95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

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AndrewBoone
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#51 Post by AndrewBoone » Sat Aug 24, 2013 8:34 am

My first Douglas Sirk film, I wasn't especially impressed with "All That Heaven Allows". I definitely liked it, but I'm sitting on the fence as to whether or not I'd put it in the Collection if it were up to me. First off, I'm not crazy about Rock Hudson, but he was okay, and I can make my peace with his presence in the film, which definitely had its strengths. I loved the societal commentary and thought the film was very strong as a drama, and I appreciated the subtextual value it maintained throughout, while simultaneously upholding a very superficially entertaining, emotional drama, a genre that often lacks the depth that Sirk was able to achieve. That being said, the ending really got under my skin. Smack in the middle of '50s Hollywood, I can't say I didn't see it coming, but I was really hoping that Sirk would avoid the hokey, overly resolved happy ending so commonly resorted to by his mainstream contemporaries at the time. It wasn't as bad as the ending in, say, Rossellini's "Journey to Italy", but it was close. I was definitely impressed with the film up until those final ten or fifteen minutes or so, all the way through the scene were Jane Wyman is sitting down, depressed, and the TV salesman wheels the television in front of her and delivers that beautiful bit of subtextually rich dialogue, "Life's parade at your fingertips." As they zoomed in on the television to end the scene, I was begging Sirk to close the curtain right then and there. My opinion of this movie would have been very high had he have done so. Sadly, he didn't. He went on to give the mainstream audiences exactly what they wanted to see, and he did so at the expense of the film's artistic merit and thematic cohesiveness. In my opinion, the ending betrayed the principle theme of the film, and it really damaged my respect for the movie. Still a good movie, without question, but it could have been so much more.

Also, apparently Fassbinder's "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" is a remake of this film? I own it and will be watching it soon. I'm having trouble picturing this film with the Fassbinder touch. I know Sirk was Fassbinder's idol and whatnot, but I really don't see a great deal of resemblance between the two filmmakers. Then again, I'm speaking from a relatively limited perspective, given that I haven't seen a great deal of movies by either director. Either way, I'll be interested to see Fassbinder's version of this story.

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Gregory
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#52 Post by Gregory » Sat Aug 24, 2013 11:19 am

A melodrama like this is not going to just fizzle out on a note of resignation and despair. Ending the film at the television scene would have been unthinkable; it simply wouldn't have made sense not to even have the appearance of a resolution to the main storyline. I say the appearance of a resolution because I don't see the conclusion as an "overly resolved happy ending." Throughout the film Sirk has showed the kinds of social codes and constraints in which Cary lives; can she really just decide to escape them? Is it possibly for someone socialized in the way that Cary has been, whose life is defined by ties to community and family to find happiness by turning away from her home and children? It seems far from certain that someone with that kind of life could find real happiness by making a decisive break with the life that had defined who she was up to then. How many people with even moderately strong bonds to family, community, and social institutions could make resolve such a dilemma based on Thoreau's rather severe individualism? Even with Ron at her side, she'd be choosing a drastic change to a more isolated type of life. I think there's a chance that it could end up being the "happily ever after" for Cary presented on the film's surface, but if so, not without further difficulty, and it seems far from certain.
I would strongly disagree that the ending was hokey or was anything that Sirk "resorted to," and from what you've written I don't see how it "betrayed the principle theme of the film." I'll put aside addressing some the generalized views about the genre, Sirk's contemporaries, and '50s Hollywood that you hint at, but it sounds like we approach a film like this from very different places.
(edited for a typo)
Last edited by Gregory on Sat Aug 24, 2013 5:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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knives
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#53 Post by knives » Sat Aug 24, 2013 11:45 am

Wasn't that Sirk's original ending though with Hudson dead and her trapped with her children forever?

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Gregory
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#54 Post by Gregory » Sat Aug 24, 2013 2:38 pm

Can I ask where you got that? I don't remember ever hearing any such thing.
Anyway, even if that were true, I don't think it matters much to my point because that would be a very different ending from the one AndrewBoone argues would be better. Ending with the TV screen shot and no real resolution to the story beyond an implied "and Cary never saw Ron again" would be unthinkable to me, but a tragic ending in which Ron dies would not be.

But above all, my point is that despite appearances to the contrary Sirk does not give us a traditional "happily ever after ending," because it's so obviously problematic and complicated. Cary cannot just fix all of her problems by leaving her life behind to go and be with Ron; we've already seen what a toll it takes on her to ignore social pressures and the wishes of her children. Moreover, it's not at all obvious that Cary and Ron are even compatible together because of their differences. I think it would take quite a heavy toll on Ron to change the way he loves to live to give Cary the kind of comfort and security that she needs. So it's not a traditional happy ending; an ending like that would have been anathema to Sirk. To him, the title meant that all that heaven allows is a tiny possibility of true happiness.
Last edited by Gregory on Sat Aug 24, 2013 2:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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domino harvey
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#55 Post by domino harvey » Sat Aug 24, 2013 2:42 pm

And seeing Hollywood's dictated "happy ending" as subversive is key to enjoying not just Sirk but most great American works of this era. It's really easy to decry films from this period as being compromised or inferior because of their adherence to codes both moral and audience-expected, but you're doing the films and yourself a disservice by assuming this means the films' meanings aren't often aligned with or knowingly in contrast to the surface-level appearance of "happiness"

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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#56 Post by bdlover » Sun Aug 25, 2013 2:30 am

Yep, we do need these on blu-ray. I have an off-air HD recording of Written on the Wind, but it's not enough.

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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#57 Post by AndrewBoone » Sun Aug 25, 2013 9:49 am

Gregory wrote:A melodrama like this is not going to just fizzle out on a note of resignation and despair. Ending the film at the television scene would have been unthinkable; it simply wouldn't have made sense not to even have the appearance of a resolution to the main storyline. I say the appearance of a resolution because I don't see the conclusion as an "overly resolved happy ending."
I respect your opinions. They are clearly well thought out, which is all you can ask for from anyone that tries to interpret cinema. I also fully understand the reflex to defend a film you love. I would do the same thing if someone bashed on certain Bergman films, for example (although I'd scarcely call my post "bashing"; as I said, I did like the film, and I had plenty of good things to say about it). So yes, we clearly do approach this film from two very different angles, and for me, that's what makes cinema beautiful. Filmmaking would be a very futile endeavor, and certainly would not be art, if we were condemned to agree on things such as this and share aligned perspectives at every turn. With that being said, I'll elaborate just a bit:

I see nothing wrong with a film lacking resolution. We get no such resolution in life, so why should it be unthinkable that we must deal without it in cinema as well? Film is, after all, an art form, and art is supposed to be a reflection of human existence. Whether or not the film was "overly resolved" or not is entirely subjective, and will depend on the viewer's standards for what constitutes too much resolution. For me, this movie did. For you, it did not. So be it.

Also, I want to be clear that I am not one of these people who condemns '50s American cinema to worthlessness because of the aforementioned tendency toward the "overly resolved happy ending". I could rattle off a hundred films that I really like that share that exact quality, and I could name plenty of films from '50s Hollywood that I like, "All That Heaven Allows" included. I don't think there's any denying, however, that American cinema in that decade had a certain predisposition toward resolution and toward endings that were favorable to emotional whims of its audiences. There are exceptions, of course, but this movie would not be one of them. Furthermore, I never claimed that the ending was worthless. Your argument that there is still value in Sirk's ending is well received, and I don't dispute it. I do believe, however, that it damaged the artistic merit of the film, and by my own personal standards, I think that lessens its value. You said it would have been "unimaginable" for you if the film ended at the moment I mentioned in my previous post, but for me, that's exactly the point. You would have had to do the imagining yourself. Personally, I would have been absolutely blown away, and would have had to sit in my chair for another twenty minutes, stunned, trying to contemplate the profoundness of what I'd just seen. I would have had to create my own resolution in my mind, instead of having it spoon-fed to me, after which I stand up, turn off the TV, and move on without giving the film much further thought. To me, this is what constitutes good art: when a film makes you work for resolution. There is growth in that process. The viewer learns something new through it, something about the world, about people, about existence, even about himself. A film of this sort doesn't decide for you how to resolve the dilemmas, both personal and existential, that it proposes on the screen; it simply proposes them, and then leaves you at the most powerful and profound point possible with the awesome challenge of resolving those dilemmas yourself, in your own mind. The journey of doing this often brings enlightenment, wisdom, and even serenity, and it is in those things that cinema becomes more than a mere medium for entertainment, and instead becomes true art, a means of reflecting on the worlds that dictate our existence, both the one around us and the one inside us. I saw this potential in Sirk's film, so I think it's understandable that I was disappointed when it didn't realize that potential. Doesn't mean it's a bad film. Doesn't mean I didn't like it. I most certainly did. It just means that, by my own personal standards for artistic profoundness, this film could have been much more than it was. Naturally, you have your owns standards for such things, and I don't challenge them, because that's the way it should be.

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Gregory
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#58 Post by Gregory » Sun Aug 25, 2013 3:57 pm

I said that ending would be unthinkable, not unimaginable. In other words, the studio would not have released the film with that ending and would bring in another director if necessary. As Sirk said, "Of course, I had to play by the rules, avoid experiments, stick to family fare, have ‘happy endings’ and so on."
I think the scare quotes around "happy endings" are pretty significant there. Part of the subversion discussed in this thread included what Sirk called an emergency exit ending: an improbable happy or deceptively tidy ending that seems to solve all the problems, which, if it were believable, would reverse the film's perspective of just how unsolvable problems are, such as the social pressures Cary faces. I simply don't find it believable that All That Heaven Allows has a neat, happy resolution. You of course found the ending highly problematic as well. But I think that incredulity was fully part of what Sirk actually intended. So taking those intentions into account, and the subtlety of what he was really doing underneath superficial appearances, the ending doesn't undermine the film at all.

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zedz
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#59 Post by zedz » Sun Aug 25, 2013 4:43 pm

domino harvey wrote:And seeing Hollywood's dictated "happy ending" as subversive is key to enjoying not just Sirk but most great American works of this era. It's really easy to decry films from this period as being compromised or inferior because of their adherence to codes both moral and audience-expected, but you're doing the films and yourself a disservice by assuming this means the films' meanings aren't often aligned with or knowingly in contrast to the surface-level appearance of "happiness"
I think this is key for Sirk. It's not so much that he resists or subverts or satirizes the obligatory "happy ending," but that he loads up the rest of the film with enough complexity that such an ending can't help but be problematic (in the best, Shakespearean, sense). My favourite example of this - and my favourite Sirk - is There's Always Tomorrow, where the return to natural order at the end of the film is both what we've been hoping for all along (because those who would be the 'victims' of the opposite outcome are blameless) and incredibly bleak and shattering. It's not that Sirk has contrived a subversive or tricksy ending in order to giftwrap those ironies, but that he's invested the situations with so much believability and pathos that pain is inevitable whatever resolution is offered, and Sirk is smart enough to know that even the most natural and positive resolution will be devastating.

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Shrew
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#60 Post by Shrew » Sun Aug 25, 2013 5:41 pm

I wrote a bit in the 50s thread about how I first saw this film after reading some of the various "subversive" criticism, and being perplexed by the film. I expected something secretly mocking the cliches of the genre, but instead All That Heaven Allows was a very earnest and very well-made melodrama. Since then I've come to release that Sirk was never so much subverting the form and tropes of the melodrama as he was using them to comment (but never mock) problems and society.

The point re: this conversation. I too was initially underwhelmed by this ending, and reading how some people considered the deer ironic somehow confused me; I saw a genuinely happy ending, and the deer and everything else certainly didn't seem to be building to any false return to normality masking dread like the fake bird in Blue Velvet . On rewatching, I think I understand more--it's both earnest and ironic. This ending is happy, but it's transitory, and the sheer over-the-top construction of it all highlights how fleeting it is. The deer will walk away, Hudson's leg will heal, and Wyman will go back to her family, but the film allows this one brief moment where they can all be perfectly happy.

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domino harvey
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#61 Post by domino harvey » Sun Aug 25, 2013 7:34 pm

That's a good point, and I think those expecting blatant expose or satire etc are bound to be disappointed, but what Sirk is doing is far more impressive: He's upending convention but using the same structure and procedure these stories depend on to do so. So it's subversive if you know how to look at/for it, but could pass just as easily for the real thing to less-discriminating eyes. And this again speaks to what the best filmmakers did under the Code-- they accepted the imposed regulations and figured out how to not make them limitations

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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#62 Post by swo17 » Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:35 pm

All That Heaven Allows getting a dual format upgrade June 10th, adding the Rappaport film Rock Hudson’s Home Movies.

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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#63 Post by jsteffe » Mon Mar 17, 2014 6:14 pm

I'm truly glad that All That Heaven Allows will be getting the Criterion treatment that it deserves.

As for the question of Sirk somehow subverting the material he was working with, it's important to read the original novel. The main themes of social criticism that we see in the film are also present in the novel, but Sirk enriches its ideas and introduces layers of complexity and irony through his direction and some changes in the script.

Several years ago for Turner Classic Movies wrote an article about the film which discusses this point:
[...] Sirk's film is an excellent example of how as a director he was able to enrich the often formulaic scripts he had to work with during this period. His basic approach to All That Heaven Allows is revealed by his oft-quoted comment on the title: "The studio loved the title, they thought it meant you could have everything you wanted. I meant it exactly the other way round. As far as I'm concerned, heaven is stingy." However, the point is not so much that Sirk subverts the original intent of the story as that he adds more complex dimensions to it through visual detail, acting, lighting and composition of the shot. The daughter Kay's bookish references to Freud are treated with a certain comic irony, underlining her lack of self-awareness regarding her own feelings toward her mother's relationship with Ron Kirby. Ron's embodiment of the values of American individualism is made more explicit in the film through an allusion to Thoreau's Walden. In addition, Ron's character is given an element of vulnerability not present in the novel, as represented by the broken Wedgewood teapot Cary finds in his barn and his near-fatal accident towards the end of the film. The climax of the novel is perhaps too obvious in the way it echoes the theme of the widow buried alive in her husband's tomb: when the gas furnace goes out in her house, Cary becomes trapped in the basement while trying to fix it and nearly dies of asphyxiation. In the film, this theme is more subtly developed on a visual level throughout by positioning Cary within frames, most notably behind windowpanes and in the ominous reflection of the television set during the Christmas sequence. In addition to the device of the frame-within-the-frame, typical Sirkian stylistic flourishes in the film include the frequent use of mirrors or other reflective surfaces and expressive, sometimes non-realistic use of shadows and colored lighting.

Sirk's "happy end," in contrast with the novel, offers a more complex and interesting resolution of the fundamental problem of the story, which is the incompatibility of Ron's largely solitary existence in nature and Cary's domesticity and dependence on her old social ties. By the end of the film, Cary still becomes part of the home that Ron has built for both of them as she does in the novel, but here it is at the cost of Ron's temporary incapacitation, or "domestication," if you will. Their union, moreover, is blessed by the sudden appearance of a deer at the window. Sirk compares such transparently contrived endings with the deus ex machina (i.e., last-minute intervention by the "gods") of a Euripides play: "You see, there is no real solution of the predicament the people in the play are in, just the deus ex machina, which is now called 'the happy end,' and which both Hollywood and Athenians and assorted Greeks were so keen on. But this is what is being called Euripidean irony. It makes the crowd happy. To the few it makes the aporia [dramatic impasse] more transparent."
Some parts of that article make me cringe today, but this section still basically represents how I view what Sirk is doing.

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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#64 Post by zedz » Mon Mar 17, 2014 6:24 pm

swo17 wrote:the Rappaport film Rock Hudson’s Home Movies.
This makes me so happy. I assume Criterion are prepared to argue 'fair use' to any copyright challenges.

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whaleallright
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#65 Post by whaleallright » Mon Mar 17, 2014 11:19 pm

I'm surprised that there's no Todd Haynes presence on this one, considering that he made a film that is in essence a "remix" of All That Heaven Allows—right down to the title and the autumn foliage that is captured so nicely on the new Criterion cover. An essay that traced the complex lineage from Sirk to Fassbinder to Haynes would be quite valuable, even if (like me) you think that the latter two filmmakers' versions of Sirk (which, respectively, influenced and were influenced by trends in academic film studies) somewhat—and unfortunately—narrow the parameters in which Sirk's work might be interpreted.

I tend to think that rather than upending the meanings of his sources (or the "dominant ideology" or what have you), Sirk's films can generally be understood as belonging to a tradition of "liberal melodrama"—although they are unusually expressive contributions. The Jon Halliday interviews, frequently cited as evidence of Sirk's "subversive" intentions, have to be read critically, as Sirk responding to—and perhaps flattering—a critic with a distinctly oppositional outlook. James's discussion above seems on the mark to me.

I admit to finding Rappaport's video essay entertaining but specious.

It'll be great to see this in HD up on a big(gish) screen.
Last edited by whaleallright on Mon Mar 17, 2014 11:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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zedz
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#66 Post by zedz » Mon Mar 17, 2014 11:38 pm

jonah.77 wrote:I admit to finding Rappaport's video essay entertaining but specious.
I think I agree with you (and I always thought it was weird that he made so little of the film that best supported his argument, and showcased Hudson's strongest acting: Seconds) but damn, is it entertaining.

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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#67 Post by whaleallright » Tue Mar 18, 2014 12:25 am

As with similar (written) examples of this kind of "queering" analysis, I'm never certain what the nature and import of Mark Rappaport's claims are. If he's arguing—which I don't believe he usually is—that there were in Hudson's films traces of his queerness that would have been detectable by a "resistant" group at the time, he's likely mistaken (I'd refer to Barbara Klinger's smart book on the historical reception of Sirk's films). If his project is instead a kind of poesis, making far-fetched, if quite clever, linkages for a contemporary audience, then I guess I don't quite understand what's at stake, aside from "knowing" yuks. In this particular context, I have little idea what Rock Hudson's Home Movies would add to an understanding or appreciation of All That Heaven Allows.

It's not that I necessarily have any problem with finding a queer subtext in a classic Hollywood (or any other) film, but the warrant for Rappaport's particular version of that argument is rather thin—and, as you say, would probably have been bolstered by discussion of Seconds, in which the idea of a "masked" identity is powerfully and grotesquely literalized.
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#68 Post by domino harvey » Tue Mar 18, 2014 12:30 am

After the willfully false misreadings of the films utilized in From the Journals of Jean Seberg, I don't expect much from this

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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#69 Post by domino harvey » Tue Mar 18, 2014 12:33 am

Also, on topic unrelated digression-y fun fact I picked up from reading the Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties recently: Apparently Rock Hudson smelled really bad and his agent begged him to wear deodorant but he insisted that only "sissies" did that. Personally, that's a lot more shattering for his position as a sex symbol than discovering he was gay!

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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#70 Post by whaleallright » Tue Mar 18, 2014 12:33 am

xpost

Yeah, watching the Seberg video felt like attending a politically-correct summer camp, to misquote J. Rosenbaum.

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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#71 Post by jsteffe » Tue Mar 18, 2014 12:59 am

I haven't seen Rappoport's Rock Hudson essay and suspect that I won't like it, but it's fine for Criterion to make it a special feature and perhaps grant it a second life if they want. I'm with Jonah and Domino Harvey on the Jean Seberg film, though. I found its perspective altogether too knowing and smug, it presumed from the outset that it was smarter than Seberg.
domino harvey wrote:Also, on topic unrelated digression-y fun fact I picked up from reading the Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties recently: Apparently Rock Hudson smelled really bad and his agent begged him to wear deodorant but he insisted that only "sissies" did that. Personally, that's a lot more shattering for his position as a sex symbol than discovering he was gay!
You know, you can find plenty of Scruff and Grindr profiles of men into "raunchy pits" and "manly smells." If Rock Hudson were alive today, he might feel right at home... :-)

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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#72 Post by R0lf » Tue Mar 18, 2014 4:24 am

jsteffe wrote:You know, you can find plenty of Scruff and Grindr profiles of men into "raunchy pits" and "manly smells." If Rock Hudson were alive today, he might feel right at home... :-)
Not to mention all those endless gay club invite only nights featuring no deodorant or perfume policy where they have a sniffer bull dyke with super strength sense of smell at the door ruthlessly turning fags away.

And while we are on this extremely important topic...

Where is David Hare? Doesn't he know that Mercury is no longer retrograde and communication is moving forward again?

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zedz
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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#73 Post by zedz » Tue Mar 18, 2014 4:59 pm

jonah.77 wrote:As with similar (written) examples of this kind of "queering" analysis, I'm never certain what the nature and import of Mark Rappaport's claims are. If he's arguing—which I don't believe he usually is—that there were in Hudson's films traces of his queerness that would have been detectable by a "resistant" group at the time, he's likely mistaken (I'd refer to Barbara Klinger's smart book on the historical reception of Sirk's films). If his project is instead a kind of poesis, making far-fetched, if quite clever, linkages for a contemporary audience, then I guess I don't quite understand what's at stake, aside from "knowing" yuks. In this particular context, I have little idea what Rock Hudson's Home Movies would add to an understanding or appreciation of All That Heaven Allows.

It's not that I necessarily have any problem with finding a queer subtext in a classic Hollywood (or any other) film, but the warrant for Rappaport's particular version of that argument is rather thin—and, as you say, would probably have been bolstered by discussion of Seconds, in which the idea of a "masked" identity is powerfully and grotesquely literalized.
I see the film more as a playful what-if, and a way of reclaiming a 'lost' queer icon. I don't think Rappaport is seriously asserting that there's a queer subtext to all of those films, but is more suggesting in a provocative way that the presence of a gay actor can (or should?) queer the way we see those films. After all, what's wrong with viewing classic Hollywood cinema with the presumption of queerness rather than the presumption of straightness?

I think the Jean Seberg film is quite a different kind of project, and it's sort of awkward and problematic, partly because it's posited as more biographical, whereas Rock Hudson's Home Movies is a fantasia.

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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#74 Post by jojo » Tue Mar 18, 2014 5:01 pm

jsteffe wrote:
domino harvey wrote:Also, on topic unrelated digression-y fun fact I picked up from reading the Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties recently: Apparently Rock Hudson smelled really bad and his agent begged him to wear deodorant but he insisted that only "sissies" did that. Personally, that's a lot more shattering for his position as a sex symbol than discovering he was gay!
You know, you can find plenty of Scruff and Grindr profiles of men into "raunchy pits" and "manly smells." If Rock Hudson were alive today, he might feel right at home... :-)
I've heard that Brad Pitt and Robert Pattinson have bad B.O. and it hasn't affected their sex appeal either.

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Re: 95-96 All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind

#75 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Wed Mar 19, 2014 9:06 pm

Would you recommend Klinger's book as a good introductory text to Sirk? (The publisher Indiana U Press has a half off sale at the moment.)

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