Thursday, March 24, 2011

Douglas Sirk and Melodrama

Apologies for the delays, and I'll need to catch up with a short genre post focusing on melodrama, which should have been posted on Thursday.

The delays were caused by some good news: I've been invited to be a juror for the Wisconsin's Own competition at the Wisconsin Film Festival.  So I've been watching a lot of films and preparing to go to Madison next week.  This will also affect the schedule for next week, so I'll post a schedule update soon (I hope to at least automatically post some Quick Picks while I'm at the Festival).

In the coming weeks I hope to do a longer entry on classic Hollywood melodrama, but for now you should just introduce yourself to the work of Douglas Sirk.  If you are unfamiliar with his work, once again I direct your attention to the Great Directors section of Senses of Cinema.  In addition, you should check out an article about "Sirkian Melodrama" on the Film Studies for Free blog.

I had initially hoped to lead you to watch Sirk and then watch Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven, but it is no longer on Netflix Watch Instantly.  But if you want to follow up with DVD rentals after this introduction to Sirk's visual style, in addition to Far From Heaven, I'd also recommend comparing the end of All that Heaven Allows with the end of David Lynch's Blue Velvet. Not enough people acknowledge the connections between Sirk and Lynch's Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks (for another good comparison, watch dancing with framed photographs scenes in both Written on the Wind and Twin Peaks). For an interview with Todd Haynes (whose current melodrama remake, Mildred Pierce, is airing on HBO) in which he talks about Sirk and the syntax of 1950s melodrama, check this ArtForum interview.

All that Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, USA, 1955, 88 minutes)
Netflix: Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson star in this supreme example of the glossy Technicolor melodramas of director Douglas Sirk, which were the inspiration for 2002's art-house hit Far from Heaven. Wyman is a repressed widow; Hudson is the virile (and younger) gardener who quotes Thoreau. A scandal ensues when they flaunt their love before their stuffy mid-1950s family and social set. Netflix link.

Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, USA, 1959, 124 minutes)
Netflix: In Douglas Sirk's emotionally and visually extravagant final film, Lana Turner is Lora Meredith, an aspiring actress and single mother who meets Annie Johnson, a black and similarly single and struggling mother. The two women move in together and face a huge challenge as they try to raise their children -- especially Annie's daughter, who, favoring her extremely fair-skinned father, slowly comes to resent her mother's black identity. Netflix link.

The current Netflix Watch Instantly lineup also includes an earlier version of Imitation of Life, if you would like to see how Sirk put his unique stamp on his version of the same material.

Imitation of Life (John M. Stahl, USA, 1934, 110 minutes)
Netflix: After taking in black housekeeper Delilah Johnson (Louise Beavers) and her light-skinned daughter (Fredi Washington), the white and widowed Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert) makes a fortune in the pancake businesses, using Delilah's recipe and likeness. But wealth has unexpected consequences for them all. John M. Stahl directs this black-and-white classic based on Fannie Hurst's novel by the same name. Netflix link.

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