And frankly, with regards to David, by using the term "I've learned to be very suspicious" it sounds to me as if you are indeed implicitly placing him in the company of those "with a reactionary agenda" [...] "trying to "rehabilitate the reputation of the social/political mainstream of the 1950s." I couldn't help but notice that in your reply you left out the entire second half of David's sentence, where he mentioned the emergence directors such as Fuller during that era. That was critical to the point he was making. All I took from David's argument was that 1) Fifties culture was not monolilthic. 2) Sirk did indeed criticize American society (David specifically cites the example of Shockproof), but that he also genuinely admired many aspects of American culture, such as the writings of Throreau. More broadly, it seems to me as if David is arguing for a more complex and nuanced understanding of Sirk in relation to American culture. Why is that problematic?
Gregory wrote:I don't know which critics you mean to reply to here, but none come to mind who were arguing that it was the source material in particular that Sirk was subverting in this case. I haven't read enough women's fiction from the time period to say just how ordinary it is, and I'm not sure how someone might demonstrate such a thing. I'm also not sure what it means to say that it was normal for popular culture to critique women being trapped in "conventional" roles, because without specifying which conventions in particular we're talking about then one is left to assume that, at the most general level, popular culture of the time was by definition a reflection of the relevant social and cultural conventions. I just don't know what it would mean for popular culture as a whole to be assumed to occupy such a critical social role in the 1950s as you're suggesting. I'm sympathetic to the argument that in many respects the women's melodrama in general carried many of these critical values in its conventions. In other respects, however, reinforced prevailing social roles for women, such as the type of melodrama the basic premise of which was the mother's role as one of noble sacrifice to the children.jsteffe wrote:To use the example of All That Heaven Allows, if you read the original novel, you'll find that the elements of social critique in the film are there to begin with, and it's a fairly ordinary piece of woman's fiction. Critiques of social climbing, conformism, and even of women being trapped in conventional roles, were fairly common in Fifties popular culture. Sirk didn't "radically subvert" the material, but he enriched it with his own ideas and skill as a director.
Again, I think it goes well beyond just Sirk. One could look to certain films by Cukor, Ophuls, etc.
One more comment, perhaps more in reply to David, regarding the supposedly "narrow view of 50s America generally as the Eisenhower beige/postWar/Coldwar machine decade." I've learned to be very suspicious of wholesale attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of the social/political mainstream of the 1950s. The consensus of most 20th-century social and cultural historians has mainly been challenged by a relatively small group with a reactionary agenda, which includes attacking the so-called "excesses" of the social progress associated with the late '60s (much of it in fact dating from the 1970s). Of course I'm not trying to place anyone here in this category; I hope my point is clear enough without getting into such broad historical issues.