Cinema and Media Studies Douglas Sirk
by
Will Scheibel
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0242

Introduction

The reputation of German director Douglas Sirk (1897–1987) rests on Hollywood films he made in the mid- to late 1950s that have since been canonized among the quintessential examples of film melodrama, both domestic (All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, Imitation of Life) and romantic (Magnificent Obsession, The Tarnished Angels). While his most famous films were box-office hits at the time of their release, reviewers dismissed them for their sentimentality and heightened emotionalism, appeals to popular tastes, and implausible plots and emphasis on glossy spectacle that defied the privileged standards of social realism. Critics rediscovered Sirk’s films in the 1970s following the influence of Cahiers du Cinéma and the journal’s director-based approach to film appreciation during the postwar years, la politique des auteurs, and an academic interest in melodrama as a “progressive” genre that could expose and critique the ideology of the culture that produced it. As a result of this shift in taste politics and reading strategies, aided by the publication of Jon Halliday’s interview Sirk on Sirk in 1971, Sirk gained prominence as the auteur of melodrama par excellence, credited with subversively manipulating studio-assigned material through irony and parody, Brechtian distanciation, and modernist aesthetics of excess and self-reflexivity that could be found in the stylized artifice of his mise en scène. A legion of filmmakers including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodóvar, and Todd Haynes have cited Sirk’s films as a source of inspiration for their own screen practices of melodrama. Other films Sirk directed such as Summer Storm, A Scandal in Paris, All I Desire, There’s Always Tomorrow, and A Time to Love and a Time to Die have contributed to his association with Hollywood’s mid-century melodramas about doomed but passionate lovers and the ennui of bourgeois families, yet he also worked in action/adventures, suspense thrillers, musicals, and comedies. Further, he had a successful career in Germany under the name Detlef Sierck, first directing for the stage during the Weimar period and later for the film production company UFA (formerly Universum Film AG, now UFA GmbH), where he was responsible for turning Swedish singer Zarah Leander into a movie star. Sirk is best remembered for his collaborations with star Rock Hudson and producer Ross Hunter at Universal-International, which tend to dominate critical attention in the bibliographic entries that follow, practically dotting the routes of the historical developments in cinema studies as a contemporary discipline.

Career Overviews and Appreciations

Sirk’s films and biography continue to enthuse critics to write overviews of his career and appreciations of his cinematic corpus, often auteurist in orientation, recalling the cinephile journalism between Paris and New York representative of Cahiers du Cinéma and Andrew Sarris, respectively. Sarris 1996 first gave Sirk serious critical recognition (albeit qualified) in the United States with an entry in the 1968 book The American Cinema, which adapted la politique des auteurs at Cahiers as “the auteur theory.” Screenwriter George Zuckerman and producer Albert Zugsmith tell stories about working with Sirk on Written on the Wind and The Tarnished Angels, which are documented in Stern and Morris 2005 and included in the Bright Lights Film Journal special issue on Sirk in 1977. Pulling from his own interview with Sirk in 1977, Harvey 2002 gives special attention to Written on the Wind and Imitation of Life in his survey of Sirk’s Hollywood melodramas. Ryan 2013 and Ryan 2015 turn to Sirk’s lesser acknowledged historical adventures and comedies, respectively, while Gallagher 2005 spans Sirk’s canonical melodramas with a reinterpretation of his ironic effects and affects. From a more transnational, audience-centered perspective, Fujiwara observes the reception of Sirk’s Hollywood melodramas at the 2008 Pia Film Festival retrospective in Tokyo. Scholars beginning research on Sirk could find no more general and accessible starting point than Ryan 2004.

Interviews

Interviews with Sirk in the 1970s and early-1980s were among the strongest forces in the process of his reputation building. Leading the charge in the battle for rediscovery was Halliday 1997, first published in 1971, twelve years after Sirk’s last commercial film. This book-length interview gave the director a platform for his image as a European intellectual, influenced by Franz Kafka, Erwin Panofsky, Bertolt Brecht, and others, who bent the rules of Hollywood to use melodrama and distancing devices as tools of critique. Sirk made similar remarks about his techniques and aesthetic in Harvey 1978 and in Brunner and Bigelow 1982 (Mathias Brunner was a film exhibitor and friend of Sirk’s; Kathryn Bigelow was a budding filmmaker). In Lehman 1989, he talked about making the 1979 short Bourbon Street Blues with his film students in Munich. A special issue of Bright Lights Film Journal on Sirk that was published in 1977, featured Stern and Stern 2005, with Sirk’s comments on his life as an émigré filmmaker, his methods and philosophy, and his career from his perspective as a seventy-six-year-old expatriate living in Switzerland.

  • Brunner, Mathias, and Kathryn Bigelow. “Douglas Sirk.” Interview (July 1982): 50–52.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brunner and Bigelow visited Sirk and his wife Hilde at their Lake Lugano villa in Switzerland. Their conversation touches on the role of the director and Sirk’s own technique, the psychologies of characters, and the relationship between form and content.

    Find this resource:

  • Halliday, Jon. Sirk on Sirk: Conversations with Jon Halliday. London: Faber & Faber, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Required reading for anyone doing research on Sirk, Halliday’s acclaimed interview book helped usher in the director’s rediscovery during the 1970s. Among the topics discussed include Sirk’s work in German theater and cinema, his career in the Hollywood studios, and his innovations in melodrama with distanciation and social commentary.

    Find this resource:

  • Harvey, James. “Sirkumstantial Evidence.” Film Comment 14 (July–August 1978): 52–59.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sirk shares thoughts with Harvey on a wide range of subjects: his relationship to studio-assigned stories and scripts; working with actors such as Lauren Bacall, Lana Turner, and Barbara Stanwyck; critics’ interpretations of his films; his career in both Germany and Hollywood; and his use of irony, parody, and critique.

    Find this resource:

  • Lehman, Peter. “Thinking with the Heart: An Interview with Douglas Sirk.” Wide Angle 3.4 (1989): 42–47.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    After screening Bourbon Street Blues at the 1979 Berlin Film Festival, Sirk granted this in-depth interview with Lehman, where he talked about making the film with his Munich film students at Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film as well as the state of contemporary German cinema.

    Find this resource:

  • Stern, Jane, and Michael Stern. “Two Weeks in Another Town: Interview with Douglas Sirk.” Special Issue: Douglas Sirk Issue. Edited by Michael Stern. Bright Lights Film Journal 48 (May 2005).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A lengthy interview conducted over two weeks in 1977 at the Sirk home in Lugano, Switzerland, in which he speaks to his emigration to the United States and relationship with Hollywood’s film community, his forays outside of melodrama, his film craft and cinematic iconography, the 1950s, and the subject of death.

    Find this resource:

Film Criticism and the 1970s Sirk Rediscovery

Particular venues for film criticism allowed writings on Sirk to flourish in the 1970s, including special issues of journals dedicated entirely to Sirk: the British periodical Screen (Sam Rohdie, ed. Special Issue: Douglas Sirk. Screen 12.2 [Summer 1971]), the leading academic journal of film theory, and Bright Lights Film Journal in 1977. Jon Halliday and Laura Mulvey also co-edited an anthology of essays titled Douglas Sirk that accompanied the 1972 Edinburgh Film Festival, a twenty-film retrospective at which Sirk was a guest. The collection includes both reprinted material and new essays incorporating films that had not yet been given their due in the English language. As a generation of Anglo-American film critics rediscovered Sirk, many followed the French tradition of auteurism, in which formal evaluation and analysis attributed the coherent meaning of Sirk’s oeuvre to his singular authorship and artistic distinction. More theoretically driven critics, on the other hand, took cues from Marxism, feminism, and psychoanalysis to uncover Sirk’s “textual politics” as a director of melodrama, a potential site of deconstruction whereby irony, excess, and distanciation could subvert the dominant ideology of Hollywood as a bourgeois industry. Both the traditional auteurists and New Left post-structuralists were indebted to Halliday 1997 (cited under Interviews) in the ways they imagined Sirk behind the camera.

Auteurism and the Forms of Sirk

The special issue of Screen contains articles both on single films and on Sirk’s work as a whole. Whereas Camper 1971b and Grosz 1971 hone in on The Tarnished Angels and The First Legion, respectively, Camper 1971a surveys Sirk’s personal vision and signature style. Collected in Halliday and Mulvey’s anthology are a number of auteurist evaluations of individual films. Previously published in the French journal Positif, Bourget 1972 puts The Tarnished Angels in dialogue with A Time to Love and a Time to Die. Camper 1972 builds from Camper 1971a and Camper 1971b to read the surfaces in A Time to Love and a Time to Die and Prokosh 1972 interprets Sirk’s objects in the frame of Imitation of Life. Before Tim Hunter became a film and television director himself, he reintroduced Sirk as a kind of realist with his analysis of Summer Storm (Hunter 1972). In the magazine Film Comment, McKegney 1972 also contributed to this promotion of Sirk as an author with his assessment of Imitation of Life as one of Sirk’s major works.

  • Bourget, Jean-Loup. “Tarnished Angels and A Time to Love: Sirk’s Apocalypse.” In Douglas Sirk. Edited by Jon Halliday and Laura Mulvey, 67–77. Translated by Peter Wollen. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Film Festival 72, 1972.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translated from “L’Apocalypse selon Douglas Sirk: Sur Douglas Sirk.” Positif 142 (1972): 55–63, Bourget’s dual analysis of The Tarnished Angels and A Time to Love and a Time to Die takes these 1958 films about the “war of death” as Sirk’s most personal cinematic statements (both productions gave him more directorial freedom than usual).

    Find this resource:

  • Camper, Fred. “The Films of Douglas Sirk.” Special Issue: Douglas Sirk. Edited by Sam Rohdie. Screen 12.2 (Summer 1971a): 44–62.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/12.2.44Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Elaborating on themes of happiness, blindness, and aesthetic distance, Camper analyzes the unreality and incompleteness of characters’ worlds, their two-dimensional flatness, and the effects of ironic narratives and melodrama in Sirk’s oeuvre. Both a comprehensive introduction to Sirk for film students and an essential reference for Sirk scholars.

    Find this resource:

  • Camper, Fred. “The Tarnished Angels.” Special Issue: Douglas Sirk. Edited by Sam Rohdie. Screen 12.2 (Summer 1971b): 68–93.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/12.2.68Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Camper unpacks The Tarnished Angels with eye for narrative systems of relationships and illusions, images of characters entrapped by the patterns of their surroundings, editing that alters narrative conventions, placements of objects within the frame, the synthesis of meaning from different elements of visual style, and the pervading false romanticism.

    Find this resource:

  • Camper, Fred. “A Time to Love and a Time to Die.” In Douglas Sirk. Edited by Jon Halliday and Laura Mulvey, 79–88. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh Film Festival 72, 1972.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This meditation on A Time to Love and a Time to Die praises Sirk’s creation of a world of surfaces, in which characters’ despair derives from a lack of explanation beyond what comprises those surface images.

    Find this resource:

  • Grosz, Dave. “The First Legion: Vision and Perception in Sirk.” Special Issue: Douglas Sirk. Edited by Sam Rohdie. Screen 12.2 (Summer 1971): 99–118.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/12.2.99Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Regarding The First Legion as Sirk’s first masterwork, Grosz explores the self-analytic visual style—the relationship between viewer to film, between that which is expressed onscreen and the viewer’s perception of it—as a case study in Sirk’s physical vision. Sirk’s films, Grosz maintains, are about the perceptual process.

    Find this resource:

  • Hunter, Tim. “Summer Storm.” In Douglas Sirk. Edited by Jon Halliday and Laura Mulvey, 31–38. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh Film Festival 72, 1972.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Apropos of Godard’s quote, Hunter accepts that Sirk’s films are “imitation of life” (p. 31), but championing Sirk as a realist he sheds light on Summer Storm, illuminating “the unforeseen occurrences of daily life, the products of social mechanism people take for granted and assume they can assimilate without harm” (p. 32).

    Find this resource:

  • McKegney, Michael. “Film Favorites: Imitation of Life.” Film Comment 8.2 (Summer 1972): 71–73.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Calling Imitation of Life Sirk’s most “complex and endlessly fascinating” film, McKegney ranks it as one his most “fully realized masterpieces” (alongside All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, and The Tarnished Angels). As McKegney suggests, an “imitation of life” represents the human condition for Sirk (p. 71).

    Find this resource:

  • Prokosh, Mike. “Imitation of Life.” In Douglas Sirk. Edited by Jon Halliday and Laura Mulvey, 89–93. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh Film Festival 72, 1972.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lauding Imitation of Life and Sirk’s control over objects and figures in the film frame, Prokosh explicates the ways in which shifts in attention to mise en scène correspond to shifts in emotional quality and intensity.

    Find this resource:

Bright Lights Film Journal Special Issue

The auteurist and formalist reclamation of Sirk in the 1970s led to a special issue of Garry Morris’s Bright Lights Film Journal in Winter 1977 devoted to Sirk’s Universal films of the 1950s. Sirk programs had already been curated earlier that year at the Museum of Modern Art and in 1975 at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, the first complete retrospective of his Hollywood work, which firmly established his reputation in the United States and made such a special issue possible. Sarris 2005 and Bourget 2005b generally discuss Sirk’s status as an auteur, while Smith 2005 looks at his consistent theme of romantic love as a “delusionary refuge.” Other critics cover individual films from this period of his career: Basinger 2005 on All I Desire and There’s Always Tomorrow, Bourget 2005a on Magnificent Obsession, and Handzo on Imitation of Life.

Analysis of Sirk’s Textual Politics

Just as the special issue of Screen provided a forum for 1970s auteurists, with Willemen 1971 it also signaled the “ideological turn” that determined Sirk’s reputation by way of Hollywood melodrama as a “progressive” genre. Willemen 1972 takes those ideas further in the author’s “Sirkian system” paradigm, and Halliday 1972 brings a similar approach to All That Heaven Allows, reading the film as a melodrama that undermines classical conventions with its cultural critique. Also the subject of rebuttal, both Willemen 1971 and Willemen 1972 inspired Neale 1976–1977 to engage Sirk’s purported distancing techniques with emotional responses to his films. Calling for a greater attention to the social and cultural context of Sirk’s 1950s films, Stern 1976 advocates for a less formal understanding of his output, which the auteurists have already accomplished for the field. Perhaps the most contextually specific article on Sirk from this period, Kenesha 1972 focuses on the ways in which There’s Always Tomorrow and Imitation of Life address women in domestic space. With more of an overview than a case for a particular ideological position, McCourt 1975 analyzes Sirk’s “personal politics” (p. 19) in All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels, and Imitation of Life.

  • Halliday, Jon. “All That Heaven Allows.” Monogram 4 (1972): 30–32.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    All That Heaven Allows was one of Sirk’s many commissioned projects he directed for producer Ross Hunter while under contract at Universal. However, Halliday claims that melodrama enabled Sirk to transform the assigned material into a critique of the culture in which he lived and worked, transcending studio limitations.

    Find this resource:

  • Kenesha, Ellen. “The Not So Tender Trap: Sirk: There’s Always Tomorrow and Imitation of Life.” Women in Film 2 (1972): 51–55.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kenesha examines the roles of Marion, the unfulfilled wife and mother in There’s Always Tomorrow, and Annie, the African-American housekeeper in Imitation of Life, to investigate Sirk’s critical perspective toward the second class citizenship of women in the domestic sphere.

    Find this resource:

  • McCourt, James. “Douglas Sirk: Melo Maestro.” Film Comment 11.6 (November–December 1975): 18–21.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    McCourt appraises All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels, and Imitation of Life—four films that he considers among Sirk’s masterpieces—to celebrate his “personal politics” or “his dissection of the consequences of falsity,” as he turns circumstances into “Sirkian-stances” (p. 19).

    Find this resource:

  • Neale, Steve. “Douglas Sirk.” Framework 11.5 (1976/1977): 16–18.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Responding to Willemen 1971 and Willemen 1972, Neale suggests that the spectator’s implication in Sirk’s films may not exclusively function in the service of distanciation but in contextual cases of emotional resonance. Moreover, he proposes further lines of inquiry into distanciation vis-à-vis the relationship between fetishism and spectacularized narrative action.

    Find this resource:

  • Stern, Michael. “Patterns of Power and Potency, Repression and Violence: An Introduction to the Study of Douglas Sirk’s Films of the 1950s.” Velvet Light Trap 16 (Fall 1976): 15–21.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    While much of the admiration for Sirk in the 1970s was based in mise-en-scène analysis, Stern advocates for a turn to cultural iconography and social critique, looking at the sexual repression and physical and psychic violence in Sirk’s 1950s work.

    Find this resource:

  • Willemen, Paul. “Distanciation and Douglas Sirk.” Special Issue: Douglas Sirk. Edited by Sam Rohdie. Screen 12.2 (Summer 1971): 63–67.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/12.2.63Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Along with Willemen 1972, this essay remains one of the most influential pieces of Sirk scholarship in guiding subsequent approaches to the director. Willemen argues that Sirk deployed stylization, parody, and clichés to intensify the conventions of melodrama and distance his films from the bourgeois ideology the genre ostensibly represents.

    Find this resource:

  • Willemen, Paul. “Towards an Analysis of the Sirkian System.” Screen 13.4 (Winter 1972): 128–134.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/13.4.128Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A classic essay both in studies of Sirk and in cinema studies broadly, Willemen’s conception of Sirk as a critic of Eisenhower America builds from Halliday 1997 (cited under Interviews) to address narrative displacements and discontinuities, contradictions in characterization, ironic camera positions, framings, and movements, and negations of script ideologies through cinematic form.

    Find this resource:

The UFA Period

A relatively small though highly productive strand of Sirk scholarship has opened space for historical consideration of his career as Detlef Sierck in Germany (e.g., Koch 1999). Sirk worked in theater as early as 1922, staging plays by Molière, Karl Georg Büchner, Johan August Strindberg, Friedrich Schiller, Franz Werfel, Arthur Schnitzler, Arnolt Bronnen, Bertolt Brecht, George Kaiser and Kurt Weill, and William Shakespeare. In 1934, he joined the production company UFA (formerly Universum Film AG; now UFA GmbH), which came to service Joseph Goebbel’s propaganda machine for the Nazi Party. It was at UFA where Sirk developed his techniques for film melodrama, although it remains a subject of debate whether his films resisted or complied with the company’s politics. Rentschler 2005, borrowing from David Bathrick’s notion of “the limits and possibilities of artistic agency” (p. 150), investigates Sirk’s filmmaking in this context, while Schulte-Sasse 1998 and Koch 1999 challenge the auteurist party line that Sirk’s German films constituted the same “aesthetic resistance” critics have found in his Hollywood melodramas. Hake 2001 and Koepnick 2002 look at Sirk’s films in wider industrial and reception practices of German cinema, respectively, and Trumpener 1999 approaches Sirk’s first feature film as part of a transitional moment in the history of German film style. For more general commentary on Sirk’s German period, see Elsaesser 1971, which contains archival documents with his postscript, and Halliday 1971, which analyzes four films that he sees in continuity the leftist vein Sirk maintained under Hollywood studio control. By 1937, Sirk escaped Germany to reunite with his second wife Hilde in Italy; they traveled to Switzerland and then to France and the Netherlands, where Sirk made films, before coming to the United States in 1939.

  • Elsaesser, Thomas. “Documents on Sirk with a Postscript.” Special Issue: Douglas Sirk. Edited by Sam Rohdie. Screen 12.2 (Summer 1971): 15–28.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/12.2.15Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Edited and translated by Elsaesser, who authored the postscript, this collection of Sirk materials includes the director’s recollections of staging plays in Germany, his obituary, and a letter to the Bavarian radio in 1969 on directing Der Silbersee in Leipzig just after Hitler came to power.

    Find this resource:

  • Hake, Sabine. “Detlef Sierck and Schlussakkord (Final Chord, 1936): A Case Study of Film Authorship.” In Popular Cinema of the Third Reich. By Sabine Hake, 107–127. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Among the case studies in Hake’s history of popular Third Reich cinema is Sirk’s Schlussakkord, which Hake places in its social-cultural context to help us see Sirk’s early influences, the status of melodrama for the Third Reich, and the relationship between stylistic excess and a historical audience.

    Find this resource:

  • Halliday, Jon. “Notes on Sirk’s German Films.” Special Issue: Douglas Sirk. Edited by Sam Rohdie. Screen 12.2 (Summer 1971): 8–13.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/12.2.8Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A historical and biographical overview of Sirk’s film career in Germany, Halliday’s article is confined to the only four films he was able to see: Das Mädchen vom Moorhof, Stützen der Gesellschaft, Zu neuen Ufern, and La Habanera.

    Find this resource:

  • Koch, Gertrud. “From Detlef Sierck to Douglas Sirk.” Translated by Gerd Gemünden. Film Criticism 23.2–3 (Winter–Spring 1999): 14–32.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rejecting the teleological histories of Sirk’s career that established his reputation as a subversive social critic, Koch accounts for the ways in which Sirk’s films were actually compatible with both the Nazi ideology of Weimar Germany and the conservative culture of the United States in the 1950s, thus ensuring commercial success.

    Find this resource:

  • Koepnick, Lutz. The Dark Mirror: German Cinema between Hitler and Hollywood. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Koepnick’s book on Nazi Germany’s appropriation of Hollywood filmmaking style between 1933 and 1939—and, conversely, the contributions of German émigré filmmakers to Hollywood cinema between 1939 and 1955—covers Sirk’s work with Zarah Leander at UFA and his later role in United States popular culture.

    Find this resource:

  • Rentschler, Eric. “Douglas Sirk Revisited: The Limits and Possibilities of Artistic Agency.” Special Issue: Special Issue for David Bathrick. Edited by David Bathrick. New German Critique 95 (Spring–Summer 2005): 149–161.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    David Bathrick, a prominent figure in Germanic studies, was the subject of a special issue of New German Critique, a journal he co-founded and edited, which contained this article on Sirk’s UFA films. Rentschler develops Bathrick’s notion of “the limits and possibilities of artistic agency” (p. 150) via Sirk.

    Find this resource:

  • Schulte-Sasse, Linda. “Douglas Sirk’s Schlussakkord and the Question of Aesthetic Resistance.” Germanic Review (Winter 1998): 2–31.

    DOI: 10.1080/00168899809597358Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Does the “Sirkean system” [sic] of aesthetic resistance (p. 3), outlined in Willemen 1972 (cited under Analysis of Sirk’s Textual Politics), apply to the films Sirk directed for the Nazis in Weimar Germany? This question prompts Schulte-Sasse’s reading of Schlussakkord, which also refers to Zu neuen Ufern and La Habanera.

    Find this resource:

  • Trumpener, Katie. “The René Clair Moment and the Overlap Films of the Early-1930s: Detlef Sierck’s April! April!Film Criticism 23.2–3 (Winter–Spring 1999): 33–45.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Films produced in Third Reich studios but not released until the end of the war represent an “overlap” period in German film history. As Trumpener shows, Sirk’s earliest feature film April! April! exemplifies this moment of aesthetic transition at an earlier point with the influence of French filmmaker René Clair.

    Find this resource:

Sirk’s Work with Zarah Leander

Zarah Leander was a Swedish singer who became one of the highest paid movie stars at UFA and one of the most popular performers in Nazi Germany. In 1937, the year she starred in Sirk’s musical melodramas La Habanera and Zu neuen Ufern, the Nazi-supervised UFA was nationalized. Given her popularity with propagandists of the Third Reich (although she herself was reputedly apolitical), Leander’s films remain among the most controversial in Sirk’s filmography. The left-wing Sirk professed in Halliday 1997 (cited under Interviews) that he was able to “get away with extraordinary things” under the Nazis (p. 41) and had “room to maneuver” at UFA (p. 42), and Halliday 1971 (cited under the UFA Period) follows that auteurist premise in his against-the-grain reading of Sirk’s German films. Critics such as Babington 1995 and Lee 2008 continue that project with their work on the Brechtian devices in La Habanera, while Ascheid 1999, Bonnell 1998, and Rentschler 1996 consider his films with Leander more reflective of the institutional pressures and politics at UFA in this period. Other points of fruitful research include Leander as a gay icon in Kuzniar 1999, Sirk’s use of classical melodrama (music and drama) in Nadar 2000, and otherwise discursively repressed social attitudes in Silberman 1995.

  • Ascheid, Antje. “A Sierckian Double: The Narration of Zarah Leander as a National Socialist Star.” Film Criticism 23.2–3 (Winter–Spring 1999): 46–73.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    As Sirk’s biggest star in Germany, Zarah Leander was conceived as an ersatz Marlene Dietrich and thus her celebrity was arguably “inauthentic.” According to Ascheid, Leander was further “doubled” as a product of repressive female definition within Nazi ideology; her paradoxical image was both “dangerously seductive” and “self-sacrificingly pure” (p. 48).

    Find this resource:

  • Babington, Bruce. “Written by the Wind: Sierck/Sirk’s La Habanera (1937).” Forum for Modern Language Studies 31.1 (January 1995): 24–36.

    DOI: 10.1093/fmls/31.1.24Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Babington follows the ironies and ambivalences of La Habanera to the conclusion that the film is a meta-cinematic allegory, invoking a version of the “Sirkian system” from Willemen 1972 (cited under Analysis of Sirk’s Textual Politics) that critics have cited to apprehend the 1950s melodramas he directed in Hollywood.

    Find this resource:

  • Bonnell, Andrew G. “Melodrama for the Master Race: Two Films by Detlef Sierck (Douglas Sirk).” Film History 10.2 (1998): 208–218.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Resisting the auteurist impulse to rescue La Habanera and Zu neuen Ufern as melodramas in defiance of Nazi ideology, the way Sirk’s Hollywood melodramas have been celebrated as critiques of Eisenhower America, Bonnell claims that the film betrays its Nazi-controlled production and reception conditions of 1937 Germany.

    Find this resource:

  • Kuzniar, Alice A. “Zarah Leander and Transgender Specularity.” Film Criticism 23.2–3 (Winter–Spring 1999): 74–93.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The subcultural reception of Zarah Leander as a gay icon conditions the queer reading that Kuzniar takes of Zu neuen Ufern and La Habanera, which Kuzniar grounds in Leander’s cross-gendered image and voice mirrored by fan empathy, identification, and interpellation.

    Find this resource:

  • Lee, David E. “A Flash of Enlightenment: A Brechtian Moment in Douglas Sirk’s La Habanera.” Monatshefte 100.3 (2008): 400–414.

    DOI: 10.1353/mon.0.0034Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    While acknowledging the Sirk “backlash” (p. 400), which has accused his German films of complicity with the politics of Nazi aesthetics, Lee singles out La Habanera as a self-reflexive text in which irony and distanciation rupture the illusionism of the narrative and oppose its ideological content.

    Find this resource:

  • Nadar, Thomas R. “The Director and the Diva: The Film Musicals of Detlef Sierck and Zarah Leander: Zu neuen Ufern and La Habanera.” In Cultural History through a National Socialist Lens: Essays on Cinema of the Third Reich. Edited by Robert C. Reimer, 65–83. New York: Camden, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sirk helped establish Zarah Leander as a film diva in Zu neuen Ufern and La Habanera, but he was not known for musicals. What Nadar attributes to Sirk is an innovative mixture of music and drama that created melodrama of the most classical sense (melos; Gr. music).

    Find this resource:

  • Rentschler, Eric. “Ashtray in the New World: La Habanera (1937).” In The Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and Its Afterlife. By Eric Rentschler, 125–146. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This chapter in Rentschler’s history of Nazi cinema regards Sirk’s UFA films not as early examples of the aesthetic resistance he displayed in Hollywood, but films (like La Habanera) made under the eyes of the Ministry of Propaganda “to divert the masses as well as to direct their intentions” (p. 125).

    Find this resource:

  • Silberman, Marc. “Probing the Limits: Detelf Sierck’s To New Shores.” In German Cinema: Texts In Context. By Marc Silberman, 51–65. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although Silberman does not interpret Zu neuen Ufern as “a critique of the reactionary story and its patriarchal logic,” he does credit the film for at least an “exploration of social attitudes otherwise repressed in this discourse” and its questions about Nazi cinema’s utopian imaginary (pp. 51–52).

    Find this resource:

Interpretations of Sirk’s Mise en Scène and Film Techniques

One of the most salient legacies of Sirk’s rediscovery by auteurist film criticism in the 1970s is the lasting critical interest in the mise en scène of his Hollywood melodramas, which has only been renewed by cinema studies in the 21st century. Truffaut 1978 and Godard 1986, first published as Cahiers du Cinéma reviews of Written on the Wind and A Time to Love and a Time to Die in 1957 and 1959, respectively, represent the formative auteurist approach. More recently, motifs and sequences of individual films have undergone close readings from critics, such as the pacing in There’s Always Tomorrow by Gray 2014 and Marylee’s “Temptation” dance in Written on the Wind by Eisenstein 2009. Film performance studies has specifically benefitted from the tradition of mise-en-scène criticism, as Thomas 2001 focuses on dramaturgical spaces in All I Desire and Orr 1991 revisits the ending of Written on the Wind in light of earlier work on Sirkian melodrama to consider the representation of Marylee (Dorothy Malone) as a sexual Other. Gibbs 2002 interprets a sequence from Imitation of Life to explain the elements of mise en scène, their interaction, and coherent relationships in a film text. Taking a meta-critical look back at Imitation of Life, Mulvey 2005 discusses the possibilities for textual analysis opened by DVD technology.

  • Eisenstein, Ken. “They Are like Black Lakes Troubled by Fantastic Moons.” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 50.1–2 (Spring–Fall 2009): 183–189.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proceeding from a “cinephilic practice” based in mise en scène (p. 183), the fetishism over a particular moment or isolation of expressive detail enabled both by traditional auteurism and new technologies of distribution and reception, Eisenstein thinks through his relationship to the cinema screen with Marylee’s “Temptation” dance sequence in Written on the Wind.

    Find this resource:

  • Gibbs, John. “Case Study: Imitation of Life.” In Mise-en-Scène: Film Style and Interpretation. By John Gibbs, 83–96. London: Wallflower, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The most lucid introduction to mise en scène available in monograph form, Gibbs’s survey of the critical history and practice of mise-en-scène analysis concludes with an interpretation of a sequence from Imitation of Life that explicates the elements of its visual style.

    Find this resource:

  • Godard, Jean-Luc. “A Time to Love and a Time to Die.” In Godard on Godard. Translated and edited by Tom Milne, 134–139. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 1986.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A high auteurist review of A Time to Love and a Time to Die, Godard’s often cited polemic commends Sirk for his honesty, simplicity, and belief in his filmmaking, for his credible depiction of wartime Germany, and for his CinemaScope compositions. Originally published in Cahiers du Cinéma in 1959.

    Find this resource:

  • Gray, Duncan. “Pacing in Unlocked Rooms: Douglas Sirk and There’s Always Tomorrow.” MUBI Notebook, 7 July 2014.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Given that Sirk has said that his films “were a dialectic between people on the inside and people on the outside, and in ways both literal and symbolic,” Gray studies the porousness of surfaces in There’s Always Tomorrow, lines of movement and sight in and out of the domestic space.

    Find this resource:

  • Mulvey, Laura. “Repetition and Return: Textual Analysis and Douglas Sirk in the Twenty-First Century.” In Style and Meaning: Studies in the Detailed Analysis of Film. Edited by John Gibbs and Douglas Pye, 228–243. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Having written on Sirk at least once every decade since (and including) the 1970s into the 21st century, Mulvey comments on the advantages that DVD technology bare on methods of textual analysis, returning to Sirk once again with interpretations of fragments from the mise en scène of Imitation of Life.

    Find this resource:

  • Orr, Christopher. “Closure and Containment: Marylee Hadley in Written on the Wind.” In Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama. Edited by Marcia Landy, 380–387. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    If the representation of Marylee Hadley (Dorothy Malone) in the inquest sequence and final shots of Written on the Wind seem in excess of its circular structure, Orr proves them consistent with Marylee’s representation as a site of illicit desire and a sexual Other that the film cannot contain.

    Find this resource:

  • Thomas, Deborah. “Scandals and Alibis.” In Reading Hollywood: Spaces and Meanings in American Film. By Deborah Thomas, 41–52. London: Wallflower, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This section on the “onstage” space of small-town family melodrama comes from a larger chapter on dramaturgical spaces in Thomas’s book and concentrates on the meta-theatricality of Stanwyck’s performance in All I Desire (where “scandal is the result of inappropriate public displays of private concerns” [p. 46]).

    Find this resource:

  • Truffaut, François. “Douglas Sirk: Written on the Wind.” In The Films in My Life. Translated by Leonard Mayhew, 148–150. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in Cahiers du Cinéma in 1957, Truffaut’s review dubs Written on the Wind a “photo-novel,” the cinematic equivalent of a “true romance” magazine (p. 148), and he recommends it for “the real movie nut” who appreciates Hollywood cinema (p. 150). The use of color is a point of particular fascination.

    Find this resource:

Close Readings of Individual Films Directed By Sirk

Individual films Sirk directed have continued to incur close textual analysis from film critics decades after his rediscovery, especially All That Heaven Allows and Imitation of Life, but new methodologies have decentralized those of the auteurist and ideological critics that held sway in the 1970s. Walker 1990 represents the ongoing efforts of mise-en-scène studies to come to formal terms with Sirk’s cinema, but the author challenges the way both auteurist and ideological critics have conflated the complex portrayal of family in All I Desire with Sirk’s pessimistic melodramas of the 1950s. Taking advantage of archival sources, Evans 2013 situates his reading of Written on the Wind within its production, promotion, and generic histories. The special issue Detlef Sierck/Douglas Sirk of Film Criticism shows the impact of cultural history and transnational film studies on interpretations of Sirk’s more underrated films. Hitler’s Madman, Sirk’s first US production, and his Dutch film Boefje are case studies in German exile cinema for Horak 1999, while Koepnick 1999 draws connections between Sirk’s early United States film The First Legion and his German film Zu neuen Ufern to investigate his relationship to the culture industry. Lawrence 1999 compares the family-domestic roles of Joan Bennett in There’s Always Tomorrow and The Reckless Moment, the latter of which was directed by another émigré director working in postwar Hollywood, Max Ophuls.

  • Evans, William Peter. Written on the Wind. London: BFI, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This informative monograph is attuned to the production and promotion histories of Written on the Wind, as well as its heritage in realist, modernist, and melodramatic traditions. Of chief significance for Evans are the roles of mise en scène, character, and performance in the film’s thematic articulations.

    Find this resource:

  • Horak, Jan-Christopher. “Sirk’s Early Exile Films: Boefje and Hitler’s Madman.” Film Criticism 23.2–3 (Winter–Spring 1999): 122–135.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The early years of Sirk’s exile have received minimal attention from scholars. Horak begins to fill this gap with his treatment on the Dutch film Boefje and the United States film Hitler’s Madman, both of which he locates in the historical context of German exile cinema.

    Find this resource:

  • Koepnick, Lutz. “Sirk and the Culture Industry: Zu neuen Ufern and The First Legion.” Film Criticism 23.2–3 (Winter–Spring 1999): 94–121.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Through a comparative reading of Zu neuen Ufern, one of Sirk’s German films, and The First Legion, one of Sirk’s United States films, Koepnick teases out the ethical imperatives in Sirk’s melodramas that make visible secularized theological concepts as the director negotiates dialectics of the culture industry and aesthetic experience.

    Find this resource:

  • Lawrence, Amy. “Trapped in a Tomb of Their Own Making: Max Ophuls’s The Reckless Moment and Douglas Sirk’s There’s Always Tomorrow.” Film Criticism 23.2–3 (Winter–Spring 1999): 150–166.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Both There’s Always Tomorrow and The Reckless Moment concern middle-class protagonists who cannot escape the trappings of their families in their model suburban homes. According to Lawrence’s twined interpretation, these melodramas starring Joan Bennett peel back the domestic ideal as the American dream of the postwar era.

    Find this resource:

  • Walker, Michael. “All I Desire (1952).” Movie 33.4 (1990): 31–47.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An early family melodrama for Sirk, All I Desire has been compared to his pessimistic, more famous exercises in the genre later in the decade (see Basinger 2005, cited under Bright Lights Film Journal Special Issue; Halliday 1997, cited under Interviews). Yet, Walker contends that Sirk achieves a concentration of his themes and motifs that is also more optimistic about the family.

    Find this resource:

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

All That Heaven Allows, Sirk’s melodrama of the suburbs, remains one of his most canonical titles and has generated more critical writing than almost any other film he directed. Massie 1980 builds from the auteurist and ideological work on Sirk in the 1970s, synthesizing those approaches in the author’s reading that gestures to the subsequent interest in Hollywood melodrama of the 1980s. Although those earlier frameworks for studying Sirk also impacted Babington and Evans 1990, they continue grappling with authorship and mise en scène to propose a new way of interpreting Sirkian irony—one that is not mutually exclusive from empathy. The use of color and domestic architecture are specific areas of Sirk’s style that Haralovich 1990 and McNiven 1983 examine in their respective spacial analyses of the film, the latter of which compares it to Nicholas Ray’s postwar family melodrama Bigger Than Life. Textual concerns for Biskind 1983 and Powell 2007 are related to cultural representation: Biskind interprets the film as a political allegory that anticipates the rise of the counterculture, and Powell engages questions of gender identity with the performance of camp.

  • Babington, Bruce, and Peter Evans. “All That Heaven Allowed: Another Look at Sirkian Irony.” Movie 34–35 (1990): 48–58.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rather accepting Sirk’s irony within “textual unconscious,” Babington and Evans contend that his “highly self-conscious films are often best explained by conscious ironic intent” (p. 49), in which “empathy and detachment exist in a mutually qualifying relationship” (p. 50). The authors focus on Written on the Wind and All That Heaven Allows.

    Find this resource:

  • Biskind, Peter. “The Man in the Red Flannel Shirt: All That Heaven Allows and the Flight of the Exurbanites.” In Seeing Is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties. By Peter Biskind, 323–333. New York: Pantheon, 1983.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The last chapter in Biskind’s book on Hollywood in the 1950s spotlights All That Heaven Allows and its tensions between (exurban) nature and (suburban) culture. As an allegory for the politics of the time, the way Biskind sees the film, it foreshadows the emergence of the American counterculture.

    Find this resource:

  • Haralovich, Mary Beth. “All That Heaven Allows: Color, Narrative Space, and Melodrama.” In Close Viewings: An Anthology of New Film Criticism. Edited by Peter Lehman, 57–72. Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The relationship between and among melodrama, film style, and ideology has been of paramount interest for Sirk scholars. Following this critical investment, Haralovich interrogates the ways in which color in All That Heaven Allows reveals the “visibility” of ideologies in realist mise en scène, yet subverts the “invisible” realism of narrative space.

    Find this resource:

  • Massie, Brenda. “Stylistic Melodrama: The Medium is the Message in Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows.” Film/Psychology Review 4.2 (1980): 267–281.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Massie outlines three techniques in All That Heaven Allows by which Sirk’s ideologically subversive aesthetic operates in the popular idiom of 1950s melodrama: the frame of narrative, based on metaphorical time periods; motifs of middle-class values; and psychologically or viscerally shocking moments of excess.

    Find this resource:

  • McNiven, Roger D. “The Middle-Class American Home of the Fifties: The Use of Architecture in Nicholas Ray’s Bigger than Life and Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows.” Cinema Journal 22.4 (1983): 38–57.

    DOI: 10.2307/1224953Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Like All That Heaven Allows, Nicholas Ray’s Bigger than Life is a family melodrama in which the suburban home can be read as a site of class critique. Whereas Ray’s use of domestic architecture depends on its very architectural function, McNiven finds that Sirk uses architecture as an expressionistic device.

    Find this resource:

  • Powell, Ryan. “Putting on the Red Dress: Reading Performative Camp in Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows.” Forum: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture and the Arts 4 (2007).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    While laying bare the forces that drive female pain and suffering, All That Heaven Allows also demonstrates Sirk’s distanciation that foregrounds artifice. In both of these capacities, for Powell, the film functions in the same performative vernacular of camp, showing the incongruities of naturalized and constructed heteronormative identities.

    Find this resource:

Imitation of Life (1959)

Based on Fannie Hurst’s 1933 novel of the same name, which was previously adapted by director John M. Stahl in 1934, Imitation of Life was Sirk’s final Hollywood production. The most written about film in his melodrama canon, it chronicles the ten-year friendship between two single mothers—an aspiring actress, Lora Meredith, and her black housekeeper, Annie Johnson—and their daughters who grow up to resent them. Suzie, Lora’s daughter, is left emotionally neglected by her mother’s career ambitions and develops a crush on her boyfriend, while Annie’s light-skinned daughter Sarah Jane struggles to “pass” as white. Work in critical race studies, largely missing in the Marxist- and feminist-inflected ideological criticism of the 1970s, gave the film its most sustained scholarly attention during the 1990s and 2000s. Conroy 1996 analyzes is politics of representation at the intersections of race, class, and gender, and Flitterman-Lewis discusses problems of black female identity in both Sirk and Stahl’s films. Both Henke 1994 and Perez 2008 identify with its racial and gendered constructions through camp readings. Not all critics were preoccupied with race issues in the film, however; Heung 1991 makes headway with understanding the film as a “woman’s picture,” a subgenre of the maternal melodrama. Responding directly to the ideological criticism of the 1970s, Selig 1988 seeks to connect Marxist and feminist perspectives on Sirk, which had been kept separate in cinema studies, and Rushton 2007 continues recent reinterpretations of Sirk’s irony and distanciation as compatible with emotional reactions.

  • Conroy, Marianne. “‘No Sin Lookin’ Prosperous’: Gender, Race, and Class Formations of Middlebrow Taste in Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life.” In The Hidden Foundation: Cinema and the Question of Class. Edited by David E. James and Rick Berg, 114–137. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The developments of middlebrow taste and economic status panic in the United States after the Second World War serve as the historical frameworks by which Conroy understands Imitation of Life in terms of independent female agency. What she ascertains is a promise and racial double bind of female cultural empowerment.

    Find this resource:

  • Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy. “Imitation(s) of Life: The Black Woman’s Double Determination as Troubling ‘Other.’” In Imitation of Life: Douglas Sirk, director. Edited by Lucy Fischer, 325–335. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Pairing Sirk’s Imitation of Life with John M. Stahl’s version, adaptations of Fannie Hurst’s novel separated by twenty-five years, Flitterman-Lewis advances the notion that the “otherness” of black female identity is doubly determined by racial and sexual boundaries of patriarchal society. Reprinted from Literature and Psychology 35.4 (1988): 44–57.

    Find this resource:

  • Henke, Richard. “Imitation of Life: Imitation World of Vaudeville.” Jump Cut 39 (June 1994).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Despite the ostensibly happy endings of Sirk’s melodramas, endings with which Sirk himself was incredulous and encouraged audiences to resist, Henke deploys a camp reading strategy to detail how Imitation of Life leaves open a space for race and gender identities outside the normative social construction denoted by its ending.

    Find this resource:

  • Heung, Marina. “‘What’s the Matter with Sarah Jane?’ Daughters and Mothers in Sirk’s Imitation of Life.” In Imitation of Life: Douglas Sirk, director. Edited by Lucy Fischer, 302–324. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Imitation of Life poses problems as a women’s film—and specifically in the subgenre of the maternal melodrama because, following Heung’s thesis, Sirk condemns Lora for her professional ambitions outside the home and idealizes Annie as the powerless and servile domestic. Reprinted from Cinema Journal 26.3 (Spring 1987): 21–43.

    Find this resource:

  • Perez, Hiram. “Two or Three Spectacular Mulatas and the Queer Pleasures of Overidentification.” Camera Obscura 67 23.1 (2008): 113–143.

    DOI: 10.1215/02705346-2007-026Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Perez submits a “queer of color” spectatorship of Imitation of Life rooted in overidentification with the pathos of the spectacular mulatta diva in both Sirk and John M. Stahl’s film versions of the Fannie Hurst novel. Queer self-actualization and an alternative sociality support the stakes of this new reading strategy.

    Find this resource:

  • Rushton, Richard. “Douglas Sirk’s Theatres of Imitation.” Screening the Past, 19 June 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    At the time of their original release, Sirk’s melodramas were dismissed as emotionally manipulative but have since been recuperated as ironic exercises in distanciation. Instead of viewing these positions as mutually exclusive, Rushton uses Imitation of Life to show how Sirk achieves emotional manipulation through ironic distanciation.

    Find this resource:

  • Selig, Michael. “Contradiction and Reading: Social Class and Sex Class in Imitation of Life.” Wide Angle 10.4 (1988): 13–23.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The intersections between Marxist and feminist perspectives had not been fully established in cinema studies during Sirk’s rediscovery to think about social class and the oppression of women in the system of production. With his class analysis of women in Imitation of Life, Selig seeks to redress this oversight.

    Find this resource:

Sirkian Intertextualities of Adaptation, Influence, and Discourse

The first generation of Sirk scholarship in the 1970s was primarily devoted to interviews with Sirk and criticism of the films themselves, either from auteurist or ideological camps. One of the trends in Sirk scholarship since the 1980s has been a more context-based approach that deals with Sirk’s films in intertextual networks of adaptation, influence, and cultural discourse. What partly accounts for this scholarly turn is the way Sirk’s films have served as a referent for more contemporary filmmakers, such as Pedro Almodóvar, Todd Haynes, and especially Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Willis 2003 looks at Haynes’s rewriting of Sirk in his melodrama Far from Heaven, and Fischer 1998 views Imitation of Life between John M. Stahl’s earlier adaptation of the Fannie Hurst novel and Almodovar’s film High Heels, a self-consciously “Sirkian” imitation. As some of Sirk’s films are themselves both adaptations and remakes, Ryan 2014a and Ryan 2014b contextualizes Interlude and Magnificent Obsession in their literary and cinematic source materials (the former in James M. Cain’s novella The Root of His Evil and Stahl’s film When Tomorrow Comes, and the latter in Lloyd C. Douglas’s novel and Stahl’s film of the same name). Edna and Harry Lee’s novel from which Sirk adapted All That Heaven Allows is for Metz 1993 a gateway into a more historically specific understanding of the film’s signification. The importance of Sirk to the history of Hollywood melodrama has allowed scholars to situate his films in other intertextual conversations. Klinger 1989 grounds Written on the Wind in its studio promotion and critical/academic reception to map the intersections between and among mise en scène, gender, and genre definition, while Morrison 1986 compares the melodramatic hysteria in Written on the Wind to New York, New York (directed by Martin Scorsese, another Sirk admirer).

  • Fischer, Lucy. “Modernity and Postmodernity: High Heels and Imitation of Life.” In Play It Again, Sam: Retakes on Remakes. Edited by Andrew Horton and Stuart Y. McDougal, 200–217. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critics have noted similarities between Sirk and Pedro Almodóvar, who encourages such comparisons with his outspoken admiration for Sirk. If Almodovar’s High Heels wears the influence of Imitation of Life, it is in Fischer’s words “an imitation of an Imitation,” as Sirk’s film was a remake of an adaptation (p. 201).

    Find this resource:

  • Klinger, Barbara. “Much Ado about Excess: Genre, Mise-en-scène, and the Woman in Written on the Wind.” Wide Angle 11.4 (Fall 1989): 4–22.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Klinger introduces many of the core ideas here that she develops further in Klinger 1994 (cited under Historiographies of Melodrama), contrasting the “progressive readings” of Written on the Wind generated by critical and academic discourse with its discourse of studio promotion. Genre, gender, and mise en scène play historically variable roles in these particular constructions of melodrama.

    Find this resource:

  • Metz, Walter. “Pomp(ous) Sirk-umstance: Intertextuality, Adaptation, and All That Heaven Allows.” Journal of Film and Video 45.4 (Winter 1993): 3–21.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Similar to Klinger 1989, Metz wants to open Sirk’s melodramas to readings activated by the social negotiations of meaning, but while Klinger 1989 delves into 1950s promotion of Written on the Wind, Metz advocates for historical awareness of adaptation by comparing All That Heaven Allows to Edna and Harry Lee’s novel.

    Find this resource:

  • Morrison, Susan. “Sirk, Scorsese, and Hysteria: A Double(d) Reading.” CineAction! 6 (Summer–Fall 1986): 17–25.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The 1970s experienced a groundswell of interest in melodrama, while the 1977 melodrama New York, New York went unnoticed. Nevertheless, director Martin Scorsese shared Sirk’s sympathy for the “hysterically handicapped figure,” what Morrison calls a “‘hidden protagonist’” in her analysis of Scorsese’s film alongside Written on the Wind (p. 19).

    Find this resource:

  • Ryan, Tom. “The Adaptation and the Remake: From John M. Stahl’s When Tomorrow Comes to Douglas Sirk’s Interlude.” Senses of Cinema 70 (March 2014a).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interlude was based on the script for John M. Stahl’s 1939 When Tomorrow Comes, which itself was adapted from James M. Cain’s The Root of His Evil and was remade in 1968 by Kevin Billington. Ryan examines the ways in which each director adapted the novel to fit his style.

    Find this resource:

  • Ryan, Tom. “Obsessions, Imitations, Subversions, Part One—On Magnificent Obsession.” Senses of Cinema 73 (December 2014b).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Magnificent Obsession was the second adaptation of Lloyd C. Douglas’s novel, following John M. Stahl’s 1935 film of the same name, but Ryan teaches us that rather than telling the same story, the three versions “constitute an implicit dialogue, even a debate” about how best to tell it.

    Find this resource:

  • Willis, Sharon. “The Politics of Disappointment: Todd Haynes Rewrites Douglas Sirk.” Camera Obscura 54 18.3 (2003): 130–175.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Todd Haynes’s homage to Sirk, Far from Heaven, is noteworthy for its reworking of his 1950s style. Whereas Sirk’s melodramas displaced or resolved their social tensions, Willis emphasizes, Haynes follows through with themes of homosexuality, interracial sex, and domesticated femininity that made the 1950s fraught with contradictions.

    Find this resource:

Sirk and Fassbinder

No other director has been more public about his indebtedness to Sirk than New German Cinema auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and his love letter to the director in Fassbinder 1975 shared his insights into six of Sirk’s films that helped fuel the Sirk rediscovery of the 1970s. Fassbinder’s classic Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is partly a remake of Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, and critics have been particularly interested in Sirk’s influence on Fassbinder through the intertextual relationships between these two films. Reimer 1996 takes Ali: Fear Eats the Soul as Fassbinder’s autobiographical repurposing of Sirk and Mulvey 2009 comments on how Fassbinder expanded the 1950s Hollywood melodrama outside the realm of bourgeois United States domesticity. Comparing Ali: Fear Eats the Soul to Todd Haynes’s Far From Heaven, Skvirsky 2008 sees both of these melodramas as remakes of All That Heaven Allows from particular anti-identity politics positions. Sirk was not Fassbinder’s sole spiritual father, however, as Tyson 2011 indeed finds not only Sirkian qualities in Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant but also (and even more directly) a Brechtian influence.

  • Fassbinder, Rainer Werner. “Six Films by Douglas Sirk.” Translated by Thomas Elsaesser. New Left Review 91 (1975): 94–97.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fassbinder’s tribute to Sirk reflects on All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, Interlude, The Tarnished Angels, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, and Imitation of Life. Reprinted from Jon Halliday and Laura Mulvey, eds. Douglas Sirk (translated by Peter Wollen. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh Film Festival 72, 1972) and originally published in Fernsehen und Film (February 1971): 8–13.

    Find this resource:

  • Mulvey, Laura. “Sirk and Fassbinder.” In Visual and Other Pleasures. 2d ed. By Laura Mulvey, 47–50. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Mulvey points out themes in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul that include class and family ideology, oppression and repression, hysteria, and female desire, noting the independent importance of women and Fassbinder’s expansion of 1950s Hollywood melodrama outside its bourgeois setting. Originally published as a film review in Spare Rib (September 1974).

    Find this resource:

  • Reimer, Robert C. “Comparison of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows and R. W. Fassbiner’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul; Or, How Hollywood’s New England Dropouts Became Germany’s Marginalized Other.” Literature/Film Quarterly 24.3 (1996): 281–287.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The intertextual connections between Fassbinder’s cinema and his favorite directors are well known, but Reimer insists that Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is less a remake of All That Heaven Allows than a reflection of Fassbinder’s own experience watching the film that relies on imitation, parody, and autobiographical repurposing.

    Find this resource:

  • Skvirsky, Salomé Aguilera. “The Price of Heaven: Remaking Politics in All That Heaven Allows, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and Far From Heaven.” Cinema Journal 47.3 (Spring 2008): 90–121.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    All That Heaven Allows not only inspired Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul but also Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven. Both Fassbinder’s and Haynes’s melodramas take anti-identity politics stances, in Skvirsky’s formulation, but Fassbinder indicts capitalism as the source of social injustices while Haynes identifies historically specific conventions.

    Find this resource:

  • Tyson, Peter. “Sirk or Brecht? Or Both?: Determining the Guiding Influence in Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant.” Bright Lights Film Journal 72 (May 2011).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although an outspoken Sirkian, Fassbinder has also earned comparisons to Brecht. In the case of The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, Tyler concludes that there is more Brecht than Sirk in Fassbinder’s film but finds evidence of both influences.

    Find this resource:

Studies of Stardom and Performance in Sirk’s Films

With Sirk’s background in theater and his stated interest in theatricality at both diegetic and meta-diegetic levels, it is no surprise that some of the most exciting scholarship on Sirk since the 1980s has come from the areas of star and performance studies. Sections in Klevan 2013 give context for All I Desire and There’s Always Tomorrow within an appreciation for Barbara Stanwyck’s career as a performer. Much of this work has gravitated to films about actors, such as Fischer 1999 on All I Desire and female performance both on the stage and screen and in everyday life. Imitation of Life has received the most critical writing, including Affron 1980 and Butler 1990 on Lana Turner’s performance of performance; Morey 2004 on its inverted narrative of A Star Is Born; Dyer 1991 on the construction of Turner’s star image through Imitation of Life and other films; and Fischer 1991 on the relationship between Turner’s diegetic and extradiegetic performance spaces via the film and her biographical legend. Del Rio 2008 provides the most heavily theoretical consideration of performance in Sirk’s films, with the author deriving her analyses less from the previous scholarship on Sirk than from the Deleuze–Guattarian framework of “molar and molecular planes” (pp. 26–27) as she rethinks the female body in terms of affective-performative events that allow Sirk’s women to escape patriarchal narrative.

  • Affron, Charles. “Performing Performing: Irony and Affect.” Cinema Journal 20.1 (Fall 1980): 42–52.

    DOI: 10.2307/1224970Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ziegfeld Girl and Imitation of Life, two films starring Lana Turner, model a self-reflexivity that in Affron’s interpretation make the viewer hyper-conscious of a fiction of performance. Affron stresses that neither film conceals the fiction-effect apropos of the classic Hollywood style, but rather both produce affects of performance as performance.

    Find this resource:

  • Butler, Judith. “Lana’s Imitation: Melodramatic Repetition and the Gender Performative.” Genders 9 (1990): 1–18.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lora Meredith, the actress character in Imitation of Life, and Lana Turner, the historical actress who plays Lora, are the doubled subjects in Butler’s reading, which queries the film’s “imitations” of an idealized original that remains impossible to approximate. Recommended for graduate students and scholars well versed in gender theory.

    Find this resource:

  • Del Rio, Elena. “Animated Fetishes.” In Deleuze and the Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection. By Elena Del Rio, 26–66. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Adopting Deleuze’ and Guattari’s concept of “molar and molecular planes,” del Rio proffers “animated fetishes” (pp. 26–27) to account for how the molar process of patriarchal narrative action in Sirk’s films appropriate the female body and, paradoxically, how it escapes that appropriation through the molecular process of affective-performative events.

    Find this resource:

  • Dyer, Richard. “Four Films of Lana Turner.” In Star Texts: Image and Performance in Film and Television. Edited by Jeremy G. Butler, 214–239. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A foundational essay in star studies, Dyer’s treatise on Lana Turner historicizes her function as a star in four films—Ziegfeld Girl, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Imitation of Life—by recovering the promotion, biographical legend, and cinematic elements that constitute her image.

    Find this resource:

  • Fischer, Lucy. “Three-Way Mirror: Imitation of Life.” In Imitation of Life: Douglas Sirk, Director. Edited by Lucy Fischer, 3–28. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fischer’s introduction to her critical edition of the Imitation of Life screenplay unmoors the film from its primarily formalist scholarly discourse to see what cultural matters of women and work, race, and Lana Turner’s star biography bring to bear on its diegetic and extradiegetic spaces of performance.

    Find this resource:

  • Fischer, Lucy. “Sirk and the Figure of the Actress: All I Desire.” Film Criticism 23. 2–3 (Winter–Spring 1999): 136–149.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Both Sirk and cinema itself, Fischer argues, have long been fascinated with the diegetic figure of the actress. Analyzing Naomi Murdoch (Barbara Stanwyck), the burlesque performer in All I Desire, Fischer draws connections between the worlds of the stage and screen and the meta-theatricality of women’s roles in bourgeois life.

    Find this resource:

  • Klevan, Andrew. Barbara Stanwyck. London: BFI, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This BFI Film Stars monograph on Barbara Stanwyck expands on Klevan’s earlier work in the mise-en-scène tradition of film performance studies. Included are sections on All I Desire and There’s Always Tomorrow that detail scenes and sequences through the lens of moments and techniques in performance.

    Find this resource:

  • Morey, Anne. “A Star Has Died: Affect and Stardom in a Domestic Melodrama.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 21.2 (2004): 95–105.

    DOI: 10.1080/10509200490273071Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The generation of Anglo-American critics who rediscovered Sirk in the 1970s deemed that his melodramas should be decoded as ironic parodies, while Morey urges for a reconsideration of their sincere emotion, such as in the critique of theatricality behind Imitation of Life as an inversion of A Star Is Born.

    Find this resource:

Styles of Melodrama and/as Ideological Criticism

Concurrent with (and related to) Sirk’s rediscovery by ideological critics in the 1970s was an academic redefinition of melodrama as a genre that lent directors such as Sirk, Vincente Minnelli, and Nicholas Ray the aesthetic equipment with which to critique their own industry and culture. A highly influential body of critical writing formed around family and romantic films of postwar Hollywood that were regarded as the epitome of screen melodrama. Elsaesser 1987 was the first articulation of the “melodramatic imagination” that Sirk’s films emblematized, followed by Marxist readings of melodrama’s bourgeois domesticity in Kleinhans 1991 and feminist-psychoanalytic interpretations of melodrama and gender in Mulvey 1987 and Cook 1991. Particular Sirk films were flagged in this disciplinary transition from author to genre analysis during the 1980s and early 1990s, such as Magnificent Obsession in Selig 1990 on female repression in melodrama and both Sirk and John M. Stahl’s versions of Imitation of Life in Butler 1987 on melodramatic style and its representation of family and romance. De Cordova 1987 treats Written on the Wind as an example of the opposition melodrama poses to the feudal ideal (with Minnelli’s Home from the Hill and Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass) and Rodowick 1987 theorizes a madness and authority dichotomy in 1950s melodrama evident across Written on the Wind, Minnelli’s The Cobweb, and Ray’s Bigger than Life.

  • Butler, Jeremy G. “Imitation of Life (John Stahl, 1934. Douglas Sirk, 1959): Style and the Domestic Melodrama.” Jump Cut 32 (April 1987).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the few genres “that can stare unblinkingly at emotional upheaval” is melodrama, writes Butler, and yet serious genre study has discouraged celebration of pathos. With the 1934 and 1959 versions of Imitation of Life, Butler elucidates melodrama’s evolution according to stylistic representations of romance and the family.

    Find this resource:

  • Cook, Pam. “Melodrama and the Women’s Picture.” In Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama. Edited by Marcia Landy, 248–262. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay first appeared in Gainsborough Melodrama (edited by Sue Aspinall and Robert Murphy London: BFI, 1983) and concretized many of the feminist approaches to and historical contexts of melodrama. Concerns include Oedipal crisis, social transgression, and visual codes of mise en scène in “women’s pictures,” as well as female consumption.

    Find this resource:

  • De Cordova, Richard. “A Case of Mistaken Legitimacy: Class and Generational Difference in Three Family Melodramas.” In Home Is Where the Art Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film. Edited by Christine Gledhill, 255–267. London: BFI, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Three family melodramas—Written on the Wind, Vincente Minnelli’s Home from the Hill, and Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass—illustrate De Cordova’s rereading of Freud’s thesis on the family romance. Conceptualized in these terms, the family melodrama disclaims the old feudal ideal and promotes the new privatized bourgeois family.

    Find this resource:

  • Elsaesser, Thomas. “Tales of Sound and Fury: Observations on the Family Melodrama.” In Home Is Where the Art Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film. Edited by Christine Gledhill, 43–69. London: BFI, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A groundbreaking essay first published in Monogram 2 (1972): 2–15, Elsaesser’s overview of “the melodramatic imagination” (p. 43) presents Hollywood family melodrama from 1940 to 1963 as the development of an expressive code in other arts, reflecting the unconscious of its bourgeois characters in the stylization of ordinary actions, setting, and décor.

    Find this resource:

  • Kleinhans, Chuck. “Notes on Melodrama and the Family Under Capitalism.” In Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama. Edited by Marcia Landy, 197–204. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kleinhans conceives of melodrama as an artistic representation of situations to which the spectator may relate: “the contradictions of capitalism as evidenced in the personal sphere” (p. 200). Originally published in Film Reader 3 (1978): 40–46, and key to Sirk’s Marxist significance in film criticism as a director of melodrama.

    Find this resource:

  • Mulvey, Laura. “Notes on Sirk and Melodrama.” In Home Is Where the Art Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film. Edited by Christine Gledhill, 75–79. London: BFI, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reprinted from Movie 25 (1977–1978): 53–56, Mulvey’s canonical essay defines melodrama as “a safety valve for ideological contradictions centered on sex and the family” (p. 77), whereby the spectator either identifies with the point of view of the female protagonist or the film works out family tensions and tensions between sex and generations.

    Find this resource:

  • Rodowick, David N. “Madness, Authority, and Ideology: The Domestic Melodrama of the 1950s.” In Home Is Where the Art Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film. Edited by Christine Gledhill, 268–280. London: BFI, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Referring to melodramas such as Written on the Wind, Vincente Minnelli’s The Cobweb, and Nicholas Ray’s Bigger than Life, Rodowick identifies a split between madness and authority—two contradictory ideological demands of the postwar era that melodrama cannot fulfill. Reprinted from The Velvet Light Trap 19 (1982): 40–45.

    Find this resource:

  • Selig, Michael. “The Hollywood Melodrama, Douglas Sirk, and the Repression of the Female Subject.” Genders 9 (Fall 1990): 35–48.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Both Marxist and feminist criticism gave Sirk’s melodramas a home, but Selig establishes distinctions between those two agendas. His analysis of Magnificent Obsession suggests that the capitalist and patriarchal ideologies of melodrama are more complex, holding that the film’s class critique in fact displaces the female subject and feminine desire.

    Find this resource:

Historiographies of Melodrama

Film criticism directed toward the aesthetic ideologies of melodrama often called on Sirk’s films, but historiographies of melodrama made Sirk a practically ubiquitous figure in genre studies writ large. Problems of melodrama aesthetics persist in this scholarship with interventions on the family plot in melodrama (Carroll 1991) and melodrama as part of cinema’s “collective fantasy” (Mulvey 1994), both of which feature Magnificent Obsession in their historical postulations. Probing the historical methodologies of genre study, Neale 2000 refers to Sirk in the author’s analysis of the industrial and critical literature on Hollywood melodrama during its classical period. Schatz 1981 tells Sirk’s story as part of the story of the 1950s family melodrama, bringing closure to his structural history of studio-era genre production, and Mercer and Shingler 2004 charts the history of melodrama, specifically, as Sirk’s films retroactively set the critical standards for the genre. The import of cultural studies in cinema studies has also given material contexts for film representation and spectatorship, well-traveled territories of earlier writing on Sirk and melodrama: Byars 1991 reads gender in Hollywood melodrama against the backdrop of the 1950s itself, and Klinger 1994 measures the significations of Sirk’s authorship as melodrama acquired certain meanings at certain historical moments in the United States.

  • Byars, Jackie. All That Hollywood Allows: Re-Reading Gender in 1950s Melodrama. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Byars brings a cultural studies lens to feminist film theory and criticism, giving close inspection to representations and ideologies of gender in popular family melodramas from 1950s Hollywood. Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, and Imitation of Life are all highlighted, among films by other directors.

    Find this resource:

  • Carroll, Noël. “The Moral Ecology of Melodrama: The Family Plot and Magnificent Obsession.” In Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama. Edited by Marcia Landy, 183–192. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Tracing the family plot of contemporary melodramas such as International Velvet and Uncle Joe Shannon to Magnificent Obsession, Carroll proposes that in family melodrama there is a causal interdependency between everyday events and the disequilibrium of a fundamental moral order, which must be restored through self-sacrifice.

    Find this resource:

  • Klinger, Barbara. Melodrama and Meaning: History, Culture, and the Films of Douglas Sirk. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The foremost historical study of Sirk, Klinger’s project combines reception theory and archival research to reconstruct the audience practices, cultural contexts, and discursive material that determined his reputation as a director and the contingent meanings of Hollywood melodrama between the 1950s and the 1980s.

    Find this resource:

  • Mercer, John, and Martin Shingler. Melodrama: Genre, Style, Sensibility. London: Wallflower, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An indispensible survey of melodrama and its surrounding debates, Mercer and Shingler’s guidebook posits Sirk as the emblematic director of the style of melodrama, according to definitions in cinema studies. The authors cover Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels, and Imitation of Life.

    Find this resource:

  • Mulvey, Laura. “‘It Will Be a Magnificent Obsession’: The Melodrama’s Role in the Development of Contemporary Film Theory.” In Melodrama: Stage, Picture, Screen. Edited by Jacky Bratton, Jim Cook, and Christine Gledhill, 121–133. London: BFI, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Melodrama has held an important place in the development of contemporary film theory, and Mulvey tracks its take up by European intellectuals. She borrows from Freud to make a case for the “symptomology” of cinema as “collective fantasy” (p. 126), honing in on melodrama with Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life.

    Find this resource:

  • Neale, Steve. “Melodrama and the Woman’s Film.” In Genre and Hollywood. By Steve Neal, 179–204. New York: Routledge, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    While arguing for deeper, more rigorous empirical research on Hollywood genres in the industrial conditions of Hollywood itself, Neale exhausts a trove of primary sources that demonstrate what the term “melodrama” meant when classical films were first released and how the term was redefined when Sirk was later rediscovered.

    Find this resource:

  • Schatz, Thomas. “The Family Melodrama.” In Hollywood Genres: Formulas, Filmmaking, and the Studio System. By Thomas Schatz, 221–260. Boston: McGraw Hill, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In the final chapter of his seminal book, Schatz situates Sirk as a baroque stylist (with All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, and Imitation of Life) in the larger history of Hollywood, dealing with the genre and style of melodrama, its maturation in the 1950s, and structural variations.

    Find this resource:

back to top

Article

Up

Down