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Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning
Length: 93 min
Disks: 2 (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo)
Label: Arrow Video
Release Date: April 28, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English: LPCM Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
- “What the Devil Hath Joined Together: Brian De Palma’s Sisters “– Video Essay by Justin Humphreys
- Newly commissioned interviews with co-writer Louisa Rose; actress Jennifer Salt; editor Paul Hirsch; and unit manager Jeffrey Hayes
- “The De Palma Digest” – film-by-film guide of De Palma by critic Mike Sutton
- Excerpt from an archival audio interview with William Finley
- Promotional material gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
- Illustrated collector’s booklet, featuring: writing by author Kier-La Janisse , Brian De Palma’s original 1973 Village Voice essay, an interview with De Palma on the making of Sisters, and the 1966 Life magazine article that inspired the film.
- Theatrical Trailer
Sisters became one of the breakout films for long standing director Brian De Palma. It was a film made in a transitional period for the director, as he tried to get a footing in Hollywood. The bulk of his work prior to this consisted of low-budget, offbeat comedy or drama, and films fused with political ideology and satire. While Sisters demonstrates a desire to break into the mainstream, it is anything but: intertwining a strong influence from Hitchcock with innovative editing and camerawork, to produce a stylish and eccentric feature. The film, as much as drawing inspiration from Hitchcock, carries many of De Palma’s own trademarks for which he was later to become known for.
For those unfamiliar with the film, it would be an injustice to give much away. The power of Sisters relies on the audience being unaware of where the next step is going. The plot follows reporter Grace Collier, who thinks she has witnessed a murder—a theme borrowed heavily from Hitchcock’s Rear Window. The vicious attack occurred in French Canadian model Danielle’s (Margot Kidder) apartment, yet when Grace arrives with the police find no evidence of any wrongdoing. Grace is not sure if the assailant was Danielle, but is adamant she saw a man stabbed and call for help by writing an S.O.S. message on the window in his own blood.
The extremely sluggish plot tracks Grace as she struggles to get to the truth. The police refuse to take her seriously, so she takes matters into her own hands. There is cleverness in this as, using a third party to unravel the mystery, the audience are kept in suspense, only getting the facts as Grace uncovers them. This is a film that requires a huge amount of patience. The furious energy demonstrated in the first act quickly dampens down into a slow moving narrative. If you place this alongside De Palma’s other genre pieces—Carrie and The Fury—it appears to lack an abundance of graphic violence and blood. That is not to say it does not have it moments, and when they arrive they are all the more resonant in contrast to the rest of the brooding pace.
Part of the appeal of Sisters is the revelations that arrive in the third act. De Palma stuffs his tale with themes surrounding the fractured psyche, voyeurism, jealousy, coercion, identity, and obsession. The story develops nightmarish and sinister connotations that reach far beyond anything that is explicit on screen. Under these terms, it is a film that stays with you and one that allows for some thought-provoking moments. There are also some little instances of black humour that give the feature a very offbeat edge.With reference to the Hitchcockian aspect, there is no denying it is there. De Palma borrows heavily from Psycho and Rear Window; with minor references appearing to other Hitchcock films such as Rope dotted around the script. De Palma even went so far as to get Hitchcock composer Bernard Hermann in to score the film. It is not like De Palma has denied there was ever a case he was attempting anything else. The film came at a time when he was establishing himself and finding his own voice, it seems only reasonable he would draw from those who inspired him. What is important is, regardless of this, the film does not have an overly Hitchcockian feel. Thanks to some innovative editing techniques, including De Palma’s trademark split screen, and the camerawork, Sisters stands on its own two feet. The references are there, but are not so overbearing that they take anything away from De Palma—although there are those who would probably disagree with this.
For the cast, De Palma drafted in his then girlfriend Margot Kidder. Kidder gives an interesting performance, although her French Canadian accent comes off as a little distracting at times. It is almost as if she is hamming up her performance with the constant ‘erm arh what how you say?’ rendition of a French speaker in an English speaking environment. That is not to say Kidder puts in a terrible performance, and she does well to convey the wide-eyed, frail personality of a woman trying to find her place in the world. What is missing is her usual ballsy attitude, for instance: the loud mouthed Barb in Black Christmas, or Lois Lane’s Rottweiler-temperament in Superman. The script limits her position; she may have had more of a chance to shine in the role of reporter Grace. Jennifer Salt, as Grace Collier is fantastic. Independent, strong, tenacious, Collier is everything you want to see in the lead role. The fact that we do have this incredibly strong female character in a part that could have been played—and would have been traditionally —by a male seems to dispel accusations against De Palma that he was a misogynist filmmaker. De Palma staple William Finley appears as a sinister presence in husband Emil, and manages to convey, very successfully, that sense of the claw behind the glove.
Arrow Films present Sisters in both high definition Blu-ray (1080pi) and a standard definition DVD for this combo release. The print is pristine and clear, yet retains a beautiful cinematic look: deep in texture and grain. The colors are well represented and show realistic skin tones. One downside to this is some of the blood shows in an orange-red tone, something often inherent with features of the time. This is a small compromise for the quality you get in terms of print here. There were no noticeable flaws concerning DNS processing, nor were there any obvious scratches or dirt on the print.
Staying faithful to the original format the disk also retains its original mono audio (uncompressed PCM). The sound is clear, well mixed, and Bernard Hermann’s score sounds fantastic.
In terms of extras, there are some valuable pieces which accompany the release, including ‘What the Devil Hath Joined Together: Brian De Palma’s Sisters – A visual essay by author Justin Humphreys’- in which Humphreys explores the key concepts of Sisters, the background and the production. There are also exclusive interviews with cast and crewmembers Louisa Rose, Jennifer Salt, Paul Hirsh and Jeffrey Hayes. The De Palma Digest – a film-by-film guide to the director’s career, by critic Mike Sutton, examines the entire career by De Palma: his major works right back from his university days to the present day. There is also an archival interview with star William Finley, a theatrical trailer and gallery of international promotional material. As standard with Arrow, the release is packaged with a reversible sleeve and new artwork from Graham Humpreys. The accompanying collectors booklet contains new writing on the film by author Kier-La Janisse. Also included is a previously published article by Brian De Palma (1973 Village Voice). There is a written interview with director De Palma on making Sisters, and the 1966 Life magazine article which inspired De Palma to write the story that later became the script for the film.
Offbeat, slow moving, and thought provoking, Sisters is an interesting early effort for long standing director Brian De Palma. Dark themes and psychological horror dominate the plot. The Hitchcockian references are there for all to see, yet De Palma still manages to pull off something unique and fascinating. This new restoration by Arrow Films comes packed with some quality extras and is certain to please fans.