The Criterion Collection upgrades their previous DVD edition of Brian De Palma’s Sisters to Blu-ray, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation has been sourced from a new 4K restoration, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
For low budget independent picture from the 70s I have to say that I’ve always been surprised how good this film has managed to look on home video over the years. Arrow released a Blu-ray in the UK that looked amazing and even Criterion’s DVD from 2000 was surprising, held back more from compression issues rather than anything to do with the source elements. This film has managed to always come off looking pretty damn good on video.
That trend certainly continues with this edition, and the film has never looked as impressive as it does here. In what can be considered some praise towards Arrow’s own presentation, Criterion’s offering doesn’t offer a huge upgrade over theirs. Arrow’s Blu-ray was (and still is) a solid release, and Criterion’s really only improves upon it in subtle ways. The big improvement is simply grain management. Sisters is an incredibly grainy looking film (the aspect that probably hurt Criterion’s original DVD most since it seems the encode couldn’t handle it) and Arrow’s Blu-ray handled it well, but Criterion’s is more fine-tuned, cleaner, and more natural, probably from the advantage of a newer 4K scan. Finer details and textures are also a bit clearer, though again, not by a whole lot.
The colour scheme for the film looks the same but they are quite a bit bolder, better saturated. I’ve grown use to the duller look so the brighter oranges and reds end up be quite the shock. Blacks are deep, though sometimes I felt a bit much: shadow detail seems to get eaten up a bit more here compared to prior releases. Though a few shots and sequences (like the trippy hypnosis sequence) can look a little dupey (the same with previous editions) the source print is in incredible condition, with restoration work appearing to have obliterated all print flaws.
It’s a subtle upgrade overall over Arrow’s Blu-ray (though a significant one over Criterion’s compressed DVD), but it’s still a noticeable one, and I’m still rather amazed how wonderful this film can look. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion’s DVD edition was disappointing when it came to supplements: though fairly thorough in covering its making and influences, all of the material was delivered through text and image galleries, and a rather large fold-out.
That material mostly makes it over to here, but on-disc Criterion sticks primarily to new and old interviews. New to this edition is an interview with Jennifer Salt, running 24-minutes. Half of the interview revolves around first meeting De Palma and the group of friends they hung out with at the time, which included Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, and more, and then how Sisters came about. She recalls filming, noting how De Palma’s personality could change when he was making a film, describing him as “grumpy” (she notes this may have harmed his relationship with Margo Kidder, who he was dating at the time). It’s a fun interview and it can get surprisingly personal at times, with her noting how the onscreen relationship between her character and that character’s mother reflected her own (her actual mother also played her mother in the film). Arrow also included an interview with Salt on their Blu-ray, covering some of the same stories, though she gets into more detail about her friendship with De Palma before they started shooting Sisters.
Criterion next digs up a 2004 making-of documentary (I assume made for some other DVD edition somewhere in the world) called The Autopsy, featuring interviews with De Palma, editor Paul Hirsch, and actors Bill Finley and Charles Durning. It runs only 26-minutes but it’s an amazingly thorough and rather entertaining feature (and it has fun by using a split screen showcasing Finley walking down a hotel corridor to where he will shoot his interview). You get some details about the production that are covered elsewhere but it’s when everyone talks about specific details, like how the central murder scene was done or how certain characters were developed (Finley, who everyone describes as “odd,” worked to make his character as ridiculous as possible), where the documentary shines. I also rather enjoyed when Hirsch and De Palma recall hiring Bernard Herrmann to do the score (you can still see now how horrified they were by the experience that thankfully paid off), and then when De Palma addresses the comparisons people make between him and Hitchcock (and he argues effectively why the comparisons are ridiculous). This is probably one of the better DVD produced making-ofs I’ve seen.
As an alternate audio track playing over the film, Criterion presents the audio featuring Brian De Palma at the AFI in 1973, following a screening of Sisters. Again, we get some of the similar material about the film’s production present in other features, and even the same (somewhat painful) story about hiring Herrmann. But De Palma also addresses the criticisms of violence in his films that have been thrown at him (even since), noting how people seem horrified by it but that is exactly the point. People should be horrified by it. Some of his other works, like Greetings, get brought up, and he also talks about how he likes to change the tone in his films to throw off an audience. It’s an excellent recording and I am happy Criterion chose to play the audio over the film, making it more enjoyable than just staring at a still for its duration. It also has the bonus of occasionally matching up to what is onscreen, though rarely. It runs just over 90-minutes, so the last couple minutes of the film presents no audio. You can of course access the track from the menu, by switching audio during the film using your remote, or by switching using Criterion’s Timeline feature.
Criterion then digs up a 9-minute excerpt from a 1970 episode of The Dick Cavett Show featuring “new young actress” Margot Kidder, who sits alongside Gloria Swanson and Janis Joplin. Things start a bit awkward when Cavett points out her bare feet but get charming when she decided to bring along a newspaper clipping that declares Cavett is on of the sexiest personalities in North America, calling him a “sexy leprechaun.” He of course doesn’t know what to make of that. Kidder’s interview is charming but it then leads into what I can only imagine would have been edgy TV in 1970 (nothing now of course) when Kidder explains how 1920’s actresses made their nipples stick out, which leads to Swanson jumping in with a story of her own. This segment has absolutely nothing to do with Sisters, but oh man, I couldn’t have cared less. This was kind of wild and I’m so happy Criterion dug this up.
Criterion then includes a photo gallery presenting a large collection of production photos, which play automatically with Bernard Herrmann’s score playing over top, running 11-minutes. Criterion also presents over 3-minutes’ worth of radio spots, which play over advertising material and images from the press book. Altogether these two features replace the photo gallery found on the original DVD.
Criterion then includes a 32-page booklet, replacing the rather large fold0out in the previous edition. Bruce Kawin’s essay has been replaced by a new one by Carrie Rickey, followed by a reprint of an interview between De Palma and Richard Rubinstein for Filmmaker Newsletter, which is the same interview presented as a text feature on the previous DVD. Carried over from the previous insert is De Palma’s essay on working with Bernard Herrmann on the score. This is mentioned a few times in the supplements but it manages to read even better. Disappointingly Criterion does not carry over the other text feature from the old DVD, a reprint of the essay “Rare Study of Siamese Twins in Soviet,” which influenced De Palma.
Also not making it to this edition are any of the features Arrow included on their disc. Their edition was a rather solid one on its own, featuring interviews with other participants. It’s fine, though, as Criterion’s release does cover the same subject matter rather thoroughly. At the very least, the material is just as strong as Arrow’s and it’s a huge improvement over Criterion’s previous DVD, which was all gallery based. 8/10