Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Subversive Sirk: A Preview

In this evening's class, I'll be discussing two Douglas Sirk melodramas: All that Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956). Though Sirk expressed some discomfort over critics' interpretations of his films as subversive, ironic statements on the failings of American social values, even the trailers for his films seem to support such a reading of his work. Check out the trailer for All That Heaven Allows for a taste of Sirkian melodrama and Universal's sensational marketing of his highly popular "14-karat" films.

Many of Sirk's films contain fascinating, and highly problematic, female subjects that should provide plenty of fodder for feminist-minded debate: a daughter who is an avid student of Freudian theory, a son who seems the very embodiment of the Oedipal complex, a nymphomaniac socialite who's been repressed by her domineering father and brother, and the list goes on. His films are full of subversive female subjects who engage in behaviors that challenge the social norms that determine how women should behave. And spectators may find themselves in the interesting position of both admiring a Sirkian woman's courage and condemning her rashness. Or, in the case of All That Heaven Allows, one may be impressed by a character's initial willingness to challenge deeply-seeded social norms, only to exclaim in frustration when she returns to an unsatisfying, but socially acceptable, position of conformity. Later in the week I'll present more detailed highlights from my class's discussion of the two films

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