film: Sirk: Written on the Wind (1956)

When I studied film this is one we were forced into watching because it exemplified the qualities of melodrama. Now, of course, I can’t use the word without thinking of the film, of Dorothy Malone stroking that oil rig, to be precise, and of Robert Stack clutching his gun and collapsing out the door. My first watch was marred by “that woman isn’t as beautiful as they want her to be,” and my second watch was marred by “I can’t believe it was Lauren Bacall the whole time. She has the voice of a man too.” Though I’ve admired photos of her before, perhaps it was from days before her features grew sharp, I’ll have to see some of her earlier films, find out what all the fuss was about. The film didn’t do a thing for me six years ago–I thought it was purely an example of a genre, nothing more. Surprise to see Criterion released it, and the reason why: this was Sirk after being freed from the Hollywood constraints, to achieve his own vision. The Cahiers du cinéma crowd recognized it as being profound, so I paid closer attention to colors, though I haven’t begun understanding space, nor being quite aware of cuts and camera movement. But I know what moves me: the scene in which Dorothy Malone is dancing wildly in her bedroom, as her father ascends the stairs, and then collapses, rolling down them again, and Lauren Bacall realizes something’s wrong. The new films are so quick to toss in a sex scene–my only complaint of these new Scorsese films–and one begins to wonder if there’s just a store of them you can buy on the cheap, and plug in to your film. Here’s a film that, even in its overt sexual overtones, remains something children could watch–unless you don’t want your children watching films with alcoholics and gun violence–something that would make their hearts beat more quickly, and yet they wouldn’t know why. So it’s a melodrama as a screenplay, but it’s an exercise in subtlety as concerns its insidious sexuality, and however one’s emotions are meant to be bombarded, mine tend to remain clear during this film, delighted by the colors and movement. Now, if only I could tie in the intellect…

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