Douglas Sirk and Queer Cinema



Douglas Sirk made All That Heaven Allows in the 50's. It was met as a piece of Hollywood fluff, starring Hollywood handsome man Rock Hudson as gardener Ron that falls for Jane Wyman's Carrie. Forbidden love done with unoriginality and by-the-books flair. At least that's what people thought of the picture and Douglas Sirk 50 years ago.

That perception changed when in the 70's Sirk started giving interviews to the media and started appearing at world film fests promoting his filmography. The press started seeing things in his films that hadn't originally been seen before. For one, his movies -especially All That Heaven Allows- critiqued the bourgeois lifestyle and culture. It also featured Rock Hudson hinting at a homosexuality that bypassed almost everybody in Hollywood except himself. In Heaven there are clues. He claims he 'can't shoot straight' and is asked by his lover what would he think if she 'was a man'.

Those little clues went completely past an audience that was too naive to realize any of the hidden messages Sirk kept inserting into his works The queerness doesn't stop there. Sirk had a love for hiding hiding message with colour and palette. He had the ability to prepare a scenic-like effect and make his performers wear whatever would match the decor. If the scene required steaminess and hot romance, he would make Wyman wear Red and have his lighting shine on her bright- not to mention the red leaves on the trees surrounding her home.

I recently caught up with All That Heaven Allows and was struck by how well put of a Sirkian homage Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven was back in 2002. The similarities were there- instead of a blue collar gardener you had a black gardener & Haynes added a closeted gay husband (Dennis Quaid). More importantly Far From Heaven ended up elaborating on two key things: the world depicted on screen -- although 50 years apart from ours -- bore similarities to the society we currently live in, the bourgeois attitude still present and the homophobia and racism still intact.  It also revealed a trend that was only growing for the past decade - that of the queer auteur.

Haynes gave his best shot with Far From Heaven at reproducing the stylistic flourishes of a Sirk film exprience and, in the process of it all, made us remember one of the forgotten contemporaries of Hollywood's golden age.

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