Brian De Palma Penelope Gilliatt - Essay

Penelope Gilliatt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Brian De Palma's "Obsession" is an hommage to Hitchcock's "Vertigo."… But it is intellectually muddleheaded in a way that Hitchcock's films never are. It is not up to the Master's insteps. There is a point at which hommage has an enfeebling trait of echolalia. (p. 61)

The plot proceeds, but it keeps faltering, because of De Palma's damaging affection for throwing the obvious into doubt. The screen gets the shimmers at key moments, which is a cheat. Are we watching a subjective expression of the hero's troubled state of mind? Or dreams? Or hallucinations? Story points keep being coated in Vaseline….

Brian De Palma obviously has an idiosyncratic point of view and a load of monkey-on-a-stick energy, but he wrecks his talent again and again by mistaking the random for the freewheeling. The confusion is typical of our times, and ruinous to this particular film: in making a thriller, exactitude counts. "Obsession" raises a good many questions that are never answered. It is also sometimes fogged enough to let a plot point rely on characters' witlessness, and such a reliance is not at all the same thing as dramatic irony. Dramatic irony rests on an audience's having fuller information than the characters, not on its being more clever. (p. 62)

Penelope Gilliatt, "Sweet Coz," in The New Yorker (© 1976 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LII, No. 24, August 2, 1976, pp. 61-2.∗