Salavaged from the detritus that is the old forum by exte
. The piles of quotes can get a bit confusing and the format isn't perfect, but it's worth the effort if you're interested in Sirk at all.
All That Heaven Allows is one of my favorite films ever made. On the surface, it's a slick melodrama, but Sirk has a lot going on under the surface and it takes a few viewings to get all of the subtext out of the film. It's also gorgeously shot and practically color-coded between the conflicting elements of the story. A lot of people watch it for camp value since it's a melodrama, but I think that's missing the point. You might want to rent it before making a blind purchase but not because I think the quality of the film is questionable (it's not, it's a masterpiece), but only because I don't know if you dig that sort of film. If you get into weepies or, say, really like Black Narcissus, then I would say go for it. Written on the Wind is a lesser film - that is the one to watch for camp value.
"All That Heaven Allows" Baileyhouse nails this one. If you have any interest at all in seeing Far From Heaven I would strongly urge you to see All That Heaven Allows first. The first is in many ways a re-working of the earlier film, with the subtexts brought to the foreground.
And don't worry about repeatability: on the surface it might seem trivial, but All That Heaven Allows really improves on each screening. (I'm a very recent convert to Sirk!)
Nothing justifies spending money on Criterion, as when the movie is within the taste of ones mothers. So when I picked up All That Heaven Allows for christmas, I didnt get the usual "youre spending to much on those movies" preach lol
The picture is stunning. The colors are deeply saturated and fleshtones are natural, despite heavy use of light. I detected a misallignment of the colorstrips in the long shots (they just didnt have the intensive sharpness of the close ups and mediums), so if anyone have info on why the LS arent in allignment I would be happy.
I was quiet surprised how easy "readable" the context was (its been over 10 years since I last saw a Sirk movie); Damn, the signs are thrown at you. The reference to Thoureau and walking to a different drum, the reference to television as the last refuge of the lonely woman, Metty's use of shadow vs fully lighted scene. I still dont detect any subversive messeges and I still dont think of Sirk as a smuggler. But the discussion about Sirk has lead me to pick up a couple of books on melodrama and genre, so Ill get back on that on later.
It is just a stunning picture, so simple, so easily constructed, yet so full of skill in all departments.
Usually when critics write of Sirk's films being subversive they are implying that the contemporary audience would have missed certain aspects of the film, aspects presumably well understood by intellectuals from the 1970s on. I think this is condescending to the 1950s, whose inhabitants were not the zomboid housekeepers (note the sexism underlying the typical Sirk critique) of hipster fantasy.
If that's what a critic is saying, then that's their problem. But regardless of how a '50s audience member or a '00s critic interprets a Sirk film, the fact remains that he used a conventional Hollywood form (the gloss and opulence of the Ross Hunter aesthetic) to question the oft-repeated message that American happiness was (or is) the same thing as financial success, acceptance by one's community, and conformity within a certain white, middle America idea of purity. Few of his colleagues - or, indeed, few contemporary filmmakers - were doing things like this. If you think this is mere cant, let me know and I'll dry and dredge up some better arguments than the ones you seem to have been hearing. They do, in fact, exist.
Also, I don't think the Jane Wyman (All That Heaven Allows) or Lana Turner (Imitation of Life) characters are particularly "zomboid"...Wyman's Cary wouldn't be so torn, emotionally, if that was the case, and while Turner's Lora may lose a few points at the expense of turning Juanita Moore into a saint ("This is a very important problem!" or something, when referring to something that couldn't be more petty), she's also intelligent and fiercely ambitious. Certainly Roger Wade's wife in The Long Goodbye, a supposedly hip, revisionist film (that I like a lot), is more of a submissive, wallflower type than any Sirk heroine.
To call it "subversive" (as opposed to "critical") is to suggest that Hollywood in those years couldn't allow for anything resembling social critique and that such ideas would have to be "smuggled" in.
Not necessarily. "Subversive" can mean that a filmmaker uses conventional forms to "subvert" those forms...using the father's tools to tear down the father's house, sort of thing. Sirk's films represent (along with Preminger's, Minnelli's, etc.) a highest possible point of Hollywood gloss, polish, and (seeing as his Technicolor features are among the highest-grossing movies of that decade) success. The messages of Heaven and Imitation are specifically aimed against the system from which they were produced. This has nothing to do with whether '50s audiences "got" the messages or not. And also, it has little to do with whether Sirk was explicitly rebelling against the studio system...obviously he wasn't, he made a lot of money and kept making mega-budget blockbuster type pictures. The "smuggler" designation (as far as Scorsese explains it) is intended for directors who work within the system and manage to "smuggle" in art that wouldn't be acceptable otherwise.
Sirk, melodrama and subversivness First lets put certain things into focus. Sirk was the leading director of Universal in 50s; He made one movie a year, he made the studio's "Women's Movie". A Douglas Sirk movie was a flagship for Universal. Despite a trivial (today Kitsc) storyline, this was the movie millions of women waited for each year. It was a movie who had 4 good cries in them (one per 20 minuts or so), it had an happy ending, it dealt with values and conflicts (dreams) each american housewife could identify with.
The americana melodrama is trash literature. Its as formularic as possible, it has a set of characters (the nosey gossiper, the elderly courter, the elderly seducer, the wise town doctor). From a narrative point of view it is a solid a genre as the western or the classic musical. Its cheap, formularic and trivial, but at the same time its highly stylized art.
Regarding social critique: Already James Joyce wrote about "the dead" around the turn of the century, so portraing americana households as zombified parents with overambitious kids is no social critique, but merely are genre convention (today its underambitious kids, i.e. American Beauty). Other genre conventions are: Fear of making the wrong choice (heart vs reason/conformity) and money isnt happiness. Is dealing with these genre conventions being subversive ? I would suggest no.
Another thing is Metty's use of colors and light. Russell Metty was the cheif photographer for Universal in the 50s. He only shot one film a year (the Sirk movie), the was in charge of a specific look. While there possible are certain motifs in his use of color (for instance red as free and blue as conformed), one must not forget, that the studio has strict guidelines for use of color, and in a Sirk movie there was little freedom to stray from them.
Ive now read a dusin or so articles and papers on Sirk and melodrama, and the more I read, the more I feel that they overcomplicate Sirk in order to get some new point of view on melodrama. To me Sirk is a master craftsman, making stunning tales out of simple stories, nothing more.
I think you're presuming too little of Sirk's producers, who were not blind after all. And too little of Hollywood, which like capitalism is able to withstand and even encourage a surprising amount of criticism from within. Films about the tragedy of success are fairly commonplace in Hollywood as elsewhere.
These are some broad statements, and I think you're losing a lot in the reduction...when you say "producers," you have to realize that you're talking about a very large pool of individuals with different duties, widely varying opinions about how to do business, and conflicting tastes. Things are different today, but in Sirk's time there were producers like Darryl Zanuck, who knew the bottom line like nobody's business, but directors like Sam Fuller and John Cassavetes have spoken about how he respected a little bending of the rules. That's the primary reason why it's said that a lot of the classics of forty, fifty years ago wouldn't get funding today - there were enough producers in Old Hollywood with a little imagination stirred in with their drive for a big payday.
Certainly the smuggler/iconoclast director, in order to be successful, has to rely on some complicity on the part of a producer or someone in the front office.
Applying the word "system" to Hollywood seems a bit pat to me, unless you're talking about a mode of production ("The Studio System") of which I doubt there is a critique in any of Sirk's films.
That implication of "system" is dead-on. I agree that it's a cliched expression; I was referring to the large, complex "cinematic apparatus" that includes production, marketing, distribution, etc., insofar as it's also referring (in this discussion) to the Old Hollywood. Pre-Vietnam, roughly.
And Sirk's critiques perhaps do not apply to "the system" as such, but what values they represent, foster, and perpetuate.
I take your point about subversion to some extent, that is if we're at the level of form. In certain scenes Sirk, via his careful mise en scene and delirious use of color, often managed to undercut or set off the emotions evoked by the dialogue. The scene where Lana Turner and John Gavin have it out in the apt building hallway is a case in point. As he insists on them getting married and her giving up her aspirations, Turner is suddenly framed against a shockingly drab shade of green wallpaper, as if to announce the rottenness of Gavin's thinking at that moment. (Forgive me if my memory is a little loose here. When the DVD comes out I can check my earlier impressions. Though I wonder how much impact this kind of thing might have on the small screen.)
Excellent example...form is exactly what creates textures and shades to the otherwise shallow, dull stories that Sirk seemed to favor. If we're lucky, the upcoming Imitation of Life DVD will permit a better close analysis. Think it airs on TCM every now and then, letterboxed.
A related question, then: Do you think Sirk's films are fundmentally dialectical? That is, does the mise en scene run counter to the script's intentions? Or does it reinforce them? Or perhaps a bit of both? I think this is really the central question and a close analysis of the scripts Sirk was handed, and also a look at what other directors did with similar material, would go a ways towards contributing to an understanding of Sirk's achievement.
Right now I'm not convinced that what he did is anything like "using the father's tools to tear down the father's house," biting the hand that feeds you, etc.
That was a reference to the famous Laura Mulvey essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Well-publicized attacks on that essay notwithstanding, Mulvey's approach is that she uses the tools of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory, long held by her and others to be a phallocentric enterprise, in order to discover contradictions, oppressive tendencies, and other bad shit that the cinema had wrought up until 1975. But in "tearing down the house" as she wishes to do, it's implied that she's doing so only insofar as she believes in the strength (or some strength) in the same system.
I'm confident in saying that this "subversive" business isn't restricted to "tearing down" the "system"; surely it would be bad news for Sirk to have made a film that stopped people from going to Hollywood movies, or even Universal productions. So, when you ask, "does the mise en scene run counter to the script's intentions? Or does it reinforce them? Or perhaps a bit of both?" My answer is that the relationship between Sirk's form and his film's content - the star power of Lana, Jane, Rock, etc., the stories, and so on - is more complex than a simple model of one thing contradicting or supporting the other. When in fact these things will shift quickly in a Sirk film. Dave Kehr: "The secret of Sirk's double appeal is a broadly melodramatic plotline, played with perfect conviction yet constantly criticized and challenged by the film's mise-en-scene, which adds levels of irony and analysis through a purely visual inflection...By emphasizing brilliant surfaces, bold colors, and the spatial complexities of 50s moderne architecture, Sirk creates a world of illusion, entrapment, and emotional desperation."
That one should be surprised that such things are at work in a melodrama says more about critics' misunderstanding of that genre than Sirk's transcendence or subversion of it.
I'm unable to comment on what "critics" say without getting into specifics. Someone like Kehr, for example, is pretty learned in the areas of old-time movie melodrama, among other things.
Quote:I'm not sure what use of the word "system" you're assuming here. I don't know that "Hollywood" as a whole can be assumed to perpetuate any one set of values.
Neither do I, since that's not quite what I was saying.
Anyhow, I think where I differ from many contemporary film academics is that I don't really see anything *wrong* with filmgoing, in any era, that begs for an academic expose.
I don't think they do, either. What in heaven's name are you talking about?
This is an astute remark to some extent, but the phrase "double appeal" is ambiguous. Does he mean that Sirk's films appeal to a certain audience in the 1950s, and to another audience 20-30 years later? Or simply that the film works on two emotional registers at once, to which audiences in both eras would be susceptible? I think both choices are, as you suggested yourself, fairly schematic.
Perhaps they are, but I'm leaning towards choice number two in my interpretation of his remarks.
But Jaime (and everyone), what do you think of Bordwell (and myself) characterizing Sirk's films as liberal melodrama?
I think it brings what you've been saying into focus very well. It's strange, though, that Sirk is not one of those venerated old-time directors whose films show up on AFI lists and Oscar montages.
Implication being that Sirk is not in the AFI canon because he is subversive? Or just an observation?
I only get one or the other? For the former, I suppose you're comfortable in saying "he is a LIBERAL, etc," so there doesn't seem much point in arguing the "subversive" point any further. I suppose it's just an observation then, although it might lead to further discussion.
Here's a question - since Sirk is (for you) out, do you believe any filmmakers within the Hollywood studio system can be called (on your terms) subversive? Or did their decision to remain within the system restrict them between the poles of Liberal and Conservative? Or what?
I have on previous occassions argued that I dont see Douglas Sirk as a subversive, a statement I would like to elaborate.
The movies of Douglas Sirk were "womens pictures". As the leading director of Universal, he was, along with Ross Hunter, responsible for Universals "look", making glossy melodramas. The movies were made on a fixed budget of $800,000 and returned a solid profit each year (from $4,3 mill with Written in the Wind to $6,5 mill with Imitation of Life). While the budget was above average for studio productions, the revenue was far from top box office; yet still a yearly bonus for Universal. Furthermore, working within the studio system (which dictated the look and happy ending) and making "womens pictures" which required a good cry every 20 minuts or so (Sirk's melodramas are highly formulaic to the point of: Girl meets Boy, Girl falls in love with Boy, Girl loses Boy, Girl finally gets Boy), the possibilities of creative freedom to smuggle subvise contexts into the film was very limited, but not necesary impossible.
Laura Mulvay suggests "The melodrama (of Sirk) is part of american myth... an aspiration to retreat into the privacy of the new white suburbs out of the difficulties of contemporary political life". Sirk's world is "Americana", strictly divided in gender and class, immune and ignorent to outside worldly events; matters which are discussed by men.
While this "myth" is highly conservative, Sirk uses it as catalyst and lets his protagonist undergo resignation, only later to emerge as a independent human being. Whats important here is, that while resignation is a product of abiding the conservative "americana" way of life, the emerging is a cerebal decision; Sirk's woman are not mindless zombies but thinking beings, still immune and ignorent to outside worldly events. We still have a strict division between the male and female world, the obstacle one has to break free of is class, as roles of gender remains intact. Sirk doesnt attack the patriarctic gender system, nor the notion that one can find happiness and love within the "americana" way of life.
In All That Heaven Allows Cary meets resignation when she has to chose between her children and her heart. This is no critism of society, but a melodramatic function (girl loses boy). While we can interpret the motifs, they are still within the bounderies of the "myth". Even as the children abandon Cary, and they almost stand out as social inter family leeches, and she faces solitude, society stands. Cary then makes the choice of following her heart and not what is expected of her. But as we are within the female world, still immune and ignorent to the outside world, her choice stands as one made of love and should not be read in the context of political events in the Eisenhower era.
Would I call Sirk a liberal ? Yes, very much so, since his protagonist after emerging makes individual choises and accepts the consequences of them. Would I call Sirk subversive ? No, as he neither questions the "myth" not introduces themes and motifs which undermine the "myth". I do admit there are certain elements in his movies which can be read as smuggling (i.e. the TV in All that Heaven Allows and the notion of color in Imitation of Life), but I would ask the other way around: Is such elements subversive, if the "myth" isnt undermined thereby ?
It's hard for me to argue this for a number of reasons. First, I've only seen six Sirk features: NO ROOM FOR THE GROOM, IMITATION OF LIFE, THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW, WRITTEN ON THE WIND, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, and THE TARNISHED ANGELS. Second, it seems that rather than figuring out what Sirk was, we're moving in the direction of saying simply that he was not subversive, and not just that, but that he was not subversive given the understanding of the word that the opponents of the "he was" position are most comfortable with. A group of individuals has, through careful study and research or not, come to the conclusion that many of the things being said about Sirk are mere cant.
It's hard for me to conceive of a subversive film because: (1) it's not a quality I place a high value on
I'm not sure I can grasp the link between the two ideas here.
I don't see Hollywood as having a reigning orthodoxy against which background something could be easily perceived as subversive
But you must admit that Hollywood, then and now, despite its complexities, is a power structure that, like any other, has among its primary interests: preserving itself and perpetuating a certain matrix of cultural and societal values. Contradictions exist, but it would be difficult to argue that the Paramount or Universal or Warners studios of the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood are more different than alike.
I'm not even convinced that the very idea of something being "subversive" has much efficacy. I never use the word myself, except at a micro-level.
But words have different shades of meaning, certainly.
In regards to being subversive by undermining the myth I would like to mention Rebel without a Cause, a movie that really kicks at the myth of suburban life.
The attack on the myth goes directly to the family structure. Its no longer patriacal, but has changed to matriacal. Jim's father is not only pussywhipped by two generations of women (his wife and his mother), but he is the caring part of the family, to the point of "impersonating" the "female" (he brings his mother her dinner wearing an apron). The family structure has also shifted from educative upbringing to an ostrichistic attitude (when Jim is in trouble, they move).
In the case of Plato the family structure is utterly disfunctional. His father sends checks and his mother, who we never see, has replaced the protective male with a handgun.
In both cases (of Jim and Plato) home is where you sleep and eat. The realities of life you learn on the streets.
The only father figure we see in Rebel without a Cause is Ray (the juvenile officer), who stands tall with authority but also is willing to listen.
Both Sirk and Ray portraits protagonists who resignate, but where the rebellion in Ray's work is resigning from the "my" and making up new rules in order to survive, the rebellion in Sirk's movies never attacks the myth.
Hey guys - okay, since my ability to construct an argument in favor of the Subversive Sirk "cant" is hampered by my relative ignorance of film history during the relevant periods, I asked a friend of mine to take a look at the thread and see what he has to say. He makes many good points, and inspires one (me, anyway) to learn a great deal more about Sirk, the times in which he made movies, and cinema in general.
The only potential problem is that, as he doesn't know either of you, his remarks may seem occasionally abrasive. But he doesn't say anything that one could reasonably take offense to, so I don't think that'll be an issue.
Amateurist doesn't know of what he speaks when he writes "I think you're presuming too little of Sirk's producers, who were not blind after all." I had a film professor at Columbia who not only had a long-standing correspondence and freindship with Sirk, he also stayed at Sirk's house for an extended period. Sirk told him that Ross Hunter was absolutely clueless when it came to what Sirk was up to. Hunter - and apparently Amateurist and Dvdane - was unaware of Sirk's use of Brechtian distancing devices, such as the placing of objects between the camera and actors, devices intended to take a viewer "out of the movie," and make him/her aware that he was watching a film. This was a SUBVERSIVE way of commenting on the shallowness of the the self-involved problems of the characters in films like Magnificent Obsession, and trying to coax the audience into not simply becoming wrapped up in the narratives - as the audience does in traditional pictures - but looking at the overall picture of social milieu, class, and the empty trappings and excess of capitalist success. Sirk's movies have such a singular look to them, that it's astonishing that people didn't notice what was going on, but most audiences - or critics - didn't LOOK at films in those days. (Albert Zugsmith, who produced Written On The Wind, was much more in sync with what Sirk was doing.) But in addition to containing distancing elements, Sirk's mise-en-scene also enhanced and commented upon his narratives. The visual motifs in There's Always Tomorrow, for instance, brilliantly serve to make Fred MacMurray seemed trapped and insignificant within the trappins of his own life.
I can assure you audiences didn't get the subtexts of these movies (and if you look at reviews from the period, no one mentioned Sirk - except in passing - or the look of the movies, but only concentrated on the plot). Sure, some of his points, such as the back-to-nature elements of All That Heaven Allows, for instance, are up front, as Amateurist insists, but not the social critique of how Jane Wyman's character is oppressed by middle-class conventionality. I daresay, most audiences didn't care about all that Thoreau stuff much - they just wanted Jane to find happiness with that nice young hunky Rock Hudson, and equated Walden's Pond with the virility that was Rock Hudson. Incidentally, Sirk also said that Hudson had no idea about the subversive elements Sirk was bringing to the material, but just dutifully what he was told; on the other hand, Robert Stack, who was in Written On The Wind and The Tarnished Angels, completely got it, loved it and was a "co-conspirator."
All I can say is that Amateurist needs to bone up on his film history, and not indulge in baseless revisionism; it's a fact that in their day, Sirk's films were not understood, and wishing otherwise does not make it so. Even in the 60s, Sarris was favorable to Sirk but did not fully understand the thrust of his movies.
Then there's Dvdane's comment: "one must not forget, that the studio has strict guidelines for use of color, and in a Sirk movie there was little freedom to stray from them.
All this dude needs to do is look at some other Universal melodramas of the 50s, such as Jerry Hopper's Never Say Goodbyeor Helmut Kautner's Stranger In My Arms
-- they have a very different look and feel than the Sirk films. I also don't know what he's talking about regarding Russell Metty supposedly only shooting one film a year - a look at his filography indicates Metty did 6 movies in 1955, 4 in 1956 and 6 in 1957 (and far from only shooting Sirk's movies, he also worked with Blake Edwards and Kubrick, and his movies ranged from Touch of Evil and The Misfits to Monster On the Campus and Cult Of The Cobra. (I hate how on the Internet people are always making grand statements that have no basis in fact.)
"Ive now read a dusin or so articles and papers on Sirk and melodrama, and the more I read, the more I feel that they overcomplicate Sirk in order to get some new point of view on melodrama. To me Sirk is a master craftsman, making stunning tales out of simple stories, nothing more."
If Dvdane's read a dozen texts on Sirk, and still appreciate the works, there's nothing we can say that will disuade this dude- -- the evidence is up there on the screen.
Sirk's movies are much more than "liberal melodramas," aphrase which Amateurist seems to find to be a revelation. A movie like Mark Robson's The Harder They Fall or Martin Ritt's Edge Of the City constitutes a "liberal melodrama." Sirk was a Marxist, and his films go far beyond offering simple, soothing liberal bromides.
The Dave Kehr quote that you cited really sums up Sirk in a nutshell.
Incidentally, Sirk once mentioned that he and Budd Boetticher greatly respected each other and their ambitions to do a lot more with the material they were handed than they actually needed to. They would sometimes see each other on the lot, and Sirk would say, "What are you working on, Budd?" and Boetticher would reply, "Oh, just some crummy Weatern. How about you?' ""A crummy romantic melodrama," and they would wink at each other.
Concerning Metty, I take the misunderstanding on my back. Neither Metty, nor Hunter, nor Sirk made "one movie a year". What I meant was, that Metty, while working with Sirk/Hunter, was in charge of shooting "one film a year" with a specific look dictated by the guidelines of Universal; Yet didnt make it clear enough, hence my statement was prone to misreading. There is no excuse for hasty (false) writing.
But taking the two films mentioned into consideration, I have some comments. Never Say Goodbye (another "women's pic with Hudson) was a routine "low(er) budget" film; a remake of This Love our Lives (a 1945 Diertele film) using a tearjerking melodramatic plot to promote Hudson, directed by Jerry Hopper and shot by the Maury Gertsman (Neither of them were under contract with Universal as creative personal, so one can only question Universal's intentions by using them). Of course such a movie would have another look than a $800,000 "prestige" production and I will argue that Universal never would have someone as Gertsman, if they wanted a specific look to promote themselves. The notion of studio control regarding look is evident in Stranger in my Arms, the last of two disasterous films made in the US by the german director Helmut Kï¿½utner (who made the brilliant Grosse Freiheit Nr. 7 and later directed several episodes of the german classic TV series Der Kommisar and Derrick). He went to US because he felt commercial pressure destroyed his work, only to discover that Hollywood was worse and left after making only two movies (Kï¿½utner later turned to TV, which allowed him som control and freedom). Still, I know to little about Metty to argue to what degree Universal dictated guidelines for him on other productions, but I will argue that Metty had little freedom working on the films of Sirk.
Concerning "Brechtian distancing devices" and Sirk. What I understand regarding Brecht's "Verfremdungseffekte" (alienation devices) is, that while the audience in traditional theater relied on empathy with the protagonist (thru a two way identification with the part) to achieve catharsis, the audience in Brechtian theater should be alienated from identifying with the protagonist, whom should be more like a third person (rather than a first person), making the audience into eyewitnesses and thereby allowing independent forming of opinions. Brecht wanted the audience to be aware of that they were watching a representation of "reality", rather than a illusion of "reality", thereby encouraging thought rather than emotion.
While I am aware of Sirk being quoted ad nausea on him employing "distanciation" (distance and disassociation), while I am aware of this having lead to the notion of double reading (on one side embrasing and showing off capitalist "americana" myth, on the other side the critique of its shallowness), I am not saying that Sirk didnt employ alienation devices (considering he directed Brecht on theater in Germany). Often Sirk would frame a shot thru a window or a doorway, often he uses reflections in mirrors (or mirrorlike elements - as the polished piano or TV screen in All that Heaven Allows). But while one can "double read" Wyman's isolated empty image reflected in the TV screen as the salesman says "all of life's wonders" (in perspective to Wyman's own notion of TV as the last refuge of lonely women), I will argue that any well composed frame can be used to promote double reading and a notion of distanciation, if one is inclined to do so; I will also maintain my arguement, that it is overcomplicating Sirk in order to continuously discussing his films and finding new ways of analysing melodrama. Alienation devices are used thruout narrative cinema, but they are used differently than in a strict Brechtian sense. A good example on cinematic narrative alienation is the girl in the red coat in Schindler's List, which also shows the difference between its cinematic use and Brecht's concept.
The succes of Sirk, to me, in terms of being a director of "women's pictures" relies on his emphasis on character in order that the female audience could identified themselves with the protagonist; as Jon Halliday notes "it is their warm humanity, their humour, and an always magnificently crafted approach to human emotions... which has allowed them to survive while keeping their impact." Fassbinder quoted Sirk, when discussing motifs towards life and love, when he said "You can only make films with all the fantastic things which make life worth living". To me, Sirk envokes emotions which a female audience could relate to, thereby undergoing her pain in resignation and her joy in affirmation of life and love, which gave his films the "crying" moments. I read this a traditional "theater" (i.e. dramatic narrative) and not Brechtian "theater". Now, I am no scholar of Sirk, so I can only speculate on what Sirk means when he talks about distanciation, but I would argue, that it isnt alienation of the audience as by Brecht.
While I am being attacked for not being aware of Sirk's notion of distanciation, simply because I didnt write about it in the first place, I find it amusing that my attacker didnt refered to Sirk's employment of circularity (or as Sirk called it "tragic rondos") when elaborating on Fred MacMurray being trapped within the trappins of his own life. Many of Sirk's characters were caught within a circle of events, from which they couldnt break free, and were tormented as they were unable to escape it.
Considering circularity and distanciation isolated (without drawing reference from anything else than his films), I find it far more logic to view Sirk's notion of distanciation as a cinematic narrative device to emphasize the "tragic rondo" of his protagonist as he/she resignates and contemplates her situation.
Even when considering distanciation in his framing of a scene, I still fail to see how this is subversive, unless being subversive is depicturing anything else than a naive, blind and ignorent happy go happy view of the world and society. To me, the employment of various narrative tools rather goes to the notion of hightend the awareness of the protagonists emotianal state. Further depicturing the "americana" myth, Sirk, I will argue, depicts the illusion of "reality" and not "reality" as in the social aware realistic notion of Bretch. Hence, to me, Sirk manages to invoke both emotion and thought.
Further notion goes towards that Sirk didnt critique the myth (I mentioned in an earlier post, that Sirk does not rule out that one can find happiness and love within the "americana" way of life) but works within it and the genre conventions belonging to the melodrama, such as fear of making the wrong choice (heart vs reason/conformity), children versus their parents and the notion that money cant buy one happiness.
Placing objects between the acteurs and the camera is not a Brechtian technique, but a devise employed Josef von Sternberg. "The dead space" (Der Tote Raum - the space between the sphere of action) was dead to von Sternberg as it seperated the camera from the subject and the subject from the background. His struggles with it began with Der Blaue Engel (where he filled the space with almost any object imaninable - banners, curtains, statues, nets) and lasted a lifetime; later he turned to filters and gauges to "fill" the space. While I wont rule out that the Brechtian scene in Germany in the late twenties and early thirties may have been an inspiration (and never have cared enough to investigate it), neither will I rule out that Sirk drew inspiration from this von Sternbergian composition, but it is not per se a devise of subversiveness.
I may be wrong in my assumption that Sirk isnt subversive. But I do believe than notions of double reading in light of revisionistic critique tries to find new ways of reading and comprehending. This is a public forum and the readers span from academic specialists to naive filmviwers, which all share the love for film and Criterion Collection. When discussing film I dont want to write threads similar to a paper, simply to express my point of view. I write in this forum when I have some spare time and hope to share my entusiam, love and knowledge about film with the other people who participate in this forum.
While I appriciate insight in areas where I lack, I dont appriciate being attacked by arbitrary notions that I make grand statements about things with no basis in facts, or that anyone else does it, by arbitrary comments, which arent explained or elaborated. Such comments goes against the friendly atmosphere in this forum. I further take offence by being refered to as "a dude", which to me indicates an arbutrary "superiority" of "I know better, so Im indifferently disrespectful". Even though I sometimes is hard in my comments, I never would sink to indifference. Just because someone hasnt a PhD in film science, doesnt mean that they cant have a valuable point of view or commenting on a film. The love for film and the desire to share it by commenting is not only for elitists snobs, which btw are far worse on the internet than wannabes, as they never miss a chance to elevate their own superiority (or lack thereof) in the face of people with lesser insight and knowledge, but for everyone.
eye socket wrote:
I know it was a month and a half ago, but... Very interesting discussion above. A few points:
It's possible, isn't it, for something to be both liberal and subversive.
First of all, I think its clear that the entertainment industry has a vested interest in encouraging people to be good consumers, even to the point of isolation. It's not as simple as an explicit endorsement of any way of life, usually, but its there just the same. After all, it wouldn't make sense for the entertainment industry to encourage people to turn off their TVs and stop buying things they don't need. They wouldn't survive very long if they allowed that to be encouraged.
So, if we accept that some kinds of consumerist values are generally endorsed by the entertainment industry, then someone like Sirk can come along and subvert those values through subtleties in his films. But, the important thing is, that subversion can take on a very mild and reformist form, which I think Sirk's subversion is. So a Sirk film could be both a "liberal melodrama" and "subversive."
Another point, granted that just because, as Jaime's friend suggested, the reviewers at the time Sirk's films were coming out never talked about Sirk or the subtle messages within his films, I don't think it follows that none of the people who watched those films were noticing those things and thinking about them on that level. It seems likely that writing about film was more superficial (in some respects) back then, but I'm not at all convinced that all people were viewing films in a superficial way, not interpreting them on any level besides the facts of the plot and characters. Of course, we can be sure that many people were only thinking about them on the literal level of the plot and characters, but I'm equally sure that many people still today watch the same films on the same level. I'm not sure we can point to the way they tended to be written about in magazines, etc. and say that people failed to understand them on certain levels any more than they fail to do so now. Again, it could simply be a feature of the standard ways of writing about film in the popular media and the way that's become a little deeper and more nuanced, that doesn't reflect any real limitations of the way all viewers tended to think about the films back when they were originally made.