Douglas Sirk

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jsteffe
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#26 Post by jsteffe » Fri Aug 07, 2009 10:41 am

You're pushing my argument in a direction that I didn't intend. I didn't claim it was "normal for popular culture to critique women being trapped in 'conventional' roles." I said that the kinds of social critique I mentioned were "fairly common," as in not especially rare. Perhaps that term was too strong. But how on earth can you argue that that I'm "suggesting" that "popular culture as as a whole [is] assumed to occupy such a critical social role in the 1950s?" All I am suggesting is that it was not monolithically conservative and pro-conformist, and that the elements of social critique in Sirk's films were hardly unique during that time.

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:
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.
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.
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.

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Gregory
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#27 Post by Gregory » Fri Aug 07, 2009 12:41 pm

jsteffe wrote:You're pushing my argument in a direction that I didn't intend. I didn't claim it was "normal for popular culture to critique women being trapped in 'conventional' roles." I said that the kinds of social critique I mentioned were "fairly common," as in not especially rare.
Using the word "normal" to paraphrase your claim about what was "fairly common" for something as broad as "popular culture" to do seemed fair to me -- but if I misunderstood you it was not deliberate. I'm only trying to understand your position better and have no interest in pushing your argument.
Part of what's making it hard for me to understand the context of your comments is that I don't know whom you're arguing against, if there is a specific critic's position that you're taking issue with. I did already say I wasn't clear on this point, hoping you might address this question. If someone argues that Sirk was not subverting the subject matter in ATHA, it's useful for someone reading it to know who had claimed that he did subvert the subject matter in ATHA. Otherwise, it runs the risk of being a straw man argument in the more general discussion about the focus on Sirk as a subverter that David raised.
David had referred to Mulvey and Wollen, but I can only guess which pieces of theirs he had in mind, and as I mentioned, his comments seemed to me like they would address not just those two authors but a large cross section of scholars on Sirk over the past 40 years.
But how on earth can you argue that that I'm "suggesting" that "popular culture as as a whole [is] assumed to occupy such a critical social role in the 1950s?"
By "as a whole" I meant "in general," which is what I took you to be saying -- I certainly didn't mean "uniformly." I would hope it would be taken as a given that culture is not monolithic, and in fact I explicitly argued otherwise in my point about Thoreau and the lack of a uniform "American orthodoxy."
All I am suggesting is that it was not monolithically conservative and pro-conformist, and that the elements of social critique in Sirk's films were hardly unique during that time.
I have already explicitly acknowledged the latter a few times, when I mentioned Fuller, and certain works by Cukor, Ophuls etc.
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."
That is really unfair. How could I implicitly place him in that company when I explicitly said I was not doing that? You must be pretty sure you've not misunderstood me if you're saying I might be doing something that obviously duplicitous. I clearly said that I was suspicious of "wholesale attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of the social/political mainstream of the 1950s." Nowhere did I say that David was making such an attempt, as would have to be the case for me to be saying I'm "very suspicious" of him or his position in this discussion (if this even merits the term 'discussion'). My points in that part of my post were: that I believe that the reputation of mainstream of the United States in the 1950s is adequately supported by historical evidence; and knowing how politically loaded this issue is in some ways, I think it can be particularly problematic to refer to such a broad and unclear grouping of claims ("Eisenhower beige/postWar/Coldwar machine decade") as a "narrow view." If anything I thought David was being way too offhand and pithy in his comments than what was needed, as far as I could see. I know David about as well as I know anyone on this forum and would hardly accuse him of pursuing a reactionary agenda -- and again I already explicitly said in the post that's not what I was saying. I'd think anyone who thought the contrary would take it as a cue to consider a different interpretation of my remarks. Ideally, if you're engaging someone in a civil discussion you make every effort to avoid interpretations of their arguments that lead to the conclusion that they're dishonest or an idiot. Of course, this principle doesn't exactly prevail on internet forums.
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.
He was making more than one point in that sentence. I quoted an independent clause that made its own claims about the mistaken notions that the term 'subversion' often comes from. That was the point I wanted to address, not the point about whether Fuller et al should be included. I already acknowledged the latter in my previous post AND suggested that it looked to me like another potential straw-man.
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 of the Fifities. Why is that problematic?
That's not problematic. There was indeed more to his argument, including his post in the other thread), which involves a challenge to Mulvey and Mulveyites, or something like that. The problems and questions I've raised about all this are raised in my posts in this thread. I probably should not have said anything at all. I resisted the temptation to post in the WOTW/ATHA thread, but when David lodged another broad criticism against Mulvey here, I thought it might be interesting to pursue. But I can't get even establish which claims by Mulvey and Wollen (and which essays they're contained in) are being addressed here, and what separates them from the mainstream of Sirk criticism that emerged in the early '70s. Without that, it's hard for me to see whether notions of subversion carry the problematic assumptions that David has claimed they do. But now I'm repeating myself.

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jsteffe
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#28 Post by jsteffe » Fri Aug 07, 2009 1:33 pm

Gregory, I can readily accept that you didn't deliberately imply that David was "reactionary" with regards to the Fifties. I'm sure you can agree that it's frustrating when one's views are paraphrased or framed in a way that one didn't intend. Please accept my apology.

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Gregory
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#29 Post by Gregory » Fri Aug 07, 2009 1:52 pm

Gladly, and I'm sorry if I got your or David's views wrong. I keep telling myself not to get involved in discussions like this on the forum because for whatever reason there's such a tendency toward misunderstanding. I realize my own posts are potentially as unclear to others as others' are to me. Oh well.

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david hare
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#30 Post by david hare » Sat Aug 08, 2009 8:43 pm

Well if yours are unclear (they never seem so to me) mine must be sometimes unfathomable.

I think in a nutshell I simply have problems with the concept of "subversion." Ina sense every great artist is subversive because her/his work is taking us to a long, deep view of life and the abyss. What is clear about the fitites - and this is a huge subject with so much potential reward for study - is not only was it non monolithic (and I am indeed railing about the presupposition of monoculturalism that seems to take precedence in the 70s critical writing on Sirk.) But the fifties was the first unsullied decade of prosperity for the USA since the 1910s, largely as a result of winning the war. SImmering underneath this was a finally irrepressible need to revolt which would take about twenty years after the end of the war until the mid sixties, and indeed the begtinning of a another terrible war to explode. But the fities decade is like one of Sirk's "Split" characters itself- hope alternating with despair, egalitarianism contradicted by outright racism, crime becomeing professionalized, politics triying and failing to legitimize itself. And on it goes. And throughout all of this the small personal dramas and tragedies that take place every minute of the day, so Sirk can take on a full blooded and socially coherent novella like the original for ATH which primitively expresses this and give it a magisterially conceived narrative arc and formal treatnent with the full force of his intelligence and taste and genius.

EVen on material, like WOTW which schreck and others have trouble with here, there are the two narrative lines of big business running a small society, and the openly tangled, incestuous sexuality and addiction that plague the leads. There are always three sequences I would play any hypothetical classroom to try and demonstrate how Sirk works: -

The entire chapter (I think it's Ch. four in the Criterion) in Miama with Bacall and Stack at the Hotel Suite whch opens with the night and the lilacs and purples and reds of the Suite and the proposed seduction, and ends with the chase through the hotle by Stack in a montage of huge blocks of color - Lilac, Purple, Pink, Blue, then Green and Gold which act like slaps to the face of pure sensation. The entire meaning and trajectory of the scene is wholly played out with color.

Then the sequence of Malone undressing and flitting peekaboo in and out of the Ornate Chinese screen space while the supersized Joe Gershonson brass and bongo orchestration of “Temptation” plays out the dialogue-less scene, even coming up with a musical “second subject” as the montage brings the ailing father into the scene and up the stairs to his death. Some audiences may view the sequence as camp but any further viewing simply takes your breath away with the sheer concentration of expression without any dialogue, and the scene’s function as the narrative turning point.

And finally the courtroom scene with Malone and the rest of the cast - on show as it were before a now visible audience and the totally focussed level of performance Sirk derives from Malone for all her shots face to camera.

I think JS has put it very well when he said earlier that the material Sirk chose for these pictures is already “subversive” or revelatory and critical of chasms and social and personal inequalities, and what Sirk does is ramp the material up, through the conventions of the genre to a vastly heightened level, with decor, montage, performance, music, just as Fuller might, with narrative conflict and performance styles.

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Re: Douglas Sirk

#31 Post by Vic Pardo » Sun Aug 09, 2009 11:44 am

domino harvey wrote:Oh come on. Has Anybody Seen My Gal? is my favorite too, but it's not like anyone needs advanced knowledge of Sirk to appreciate Charles Coburn cutting a rug!
My point was that you can appreciate it more once you've seen the type of films Sirk is famous for first.

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domino harvey
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#32 Post by domino harvey » Sun Nov 22, 2009 9:12 pm

Just broke in the Samuel Fuller Collection with Shockproof and wow, what a noir masterpiece! All the hoary conventions of the genre are there, but with Fuller's novelty and Sirk's total control of the mise-en-scene making every familiar tone ring true. Just goes to show that no matter how many great noirs there are out there on the market now, there's a hundred more sitting unreleased in the vaults

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david hare
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#33 Post by david hare » Sun Nov 22, 2009 9:48 pm

It's a stunning movie, I agree. And one of those rare pictures where effectively equal credit has to go to the writer as well as director. The salient point is the entirely Fuller-esque motifs of outsiders, and even better "establishment" figures like Wilde's parole cop becoming an outsider, taking a wholly Sirkian shape in Sirk's treatment. I love the Richard Hamilton series of paintings - the famous ones (and the only ones Ive seen, in illustrations) all figure Patricia Knight in a room with a discarded gun, just out of eyeshot and diagonally arranged furniture which seems to extend beyond the frame. She may be a limited actress but I agree with Sirk's own comments in the Halliday book, she has a peculiar handsomeness, and those eyes which barely manage to conceal some constant preoccupation with danger.

Yes, a pity about the Helen Deutsch crap rewrite of the end to replace Fuller's conflagration. But It still works.

Also wonderful to see again is Crimson Kimono - for all the advanced shock cutting and really explicit juxtapositions of motifs and action sequences, there's one stunningly beautiful and elegant long travelling which forms a kind of figure eight from outside Victoria Shaw's bedroom door to Shigeta outside coming in, and coming over to her to talk about his "dilemma" (of self loathing.) Kimono may well be unique in Fuller's work - at least until Naked Kiss - for really positioning the love affair, across the two guys and the girl, and making it the real center of the drama, rendering the capture of Sugar Torch's murderer completely secondary.

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Re: Douglas Sirk

#34 Post by domino harvey » Sun Nov 22, 2009 9:54 pm

I loved the transitional edits (two that come to mind immediately are Knight's large hat at the opening and later the bus schedule)-- it's a seaming device I don't recall in other Sirk films, but maybe I've just forgotten them. They add such grace to the proceedings!

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david hare
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#35 Post by david hare » Sun Nov 22, 2009 10:00 pm

The first edit/transition is so subtle I've read some people who've misread the two shots to think she's stolen the hat!

There's a similarly gorgeous segue with a number of elisions and dissolves for the opening of Remember the Night when Stanwyck steals the jewels.

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Ben Cheshire
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#36 Post by Ben Cheshire » Mon Nov 23, 2009 5:34 am

david hare wrote:Even on material, like WOTW which schreck and others have trouble with here ...
I can't back it up via rational arguments, but I adore Written on the Wind. I don't know precisely what it is about it, but for some reason I can never find a Sirk I like better than it, at a gut level.

Anyway, I hope it looks better in high def and not worse, a la Its a Wonderful Life, and I hope its the first Sirk to come.

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Knappen
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#37 Post by Knappen » Thu Dec 03, 2009 11:31 am

Released today (I left Paris three days ago, darn it!)

Image

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tenia
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#38 Post by tenia » Thu Dec 03, 2009 2:02 pm

This, combined with the 7 movies from Allan Dwan boxset, and I don't already have money left for the rest of the month.

But that's money well spent.

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John Cope
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#39 Post by John Cope » Tue Feb 23, 2010 12:06 am

Thought you guys might enjoy seeing this. I debated about arguing the case for Borzage and John Stahl but then figured, why bother?

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Highway 61
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#40 Post by Highway 61 » Tue Feb 23, 2010 12:23 am

John Cope wrote:Thought you guys might enjoy seeing this. I debated about arguing the case for Borzage and John Stahl but then figured, why bother?
You've got to send a better warning before linking to Wells. He is to film what Free Republic is to politics, and I'm sure to be irate for at least a day or two after reading just one paragraph of that.

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Murdoch
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#41 Post by Murdoch » Tue Feb 23, 2010 12:36 am

Maybe this is just my cynicism getting the best of me again, but it seems like all of the film blogging I've come across is this same sort of dreck where some guy with a soapbox shouts to the whole world how he thinks so-and-so is bad simply because everybody else "wants you to think he's good" or something along those lines. This Wells character uses that scene as an example of why Sirk's overrated or bad or whatever but that scene is utterly captivating and so vibrant that I'm clueless as to how someone could think the opposite.

Never heard of Wells before and I'm going to actively avoid him from now on, blech.

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jsteffe
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#42 Post by jsteffe » Tue Feb 23, 2010 2:06 am

Murdoch wrote:Maybe this is just my cynicism getting the best of me again, but it seems like all of the film blogging I've come across is this same sort of dreck where some guy with a soapbox shouts to the whole world how he thinks so-and-so is bad simply because everybody else "wants you to think he's good" or something along those lines. [...]
Luckily there are some fine bloggers out there, too. Check out Self-Styled Siren. She also lists some other blogs worth exploring.

I agree, though, that post on Sirk was transparent attention-seeking. It's one thing to dislike Sirk--some very smart people I know do--but at least try to make yourself sound articulate when you're bashing a canonical figure!

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david hare
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#43 Post by david hare » Tue Feb 23, 2010 3:09 am

EDITED

Dont want to get the site into trouble.

But he's not worth wasting breath on, or wiping your arse with.

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John Cope
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#44 Post by John Cope » Wed Feb 24, 2010 3:47 am

Glenn Kenny and The Siren waste their breath for us.

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david hare
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#45 Post by david hare » Wed Feb 24, 2010 4:41 am

Thank the lord for Glenn who maintains a running war with the brainless Jeffrey Wells.

I will now implant what I said before, Wells is a trolling cunt. No need to waste any more space.

Oxygen dottore!! (Susan Hayyward in .....)

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Cinetwist
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#46 Post by Cinetwist » Tue Mar 02, 2010 6:16 am

Thank God for Mr Kenny indeed. I only scanned that awful drivel and a couple of the comments and I'm absolutely fuming.

I get riled too easily. But it scares me that my generation is going to entirly dismiss and revile Sirk.

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Cash Flagg
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#47 Post by Cash Flagg » Sat May 01, 2010 3:07 pm

Scharphedin2 (or a mod), you might want to add the Madman R2 discs of Taza and No Room for the Groom. There's also a Suevia Films (Spain) disc of Sleep, My Love. Speaking of the latter, does anyone here have an opinion on it? I've been debating purchasing the DVD, but I'm not sure if it's worth the $25 price tag.

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perkizitore
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#48 Post by perkizitore » Sat May 01, 2010 3:56 pm

It's only 8 euros at DVDgo and Starscafe.

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Gregory
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#49 Post by Gregory » Sat May 01, 2010 4:07 pm

I can't comment on the Spanish DVD (I have the German one) but the film itself is better than its reputation might generally lead one to believe. Personally, I find it quite interesting to see Sirk do a mystery/suspense film (Lured is another, of course), and a gothic women's picture in particular. It does seem he didn't feel completely at home in the story, and his main concern was Colbert's character per se. Looking beyond the story, the film is closely related to many of Sirk's foremost thematic concerns, and it's full of Sirkian touches.
If you were only asking about the quality of the DVD, none of this will be any help.

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Cash Flagg
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Re: Douglas Sirk

#50 Post by Cash Flagg » Sat May 01, 2010 5:31 pm

Thanks for your comments on the film Gregory. As far as the actual DVD goes, does anyone know if the Spanish subs are removable?

EDIT: They are. I went ahead and ordered it from Starscafe.

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