Movie Review – Imitation of Life

Imitation of Life (1959)
Written by Eleanore Griffin & Allan Scott
Directed by Douglas Sirk

This was the final film from Douglas Sirk. He didn’t die following its release. He just left the United States and lived in Switzerland for the next twenty-eight years when he passed. He taught briefly in the 1970s at Munich’s University of Film and Television. But this was it. When asked about this stint in America making movies, Sirk said in a 1975 interview: “When I went to the United States, I was making films about American society, and it is true that I never felt at home there, except perhaps when my wife and I lived on a farm in the San Fernando Valley. But I always wanted my characters to be more than ciphers for the failings of their world. And I never had to look too hard to find a part of myself in them.” Sirk and his wife, Hilde, would quickly become tired of the Hollywood scene and return to Europe, but never Germany for too long. The memories were too harsh.

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Movie Review – Written on the Wind

Written on the Wind (1956)
Written by George Zuckerman
Directed by Douglas Sirk

Is melodrama something that naturally occurs in real life? Our inclination is to say, “No, people behave melodramatically. Life isn’t that way on its own.” But sensationally strange things happen in the real world all the time. What we often attach to melodrama are the characters’ reactions to the dazzling explosions of emotion. People, especially Americans, flock to melodrama. Look at the popularity of sensationalist politics and reality television that has only built over the last two decades. It could be argued that America is the most melodramatic country on the planet. Check out the frequency of road rage, mass shootings, political violence, racism, and the list goes on & on. My personal view is that Americans are drawn to this exaggeration of life because it makes the mundane misery of their actual existence feel somewhat more important. Rather than engage in the collective struggle to improve life for themselves and their fellow human beings, Americans fall listlessly into an opium-like fantasia where they are central characters in a big story.

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Movie Review – All That Heaven Allows

All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Written by Peg Fenwick
Directed by Douglas Sirk

There is a way to use the tools laid out for you by fascism to strangle it. As mentioned in my Magnificent Obsession review, Douglas Sirk left Nazi Germany when it became intolerable. It was harder to protect his Jewish wife, and his ex had used the law to make it illegal for Sirk to see his son. Eventually, Sirk would find his way to “women’s pictures.” While not as strong a genre as it once was, these types of domestic slice-of-life stories still exist, mostly on television more than in movie theaters. There’s a wide variance in quality these days, with some being prestige cable dramas while others being formulaic churned-out Hallmark Movie trash. Sirk himself commented on this perceived schism in art: “This is the dialectic—there is a very short distance between high art and trash, and trash that contains an element of craziness is by this very quality nearer to art.”

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Movie Review – Magnificent Obsession

Magnificent Obsession (1954)
Written by Robert Blees, Wells Root, Sarah Y. Mason, Victor Heerman, and Finley Peter Dunne
Directed by Douglas Sirk

Douglas Sirk discovered a love for the performing arts at a young age. While being born to Danish parents, the future director’s homeland would be Germany. In his teenage years, Sirk discovered Shakespeare and went to the cinema more often. He would speak about this period as introducing him to the intensity of emotion and the drama that comes with that. After that, Sirk studied the law and wrote for his father’s newspaper but kept wandering back to the arts. By the early 1920s, he would be directing stageplays, set on the path the rest of his professional life would follow. But, if you know anything of history, then you know Germany in the 1920s was a prelude to something terrible, and Sirk experienced it in a cruel & painful way.

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