“It was the 1970s, the golden years of American cinema. We had people like [Steven] Spielberg, [Brian] De Palma, [Mark] Rydell and [Robert] Altman. These directors were making individual statements about life. I learned a lot from De Palma on the film, and it's a very interesting tapestry. It's layer after layer, and DePalma wants to show that it's more than just what you see. It's beyond that; it's what's under that,” notes cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, when discussing Obsession on this Blu-ray edition.
After a series of independent comedies and his first feature foray into Alfred Hitchcock-flavored suspense, Sisters, director De Palma and writer friend Paul Schrader went to a screening of Hitchcock's Vertigo. “We were both astounded by the movie and very influenced [by it],” said De Palma. “We sat, having dinner and talking about what we'd just seen. We came up with a scenario modeled on the plot of Vertigo.” De Palma later gave Schrader a treatment based on the conversation, and Schrader turned it into the screenplay Deja Vu, which became Obsession.
In the gilded, refined New Orleans of 1959, the stately home of land baron Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) is illuminated one humid evening by a slide projector. The glow recounts Courtland's idyllic courtship with Elizabeth (Geneviéve Bujold) when he was in Florence as a soldier. The black-tie crowd gathers around the images, raising a toast with Michael's business partner, Robert LaSalle (John Lithgow), to the couple on its anniversary. Later that evening, Elizabeth and daughter Amy are kidnapped. Courtland reaches out to authorities, who advise him to pack a tracking device into the ransom briefcase. When the police zero in on the kidnappers, a tragic accident is triggered, resulting in the fiery deaths of mother and child.
Fifteen years later, Courtland, having accompanied LaSalle on a business trip to Florence, feels compelled to visit the church in which he and Elizabeth met. Once inside, he has a chance meeting with a young woman, Sandra (Bujold), who bears an uncanny resemblance to Elizabeth, a resemblance that continues to disturb Courtland. In spite of LaSalle's warnings, Courtland becomes infatuated and obsessively focuses on building a life with Sandra.
When De Palma contacted Zsigmond about Obsession, the cinematographer read the script and understood the complicated, dream-like visuals De Palma was after. They agreed on the heavy use of diffusion because the actors and locations were to be presented in two periods that were 15 years apart. They also felt anamorphic widescreen would lend itself perfectly to the mood they wanted to create. “De Palma,” Zsigmond noted,”wanted to move the camera all the time to keep the scenes flowing as long as the actors could keep it up. He favored the action in long takes because too many cuts would be disturbing for the audience when we wanted them sucked into the situation.” The sumptuous results of the visual collaboration garnered the film much attention. Zsigmond re-teamed with De Palma on three other projects, including the recent feature The Black Dahlia.
U.K. company Arrow Films recently released Obsession on Blu-ray, and the all-region import is available in many international markets. The film has had satisfactory life on home video, including a letterboxed laserdisc edition and a fairly good DVD in 2001, but this high-definition image transfer is a major improvement. Color balances are generally correct, and blacks feel solid. The visible film grain is appropriate for the film’s diffused, anamorphic textures, and there is no evidence of DNR. Contrast is generally excellent throughout, and a pleasing, film-like vibrancy that was missing from previous home-video incarnations is noticeable; this 1080p transfer returns the appropriate light to the images. The monaural soundtrack is clear, with good reproduction of dialogue and sound, but the new, 5.1-mix track gives tremendous life to one of Bernard Herrmann's most enthralling scores.
This package also includes two short films by De Palma, Obsession’s theatrical trailer and the 36-minute documentary made for the 2001 DVD, which features De Palma, Zsigmond, Bujold, Robertson and other key production people. The disc comes encased in a box containing international advertising art and a printed essay by Brad Stevens. A bound replica of Schrader's original script is also included.
The bold qualities of Obsession remain some of the most passionate screen moments in De Palma's varied career. It’s hard to imagine a film of such daring, potent emotion and striking, expressive imagery being produced in the United States today. This romantic, uniquely stylish film is not for all tastes, but its many fans will be swept away by this Blu-ray presentation.