Douglas Sirk

Sirk’s films looks like they were filmed by a man who had just discovered colour and then went to play with all of them.

Among the first DVDs that I had borrowed from work were several Criterion Collection editions of films by Douglas Sirk, a now almost totally forgotten director who had peaked in the 1950s. While his Sirk’s films were commercially successful, they were considered by the critics to be generic melodramas in poor taste. But to the modern eye, each was a breath of fresh air and bold, amphibious assaults of colours seemingly thrown onto sets from a thousand paint cans.

Sure, I own a modest collection of 1950s films, mostly Japanese monster films and some dramas, and I’ve seen a lot more, but Sirk’s films looks like they were filmed by a man who had just discovered colour and then went to play with all of them. All That Heaven Allows is undoubtedly the most colourful and lush pre-digital film that I have ever seen. Indeed, the blues in the film make ghostly and unnatural appearances everywhere from morning to night and from foreground to background. Just watch it and you’ll know what I mean.

Call it Technicolor. Say it was the cinematography of regular Sirk collaborator Russell Metty. Say it what you will, but I didn’t even know that objects in the 1950s radiated such colours! Heck, I’ve gone through colour sales catalogs of the Big Three US automakers from the 1950s and 1960s and none of them did their era justice the way a Sirk film did.

The films themselves were critiques of 1950s society, albeit in a melodramatic style not unlike the contemporary B&W film adaptations of Yukio Mishima’s potboiler minor novels, e.g. Junpaku no Yoru (Pure White Nights), Bitoku no Yoromeki (Misstepping of Virtue). They were all the rage then, in print and celluloid. Now, they’re all archival pieces for all but a few who yearn to remember what was an excess of colour.

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