pseudopodium
. . . Douglas Sirk

. . .

Irony Watch: Cholly and his lovely chaffeuse spent their first night in Los Angeles at a Douglas Sirk double feature. This being L.A. and all, there was a Special Live Guest: a German actress who had studied with pre-cinema Sirk in the 1930s and who had appeared in Sirk's best-known theatrical production: The Silver Lake, by Georg Kaiser and Kurt Weill, which opened a month after the Nazis took power and closed after thirty noisy performances.

Wandering past the concession stand between shows, Cholly found the Special Live Guest engaged with a couple of audience members and quickly took pen and pad in hand. After all, how many chances do you get nowadays to talk to an actor from the Weimar Republic?

Alas, we all get plenty of chances nowadays to talk to boring blowhards, and the audience member who held the floor (fittingly, an architect by trade) was determined to keep it by demonstrating, over and over again, his astonishing command of film history and style. And alas again, Cholly was much too befuddled by fatigue to figure out a way to reposition the conversational spotlight, finally giving up and returning to Tarnished Angels when the architect informed the actress that Quentin Tarantino admired Douglas Sirk's style and then began explaining who Quentin Tarantino was.

Earlier, the architect had explained that Sirk's Universal pictures were worth watching because of their "irony," and graciously invited Cholly to agree with his opinion. A last alas, for, although the "happy ending" of All I Desire and the cold-blooded spiritual vampires of Magnificent Obsession positively glow with irony, irony is not the principal achievement of Sirk's weepies: Sirk doesn't exactly approve of movie romance, but neither does he keep his distance. What he finds of interest in romantic melodrama is its unique ability to diagram the inevitable misunderstandings and failures resulting from the human need to connect: the clashes of familial, social, and sexual duties; the unresolvable conflict between the abjection of neediness and the desire to be worthy of love; the cocoons that digest their inhabitants. And he diagrams those tangles full-out with every aspect of the film from narrative structure through set design to composition of individual frames -- although, OK, not so successfully with the soundtrack music, but that's always been the curse of post-1939 Hollywood production....

. . .

One of my favorite weblogs, metascene, recorded this all-too-typical reaction to our Douglas Sirk story:

I wish I had abducted that German actress and held her and that miserable pooch of hers for ransom in my seedy hotel room before barely escaping with my life down the fire escape, running as fast as I could away from the sound of shattering glass and angry gunfire...

. . .

The 100 Super Movies au maximum: The Reckless Moment Meeting the son-in-law

"Cyberspace is no place for mommies." -- Karen Joy Fowler
Maybe not, but The Reckless Moment proves that there's sure a place for 'em in film noir. In fact, as with a lot of formulas favored by self-pitying spoiled sons, film noir makes more sense with a mommy in the lead.

Sit-coms and comic strips love the American family because something big always seems to be happening but everything is back to normal by the end of the episode. The Reckless Moment repositions that once-a-day cycle from the mother's point of view: the family member's job is to present every passing fancy as an emergency to the mother, but the mother's job is to maintain stability at any cost. Where Douglas Sirk's domestic tragedies emphasize suffocation (the enveloping family keeps you warm at the cost of snuffing out flames), Ophuls pecks to death.

The eventual effect of this affection-hungry din is to level all stimuli out. Thus Ophuls's thoroughgoing use of a narrative technique I've never seen used anywhere else in film, fiction, or theater: the deliberate tossing away of obvious opportunities for suspense and emotional climaxes. Drama is replaced by fretfulness:

And so on, until it's completely understandable that someone who needs $5000 overnight would start trying to figure out how to trim the electric bill, and that someone might panic as much over the distinction between "getting" a loan and "making" a loan as about murder, blackmail, and truly doomed love.

(Those intrigued by Ophuls's gynocentric approach to film noir should also seek out Caught, which must be the only Hollywood movie in which a miscarriage supplies the happy ending. And then probably move on to Jeanne Dielman 23 Quai Du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles....)

. . .

Hell is the Absence of Wienie King

Being a decent little chappy, I properly joined my voice with John Hogan's to defend the honor of Mary Astor's performance in The Palm Beach Story. But was it proper, I wondered later, for me to have described her character as a "nymphomaniac"? "Horny," yes, but why be so clinical? Intense self-analysis suggests I was influenced by second-time-as-tragedy Written on the Wind:

Joel McCrea = Poor but righteous hunk = Rock Hudson
Claudette Colbert = Practical glamour girl = Lauren Bacall
Rudy Vallee = Feckless rich kid = Robert Stack
Model airport on a table = McGuffin dreams are made of = Model oil derrick on a desk
Mary Astor = Worthless sleeparound sister = Dorothy Malone

From this we learn:

  1. Marry the poor righteous hunk first.
  2. Weird wizened indulgent old guys make better inexplicable strangers than they do fathers.

Responses

Juliet Clark writes, although I hesitate to guess about which part:

Suddenly, I'm completely convinced!

 

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Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.