John Lithgow splits on Brian De Palma in the director's ill-received "formalist masterpiece" RAISING CAIN, out on Blu-ray in an edition bound to rehabilitate its reputation.
Child psychologist Dr. Carter Nix (Lithgow) has taken an indeterminate break from his practice to raise his young daughter Amy (Amanda Pombo), which seems like a good idea except his oncologist wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich, INTERSECTION) becomes increasingly concerned that Carter – the son of a Norwegian child psychologist who literally wrote the book on child development – is studying Amy rather than raising her. Jenny is also concerned that Carter is becoming increasingly erratic in his relationship with her; her confidante Sarah (Mel Harris, SUTURE), however, believes Carter is the perfect husband and father and that Jenny is looking for an excuse to take things up with handsome Jake (Steven Bauer, THIEF OF HEARTS) whose late wife was once Jenny's patient. Wrapped up in a whirlwind of passion, secrecy, regret, and guilt, Jenny is so concerned about being discovered by Carter that she does not realize that his odd behavior may have something to do with the rash of disappearances of mothers, nannies, and children in the area as Carter's twin brother Cain inveigles him through bullying and guilt into helping their father assemble a control group for the mysterious experiments that warped them as children.
Gorgeously-photographed by De Palma's regular cinematographer Stephen H. Burum (SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES) – with whom he has regularly collaborated generally in 1.85:1 from BODY DOUBLE onwards after mastering the Panavision frame in DRESSED TO KILL with Ralf Bode (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER) and BLOW OUT with the great Vilmos Zgismond (SLIVER) – and sensuously-scored by Pino Donaggio (who replaced De Palma's much-admired Bernard Herrmann on CARRIE after his internationally-recognized work on Nicolas Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW), RAISING CAIN revels in De Palma's signature camera tricks (apart from splitscreen) with split diopters, spinning camera moves, and prowling Steadicam (including a spectacular long take of expository dialogue following characters down several flights of steps in an atrium into an elevator down into the morgue ending with a reveal of a victim's face) lending a senses of gloss of his earlier films to the more suburban Palo Alto settings. References abound to De Palma's earlier films, most noticeably DRESSED TO KILL with a guilt-ridden Jenny making a fateful return to Jake's hotel room and the seeming punishment for her transgressions, as well as the "it was only a nightmare" cut utilized in the middle of the film rather than an ending shock cut. More intriguing than other past split personality movies is the backstory's debt to Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM. In terms of suspense, however, this was all for naught, and RAISING CAIN would seem to have been the start of De Palma's creative plummet (this or his glossy but troubled adaptation of BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES).Despite Lithgow's grandiose performance – more so than because of it – the film is unable to convince us that Cain is a real flesh-and-blood being (although the same ineffective contrivances do lead to a bit of surprising misdirection) and not an alternate personality long before Dr. Waldheim (a scenery-chewing Frances Sternhagen, COMMUNION) spills the beans about the nature of Dr. Nix the elder's experiments, and the love story between Jenny and Jake (too reliant on Jenny's expository narration and handwritten notes) makes for a dreary middle so all the film really has going for it is its willingness to be outlandish. HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS and the later THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN may have typecast Lithgow – who played ruthless hitman in De Palma's BLOW OUT – in more goofy roles, but he really sinks his teeth into this role and the contrast between doe-eyed Carter and sneering Cain is actually more effective once the film no longer tries to misdirect the viewer. Davidovich and Bauer are sadly no more than functional in underwritten roles. BODY DOUBLE's Gregg Henry, TRUE BELIEVER's Tom Bower, and THE EXORCIST's Barton Heyman are on hand as police who get in on the case when Carter reports his wife and child among the missing, and BEVERLY HILLS, 90210's Gabrielle Carteris appears as an ill-fated babysitter.
It was not generally known until recently that De Palma's envisioned and shot the film in a manner structurally different from the theatrical cut, and that it was the director himself who imposed the changes to a more conventional chronology. In 2012, filmmaker Peet Gelderblom came across an early draft of the script and created a recut of the film using the DVD transfer in an attempt to recreate De Palma's intended version. He posted this version on Indiewire with an accompanying video essay to positive reception from De Palma himself. Both cuts are included on this two-disc set, with the recut version reconstructed using the high definition transfer of the theatrical cut; and it is the recut version that proves the more rewarding view for those who soured by the director's cut as well as a good starting point for newbies. By foregrounding Jenny and her forbidden romance with Jake at the start of the film, the film is more suggestive about the saccharine sweetness of Jenny's interactions with Carter and their daughter with her equally chirpy willingness to pursue an affair with another man. The reality to waking dream transitions and nightmare-within-a-dream shock cuts works better in the recut because the first act is genuinely disorienting in the way its soapy dramatics are goosed with odd edits and fleeting sights. A drawn-out flashback also works in the way it allows the film to segue from Jenny's story to that of Carter (I daresay the effort to make us believe that Carter and Cain are separate physical beings might actually work here for some who have not seen theatrical cut or know the film's tagline).Although even novice viewers may have guessed the twist at some point in this version, Dr. Waldmann's exposition comes at a more organic place in terms of the buildup to the reveal in this version while the emergence of each of Carter's personalities now has sense of internal logic. The ending still stumbles over a highly-contrived use of a sundial, and the TENEBRAE rip-off final shot will inspire more laughter than chills (especially since the film had otherwise avoided showing Lithgow in drag); however, those who have seen the theatrical cut will forever wonder to what extent the recut version will have really been able disorient and surprise the first-time viewer (and may envy them the experience).
Released on VHS by Universal in 1992 in a cropped transfer that made hash of a couple compositions that required the width of the frame and the resolution of which made some peripheral frame details as well as some of the sights in the spinning camera movements difficult to make out, RAISING CAIN was the recipient of one of Universal's early barebones DVD releases (although it was anamorphic unlike some of their early titles distributed by Universal themselves or licensed to Image Entertainment) in 1998. Both the theatrical cut and re-cut (on separate discs) utilize the same HD master, and the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encodes look quite goo throughout with the clarity emphasizing not only a disquieting depth in the close-ups early on even before the more overwrought moments while also revealing that Davidovich was given the glamour treatment during the romantic scenes (which makes more sense in the director's cut as it foregrounds her perspective while the theatrical turns her story into a subplot).Both versions offer up DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 upmixes and 2.0 stereo tracks of this Dolby Stereo production, with the former giving Donaggio's score and the rainstorm climax some breadth.
The theatrical cut disc is accompanied by six cast and crew interviews. In "Not One to Hold a Grudge" (30:00), Lithgow recalls meeting De Palma in the sixties when he was in a theater group and hearing from filmmakers that the filmmaker was recommending him for roles before his first big role in De Palma's OBSESSION. He briefly touches upon BLOW OUT to point out the difference between his killer on that film and the outwardly normal, inwardly insane characters he plays in the other De Palma films. He found the RAISING CAIN script daunting but could not resist such a bravura role, discussing how he, De Palma, and the cast reworked aspects of the script during the rehearsal readings and researching his characters (the elder Dr. Nix was inspired by a Norwegian ex-girlfriend and the accent refined with the help of a Norwegian student at Stanford. He also discusses De Palma's working methods, and how he admires the director's thorough preparation (comparing him to Hitchcock in terms of prep work to the point that the actual shooting is seen as a "necessary evil") as well as the contributions of make-up artist Manlio Rocchetti (GANGS OF NEW YORK) in creating the looks of his characters. In "The Man in My Life" (24:00), Bauer also recalls that De Palma did so much prep work and directed on the set as little as possible, instructing him to look for no more depth in his character than being handsome and nice enough that the audience sympathizes with Jenny's choice to be with him.
In "Have You Talked to the Others" (10:49), editor Paul Hirsch – who is credited alongside editors Robert Dalva (JUMANJI) and Bonnie Koehler (BAD INFLUENCE) – recalls working at the time as a film fixer for Warner when De Palma called him to work on the film since the chemistry with the current was not right. He came onto the project without a clear understanding of the structure from the script and was further confused by the bits he saw that were cut together, but his primary job was to fix the editing of the climax (during which De Palma sat behind him in the editing room reading passages from the book "Final Exit").In "Three Faces of Cain" (15:47), actor Henry recalls starting with De Palma with a one line part in SCARFACE followed by a bigger role in BODY DOUBLE. He also discusses acting opposite Lithgow as his other personalities and notes that De Palma meticulously storyboarded his films but this was the first on which he could render them by computer. In "The Cat's in the Bag" (8:00), actor Bower also discusses the Steadicam long take as well as his admiration for De Palma's work after having recently seen the documentary DE PALMA as well as Pauline Kael singling out his performance in her review of the film while actress Harris in "A Little Too Late for That" (8:43) recalls that she had little to do with developing the supporting character but found herself fortunate to come of THIRTYSOMETHING onto a project with a page-turner of a script. The film's theatrical trailer (2:05) and a still gallery are also included on the first disc.
The director's cut is accompanied by only two brief but informative extras. In "Changing Cain: Brian De Palma's Cult Classic Restored" (2:25), filmmaker Gelderblom discusses his love of the film, his discovery of the film's original structure as represented in an earlier script draft, his re-cut of the film and it's reception after being posted on Indiewire with an accompanying video essay. He also states that De Palma himself not only admires but was the driving force behind its inclusion on the Scream Blu-ray. "RAISING CAIN Re-cut " (13:01) is the aforementioned video essay posted on Indiewire in which Gelderblom discusses his love of the film and De Palma's treatment of classic thriller elements with post-modern technique as well as his discovery that the De Palma (rather than producers or distributors) chose to radically restructure the film in post-production. He discusses how problematic the theatrical cut was in plunging the audience into Carter's schizophrenic world and how Jenny's love story then paled in comparison, as well as how the theatrical cut lead critic John Kenneth Muir to describe the film as being about the "crisis of masculinity in the age of MR. MOM" while the re-cut as originally structured is about self-projection with Jenny upfront casting herself in a love story with Carter a benevolent background figure until the second act reveals through a series of nonlinear edits the darker shades of his personality. The two-disc set comes with a reversible cover and a slipcase with the new artwork. (Eric Cotenas)
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