1969’s Twisted “Obsessions” is more than just Dutch Hitchcock- it’s Scorpio Rising.
DIRECTED BY PIM DE LA PARRA/1969
STAND-ALONE BLU-RAY STREET DATE: MAY 30, 2017; BOXED SET STREET DATE: OCTOBER 29, 2019/CULT EPICS
Before Dutch filmmaking partners Pim de la Parra and Wim Verstappen redefined what makes a movie blue, before Frank met Eva, and long before Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie ever called it a night, the duo only had Obsessions.
Released in 1969, the psychological thriller Obsessions may lack the brazen and sometimes overt sexuality of the other three films that make up the Scorpio Films cornerstone in what came to be known as “The Dutch Sex Wave”, though it is no less keyed into the central dysfunction of its main characters. Mainly though, it’s keyed into voyeurism. The kind that is never born of innocence, per se, but persists out of morbid fascination, giving way to legitimate concern regarding the odd goings-on in the neighbor place. Think of Obsessions as Rear Window without the window, and without the big names. Quite effective but no classic, this dark, salacious mystery gives way not just to twisted and perverse reveals, but to the fireworks-array career of Pim & Wim… with a little help from a very young Martin Scorsese.
Cult Epics, the venerable label that’s brought collectors the duo’s aforementioned quadrilogy of under-the-radar game-changers (paving the way for the future seismic Hollywood careers of Dutch filmmakers Paul Verhoeven, Jan De Bont [Obsessions‘ cinematographer], and others) has now seen fit to gather the high-definition offerings in one place with the release of its box set entitled “Scorpio Films: The Dutch Sex Wave Collection”. The set features Scorpio’s biggest hits, Frank & Eva (1973) and Blue Movie (1971), as well as the mysterious and interesting later entry, My Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie (1975), as well as the film being considered here, Obsessions. In one fell swoop, this set will catch up film buffs who’ve yet to pick up any of these titles as stand-alone releases.
Obsessions sets the stage for what would prove to be Scorpio Films’ pronounced litany of introverted self-centered male protagonists. Up and coming medical student Nils Janssen’s (played by Dieter Geissler, who would go on to a great producing career) all-important studies take a nosedive when he discovers a telltale hole in the wall of his apartment, offering a straight shot of his neighbor’s very active bed. But sooner than later, things get weird, and then dire. Will Nil’s dark compulsion to spy obsessively on his neighbor’s unholy doings compel him to get involved in perhaps saving lives? Or will it merely lead him into a grotesque downward spiral of mental self-destruction? Or… both??
Though Obsessions presents itself as Nils’ story, the sly screenplay by de la Perra, Verstappen, and a visiting Martin Scorsese (given screen credit for his valued help with the English language dialogue) eventually reveals itself to favor the character of his girlfriend, Marina (Alexandra Stewart), a Lois Lane-type if reporter who’s got her teeth set in a different murder case. But when she learns of Nils’s spying obsession through the hole in the wall, she too slowly becomes curious about his neighbor. This can’t help but lead us to wonder… is it all related?
Stewart, being a dominant screen presence, is wisely granted center stage in this film. She commands the screen in an unexpectedly assured way, both beautiful and no-nonsense. Though the goings-on in the next room are sleazy, they aren’t fixated upon by the camera in a way some may assume. The level of exploitative elements in Obsessions pales to that of its nevertheless also-respectable Scorpio box-mates, it being more comparable to the edgier R-rated thrillers of Hollywood a decade or so later. This jibes with the filmmaker’s goal of it being a globally commercially viable work, right down to the decision for it to be an English language release (as opposed to Dutch).
Cult Epics’ Blu-Ray release of Obsessions is quite the admirable package, loaded with informative bonus features and an accompanying DVD version of it all. Central among said features are newly recorded interviews with filmmaker Pim de la Perra and star Dieter Geissler. Geissler, with a glimmer in his eye, recalls his career as both as actor and producer in a twenty-three German language (subtitled in English) conversation. The director conducts his twenty-plus minute interview in English, reflecting primarily on the singular experience of Obsessions. Both are absolutely worthwhile inclusions, of great value to future generations as well as viewers today. Both men also recorded individual brief, optional introductions to the film.
The interview with Martin Scorsese, while equally contemporary in origin, is a text excerpt that was published elsewhere. In it, Scorsese happily recalls his trip to Amsterdam that culminated in his meeting Pim & Wim and helping them with this screenplay. The inclusion is a good one, although some may experience reading difficulty with the size and layout of the text itself. Also included are original script notes by Martin Scorsese.
Aside from these newer interviews, there is also a four-minute Obsessions-centric segment from a longer documentary about Scorpio Films. (Likewise, the other Cult Epics Scorpio discs include segments for those respective films). The transfer, struck from original 35mm film, is no doubt the absolute best available in terms of overall A/V quality, is nevertheless still a fairly rugged affair, showing the film’s age, era, and humble beginnings when it comes to color and fading, and the occasional audio pop (though the audio track is, for the absolute most part, very impressively clean). Think of it, perhaps, as an idealized grindhouse presentation- the likely stateside venue for Obsessions back in its day. Rounding out the extras are the film’s original Dutch trailer (with English subtitles) and a brief archival photo gallery.
Very much in the Hitchcock mold, but taking such sensibilities even further than the still-living, still-working Master of Suspense himself would ever manage to do at the time, Obsessions confidently and competently bursts from the gate, offering a very satisfying taste of what would follow for its creators. Only Chabrol, perhaps, was already working prominently in such a tenor at this point. The appropriated dynamic score by the legendary Bernard Hermann is the icing on Obsessions’ deadly cake, the film itself an unearthed gem for film buffs, particularly those keyed into the Hitchcock-ian mold, and/or interested in the humble beginnings of Martin Scorsese. But mostly, Obsessions is an irresistible peek through the wall that Scorpio’s infusion into the cinematic “Dutch Sex Wave” crumbled, ushering new levels of unsubtle brazenness for all the world to see.