OBSESSION Blu-ray Review

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OBSESSION Blu-ray Review
Arrow Video:
High melodrama, creeping insanity and barely contained delirium abound in this dizzying tribute to the high tension thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock from director Brian De Palma (Carrie, Scarface, Dressed to Kill)

Michael Courtland is a Southern gentleman who seems to have everything - A successful business, a beautiful wife and an adoring young daughter - until a botched kidnapping tears his world apart leaving him widowed, bereaved and bereft. Years later on a trip to Italy, he meets a woman with an uncanny resemblance to his late wife but all is not how it appears as a twisted conspiracy threatens to unhinge his mental shackles, sending him to the knife edge of MADNESS!

A master class in mounting unease and clammy palmed claustrophobia, Obsession is a classic 70s thriller with an evil twist that will leave you speechless.
I had never seen Obsession before popping in Arrow Video's Blu-ray, and let me say right off the bat, I'm a believer! 

Brian De Palma has always been sort of a hit-or-miss director for me; there are some absolute classics in his oeuvre, but there are also some very questionable films.  Obsession came from a period in his career where he was at his creative zenith.  Sandwiched between Phantom of the Paradise and Carrie, De Palma was at the height of his creative powers in 1976.  The film is an acknowledged riff on Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, but it still manages to feel vibrant and fresh.  I'll avoid deep discussion of the film as you can still find our Peter Martin's excellent piece of the film in the links below, and he said it better than I could, but I'll offer some thoughts nonetheless.

Obsession uses a number of cinematic tricks to completely envelope the audience in his experience and transport them from their seats into his mad dream.  Cliff Robertson stars as the lovelorn Michael Courtland, a man who has lost his wife and daughter following a kidnapping gone horribly wrong in 1959.  His entire life after this event is dedicated to preserving the life he lost, he never gets over the loss, and who can blame him?  Fifteen years later he travels to Florence, Italy on a trip and comes across a woman who is the spitting image of his wife.  Much like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, Courtland sets out to remake this new woman in the image of the wife he loved so dearly.  This can only end badly, and it does.

The plot is so familiar to fans of Vertigo that it is almost hard not to attempt to predict the ending, but you will be wrong. The journey is a long improbable melodrama, and one made all the more effective by De Palma's use of the dreamy haze over the film, and the soaring strings in the soundtrack.  Even though the film takes place in 1974, the music is something you'd be more likely to hear in a Douglas Sirk film from the late '50s.  The entire mise-en-scene is designed to keep the audience inside of Courtland's fantasy, which permeates his entire life. 

The performances in the film are all pitch perfect.  So far I've only mentioned Cliff Robertson, but equally mesmerizing is John Lithgow as Michael Courtland's business partner.  His southern drawl is overbearing, and somehow menacing in a way that only southerners can be.  Genevieve Bujold is given significantly less to do, dramatically, but she makes her screen time count, and her dual roles in the film require some finesse that she manages to deliver quite effectively.  Not to mention the fact that she is absolutely stunning.

Obsession is a magnificent film with an ending that still manages to shock, even thirty-five years later.  The 1970's were De Palma's heyday, and I don't think he's been given license to make films like this in a long time, but this is proof that if given the reins, he can deliver the goods, even in a film that is such a blatant rip-off.  Highly recommended.

The Disc:

Arrow Video's presentation of Obsession is outstanding.  There may be some grousing among videophiles about the image quality, but I get the impression from my viewing and a some research, that the film is presented exactly as it was intended.  The softness of the image was absolutely intended by De Palma, and the image is swimming in pleasing, organic looking grain.  No digital funny-business here, just a faithful presentation of a highly stylized film.  The DTS-HD 5.1 mix is okay, but the Mono track sounds lovely.  The above-mentioned soundtrack sounds amazing, and truly evokes the dreamy melodramatic feeling for which it was intended.  Absolutely fantastic work on this one, especially following a couple of lackluster Blu-rays from Arrow Video.

The extras on this set may be few in number, but they more than make up for it in quality.  First, and mote obvious when you pick up the package, is the "booklet".  I put that in quotes because in fact, Arrow Video have provided a complete copy of the first draft of Paul Schrader's script for the film, originally titled Deja Vu.  This draft includes a lot that never made it into the shooting script, and makes for a great read on it's own.  Also in the book is  a five page essay on the film, which elaborates on much of what I've written about regarding the genesis for the film.  Arrow Video have also ported over the Obsession Revisited featurette from the original DVD release, which is very informative and runs a healthy 38-minutes.  In addition, as has become de riguer with De Palma Blu-rays, Arrow Video have also included two of his early short films, Woton's Wake from 1962, and The Responsive Eye from 1966.  Finally, they've included the original theatrical trailer.  All of this, the film and the extras, is presented in 1080p HD with no region lock, so anyone with a Blu-ray player anywhere in the world can play everything on the disc.

The last, but not the least, of the extras in this package are the package itself.  Arrow Video have provided fantastic custom cover art from Tom Hodge at The Dude Designs, along with three other vintage posters for you to choose your own cover.  They've also included a fold out poster with Tom's art on one side and the original French one-sheet on the other.  This is another fantastic presentation from Arrow Video, and I can't wait to see what they do next!

Arrow Video presents Obsession on REGION FREE Blu-ray disc.
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More about Obsession

terrence.seamonAugust 28, 2011 12:37 PM

Glad to see Obsession being re-released, and so appreciated for the DePalma classic that it is. With a career-capping score by Bernard (Citizen Kane, Psycho, Taxi Driver) Herrmann that has to be heard. Check out this track on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-l4KnYD3gEU