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Sisters(1973)

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Sisters (1973)

The first film of New York based filmmaker Brian De Palma to receive a wide theatrical release and attract favorable notices from mainstream critics, Sisters (1973) is an audacious mixture of psychosexual thriller and Alfred Hitchcock homage infused with a wicked sense of humor. Certainly, De Palma had already established himself as a director to watch with such promising indie efforts as Greetings (1968) and Hi, Mom! (1970), two improvisational, anti-establishment satires, both of which starred a young Robert de Niro. But Sisters is the film that set the tone and style of De Palma's "thriller" oeuvre which blossomed with Carrie (1976) and peaked with Dressed to Kill (1980). Bursting with creative energy and visual experimentation, the film is a virtuoso sampler of his strengths (and weaknesses) and a lot more fun than some of his later work which often verged on self-parody.

In the tradition of other mystery thrillers about twins where one is good and one is bad (The Dark Mirror [1946], Dead Ringer [1964]), Sisters tops that plot device with a kinky twist: Danielle (Margot Kidder) is a former Siamese twin, separated from her psychotic sister, Dominique. She becomes the object of a police investigation when a neighbor, aspiring journalist Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt), witnesses a murder in Danielle's apartment. When the police fail to find any evidence that would convict Danielle, Grace conducts her own private investigation, hiring a detective (Charles Durning) to monitor the suspect's apartment while she tries to unravel the strange relationship between Danielle and her creepy ex-husband, Emil (William Finley), who continues to stalk her. It all ends in a madhouse, appropriately enough, with Grace strapped to a gurney and completely at the mercy of Emil, who is revealed as the doctor who performed the separation surgery on Danielle/Dominique.

While De Palma's detractors have always accused him of plagiarizing Hitchcock, Sisters is actually an inspired homage to the British master of suspense, with De Palma enriching the narrative with situations and elements from key Hitchcock films. The film's voyeuristic nature and the nosy neighbor who cries murder is inspired by Rear Window (1954); Emil's attempts to control and dominate Danielle mirror James Stewart's behavior toward Kim Novak in Vertigo (1958), the unexpected early murder of a sympathetic character audiences had assumed was the protagonist harkens back to Janet Leigh's shocking demise in Psycho (1960). The other Hitchcock connection, of course, is the film's music score, composed by Bernard Herrmann, one of Hitchcock's most famous collaborators (The Trouble with Harry [1955], The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956], North by Northwest [1959], etc.). De Palma strikes just the right note of freaked-out paranoia with the opening credit sequence featuring Herrmann's frantic orchestration which is like an amphetamine-fueled version of his Psycho overture. Yet, despite the pervasive Hitchcock influence, Sisters has a distinctive style all its own with De Palma employing split-screen techniques, alternate points-of-view, dream sequences, frenetic editing, ominous tracking shots and dashes of graphic gore to give the film a feverish rollercoaster momentum.

Scratch the surface, however, and you might notice a feminist subtext which has been noted by many film scholars, among them Robin Wood who wrote in his chapter on Brian De Palma in Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan...and Beyond: "Sisters analyzes the ways in which women are oppressed within patriarchal society on two levels, the professional (Grace) and the psychosexual (Danielle/Dominique)." Even if you don't buy that academic jibber-jabber, Sisters is a true reflection of its troubled era, marked by the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War and the emergence of the women's movement. It's also easy to see how some reviewers believed that De Palma was creating a feminist horror film since both Danielle and Grace are the real victims of Sisters, both of them thwarted in their attempts at independence by men. Danielle is constantly manipulated by Emil and the prescription drugs he administers while Grace is at first humored by the police, then dismissed and eventually silenced as the film's potential heroine. At the film's conclusion, she has returned home to her mother's care in a post-hypnotic state, docile and subservient.

On the other hand, some critics consider Sisters misogynistic, an accusation which has followed De Palma throughout his career. Remember the cruel fates awaiting Angie Dickinson in Dressed to Kill and Fiona Lewis and Carrie Snodgress in The Fury (1978), their deaths rendered with an almost sadistic glee? One could argue that Sisters has no sympathetic female characters. Danielle could just as easily be viewed as a dangerous psychopath, a castrating avenger who alternately seduces and destroys men. As for Grace, De Palma occasionally exploits her character for humor in scenes where she bungles her own investigation and comes off like a nitwit (such as the scene where she drops the birthday cake on the cop's leg). The fact that Sisters can be viewed as both a feminist film and a movie by a misogynist makes it one of De Palma's most fascinating works and one that compliments the film's schizophrenic nature.

Without a doubt, Sisters marks an important turning point in De Palma's career. It looks back toward his early films with its loose, freewheeling, try-anything style of filmmaking and the presence of William Finley and Jennifer Salt who appeared in some of De Palma's first movies. It also anticipates his rise as a Hollywood auteur with its more traditionally structured plot, visual stylization and prominent roles for Margot Kidder and Charles Durning, both of whom would go on to greater success; Kidder for box-office hits such as Superman [1978], The Amityville Horror [1979], and Superman II [1980] and Durning for Oscar®-nominated supporting roles in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas [1982] and To Be or Not to Be [1983]. For some however, Durning's shining moment may be the final closing shot in Sisters, one of the great comic fadeouts of all time and the perfect setup for a sequel.

Producer: Edward R. Pressman, Lynn Pressman, Robert Rohdie
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Cinematography: Gregory Sandor
Film Editing: Paul Hirsch
Art Direction: Gary Weist
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Margot Kidder (Danielle Breton), Jennifer Salt (Grace Collier), Charles Durning (Joseph Larch), William Finley (Emil Breton), Lisle Wilson (Phillip Woode), Barnard Hughes (Arthur McLennen).
Color-92m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford

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Sisters (1973)

Sisters was partly inspired by an article Brian De Palma saw in Life magazine about a pair of Russian Siamese twins named Dasha and Masha. According to the director, "apart from the fact that they were joined at the hip both girls were physiologically normal, but as they were getting older they were developing psychological problems. One of the twins had a very surly, disturbing look on her face and the other looked perfectly healthy and smiling. And this strong visual image started the whole idea off in my mind."

The budget for the film was estimated to be approximately $500,000. "I got it financed independently," De Palma stated. "It took me a long time, and it was very difficult and I don't recommend it to anybody. We started with $200,000 and the producer just kept going out and raising more money until we ended up with a half million cash. But that was as far as he could go."

Allegedly, producer Ray Stark originally purchased Sisters as a project for Raquel Welch. De Palma commented on this, stating, "He suggested her to me, once. He bought it because he wanted to make a film with me, and he liked the material. I also wrote Phantom of the Paradise (1974) for him at that time, but we could never agree on the script so I had to buy it back."

The opening scene in Sisters - a live situation broadcast on the TV series, "The Peeping Tom Show" - was derived from the popular "Candid Camera" television show.

De Palma rehearsed Sisters for a month before he began filming. The director stated "I always rehearse material to make sure it works before I think about how I'm going to shoot it. If the story works, the dramatic flow works, then you can think about implementing visual conceptions."

One of the most ambitious scenes in Sisters and one which De Palma eventually had to delete from the final version was an elaborate tracking shot during the murder investigation of Danielle's apartment in which you can see the blood of the victim's body oozing through the bottom of the couch. "The whole search scene is a Max Ophuls-type tracking shot about 6 minutes long, and while they are searching through the apartment the camera keeps coming back to the couch and the spot is getting bigger and bigger and bigger," De Palma recalled. "I shot it, but because the camera could only get down so low and still go up high enough to shoot the rest of the scene we couldn't get down to the bottom of the couch and when we saw the rushes it looked ridiculous because it looked like the guy was bleeding up through the arm of the couch. So I had to throw out the whole tracking shot, and I was forced to use close-ups and television-type coverage."

One of the special effects in Sisters featured Margot Kidder as Siamese twins sitting next to each other. "We photographed Margot," De Palma revealed, "as she sat once in the chair and made a mark and photographed one side of the screen, and then we moved her over and photographed on the other side of the screen and made another mark for where we placed her in the frame, and then the optical house joined them together so that she was one piece, just like a Siamese twin. That same sort of thing was done a long time ago in old Bette Davis movies [A Stolen Life, 1946, Dead Ringer, 1964], so it's nothing new; but it's never been done before with a Siamese twin."

Sisters was shot in 35mm with some segments filmed on 16mm for stylistic reasons. De Palma said, "I used 16mm to photograph the doctor when he is talking directly to the camera during the hypnosis scene. I operated the camera myself there because he was looking directly into the camera and there was no other way to see how he was playing it. Also, the first dream, where they are going through the clinic with all the freaks, was shot in 16mm. I happen to like grain if you can use if properly...But you have got to put it in the right place so that it doesn't look like a tawdry 16mm exploitation picture. However in this film I was looking for a classical Hitchcock-type look, and when you spend that much time on sets and lighting you have to use Panavision lenses and the sharpest photography you can get - and it's not feasible on 16mm."

According to De Palma, Sisters was shot over an eight-week period. "We used a Mitchell NC with Panavision lenses, an Eclair for the 16mm, and an Arri and two Mitchells for some of the double shots. The film was shot entirely on location on Staten Island except for the stuff on the apartment set and at the Time-Life building. The film was very tightly shot. Our shooting ratio was 8 to 1, and only a couple of scenes were re-shot and only one scene was dropped. Each scene was preconceived and carefully planned out. The film was very carefully lit in a truly classical style...The cameraman sometimes took as long as 45 minutes to light closeups, which is especially rare in a low-budget movie, but it makes a big difference because the girls looked good!"

De Palma's use of split-screens in Sisters was not a new technique in 1972 (it had been used before in films such as Grand Prix [1966] and Woodstock [1970]) but it enhanced the voyeuristic aspects of the film. "The multiple split-screens were done with set-ups," De Palma said. "For instance, in the elevator-hallway sequence we used three set-ups: a pan at the window, one coming around the doorway when they come out of the elevator and the Doctor is hiding in the back, and the two people at the door (when the detective comes in she opens the door and you see it from both sides)."

There are several scenes in Sisters where De Palma makes the audience aware that they are watching a movie. "The opening scene is one example," De Palma points out. "The audience thinks they are voyeuristically watching people in a bath house, but then they are suddenly made aware that those people are on a television show and they are watching a television screen. It is also a very unique way of introducing characters, because instead of having them meet on the street and say, "Hi, let's go have a drink together," suddenly you have set up the whole image of the movie: the audience as voyeur which then transforms into what is essentially the character of Grace Collier who sees the murder. And it ends with the detective watching the couch with binoculars, so there is a voyeuristic image at the beginning and at the end."

The idea to use composer Bernard Herrmann to create the music score for Sisters is credited to Paul Hirsch, the film's editor. Hirsch used Herrmann's music for Psycho (1960), Marnie (1964) and other Hitchcock films as an accompaniment while assembling the rough footage and its disturbing quality convinced De Palma to go directly to the source.

De Palma found out soon enough that working with Herrmann, a known perfectionist with a difficult temperament, was no picnic. "I wanted to start the movie with just white credits over the first scene as Danielle/Dominique is getting undressed," recalled De Palma. "That was the first cue I discussed with Herrmann, and he said, "That's TERRIBLE!" (And he talks in a very gruff, deliberate way.) So I said, "What's wrong with it?" And he said, "Nothing happens in this movie for forty minutes!" And I said, "Yes, that's the idea. There is a slow beginning - you know, like Psycho, where the murder doesn't happen until about 40 minutes into the picture." And he shouted at me, "YOU are not Hitchcock; for Hitchcock they will WAIT!" And that is of course very true. Because it's a Hitchcock movie you KNOW something is going to happen."

Sources:
The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film
Brian De Palma: Interviews, ed. by Laurence C. Knapp
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind
Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan..and Beyond by Robin Wood
www.briandepalma.net
filmforce.ign.com
film.guardian.co.uk
www.geraldpeary.com/interviews
Cinefantastique Magazine

Compiled by Jeff Stafford

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Sisters (1973)

"Brian De Palma's Sisters is the freshest, most gripping suspense thriller to hit movie screens since Night of the Living Dead [1968]. It is also the most insightful and deeply felt homage to the art of Alfred Hitchcock that a devoted admirer has yet produced...And to complete this almost perfect ode to Hitchcock there is, of course, the music score - by Bernard Herrmann. No small part of the film's success is due to it, for it is as brilliantly visceral and unsettling a composition as any he has composed for Hitchcock..."
- John McCarty, Cinefantastique

"Sisters, De Palma's finest achievement prior to Blow Out [1981] and one of the great American films of the 1970s...."- Robin Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan...and Beyond

"Brian De Palma's low-budget horror movie...has its share of flaked-out humor...and De Palma does some virtuoso stunts though not in the dream-slapstick style of his later thrillers, Carrie [1976] and The Fury [1978]. This is a much more primitive scare picture. He lurches his way through; he can't seem to get two people talking to make a simple expository point without its sounding like the drabbest Republic picture of 1938. The facetious dialogue is a wet blanket, and De Palma isn't quite up to his apparent intention - to provide cheap thrills that are also a parody of old corn. He manages the thrills, though (there are some demented knife-slashings), and audiences seemed to be happily freaked by Bernard Herrmann's score, with its old radio-play throb and zing."
- Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies

"Brian De Palma's Sisters was made more or less consciously as an homage to Alfred Hitchcock, but it has a life of its own and it's a neat little mystery picture...In a movie industry filled with young actresses who look great but can't act so well (especially when they've got to play intelligent characters), De Palma has cast two of the exceptions: Margot Kidder and Jennifer Salt. Both of them are really fine, but Jennifer Salt is the bigger surprise because she's so convincing as the tough, stubborn, doggedly persistent outsider. It's a classic Hitchcock role. She's totally uninvolved and innocent, and in possession of information no one will believe." -
Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times

"Sisters is a good psychological murder melodrama...Brian De Palma's direction emphasizes exploitation values which do not fully mask script weakness."
Variety Movie Guide

"Sisters, an artful homage to Hitchcock. It is a psychological suspense film, drawing upon Psycho but still raw with the background naturalism of student films. That has long since faded and been replaced with studied picture compilation."
David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film

"Hailed as a homage to the art of Alfred Hitchcock and by one reviewer as a 'really radical feminist film,' Sisters actually seems less and less like either the more one sees of both Hitchcock and De Palma. Increasingly De Palma seems to be merely imitating Hitchcock or mechanically repeating his various devices...the use of split screen (a very unHitchcockian device) is both inventive and imaginative, and Kidder's hallucination sequence is genuinely disturbing and one of the most powerful things De Palma has ever done."
Phil Hardy, The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies

"A creepy, funny, visually innovative but not that satisfying suspense thriller by Brian De Palma...Film is a bit too violent, but if it has a major problem, it is that the opening sequence is so technically exciting (with tracking shots, split screen, sharp cutting), witty....and suspenseful that it's never equaled."
Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic.

"Although filled with wild inconsistencies and lurid excesses, this film is acted and directed with such style and verve that it hardly matters."
James O'Neill, Terror on Tape

"...it does indeed appear as a highly efficient gut-ripper, with far more suggestion than De Palma's later work of the loose-end flux of real life going on in the background. There is, however, much early evidence of his rampant misogyny, his increasingly blatant stealings from Hitchcock, and most unforgivable of all, his clear distaste for the people he creates. De Palma's father was a surgeon, which may explain such greedy sadism."
- Chris Peachment, TimeOut Film Guide

"...black comedy and biting satire, but confused by erratic editing, strange juxtaposing of scenes and lack of logic. Because De Palma's intentions are fuzzy, Sisters is an intriguing mess...True, the suspense is considerable and there is excellent use of split screen but it's ultimately a bumble or a jumble." - John Stanley, Creature Features

"Sisters joins Hollywood-caliber suspense sequences to the feel of a gritty exploitation film and themes in tune with the time of its creation. That it opens with one of De Palma's trademark fakeouts - in this case Peeping Toms, a game show that recalls Candid Camera by way of Michael Powell - reveals both its importance in terms of the director's later work and how much the initial enjoyment of it depends on an ignorance of its many plot twists and ingenious dashing of expectations...De Palma also knows how to deliver thrills, a skill he displays with remarkable regularity in Sisters, which still looks like one of his best." -
Keith Phipps, The Onion AV Club

"...arguably De Palma's best, most entertaining film. It contains enough inspired wickedness and lunacy that it would have made even Hitchcock jealous. But for all its prankishness, the film remains a telling exploration of duality, identity, and obsession--themes that De Palma would recycle time and again, but rarely with such wit or intelligence." - Derek Hill, Images Journal


"Sisters is one of De Palma's best films, better than any of his subsequent horror thrillers. It's so good, in fact, that later attempts like Dressed to Kill (1980) and Body Double (1984), lacking both the novelty and the inspiration of Sisters, come off as derivative and devoid of imagination, as if De Palma had become some kind of cinema Sisyphus, doomed forever to repeat the same meaningless homages...De Palma has several clever sequences that seem wholly his own, for instance, the Life Magazine newsreel story on the twins that provides very effective exposition. But Sisters is best remembered for two killer scenes, the asylum nightmare and the split screen murder." -Glenn Erickson, Video Savant

"Some film fans may tend to discredit De Palma for drawing as much from Hitchcock as he has during his hit-and-miss career, but we are glad he has been a proponent of the split-screen, a technically challenging component of cinema that almost died with Gance before its resurrection in the 1960s and total exploitation by De Palma a few years later. And one of the best places to see De Palma's technical genius is in his 1973 Sisters....Sisters, with its blend of classic suspense, '70s horror, and a relentless focus on mutants and freaks of nature, is a film designed to make you very, very uncomfortable, despite the everyday nature of the lead actors. Kidder, who may be laying on that French Canadian accent a bit thick, nonetheless makes for a credible lead with her airy, superficial quality, and Salt is relentless as the no-nonsense muckraker."
JJB, The DVD Journal

Compiled by Jeff Stafford

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Sisters (1973)

Sisters was also known as Blood Sisters in some selected film markets.

Brian DePalma's wicked sense of humor emerges at strange points during Sisters. Note the scene where the two game show contestants - Danielle and Phillip - receive door prizes for their participation. Danielle gets a set of steak knives (which she will soon use!) and Phillip receives dinner for two at Manhattan's Famous Jungle Room (a possible dig at game show producers awarding gifts based on cultural stereotypes).

Sisters is also one of the few films of its era to feature an interracial romance and kissing scene which may have received more attention if it was a bigger commercial release with well-known stars. Even The Mighty Quinn (1989), which was made almost twenty years later, and starred Denzel Washington and Mimi Rogers didn't allow audiences to see a kissing scene between Washington and Rogers (it was cut after preview audiences reacted negatively).

Brian De Palma began making films as a student, first at Columbia, and later at Sarah Lawrence College. His 1962 short, "Woton's Wake", won him several awards and featured William Finley in the role of Woton. Finley would continue to work as an actor for De Palma in Murder a la Mod (1968), The Wedding Party (1969), Dionysus in '69 (1970), Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise (1974), The Fury (1978), Dressed to Kill (1980) and The Black Dahlia (2006).

De Palma's first feature film, The Wedding Party (produced in 1966 but not released until 1969) is best remembered as the feature film debuts of Robert De Niro and Jill Clayburgh. De Niro would also star in De Palma's Greetings (1968) and Hi, Mom! (1970).

After completing The Fury in 1977, De Palma took a break from Hollywood production and taught filmmaking at Sarah Lawrence College for the 1977-78 session. The end result of his time there was Home Movies (1980), a low-budget comedy made with the assistance of Sarah Lawrence film students.

Actress Jennifer Salt, who plays Grace in Sisters, was a friend of De Palma's during his early years in New York and has appeared in three other films by him: Murder a la Mod, The Wedding Party and Hi, Mom!. She is the daughter of screenwriter Waldo Salt (Midnight Cowboy [1969], Serpico [1973], Coming Home [1978]) and actress Mary Davenport (This Gun for Hire [1942], Home Movies, Dressed to Kill). For Sisters, De Palma cast Davenport to play her own daughter's mother in the film.

Margot Kidder was a Canadian actress who got her first big film break in Hollywood in the 1969 Norman Jewison film, Gaily, Gaily. She also made a strong impression opposite Gene Wilder in one of his earliest movies, Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970).

After Sisters, Kidder would go on to star in three more films in the horror genre - The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), The Amityville Horror (1979), a huge box-office hit, and Black Christmas (1974) which enjoys a huge cult following and is slated to be remade.

Margot Kidder and Jennifer Salt were roommates in Southern California in the early 1970s while they were struggling performers. They held parties for their friends and neighbors who included Paul Schrader, Blythe Danner, Bruce Paltrow and Brian De Palma. One year at Christmas, Kidder and Salt opened a box under their Christmas tree and it contained the script to Sisters; it was De Palma's gift to them after a long period of no work for either actress. It was also De Palma's gift to himself. He hadn't worked since his unhappy experience with Warner Brothers over Get to Know Your Rabbit [1972], which sat on a shelf for six months and was then dumped into secondary cinemas without any fanfare or publicity.

Margot Kidder's career and life took a nosedive in 1990 when she was injured in a serious car wreck and couldn't work for two years. As a result, she went bankrupt. By 1996, she had become extremely depressed and became convinced her first husband was out to kill her. She fled her home, made herself unrecognizable by hacking most of her hair off and pulling out some teeth, and began a homeless existence for a while. Her desperate and confused condition became a media news story when she was found shivering under a family's porch near the studio lot where Superman (1978) was filmed. Margot credits police intervention with helping her to get her life back on track since then. She had another car wreck in 2002 but had a complete recovery. The actress stated that "the truth about those car smashes is - stone cold sober - I'm simply the worst driver on the planet."

According to Peter Biskind in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Kidder began an affair with De Palma while they were both living in Los Angeles in the early seventies. "Margot started seeing De Palma. They were passionately in heat, making it anywhere and everywhere, once in a closet at [Jonathan] Taplin's house, during a party. At the time, Bobby Fischer was challenging Boris Spassky, and a chess craze had swept up the beach. Brian taught Margie how to play, upset the board onto her lap when she made a dumb move. She played and played until the day she beat him, then lost interest."

Sisters is noteworthy as an early film venture from Edward R. Pressman, one of Hollywood's most distinguished and ambitious producers to emerge in the seventies. In addition to working with de Palma again on Phantom of the Paradise [1974], he also was a driving force behind such varied and offbeat films as Terrence Malick's Badlands [1973], Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot [1981], David Byrne's True Stories [1986], Oliver Stone's Wall Street [1987], Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant [1992], and many more.

Pressman's money came from his family's toy business and Sisters was his fourth feature as a producer (and his first with De Palma). Prior to this, he had produced Out of It [1969], The Revolutionary [1970] - both of which starred Jon Voight - and Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues [1972]. He is profiled in the book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls as being "short and socially maladroit." Stories about his faux pas abounded. One night, at a party, he was holding a glass of scotch in his hand when actor John Lithgow asked him the time. He instantly turned his wrist, dumping the scotch into his lap. It was easy not to take Ed seriously, and most people didn't. Says [Jennifer] Salt, "Ed was totally spaced out, it appeared he had no idea what he was doing. We all felt the boys brought him along for the ride because he was a rich boy and his mother would bail them out of any trouble that they got into, so they played movies." Brian used to call him "Sparky" behind his back. Pressman was extremely tight with money, and when Brian had to sue him for dollars owed on Sisters, he stopped calling him "Sparky," and started referring to him as "the weasel."

Sources:
The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film
Brian DePalma: Interviews, ed. by Laurence C. Knapp
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind
Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan..and Beyond by Robin Wood
www.briandepalma.net
filmforce.ign.com
film.guardian.co.uk
www.geraldpeary.com/interviews
Cinefantastique Magazine

Compiled by Jeff Stafford

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Sisters (1973)

Phil Woode: Does your ex-husband make a habit of standing guard out there?
Danielle Breton: (slightly drunk) Why he's always following me? What is so terrible is his persistence. He says that we can work a truce but I don't want to work a truce. Sometimes there is no solution.

Grace Collier: (on phone) I'm sorry you feel that way detective but I have to write it the way I see it. Sometimes the police are wrong. Look, this is ridiculous. We can't discuss it now. A man is bleeding to death.

Grace: I saw a murder, and I'm going to prove it!

Detective Kelly: (to Danielle) Something very unusual occurred this morning. It seems that Miss Collier happened to glance out of her window and saw something which so shocked and disturbed her that she called the police department.

Grace: He wrote Help on the window in his own blood and I watched him write it!

Grace: Working for the Staten Island Panorama is a bit of a joke. You know what my next assignment is?
Grace's Mother: No, I don't
Grace: I'm having lunch tomorrow with an 80-year-old ex-con who's just carved an entire replica of the Danberry Penitentiary out of soup.
Grace's Mother: Ah, that's interesting.
Grace: OH, I want to write about the apathy in the police force...where the heroine goes after a bust...
Grace's Mother: Shhhhhhhh!
Grace: I'm on to something BIG!
Grace's Mother: Are you on diet pills again?

Joseph Larch: Grace, this is a craft. I wouldn't try to teach you how to write magazine articles. Listen, I went to school to learn this - The Brooklyn Modern School of Investigation, ok? OK! Now you go up to your apartment and do what I told you. Go ahead. I'll be here.

Joseph: The body is in the couch!

Dr. Pierre Milius: It seems the older they become the more precarious is their psychological balance, both within themselves and with one another. In this I am in agreement with my colleagues: Dominique is the truly disturbed one...

Compiled by Jeff Stafford

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teaser Sisters (1973)

The first film of New York based filmmaker Brian De Palma to receive a wide theatrical release and attract favorable notices from mainstream critics, Sisters (1973) is an audacious mixture of psychosexual thriller and Alfred Hitchcock homage infused with a wicked sense of humor. Certainly, De Palma had already established himself as a director to watch with such promising indie efforts as Greetings (1968) and Hi, Mom! (1970), two improvisational, anti-establishment satires, both of which starred a young Robert de Niro. But Sisters is the film that set the tone and style of De Palma's "thriller" oeuvre which blossomed with Carrie (1976) and peaked with Dressed to Kill (1980). Bursting with creative energy and visual experimentation, the film is a virtuoso sampler of his strengths (and weaknesses) and a lot more fun than some of his later work which often verged on self-parody.

In the tradition of other mystery thrillers about twins where one is good and one is bad (The Dark Mirror [1946], Dead Ringer [1964]), Sisters tops that plot device with a kinky twist: Danielle (Margot Kidder) is a former Siamese twin, separated from her psychotic sister, Dominique. She becomes the object of a police investigation when a neighbor, aspiring journalist Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt), witnesses a murder in Danielle's apartment. When the police fail to find any evidence that would convict Danielle, Grace conducts her own private investigation, hiring a detective (Charles Durning) to monitor the suspect's apartment while she tries to unravel the strange relationship between Danielle and her creepy ex-husband, Emil (William Finley), who continues to stalk her. It all ends in a madhouse, appropriately enough, with Grace strapped to a gurney and completely at the mercy of Emil, who is revealed as the doctor who performed the separation surgery on Danielle/Dominique.

While De Palma's detractors have always accused him of plagiarizing Hitchcock, Sisters is actually an inspired homage to the British master of suspense, with De Palma enriching the narrative with situations and elements from key Hitchcock films. The film's voyeuristic nature and the nosy neighbor who cries murder is inspired by Rear Window (1954); Emil's attempts to control and dominate Danielle mirror James Stewart's behavior toward Kim Novak in Vertigo (1958), the unexpected early murder of a sympathetic character audiences had assumed was the protagonist harkens back to Janet Leigh's shocking demise in Psycho (1960). The other Hitchcock connection, of course, is the film's music score, composed by Bernard Herrmann, one of Hitchcock's most famous collaborators (The Trouble with Harry [1955], The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956], North by Northwest [1959], etc.). De Palma strikes just the right note of freaked-out paranoia with the opening credit sequence featuring Herrmann's frantic orchestration which is like an amphetamine-fueled version of his Psycho overture. Yet, despite the pervasive Hitchcock influence, Sisters has a distinctive style all its own with De Palma employing split-screen techniques, alternate points-of-view, dream sequences, frenetic editing, ominous tracking shots and dashes of graphic gore to give the film a feverish rollercoaster momentum.

Scratch the surface, however, and you might notice a feminist subtext which has been noted by many film scholars, among them Robin Wood who wrote in his chapter on Brian De Palma in Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan...and Beyond: "Sisters analyzes the ways in which women are oppressed within patriarchal society on two levels, the professional (Grace) and the psychosexual (Danielle/Dominique)." Even if you don't buy that academic jibber-jabber, Sisters is a true reflection of its troubled era, marked by the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War and the emergence of the women's movement. It's also easy to see how some reviewers believed that De Palma was creating a feminist horror film since both Danielle and Grace are the real victims of Sisters, both of them thwarted in their attempts at independence by men. Danielle is constantly manipulated by Emil and the prescription drugs he administers while Grace is at first humored by the police, then dismissed and eventually silenced as the film's potential heroine. At the film's conclusion, she has returned home to her mother's care in a post-hypnotic state, docile and subservient.

On the other hand, some critics consider Sisters misogynistic, an accusation which has followed De Palma throughout his career. Remember the cruel fates awaiting Angie Dickinson in Dressed to Kill and Fiona Lewis and Carrie Snodgress in The Fury (1978), their deaths rendered with an almost sadistic glee? One could argue that Sisters has no sympathetic female characters. Danielle could just as easily be viewed as a dangerous psychopath, a castrating avenger who alternately seduces and destroys men. As for Grace, De Palma occasionally exploits her character for humor in scenes where she bungles her own investigation and comes off like a nitwit (such as the scene where she drops the birthday cake on the cop's leg). The fact that Sisters can be viewed as both a feminist film and a movie by a misogynist makes it one of De Palma's most fascinating works and one that compliments the film's schizophrenic nature.

Without a doubt, Sisters marks an important turning point in De Palma's career. It looks back toward his early films with its loose, freewheeling, try-anything style of filmmaking and the presence of William Finley and Jennifer Salt who appeared in some of De Palma's first movies. It also anticipates his rise as a Hollywood auteur with its more traditionally structured plot, visual stylization and prominent roles for Margot Kidder and Charles Durning, both of whom would go on to greater success; Kidder for box-office hits such as Superman [1978], The Amityville Horror [1979], and Superman II [1980] and Durning for Oscar®-nominated supporting roles in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas [1982] and To Be or Not to Be [1983]. For some however, Durning's shining moment may be the final closing shot in Sisters, one of the great comic fadeouts of all time and the perfect setup for a sequel.

Producer: Edward R. Pressman, Lynn Pressman, Robert Rohdie
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Cinematography: Gregory Sandor
Film Editing: Paul Hirsch
Art Direction: Gary Weist
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Margot Kidder (Danielle Breton), Jennifer Salt (Grace Collier), Charles Durning (Joseph Larch), William Finley (Emil Breton), Lisle Wilson (Phillip Woode), Barnard Hughes (Arthur McLennen).
Color-92m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford

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