SISTERS (1973)

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SISTERS

SISTERS

Margot Kidder as Danielle & Dominique, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, William Finley, Lisle Wilson, Bernard Hughes, Mary Davenport, Olympia Dukakis / Screenplay Brian De Palma & Louisa Rose / Original Music Bernard Herrmann / Cinematography Gregory Sandor / Editor Paul Hirsch / Produced by Edward R. Pressman / Directed by Brian De Palma

I saw a murder, and I’m going to prove it!

It’s not that Brian De Palma’s Sisters is a bad film, but rather that it makes some decidedly dubious mistakes.. or does it? Well, yes it does, but to what extent these were intentional, it’s difficult to quite decide. It’s that familiar De Palma dichotomy, to find yourself confused as to whether you are eating sirloin steak or a thick layer of cheese. Every simplicity is layered with an enigmatic undertone, whilst each bold epiphany is counter set by a certain unbelievability. This duality both attracts and frustrates the filmgoer in equal fashion.. perhaps the familiar domain of the auteur filmmaker? But one thing is certain, De Palma will not be told, and nor should he be, since we love him for his tenacity of personal vision, and utter disregard for the ordinary solution.

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It’s perhaps unfair to be too critical of Sisters, since it was nevertheless a pretty accomplished piece for a Director still finding his sea legs. Considered as the beginning of a progression of cinematic ideas, it whets the appetite very nicely.. but viewed in the singular, it somewhat stumbles and loses its footing once too often. It’s not so much a matter of yelling at the screen ‘Don’t go in there!’, but rather, ‘Who the hell would go in there?!’ Incredulous though we are throughout the story, nothing quite prepares us for the concluding journey that murder victim Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson) makes for the finale, when he arrives bound-up in a sofa at a deserted station next to a Canadian cow. How do we know it’s a Canadian cow? Well, someone stuck a Canadian flag next to it. That cow seems to be the crux of the whole film, somehow.. If you believe in the cow, then you believe in the nature of the film. As avant guard touches go, that cow is a pretty wonderful one, but even David Lynch might scratch his head a little trying to justify it’s reason for being there.

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As if Ray Boulting’s Twisted Nerve hadn’t upset the disabled community enough, by creating a fearful parallel between Downs Syndrome and murderous psychotic tendencies, ‘Sisters’ managed to go one step further and tar all twins with the same phobic panic. The plot of Sisters spends much of it’s time attempting to prove whether or not Margot Kidder has a twin, which in itself is no evidence of foul play in the context of the film, nor indeed are Siamese twins particularly synonymous with mental illness. One might naturally then be perplexed as to why on earth Danielle & Dominique are in a mental hospital to begin with, and not merely in a State hospital or private clinic. Okay, this is a horror film, so we should be prepared to drift into an exaggerated reality, but still, reason and logic must still prevail, or else we enter into the absurd.

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De Palma of course had Hitchcock’s Psycho and Vertigo in mind for his psychological study on twins and split-personality, even to the extent of convincing Hitch’s old composer Bernard Hermann to come out of retirement to write the score in direct homage. Psycho, Vertigo and Sisters all exploit mental illness, but in Hitchcock we get a clear-cut cause established for the psychosis. In Psycho we have the life-long problems associated with an overbearing mother, and Vertigo gives us Kim Novak playing the part of a damaged woman to deceive James Stewart, but winds up competing with her other self for his affections.

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With Sisters, we have an interesting little dynamic which adds a curious series of flips to the usual Hitchcock archetypes. On the surface we’re presented with a straightforward good twin / evil twin situation, but then we come to realise that these twins were once conjoined, now separated. This might be fuel enough for a study on identity, but De Palma doesn’t stop there, he throws another spanner into the works *Spoiler Alert*, by revealing that the ‘bad’ twin died years earlier during an operation to separate the two. Also, given that we learn of the sexual advances of the twin’s Doctor towards one twin, whilst drugging the other for sexual ‘privacy’, we come to realise that the bad twin had every reason in the world to turn out a wee bit funny in the head. Flip once more, considering that when the surviving ‘good twin’ has her little murderous episodes and becomes her ‘evil’ twin, she is in actual fact acting out how she believes her sister would be, but in actual fact it could be said that this so called good twin, was always the evil, considering the lengths she would go to for some ‘alone time’ with her Doctor lover. Indeed, we even discover in flashback that the Doctor favoured his lover in the separation, sealing the sad fate of the other to die on the operating table.

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Shot in a low-budget tv style, Sisters mirrors elements of the Psycho ‘look’, which Hitch developed out of necessity, when Studio concerns over his alarming subject matter reduced him to shooting Psycho on his Alfred Hitchcock Presents Tv Lott. Somehow the impression I get with Sisters though, is more that of a Columbo murder mystery, with it’s 1970’s haircuts and sense of camera off on a wander in search of clues. Especially since we have this long build up to the murder after half an hour or so, which is plotted out with hints and mistakes for our reporter to follow up later on. Not that Columbo had to deal with too many dangerous paranoid schizophrenics.

Sisters - Onset

POSTER ART

Original Poster Art Poster art (Re-release)

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The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI

(1947)

Orson Welles – Michael O’Hara / Rita Hayworth – Elsa Bannister / Everett Sloan – Arthur Banniser / Glenn Anders – George Grisby / From the Novel ‘If I Die Before I Wake’ Sherwood King / Screenplay Orson Welles / Produced & Directed Orson Welles

Till all about, the sea was made of sharks..

Lured by the sensuous Lady from Shanghai (Rita Hayworth), Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) is drawn into a web of malicious back-stabbing & a heady combination of Raymond Chandler film noir and dizzying German expressionism. Welles convinced the Studio bosses to let him make this ‘simple little murder movie’ , but the poor fellows must have screamed blue murder when they saw the finished product. It’s not a film that runs all that smoothly, but the quality and sheer oddness of the piece elevates it high above it’s formulaic contemporaries. Welles & Hayworth only had one more year of their marriage to go in 1947, but the lingering intensity of Hayworth’s close-ups betray nothing short of giddy adoration. The gorgeously inventive opening scene has Welles & Hayworth seemlessly rolling from literary narration to bantering dialogue, in a fashion reminiscent of Richard III. Sergio Leone made a whole career out of imitating Welles sweaty close-ups on Glenn Anders, and other influences on modern filmmaking are too numerous to list. Orson’s decision to give his lead character an Irish brogue is a little jarring at first, but before long it makes perfect sense, especially when we come to his mesmerizing ‘shark monologue’, which more than finds echoes in Quint’s chilling Indianapolis tale in Jaws.

BANNISTER – Well, Michael!

MICHAELWell, Mr. Bannister?

BANNISTERMy wife´s lost her sense of humour, and you´ve lost your sense of adventure. Sit down and have a drink. Give him a drink, George. And don´t look so shocked. Michael may not be in the Social Register, but then neither are you…anymore.

MICHAELIs this what you folks do for amusement? Sit around toasting marshmallows and call each other names? If you´re so anxious for me to join the game, l´d be glad to. I have a few names l´d like to be calling you myself.

BANNISTER Oh, but, Michael, that isn´t fair. You´re bound to lose the contest. We´ll have to give you a handicap, Michael. You should know what George knows about me…if you really want to call me names…

BANNISTERAnd, Michael…if you think George´s story is interesting… you ought to hear the one about how Elsa got to be my wife..

ELSADo you want me to tell him what you´ve got on me, Arthur?

MICHAEL Do you know…once, off the hump of Brazil… I saw the ocean so darkened with blood it was black… and the sun fainting away over the lip of the sky. We´d put in at Fortaleza… and a few of us had lines out for a bit of idle fishing. It was me had the first strike. A shark it was. Then there was another. And another shark again. Till all about, the sea was made of sharks… and more sharks still. And no water at all. My shark had torn himself from the hook .. and the scent or maybe the stain it was, and him bleeding his life away… drove the rest of them mad..

MICHAELThen the beasts took to eating each other. In their frenzy.. they ate at themselves. You could feel the lust of murder like a wind stinging your eyes. And you could smell the death reeking up out of the sea. I never saw anything worse.. until this little picnic tonight.

MICHAELAnd you know there wasn´t one of them sharks in the whole crazy pack that survived. l´ll be leaving you now.

BANNISTERGeorge, that´s the first time anyone ever thought enough of you to call you a shark. If you were a good lawyer, you´d be flattered.

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PRODUCTION

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 QUINT’s INDIANAPOLIS FISH TALE

‘Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte… just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that when you’re in the water, Chief? You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know, was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’, so we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know, it was kinda like old squares in the battle like you see in the calendar named “The Battle of Waterloo” and the idea was: shark comes to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’ and sometimes the shark go away… but sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark… he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be living… until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then… ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin’ and the hollerin’, they all come in and they… rip you to pieces. You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday morning, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain’s mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up, down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist. Noon, the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us. He swung in low and he saw us… he was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and he come in low and three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and starts to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened… waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.’

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