ending.  But try to view it a little more down to Earth than some do.

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