Obsession - 1976

Directed by Brian De Palma
Cliff Robertson
Geneviève Bujold
John Lithgow
Premiere: New York City August 1, 1976

For those who are a little known with Devil Doll and Mr Doctor it should not come as a surprise that THE MAN holds a spot in His heart for the gem being discussed in this review: Obsession. Years ago, THE MAN wrote a book (in collaboration with Francesco Carta) dedicated in the unravelling of Herrmann’s masterpieces, and known is His appreciation of Herrmann’s work for Hangover Square (Concerto Macabre), Vertigo (which directly influenced De Palma and Obsession), Psycho (most famously the shower scene), and the Twilight Zone (Little Girl Lost episode for which Herrmann wrote for four flutes, four harps, percussion, and a viola d’amore).

The movie is about a businessman named Michael Courtland (played by the late Cliff Robertson) whose wife and child are kidnapped which ends in the death of both. Years later, in Italy, Courtland runs into a woman who is the doppelgänger (both wife and double, Sandra, are portrayed by Geneviève Bujold) of his deceased wife whom he wishes to marry. Friends and associates alike strongly advise against the marriage, because it seems that Courtland is merely transposing the feelings for his late wife onto the new woman. Strangely enough, on the day of the wedding, she too is kidnapped and the exact same ransom note is left at the scene. It turns out that his real estate partner has been behind this for all these years. Courtland kills him and finds out that Sandra is actually his surviving daughter.

On the GIMMIX inlay of the Dies Irae album, Mr Doctor noted Herrmann’s composition as inspiration for the album. The versions discussed in this review concern a very recent limited edition release by Music Box. It contains two CDs with the Film Score on the first disc and the original 1976 soundtrack album. The opening sounds of the organ and choir (later beautifully repeated in ‘Elizabeth’s Portrait) seem to be the influence for the Dies Irae album, but the whole soundtrack is full of original highlights (such as the cemetery, the Ransom Cue, and the Alternate Airport – which has a ‘Psycho’ feeling to it). The Soundtrack CD is significantly shorter (39:07 to 74:00 for the complete score), but this must have been done so, because several cues (or motifs) keep repeating throughout the movie.

It was not the first time that Herrmann had worked with on ‘Sister’ for which the main title track is absolutely amazing as well (besides the part of the score for the scene where the girl stabs black man in her apartment which is witnessed by a neighbour from a window; here Herrmann is clearly in his element). It took Herrmann about a month to complete the score for Obsession for which he constantly looked at a photo of Bujold since that picture had enchanted him (some argued Herrmann had fallen in love with the character she played). The booklet of the new cd release calls the ‘Elizabeth’s Portrait’ a Dies Irae-like type of composition, and after listening to the soundtrack many times over the ending of this part of the composition is very ‘Devil Doll-esque’.

The soundtrack was originally performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra and the Thames Chamber Choir. The recording took place at the St Giles Church, Cripplegate in London and was restored by Christophe Hénault. The release comes with a very informative booklet and bonus tracks (alternative and unused cues) and limited to 3000 copies. The same year that De Palma released this movie, the (now) world famous ‘Carrie’ was released as well, but it was Giuseppe Donaggio who did the music for this movie, and it was also the year of Herrmann’s last score which was for the now legendary ‘Taxi Driver’ movie (which was recorded in 1977, during the two days before Herrmann died). Hitchcock, who worked with Herrmann on many movies, was not amused with De Palma’s movie since it, according to Hitchcock, it resembled his ‘Vertigo’ too much.