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 Long Good Friday (1980)

The Long Good Friday

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY

Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Paul Freeman, Leo Dolan, P.H. Moriarty, Kevin McNally, Patti Love, Bryan Marshall, Pierce Brosnan, Daragh O’Malley / Screenplay  Barrie Keeffe / Soundtrack  Francis Monkman / Cinematography  Phil Meheux / Editor  Mike Taylor / Director John Mackenzie

Who lit the fuse that tore Harold’s world apart?

 

British

To the uninitiated The Long Good Friday is probably best described as the British Scarface, though it pre-empted the Brian De Palma remake by three years, and Bob Hoskins’ crime boss Harold, is quite a different beast. A pitbull gangster with vision, morality, elequence even (albeit laced with a colourful acid tongue), in curious contrast to the ugly violence that is prone to erupt if left unchecked. A little more of Tony Soprano than Tony Montana perhaps.. Harold seeks to launch London into the 21st Century, to take it’s place as ‘Europe’s Capital’, but his old-school moralities ultimately leave him ill-equipped to cope with that very future. Hoskins gives us a real sense of despair, of frustration and loss, as his world crumbles. All the more enhanced by the passage of the last three decades since Long Good Friday’s release. Gone are the symbols of Harold’s Britain ; the iconic Concorde (that superbly echoes his first white suited entrance) consigned to the rubbish heap, a dinosaur ; the death nell of the old Docklands, replaced with souless glass, whilst the lifeblood of the old East-end runs dry ; decency, honesty, loyalty.. fading (bloody hell, this is all getting a bit maudlin).

Entrance

‘I’m not a politician, I’m a business man, with a sense of history, and I’m also a Londoner. and today is a day of great historical significance for London. Our country isn’t an Island anymore, we’re a leading European state, and I believe that this is the decade when London will become Europe’s capital, having cleared away the outdated, we’ve got mile after mile and acre after acre of land for our future prosperity, no other city in the world has got right in it’s centre such an opportunity for profitable progress. so it’s important that the right people mastermind the new London, proven people, with nerve, knowledge and expertise..and that, ladies and gentlemen is why you are all here today. All trusted friends, and why Charlie and Tony are here today, our American friends, to endorse the global nature of this venture. Let’s hear it ladies and gentlemen..

 ..hands across the ocean.’

Bob Hoskins

Loss of old Values

For some British actors access to America is a decidedly positive move. Anthony Hopkins has carved out a rather comfortable niche for himself in Hollywood, as has Michael Caine. Willowy beauty Kate Beckinsale’s career has positively flourished, as has Kate Winslet’s. Samantha Morton manages to field quality Hollywood parts, whilst still keeping one foot in British Indie cinema.. but Bob Hoskins? Poor old Bob may have raked in the dollars over the past few decades, but he’s made some awful tat. Popular tat admittedly, but we really expected more somehow didn’t we? Things were going so well too. Dennis Potter’s iconic ‘Pennies from Heaven’, ‘Long Good Friday’, Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’, Neil Jordan’s gutsy ‘Mona Lisa’.. hmm, what’s next? ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, ‘Mermaids’, ‘Hook’, ‘Super Mario Brothers’..What the hell happened?  Bob replies: ‘ Well.. it was the money wasn’t it..’

Vendetta

‘The Yanks love snobbery, they really think they’ve arrived in England if the Upper Classes treat ’em like shit.’

Helen Mirren

Confrontation

Shakespearean treachery

I hear an American remake is being considered. Initially it makes some species of sense, after the popularity abroad of Guy Ritchie’s ‘Lock Stock’ and ‘Snatch’  films, and ‘The Italian Job’  remake (don’t get me started on that one!) but given that the heart of this film is the anti-American rant in the penultimate scene, you’d think that might prove a fairly fundamental problem. Akin to the mindboggling decision to dub the British comedy show ‘Allo Allo’ into French & German.. a series that mainly consists of comical piss takes of French & German accents (reckon something gets lost in translation?). They’ll probably stick Michael Caine in there somewhere, dig up some old Civil War resentment perhaps.. or have a pop at the Canadians. On the surface British and American Gangster films would seem to be interchangable, dealing with similar issues and sharing similar moralistic grounds, but they really are chalk and cheese. All the more evident when the two collide, both here and in Richie’s Gangster send ups. The two exist happily in their own right, but never the twain shall meet to any convincing extent. Scorsese’s ‘Departed’ is the closest marriage of the two styles I can think of, but only in a superficial visual sense. In just the same way that Hollywood can’t match the realism of a British Gangster film like Sexy Beast, so too Britain can’t hope to imitate the pure cinematic experience of The Godfather.

Speech 1

‘I tell you something, I’m glad I found out in time what a partnership with a pair of wankers like you would’ve been like! A sleeping partner’s one thing, but you’re in a fucking coma! No wonder you’ve got an energy crisis your side of the water.. but us British, we’re used to a bit more vitality, imagination, touch of the Dunkirk spirit, know what I mean? The days when Yanks could come over ‘ere and buy up Nelson’s Column, an ‘arley street surgeon and a couple’a Windmill Girls are definately over! What I’m looking for..is someone who can contribute to what England has given to the world: Culture, sophistication, genius.. a little bit more than an hotdog, know what I mean? We’re in the Common Market now, and my new deal is with Europe, I’m going into business with a German organisation. Yeah! The Krauts! They’ve got ambition, knowhow, and they don’t lose their bottle. Look at you..The Mafia? I’ve shit ’em.’

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BOB HOSKINS’ GUARDIAN INTERVIEW

Friday 3rd August, 2007

Bob Hoskins says he’s still waiting to be found out. He hasn’t got a clue what he’s doing in this business. “I feel I’m the wrong name on the right list,” he says. “Keep going, keep prodding, and nobody’ll notice. When I told my relations I’m gonna be an actor, they said: ‘Don’t be fucking daft. Forget it! You’ve got to be kidding, aintcha?'” He’s got a point. A bullfrog of a man with a boxer’s nose and a right gob on him, he’s hardly your conventional lead. But he’s been working for 40 years now, and in that time has created some of the most memorable characters in television and film – Arthur Parker, the frustrated songsheet salesman in Pennies from Heaven, Harold Shand, the psychotic gangster in The Long Good Friday, lovelorn George in Mona Lisa, the eye-popping private eye Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He does hard bastard and soft bastard equally well. In his new film, Sparkle, he is playing one of his touching – and touched – softies.

Not surprisingly, acting wasn’t his first job – it came along by accident one evening in London in the late 1960s. Hoskins turned up with his mate for an audition at the old trade union theatre, the Unity. He was just there for a drink, it was his friend who wanted the part. Right, next, said the casting director, pointing to Hoskins. Before he knew it, he found himself on the stage reading from the script of a play about a young thug. He got the lead, and that was that. He didn’t have any training or theory behind him, but he was good at pretending to be other people. “There’s two things I love about this business. One’s acting and the other one’s getting paid for it. The rest of it is a mystery to me. But I ain’t got the faintest idea what the fuck is goin’ on, you know. I’ve read Stanislavsky, and I thought, well, this is obvious.” Ignorant sod that I am, I ask if he means the Method, as thesps like to call it. “Nah! Nah, that’s Lee Strasberg, that’s bollocks! Like how to look busy. It’s just looking busy, impressing the boss. That’s bollocks, going through all this cobblers. Living it out and all that. Bollocks. Total cobblers!”

I think I know what you mean, I tell him – for example, with The Long Good Friday it’s pointless killing a few people just to get into character. “Exactly!” he says. “I’m out the door in a flash. Gone. Let’s face it, some of the characters I’ve played you can’t take home to the wife and kids.” It was in the late 1970s and early 80s that he produced his most outstanding work, partly because he was more fussy with his choices, and partly because Britain was rich in writers and directors. On television, Dennis Potter mingled genres and explored the subconscious in ways that hadn’t been seen before. Was he aware that Pennies from Heaven was special when he was making it? “Nah. The thing was at the time the BBC were quite frightened of it. Whasisname, Piers Haggard, the director, asked me to take me clothes off – I come home, take me clothes off, put me pyjamas on and go to bed, about as sexy as a bag of Brussels sprouts. But he says, ‘I want full frontal.’ Well, Bill Cotton [then controller of BBC1] went fuckin’ bananas. ‘We can’t have that,’ he says, ‘If you show Hoskins’ cock on the television we will get letters of complaint.’ Dennis, without a beat, says, ‘No Bill, you’ll get letters of sympathy.’ Hahahahaha!” Hoskins roars.

What happened to the golden age of TV drama? “Gawd knows. It’s all fucking live television, isn’t it? It’s all bollocks. Living television is the cheapest way to make TV and the cheaper they make it, the more money for the executives.”

Hoskins is now 64, but has no plans to retire. The thing is, he says, an actor can be in an iron lung and you can still give him a part. And now, with his age and status, he’s enjoying himself more than ever. “You reach a point where the cameo is the governor. You go in there for a couple of weeks, you’re paid a lot of money, everybody treats you like the crown jewels, you’re in and out, and if the film’s a load of shit, nobody blames you, y’knowwhadimean. It’s wonderful.” Maybe for you Bob, I say, but not always so wonderful for us. The cameos can frustrate the viewer, and unbalance a film. In Sparkle, for example, you wish he was in the film longer. He laughs off the criticism. “Always leave ’em wanting more, son!” Hoskins has always liked his money. He is probably better known these days for the irritating British Telecom campaign than for his movies. For years, people stopped him in the street and told him: “It’s good to talk.” He was paid a huge amount by BT, but was it worth it? “You’re joking, intcha? I couldn’t believe it. It was un-be-lie-va-ble.” So little work, so much money. Of course, he’d do it again if he was asked. “The worst thing that happened to me was Madonna getting stalked by a fella called Bob Hoskins, and I had fuckin’ hundreds of people come up to me, and say ‘It’s good to stalk.’ Bastards! Hahaha!”

He accepts there have been flops, and films he’s detested, but that’s the nature of the game. “The worst thing I ever did? Super Mario Brothers. It was a fuckin’ nightmare. The whole experience was a nightmare. It had a husband-and-wife team directing, whose arrogance had been mistaken for talent. After so many weeks their own agent told them to get off the set! Fuckin’ nightmare. Fuckin’ idiots.”

Finale