There's always IMDb Classic Film Board for Sirk commentary

I posted my reflections on There's Always Tomorrow on my old haunt CFB and received some very good feedback. For posterity's sake (since IMDb deletes these threads after a couple of months) I thought I'd post them here:  

Re: There's Always Tomorrow (1956, Douglas Sirk)
  by UmbertoTheLesser     2 days ago (Tue Mar 13 2007 15:40:37 )  

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You review this so well that it must leaves everybody speachless to add to your fine essay. 

I remember how nice Joan Bennett, Barbara Stanwyck look along with Fred MacMurray in this and their fine acting work here.

Maybe the reason why they do not respond much on other threads is because they want to talk about what they saw instead of what anybody else has so it is perhaps nothing personal but they would do well to listen to your fine reviews.

 
Re: There's Always Tomorrow (1956, Douglas Sirk)
  by paul panzer     2 days ago (Tue Mar 13 2007 15:52:09 )  

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UPDATED Tue Mar 13 2007 15:59:34

In dealing with many later Sirk films it's wise to factor in the contribution of producer Ross Hunter. He hired the cast, commissioned the screenplay and built the sets before Sirk came on board. He did the same for such iconic fifties pictures as PILLOW TALK. It's grossly unfair that he's been forgotten since Sirk went to Europe and blew his own horn so loud that he drowned out the truth. Sirk was most emphatically not a Protean writer-producer-director like Griffith, Hawks, Ford and Hitchcock. He was a European who brought feelings of cultural superiority to standard Hollywood fare. To some that looks lite satire; to others, snobbery.

 
Ironic .......not?!
  by melvelvit-1     1 day ago (Wed Mar 14 2007 14:18:27 )  

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There seems to be a whole school of thought that sees no irony in Douglas Sirk's work. Director Pedro Almodovar is among them -although his perspective can be explained by his origins/environment: 


Almodovar is insistent on the lack of irony in Sirk's films; curiously so when Sirk himself and most modern critics take ironic distance to be his most characteristic response to the melodramatic material he handled so skillfully. But it seems possible that Almodovar is engaging with a specifically Spanish reception of the Hollywood women's picture. Carmen Martin Gaite has given an important, if partial and incidental, testimony to that reception in a Francoist Spain where relations between the sexes were marked by a "theatricality" or play-acting marked by the necessity of feignng loyalty to a stultifying ideology
 

Some critics, seeing no irony, tend to view some of what Sirk had to say about American life as (superior) value judgement. Although I don't particularly subscribe to auteurist theory, I love films like All That Heaven Allows, Written On The Wind & Imitation Of Life for their irony. I wouldn't say "some get it and some don't", however, because that could be seen as (superior) value judgement as well.

"Sirk & The Critics": http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/48/sirkcritics.htm

An ironic title:"There's Always Tomorrow highlights the possibility of change, difference, and happiness, only to stage their ultimate denial": http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/cteq/05/37/theres_always_tomorrow.html

; There's less to this than meets the eye ...as bees in honey drown

 
giving paul panzer the benefit of a doubt...
  by alsolikelife     1 day ago (Wed Mar 14 2007 14:46:38 )  

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i don't know if this is exactly to his point, but one thing I didn't get into in my review was how hollow some parts of the film felt to me. i can't name specifically which ones but sometimes it felt kind of perfunctory, like the shell of the narrative was all there was. and i couldn't tell if this was intentionally hollow to serve a satirical point on Hollywood melodramatic convention, or if it was just directing on auto-pilot. So for that I can't say that the film is an unqualified success for me, but it most certainly has its attributes. 

I'm curious -- what exactly do you mean when you say you love his films for their irony? Irony comes in all kinds of flavors -- there's the misanthropic kind, the self-deprecating kind, the dry kind, the outrageous kind... how would you characterize Sirk's and how does it appeal to you?

shooting.alsolikelife.com

 
Ironic you should ask me that-
  by melvelvit-1     1 day ago (Wed Mar 14 2007 15:30:04 )  

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As film noir "irony" (just discussed in my post to you below) reared it's ugly head. 


"There's Always Tomorrow highlights the possibility of change, difference, and happiness, only to stage their ultimate denial"
 

Things like that are second nature to me. That's why I love film noir with it's "dark side" of the sunny American dream. The same could be said for what all the characters wanted in Imitation Of Life -the paste jewels tumbling during the opening credits should give you a clue about what I'm into. Things that can bring a bitter smile of identification to a viewer's face, etc. There's all kinds of irony in Sirk's works. From the philosophical, deep-dish kind to the obvious: In All That Heaven Allows, Wyman gives up Hudson for her children and sits in front of the TV -only to find that her children (well, you get the drift).

; There's less to this than meets the eye ...as bees in honey drown

 
How different is PILLOW TALK to Sirk's films?
  by alsolikelife     1 day ago (Wed Mar 14 2007 14:41:49 )  

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It would be interesting to compare Hunter's other productions to the Sirk films to see what elements are consistent and can be attributed to his hand. 

I don't see how a great director needs to be a writer and producer -- that's what the auteur theory is all about, someone whose directorial hand has a way of making the film his own even when the material is not of his own writing or producing.

Based on my viewings, There's Always Tomorrow strikes me as a film that would argue against Sirk as a snob -- his handling of the performances betrays genuine empathy for these characters as prisoners of their own design, and in a way that can be seen as universal as it is specifically American. These tales of domestic dissatisfaction resonate not only with his self-appointed protege Fassbinder but with a writer like Heinrich Boll who satirically charted the "German economic miracle" of the 50s. I think his relationship with the material is too compassionate and fascinated to be satire or snobbery. I would label it "perversity" - as in, he's perversely attached to that which he tries to skewer -- like a bastard child that he's too endeared to disown.

shooting.alsolikelife.com

 
Re: How different is PILLOW TALK to Sirk's films?
  by paul panzer     1 day ago (Wed Mar 14 2007 14:57:17 )  

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What characters in WRITTEN ON THE WIND are treated with compassion?

 
Compassion and WOTW
  by Addison De Witt     1 day ago (Wed Mar 14 2007 15:47:33 )  

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UPDATED Wed Mar 14 2007 15:48:45

re: "What characters in Written On The Wind are treated with compassion?" 

I think it's obvious where Sirk's compassion lies in Written On The Wind and it ain't with Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall. It's those dysfunctional les enfants terrible, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone. Clearly, despite their unlimited wealth, they've been denied the most necessary of human emotions, a father's love that all the oil riches couldn't compensate for. Kyle, denied a father's affection that goes to Mitch (Hudson), the son the father wishes were his and even his sister's love goes to Mitch (however unrequited). While Kyle turns to alcoholism, poor Marylee (Malone) denied both a father's love and Mitch's love turns to promiscuity, emotionless sexual encounters that will never satisfy her. By the end of the film and certainly during Malone's heartbreaking confession in the courtroom, Sirk lets us see where his compassion lies whether it be the tragic descent of Kyle Hadley or the lonely existence of Marylee in her velvet lined Hell.

The "and they lived happily ever after" scenario of Mitch and Lucy (Bacall) doesn't interest Sirk at all and their exit is very perfunctory. It's that last shot of Malone and the oil derrick that Sirk is interested in.

"Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name but whats puzzling you is the nature of my game"

 
I am perplexed as to why this film is unavailable on video
  by alsolikelife     1 day ago (Wed Mar 14 2007 14:33:25 )  

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The copy I rented from Kim's in New York turned out to be a taped broadcast from TCM! (the TCM logo flashed every half hour or so). 

Anyway, I am heartened by the response so far. Even if one hasn't seen the film, there's still the larger topic of Douglas Sirk's films to discuss.

shooting.alsolikelife.com

 
Thanks, Kev ..... a treat to read as always
  by Addison De Witt     2 days ago (Tue Mar 13 2007 20:13:39 )  

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I wish There's Always Tomorrow was on DVD so I would have access to it to refresh my memory. Alas, I'll have to base it on my viewing almost two years ago at the American Cinematecque screening at the Egyptian theatre. 

While There's Always Tomorrow may lack the richness evident in his All That Heaven Allows, Written On The Wind or Imitation Of Life, it ranks 5th (after the dark and cynical The Tarnished Angels) in his line up of bonafide masterworks.

I agree that one of Tomorrow's unusual qualities (in the thematic sense) is the use of MacMurray in the place of the usual female protagonist (Wyman in ATHA or Turner in IOL). Though perhaps you didn't care to spell it out, it's clear that Sirk's sympathy is with MacMurray. His marginalization in his own home is in a sense an emasculation of his identity. Stanwyck's Norma realizes this and I'm not so sure that the film's ending is not so much that she has any moral qualms about taking him away from his family as that she realizes that eventually she would also marginalize him as much as Bennett does. Clifford's wife and children are so self absorbed in their own lives that they neglect his rightful position in their lives. It was Norma who left Clifford long ago because his dreams were smaller than hers. In a way, Normas grew up and Clifford didn't. It's no coincidence that he's a toy manufacturer and instead of understanding, Norma abandons him for a career in the big city. Didn't she marginalize his ambitions, however minor they may be? When she returns, he hasn't changed much, has he? But she has. She see's in Clifford's current situation what she did to him way back then and there are two ways to right it. Take him away with her and attempt to compensate for the missing years or educate his family on what they're doing, what they're missing. I think she honestly realizes it's just a pipe dream if she took him away that they'd live happily ever after. I mean there was a legitimate reason why she left all those years ago. In their "new" life in the big city, Norma would probably condescend to him, he's still the boy she left long ago and she's moved on.

Interesting to note that William Reynolds as MacMurray's son serves the same purpose as the role he played in All That Heaven Allows as Jane Wyman's son. In both cases, he's a son who is repelled by the idea of a parent's sexuality which jeopardizes not only their but his place in the community. In ATHA it has more Oedipal tones, his discomfort when his mother wears a provocative red dress as well as the idea of his mother sleeping with a young man roughly his age. In TAT, while he might be able to ignore his parents' physical relationship, he can't ignore the sexual threat that Stanwyck brings to the table. He has to confront his father's sexuality.

I like the respect that Sirk gives Bennett's wife. She's a genuinely good person, not a sexless shrew who is repelled by sex (think Constance Ford in Delmer Daves' A Summer Place) and takes it out on her husband by denying him.

I'm rambling here and talking off the cuff and probably not making a great deal of sense. But I must take exception to Paul Panzer's statement that Sirk had a "superior" attitude toward American life in his films. As an outsider, he was objective in a way most American directors couldn't be. They were too close to home. Sirk was an expatriate. While Ross Hunter was the producer of many of Sirk's films, it's clear why Hunter wanted Sirk (reputedly Hunter also wanted Sirk to directed hsi production of Madame X with Lana Turner which Sirk declined) to direct his films. Sirk could infuse them with more than they were on paper.

BTW, you might want to check out Sirk's All I Desire as a companion piece to There's Always Tomorrow, thematically they are similar. Stanwyck, again, plays a woman (in this case an actress) who returns to the small town she came from and visits her ex (Richard Carlson) who is now happily married to another woman (Maureen O'Sullivan).

"Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name but whats puzzling you is the nature of my game"

 
Re: Thanks, Kev ..... a treat to read as always
  by Lucia_Harper     2 days ago (Tue Mar 13 2007 20:49:13 )  

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Stanwyck's Norma realizes this and I'm not so sure that the film's ending is not so much that she has any moral qualms about taking him away from his family as that she realizes that eventually she would also marginalize him as much as Bennett does.
 

Seeing him in the apron probably hastened her exit. Stanwyck needed them manly and dominant. Let's not discuss her marriage to Taylor. She's only human.

Lucia

 
Re: Thanks, Kev ..... a treat to read as always
  by paul panzer     1 day ago (Wed Mar 14 2007 15:04:38 )  

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UPDATED Wed Mar 14 2007 15:13:40

Replying to Addison: 

Actually, I put it as an either/or, but I confess I do lean in that direction, though I haven't completely made up my mind about Sirk. There were many expatriate directors in Hollywood, and yet I don't get that sense of cultural superiority from any but Sirk. Billy Wilder would be the closest I suppose, but we can all see there is a huge difference.

As I see more of Sirk's pre-Hunter work, I find it harder to take him seriously. His visual richness is undeniable, as is his thematic consistency. What I would question is the value of his themes. To me he's not profound or even perceptive. If you know better, enlighten me; I'm here to learn. But in your analyses, please keep in mind that Sirk had nothing whatever to do with his screenplays.

 
Re: Thanks, Kev ..... a treat to read as always
  by Addison De Witt     1 day ago (Wed Mar 14 2007 15:59:37 )  

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UPDATED Wed Mar 14 2007 16:00:48

re: "please keep in mind that Sirk had nothing whatever to do with his screenplays" 

No, and Elia Kazan didn't write On The Waterfront, Hitchcock didn't write Vertigo, David Lean didn't write Lawrence Of Arabia, Howard Hawks didn't write His Girl Friday, Carol Reed didn't write The Third Man ... well, I think you get my point.

Or are you merely saying that Sirk took the screenplay "assigned" to him and never attempted to make any alterations, cuts, additions etc. and never attempted to sculpt the material to his vision and if so, just how do you know this?

re: "To me he's not profound or even perceptive"

I think Imitation Of Life is one of the most profound and receptive films ever made about racism (certainly superior to Kramer's ilk like Defiant Ones or Guess Who's Coming To Dinner), the nature of motherhood and blind ambition to name just three of its themes.

"Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name but whats puzzling you is the nature of my game"

 
Re: Thanks, Kev ..... a treat to read as always
  by paul panzer     1 day ago (Wed Mar 14 2007 18:10:28 )  

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Well, actually, Addy, Hitchcock did work on the script of Vertigo, and Hawks did work on the script of His Girl Friday. I don't consider the other three guys major directors, for the simple reason that they didn't. I'm an auteur critic, and that means I demand of a director that he actually be an auteur, not just a poseur. 

I love Imitation of Life, and agree that it's superior to the Kramer pictures (no great praise), but after all, Imitation is a remake of a brilliant movie scripted by Preston Sturges at the peak of his powers. Sirk didn't write his picture, but I admit his visuals are damn near peerless, and I'll further admit that I weep like a baby at the end, every time. Surely Sirk deserves credit for that -- one big reason why I haven't made up my mind about him, despite the dullness of A SCANDAL IN PARIS, which I just suffered through (or more accurately fell asleep to).

 
I think I liked it as much as ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS
  by alsolikelife     21 hours ago (Thu Mar 15 2007 13:33:45 )  

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and more than TARNISHED ANGELS and even WRITTEN ON THE WIND. But then again I watched it twice, and my esteem for it grew significantly upon the second viewing. 

Reading your post, it occurred to me part of the reason Norma left for the city was because Cliff condescended to Norma back then (I think they reminisce over him criticizing her work when she was young) which may have spurred her to leave for the city to grow as an artist.

I'm not sure if you were implying in your third paragraph that Norma's decision to leave Cliff a second time was due to his job -- there's no trace of him passing judgment on her (if so it would have made for a full circle irony given what I wrote above). Quite the contrary, she admires the life he's made for himself (or at least her own superficial gloss on his life) and feels both guilt about disrupting that life and self-hatred for not being able to have it for herself.

shooting.alsolikelife.com

 
Re: There's Always Tomorrow (1956, Douglas Sirk)
  by melvelvit-1     1 day ago (Wed Mar 14 2007 15:17:54 )  

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Interesting, in-depth analysis. This film (along with a few others of Sirk's) I haven't seen as I considered the subject matter not exactly "my cup of tea" -but you've interested me enough to check it out. I understand your need for discourse and the exchanging of ideas/ideology but another aspect of posting on film is the fact you can possibly turn others on to a film you're crazy about with no reply/response necessary. It's the least we can do for the filmmakers who gave us such enjoyment. 

We have different takes on Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, I see. http://imdb.com/board/bd0000010/thread/69055984?d=69100789#69100789 In the best films noir, there's little for the audience to identify with and this film is no exception. Watch it as you would a trainwreck -horrible but unable to look away. I doubt the filmmakes wanted audience identification with Walter Neff. From his first introduction, Walter is depicted as more interested in bedding the wife of his customer than he is in his job. Identification/emulation wasn't on the agenda. Film noir is definitely saying something about post-war disillusionment and the often ironic hollowness of the "American Dream" -but Hollywood didn't want all of America to feel the same way. They were showing angst that audiences may identify with in the abstract ...in retrospect, after they'd seen the film. If the studios went that deep and made film noir in a concious effort, that is.

Stanywck's movie star aura belies Cain's Phyllis Nerdlinger but her reptilian qualities redeem the characterization. The novel was as cold-blooded as "The Postman Always Rings Twice" was steamy. IMO, Wilder didn't go far enough.

No one was expected to identify with the characters in Laura, either. There was quite a bit of difference between what was said about Laura in the first half of the film and they way she really was in the second half. Like everyone else in the film, Laura wasn't really any better than she should be. Any audience identification was supplanted with the desire to solve a mystery. The film, like the best noir, gave audiences a guided tour of Hell -this time a jaded New York replete with unhealthy desires. Double Indemnity did the same with sunny California...

A contemporary review for The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers that said something about "disagreeable people doing unpleasant things" more-or-less sums up noir in 5 words or less, IMO.

; There's less to this than meets the eye ...as bees in honey drown

 
Re: There's Always Tomorrow (1956, Douglas Sirk)
  by alsolikelife     21 hours ago (Thu Mar 15 2007 13:36:29 )  

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I doubt the filmmakes wanted audience identification with Walter Neff. From his first introduction, Walter is depicted as more interested in bedding the wife of his customer than he is in his job. Identification/emulation wasn't on the agenda.
 

One can't underestimate the wanton thoughts of wartime audiences.

shooting.alsolikelife.com

 
Giving audiences their due...
  by melvelvit-1     20 hours ago (Thu Mar 15 2007 14:18:49 )  

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One can't underestimate the wanton thoughts of wartime audiences
 

I wouldn't dream of it!

Even at the time, the homosexuality (or, at the very least, latent homosexuality) of Edward G. Robinson's "Keyes" that you picked up on was noted. I read Keyes as a closeted gay -it makes for a more twisted movie. He tells Neff he had a girl ...once. That's exactly the thing a closeted gay would hide behind in the workplace. I wouldn't go as far as you and label that aspect of the film "homo-erotic", however. Robinson and erotic are mutually exclusive thoughts...