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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Sisters (1973) d. Brian De Palma

This is an example of the split screen technique that Brian De Palma uses in Sisters (1973) to generate narrative tension

Movie Review
d. Brian De Palma
Criterion Collection #89

  Film director Brian De Palma, Auteur? Hollywood Hack? Both? Neither?  It's a question which has sorely vexed an entire generation of film critics, but certainly his work during the 1990s, which included Mission Impossible (1993), Snake Eyes (1996) and Mission to Mars (2000) pushed the argument towards the "Hollywood Hack" side of the argument.   As someone who essentially formed his taste during that decade, it was hard to square the De Palma of Scarface and Carlito's Ways with the De Palma of MI/Snake Eyes/Mission to Mars.  It's not so much that he made those movies, it's that he made those movies with so little passion or flair it was like watching a robot De Palma direct- or not direct, as in the case of Nicolas Cage's lead performance in Snake Eyes.
Brian De Palma used black and white film to shoot dream sequences in Sisters (1973) here we see Kidder attached to her Siamese twin, with her future husband Emil pictured in the background.

 Any auteur who signs up for a Nic Cage action picture set in a Vegas casino is clearly a man who gives exactly no fucks about his critical reputation, so I guess, ultimately, you can't blame him for being involved in a movie that literally embodies every crappy stereotype about Hollywood high concept film making in a single picture.
This is what Margot Kidder looked like in 1973 when she was shooting Sisters directed by Brian De Palma.

 I was pleased to watch Sisters (1973), and early pre-Scarface film that brought him to the attention of the mass audience in America.  Sisters saw a Quebec-ois accent sporting Margot Kidder as Model/Actress/Recovering Siamese Twin Danielle Breton.  When a one night stand she picks up is murdered in her apartment, Danielle, her creepy ex-husband Emil (played by Bill Finley) and local Staten Island investigative newspaper journalist Grace Collier are swept into a psychic horror show.  To describe much more would ruin the "twist"- and I do recommend this film to watch.

  It is easy to see the directorial techniques that brought De Palma to wider attention after this film.  Particularly, he uses the split screen to simultaneously show actions taking place in two different places at the same time.  This serves to compress the run time and heightens the tension relative to the standard technique of cutting between the two locations in alternating takes.
Margot Kidder as erstwhile Siamese twin Danielle Breton in Sisters (1973), directed by Brian De Palma.

 Also notable is the score by frequent Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann.  It's a nice touch that adds some depth to the flat Staten Island location shots.  Finally, Sisters goes totally off the rails in the last 1/3rd of the film and it is worth sticking around to that point just to see De Palma go bonkers.

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