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July 14, 2016

Obsessions

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Bezeten - Het gat in de muur / Besessen - Das Loch in der Wand
Pim de la Parra - 1969
Koch Media BD Region B

It's been so long that I can no longer remember when I was first aware of Obsessions. But I admit to being obsessed about wanting to see what was seemingly a "lost" film. This is not to be confused with the similarly titled Obsession, the Paul Schrader penned film directed by Brian De Palma made about six years later. Aside from sharing some similar inspirations, both have scores by Bernard Herrmann. The original Dutch title translates as "Obsessed - The hole in the wall". I'm going with the official English language title. The German title is included here as that is the title on the German home video version, the only home video version of a film virtually unseen since its initial release in 1969. While I've seen the English language poster, I have no idea if Obsessions was even released in any English language markets. Certainly, during the time I lived in New York City, no entrepreneur attempted to capitalize on Martin Scorsese's name which is prominently listed on the blu-ray jacket. The blu-ray includes the English language film with the English language title.

The film was co-written and directed by Dutch filmmaker Pim de la Parra, who briefly discusses how Scorsese and Herrman came on board for this film. This article, from the Dutch EYE Film Institute offers the best information available on Scorsese's involvement. Obsessions is not a masterpiece, lost or otherwise, but it is fairly entertaining. The film can now boast of two future Oscar winners, with Scorsese joined by filmmaker Fons Rademakers, the first Dutch winner for Best Foreign Language Film,who appears here in a small role. Four years later, Rademakers would direct Obsessions star Alexandra Stewart in Because of the Cats. Acclaimed cinematographer Jan De Bont filmed second unit work here

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This is imitation Hitchcock, primarily inspired by Rear Window with a medical student discovering the shenanigans involving sex and drugs of his next door neighbor, through a hole in the wall. The hole is so big, you have to wonder why the neighbor didn't notice. In the meantime, the student has a girlfriend, a journalist, who's investigating a murder. Keep in mind that this is Pim de la Parra's film, and at least with this debut feature, he's no Hitchcock, or even William Castle. Aside from making the dialogue sound authentic, there are a couple of touches that I sure Scorsese added to the film. The first is the appearance of a self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh, with a safety razor by his ear. Aside from the "sick" humor, this could be a self-referential bit as Scorsese had won the Prix de l'Age d'Or from Royal Cinematheque of Belgium for his short, The Big Shave, which is how the Dutch filmmakers would have been aware of him. During the film's opening credits, there is a dedication to Republic Pictures, obviously inspired by Godard and Breathless, with the dedication to Monogram.

Bernard Herrmann's score was reportedly unused music for a television program. As such, it may be second rate Bernard Herrmann, which is still better than much of the unmemorable and generic music that passes for film scores. Most of the music is adeptly used here, fitting in with the action, although one theme that bears some similarity to the romantic scores for Vertigo and Marnie seemed to be chosen at random.

The film is punctuated with so many fades to black between scenes, that I wondered if de la Parra was doing what he could to let broadcasters know when to program interruptions for commercial breaks. The DVD/Blu-ray cover describes, in German, the film using the words "sleaze-klassikers". I don't know much German but in this case, I don't think that's necessary. There's just enough kinky sex and nudity to have brought in an audience in 1969. Had Martin Scorsese kept a print for himself, we might be seeing a more pristine version of Obsessions. Then again, we might not have been able to see it at all. Either the best surviving print suffers from fading colors, or there's a lot of use of brown. The imperfections of the film work in its favor as the heart of Obsessions is more in the grind house rather than the art house.

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Posted by peter at July 14, 2016 02:18 PM