By Karol Krok
Composer: Bernard Herrmann
The Film: One of the ultimate riffs on Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Brian De Palma’s Obsession is a strange tale of obsession, guilt and… incest. The film divided critics and is not considered to be among this director’s most interesting films.
The Score: After falling out with director Alfred Hitchcock over the rejection of original score to Torn Curtain, Herrmann moved away from the United States and found refuge in England. It took the great effort to track down the grumpy master of suspense and make a big screen come score this film made by young and enthusiastic admirers of his – Brian De Palma and Paul Hirsch. Obsession was a second collaboration between those gentlemen (following Sisters from 1973). Greatly moved by the story, composer once again reached into great depths of human psyche and created a haunting score that was an even darker take on similar subject explored in Vertigo.
Distinguishing Features: Herrmann was not a fan of long-lined themes so he created a set of simpler motifs that he could then manipulate within the body of his work to paint all the subtleties of human emotion. The ghostly chorus creates a truly mystical feel in ‘Main Title’, especially when coupled with organ. Vocal voices are even more prominent in ‘Portrait of Elizabeth’ and ‘Court’s Confession’. ‘Cemetary’ brings an old-time favourite of orchestral composers – Dies Irae plainchant that almost always signifies death and judgement. Among the both alluring and ominous material, one can find plenty of turbulent and tortured sequences (‘The Ferry’) while the finale itself (‘Airport’) brings all the elements into one spectacular climax that stands among Herrmann’s finest.
Final Thoughts: Obsession is a seminal work from a film music legend and one of his two final works (the other one being Taxi Driver). This latest presentation from Music Box Records is the better than anyone could have expected and comes highly recommended. It contains both the complete 70-minute score (plus extras) as well as the original soundtrack album. And, better yet, there is another release coming later this year: a complete score re-recording from Tadlow, in case one is not completely happy with sound quality. We win either way.
Obsession is out now from Music Box Records