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By JASON COMERFORD

Voyeurism, multiple personalities, split-screen effects, and a host of thematic “borrowings” from the films of Alfred Hitchcock: trademarks all present and accounted for in Brian DePalma’s 1973 shocker Sisters, the first of several such thrillers he would produce in a long and endlessly controversial career. DePalma had completed seven films prior, including three highly experimental films which introduced a young actor named Robert DeNiro (Greetings, The Wedding Party, and Hi, Mom!), but Sisters was his first foray into the world of the psychological thriller, and it showcased many of the themes which would recur in subsequent efforts.

By the 1970s, the composer Bernard Herrmann was all but a pariah in Hollywood circles, his legendarily combative personality having driven a wedge between him and practically every filmmaking collaborator. Herrmann had moved to England, receding into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment, but his fortunes were about to change. Producer Edward Pressman campaigned for a jazz score from composer Michael Small, but DePalma and editor Paul Hirsch, both lifetime students of Herrmann’s work, pushed for the composer and succeeded in hiring him, weathering more than a few of his temperamental outbursts along the way but ending up with a classic Herrmann effort, bristling with energy, compositional ingenuity, and operatic flamboyance.

DePalma’s script was a heady mash-up of plot elements from Psycho, Rear Window and his own metafictional experiments, following the story of Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder), a model who appears on a Candid Camera-style TV show and who attracts the attention of her costar, Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson). Following a romantic interlude, Philip decides to surprise her with a birthday cake, only to have an ill-fated encounter with Danielle’s knife-wielding Siamese twin Dominique -- or perhaps Danielle herself. As related by Steven C. Smith in his authoritative biography A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann:

Philip’s murder -- long and explicitly grisly -- inspires Herrmann’s wildest murder sequence. As Danielle thrusts a knife into her victim’s groin, mouth, and body, a shriek of Moogs, horns, and strings cries in pain and terror, the tinny chime of glockenspiels rising pungently above all. In this disparate musical blend -- traditional Herrmann brass and woodwind colors, with glockenspiel and the shrill, otherworldly synthesizers -- Herrmann heightens the scene’s brutality to an almost unbearable pitch, mocks our expectations about the “appropriateness” of music (as with the dainty glockenspiel), and pulls us into a vortex of chaos, death, and futility.

Sisters was the first of a stunning quartet of scores Herrmann completed in the final years of his life; It’s Alive, Obsession and Taxi Driver followed in quick succession and were instrumental in cementing Herrmann’s legendary status. Sisters’ soundtrack album was released to LP at the time of the film’s release by Entr’acte and was later issued on CD by the Australian label Southern Cross, and is a key work in the final phase of Herrmann’s extraordinary career.


 



The Moment in Question:

Click below to listen to a sample of
“Philip's Murder,” composed by
Bernard Herrmann. [clip]

Bernard Herrmann portrait
...Bernard Herrmann

Installment Prize:

A prize will be awarded at the
end of each week through
random drawing from the pool
of participants contributing
comments - Prize information
for Week 2 Coming Soon!

What do you think?

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for this installment.

Awesome Websites!

The Bernard Herrmann Society

SISTERS at the Movie Music Store


Next Installment:

Howard Shore will hurt you if
you stay. THE FLY

Jason Comerford Bio


READER COMMENTS:

Howlin' Wolf  
Click here for Week 1 prizes and winners - Congrats to David Kessler and everyone!
     
Dino  
Such a weird, yet cool movie... this again was one I didn't remember the score 'cause at the time I was so young. I found myself in the start watching films I wasn't suppose to watch ...one eye on the film and one eye on the door. I am going to check out the samples.
     
Pooter   Insane! This is a crazy movie. My wife walked in while I was watching one particularly disturbing scene and looked at me like I was an utter freak. The music is superb, and I enjoy listening to the score now and again. I especially like "The Ferry" cue. And "Cake Death" is deliciously unnerving. Great choice for 13 Chills.
     
Keya   This was such a messed up movie, a great mix of music and mayhem.
     
Jonathan   Benny did a great job on that one. I like the music, but that CD needs a reissue with much better sound! HWR could to it...