‘Sirk’s talent wasn’t just his skill at directing actors, but knowing better than most directors how to make a movie out of them, whether the screenplay or production helps or not- out of what seems to be the actor’s deepest qualities, giving not just a personal vision of his stars but (in the broadest sense) a moral one.’
– James Harvey (2001:391)
This seems a perfect analysis of Douglas Sirk’s directing style, and good to keep in mind when watching one of his films in order to understand him, and his characters. Also, thinking about something else Harvey writes (in relation to In A Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray , a phenomenal film, sharp and suspenseful). He writes that the “real” star is the one whom we know from the films the actor has done- and while such a claim is only partially true (see Dyer, Morin etc.), it helps to explain somewhat why we keep going back and back to the same actor in different films. He or she will always have a quality that you admire, are attracted to.
But I do have a gripe with Harvey. He refers to Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1956) contains a ‘very fifties sort of validation’ (375) – and he means this in the harshest way possible. Continuing that ‘the on-screen relation between the two stars is so sexless…’ and he loses me completely. All That Heaven Allows is a film that contains so many challenges to the Production Code, subtle subversions of censorship that only the Authority Blockheads would be oblivious to. So when Harvey refers to the reappearance of a deer at the film’s end, which comes into frame as Sirk drifts the camera away from Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman and a couch, as a symbol of social entrapment, all I can think is that he completely missed the joke. This same deer had appeared before, in another cut away from Rock and Jane’s romantic tension.
An erect tree? I don’t think so!
Just because there’s no sex on screen does not mean that a couple is conforming to fifties prudery and sexlessness. Everybody loves subversion, come on!