Sunday, April 4, 2010

THE INNER VIOLENCE



When its director, Douglas Sirk, said WRITTEN ON THE WIND was “a film about failure,” he hardly did justice to the way pent-up, unfulfilled sexuality spills onto the screen and into the visual excess that has come to be considered his cinematic signature.....
(Laura Mulvey at The Criterion Collection)
Bathed in lurid Technicolor, melodrama maestro Douglas Sirk’s WRITTEN ON THE WIND is the stylishly debauched tale of a Texas oil magnate brought down by the excesses of his spoiled offspring. Features an all-star quartet that includes Robert Stack as a pistol-packin’ alcoholic playboy; Lauren Bacall as his long-suffering wife; Rock Hudson as his earthy best friend; and Dorothy Malone (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance) as his nymphomaniac sister.

Principal cast
• Rock Hudson ..... Mitch Wayne
• Lauren Bacall ..... Lucy Moore Hadley
• Robert Stack ..... Kyle Hadley
• Dorothy Malone ..... Marylee Hadley
• Robert Keith ..... Jasper Hadley
• Grant Williams ..... Biff Miley
• Edward Platt ..... Dr. Paul Cochrane

Credits:
Director Douglas Sirk
Producer Albert Zugsmith
Screenplay George Zuckerman
Based on the novel by Robert Wilder
Cinematography Russell Metty
Art direction Alexander Golitzen and Robert Clatworthy
Set decoration Russell A. Gausman and Julia Heron
Editing Russell J. Schoengarth
Music Frank Skinner
(The Criterion Collection)

About an hour into Written on the Wind, Jasper Hadley, patriarch of the Hadley family and oil mogul extraordinaire, discovers his daughter, Marylee, is a tramp. As she gleefully dances away, drunk and alone in her room, her father stumbles out of his office suffering a heart attack before falling down the stairs. His life ends, but the music goes on in a terrifying juxtaposition of tragedy and reckless pleasure-seeking. Judy (Lauren Bacall), wife to Kyle (Robert Stack), Jasper‘s troubled and emasculated son, comes to the top of the stairs to gaze at the aftermath. Horrified, she immediately turns away, covering her face with her hands, but only for so long as she’s one of the few characters who doesn’t hide from the truth. Her reaction, however, a desperate need for escape from the real and this escapes inevitable transience, embodies Sirk’s central concern in the film. A world where money and power are a means only to a fantastical end, band-aids to apply on the wounds of daily living, only the suffering, the pains of unrequited love, of not measuring up, of realizing you want more than you can ever have, that the life you’ve always imagined will remain only in the imagination, is too great to simply cover up. All the expensive possessions in the world can’t conceal the pain and unhappiness underneath and Sirk, with a brilliant combination of colors and symbols of power, masculinity and potency, reveals the depth of emotions within each one of his characters. It’s a melodrama indeed, but one that uses its surface materiality to examine the inner stirrings of its central family and the complicated emotional layers bubbling beneath the surface.....
(Derek Smith at Cinematic Reflections, 17th March 2009)


Robert Stack, Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall
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Lauren Bacall
filmicabi...gspot.com
Problems ensue after Kyle's impulsive marriage to New York City executive secretary Lucy Moore, who becomes a steadying influence to his life through the first few months after they meet. Kyle resumes drinking after being unsuccessful in fathering a baby. He turns against his childhood friend, Marylee's long-time infatuation, Mitch Wayne, a geologist for the oil company. Kyle's anger and depression grow after the death of his father, who admires Mitch but is disgusted with the behavior of his two heirs.
Mitch is secretly in love with Lucy. He keeps these feelings private until Kyle, having been diagnosed with a low sperm count, physically assaults Lucy when she announces her pregnancy, wrongly assuming it to be the result of adultery with Mitch. Lucy's fall results in a miscarriage. Mitch vows to leave town with her as soon as she's well enough to travel. On his return, a drunken Kyle recovers a hidden pistol and intends to shoot Mitch. Marylee struggles with her brother for the weapon, but it accidentally fires, killing him.
Repeatedly spurned by the man she claims to love, a spiteful Marylee threatens to implicate Mitch in Kyle's death. At the inquest, she first testifies that he killed her sibling. But she tearfully redeems herself at the last second by admitting the truth. Mitch and Lucy depart, leaving Marylee to mourn the death of her brother and run the company alone.
(Wikipedia)
When it as released at the end of 1956, WRITTEN ON THE WIND became director Douglas Sirk's most successful picture. While popular with audiences, this lush, over-the-top melodrama suffered the same critical fate as all his work in that genre. Generally dismissed as a stylish purveyor of big budget trash, no one would have suspected at that time that one day Sirk's films would be considered essential viewing.....
The film's style is excessive in every way, from the garish lighting to the blaring music. The whole film is a flashback, and by showing the viewer Stack's violent death at the beginning, we are assured that any happiness that Stack's character may find is only temporary. According to Sirk: "Almost throughout the picture I used deep focus lenses which have the effect of giving a harshness to the objects and a kind of enameled, hard surface to the colors. I wanted to bring out the inner violence, the energy of the characters which is all inside them and can't break through." Stack and Malone's characters dream of going "back to the river," but even this bit of nostalgia seems pathetic because there is no escaping the true source of their sickness. As Sirk himself noted, "they can't go back, they can't return." And so they set themselves on a course of self-destruction.

Rock Hudson
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While Hudson and Bacall would seem to portray the more balanced and happy alternative to the Hadley sickness, they are, in fact, quite unsympathetic. And purposely so. According to Sirk, Hudson's character "is a negative figure. He is not really a man who has a helpful feeling toward these two degenerate kids, Stack and Malone....The Hudson and Bacall characters are rather coldish people and not very interesting." Sirk does a brilliant but counterintuitive thing here: he casts his big box-office stars - Bacall and Hudson - in the least interesting roles and lets Stack and Malone steal the movie. In fact, Stack recalls that when he read the script, he knew at once that Kyle was the "best part in the picture, a part that could hardly fail to earn the actor an Academy Award nomination." To Stack's surprise, Hudson gladly accepted the lesser role: "He never said a word, not a peep. He let the part go completely. He was in a position of power, and didn't misuse it." In the end, Stack was right and he got the nomination (though Anthony Quinn won for his performance in Lust for Life, 1956).
Sexual frustration is a theme in many of Sirk's films, but nowhere is this theme so ubiquitous as in WRITTEN ON THE WIND. Sex is the central problem for all the characters, and Sirk goes to almost excessive pains to mock their troubles. When Stack learns from his doctor (Edward Platt) that he may be sterile, he hobbles like a wounded man out of the drugstore only to be confronted by a boy happily bouncing up and down on a mechanical pony. From Stack's perspective, the boy's physical vitality is like a knife in the heart. (Realism is clearly shunted aside here as it is doubtful a doctor would tell the town's most prominent citizen about his low sperm count at a drugstore luncheonette.) And the phallic oil wells seen pumping everywhere in the background seem to represent a kind of sexual energy that both comments on and mocks the characters' own sexuality.
Malone (who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) is the epitome of sexuality in the film. But like her brother's impotence, her sexuality is diseased. This is best seen in her sexualized dance that Sirk intercuts with her father's fatal fall down the stairs. Malone does all but jump Hudson, but he isn't interested in her as anything but a sister.
(Turner Classic Movies)


Rock Hudson and Dorothy Malone
Uncinefilo's photostream at flickr


Douglas Sirk (1900-1987) had two careers. His first 37 years were spent in Germany, where he worked as a stage director, specializing in classics. His first American film was "Hitler's Madmen (1943), and his critical reputation is based on a series of enormously popular melodramas he made for Universal, including "All I Desire" (1953), "Magnificent Obsession" (1954), "All That Heaven Allows" (1955) and "mitation of Life" (1959). He also made Westerns, musicals and war stories, working with Hudson more often than any other star--perhaps appreciating the way Hudson's concealed homosexuality worked subtly to subvert the stock characters he often played.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, another German obsessed with American forms of melodrama, said Sirk was the greatest influence on his work. Certainly Sirk was the father of prime-time TV soaps. "I have seen WRITTEN ON THE WIND a thousand times," the Spanish director Pedro Almodovar said, "and I cannot wait to see it again." Sirk's style spread so pervasively that nobody could do melodrama with a straight face after him. In countless ways visible and invisible, Sirk's sly subversion skewed American popular culture, and helped launch a new age of irony.
(Roger Ebert at rogerebert. Suntimes.com)




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