1 ESSENTIAL DISCRIMINATIONS: CLOSE READING AND DOUGLAS SIRK By CHARLES R. NEWSOM A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DO CTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2012
2 2012 Charles R. Newsom
3 To Natalie
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS introduced me to nearly all of the major writers, ideas, a nd works that influenced this dissertation, and he has shaped me as a scholar, teacher, and writer. When I arrived at Florida, I had only a vague notion of my interests, but my scholarly life took a distinct form through conversations and classes with Rob ert over the last four years. I am also grateful for the feedback from and conversations with my other committee members: Gregory Ulmer, Marsha Bryant, and Sylvie Blum Reid. I appreciate their patience with a project that had a less than promising begin ning. I would also like to thank Tracy Cox Stanton, who started as my teacher and then became my friend. She continually gave me encouragement when I needed it the most. I wholeheartedly tha nk my parents as well. They fondly recall how I used to arrive home from elementary school and then play school for hours wi th both imaginary students and, often, with my brother as my lone, unfortunate pupil. Although more than twenty years separate those days from this final degree, their support remai ned unending as I worked toward what must seem to them my life s natural outcome. Finally, and most important, I must acknowledge Natalie, who inspired me to a level of productivity I never thought I could achieve. She is far too humble to accept any responsibility for this fact, but her boundless, patient, and selfless love undoubtedly enabled my accomplishment. If for no other reason, I owe both Robert and Natalie one great debt: they never lacked confidence in me even when I had no confidence in myself.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 LIST OF FIGUR ES ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 7 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 8 CHAPTER 1 WHAT HAPPENED TO FILM CRITICISM? ................................ ................................ 10 In troduction ................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 10 Filmmaking Choices and Evaluation ................................ ................................ ....... 11 The Function of Criticism ................................ ................................ ........................ 11 Meaningful versus Successful ................................ ................................ ................ 12 The History of Thematic Readings ................................ ................................ .......... 15 Film as Film ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 20 The Two Routes ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 22 Inflation Threatens ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 31 Why Douglas Sirk? ................................ ................................ ................................ 36 Teaching ................................ ................................ ................................ ................. 40 2 THE INSPIRED AND THE PARNASSIAN IN ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS ............ 45 ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 52 All That Heaven Allows ................................ ................................ ........................... 59 Scene One: At the Train Station ................................ ................................ ....... 63 S cene Two: The Christmas Tree Lot ................................ ................................ 65 Scene Three: The Christmas Carolers ................................ ............................. 67 Scene Four: Christmas Morning ................................ ................................ ....... 75 Inspired Filmmaking ................................ ................................ ................................ 81 Sirk Blackmailed ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 86 3 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TEACH A FILM? ................................ ............................ 88 Pedagogical Problems ................................ ................................ ............................ 89 Hasty Evaluation ................................ ................................ .............................. 89 Mere Entertainment ................................ ................................ .......................... 92 Initial Response and the Literary Level ................................ ............................ 93 The Speed of Film ................................ ................................ ............................ 98 The Problem of Indifference ................................ ................................ ........... 100 Definitions and Examples ................................ ................................ ..................... 102 Description and Filmmaking Choices ................................ ................................ .... 111 Imitation of Life ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 114
6 The Scene: Summary and Description ................................ ........................... 120 Analysis of a Filmmaking Choic e ................................ ................................ .... 125 Evaluation ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 132 4 TOWN TETRALOGY .. 134 Sirk and Authorship ................................ ................................ .............................. 134 The Films ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 142 Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952) ................................ ............................... 142 Meet Me at the Fair (1953) ................................ ................................ ............. 143 Take Me to Town (1953) ................................ ................................ ................ 145 All I Desire (1953) ................................ ................................ ........................... 148 Economy ................................ ................................ ................................ ............... 149 Camera Movement ................................ ................................ ............................... 156 Has Anybody Seen My Gal? ................................ ................................ .......... 156 Meet Me at the Fair ................................ ................................ ........................ 157 Take Me to Town ................................ ................................ ............................ 158 All I Desire ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 160 Framing ................................ ................................ ................................ ................. 163 Has Anybody Seen My Gal? ................................ ................................ .......... 164 All I Desire ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 165 ................................ ................................ .............. 166 Cutting and Shot Length ................................ ................................ ....................... 172 Has Anybody Seen My Gal? ................................ ................................ .......... 173 Meet Me at the Fair ................................ ................................ ........................ 174 All I Desire ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 176 5 ................................ ................................ .................... 181 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................. 185 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ .......................... 191
7 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 2 1 ................................ ................................ .............................. 64 2 2 Shot One (14 seconds) ................................ ................................ ....................... 68 2 3 Shot Two (3.5 seconds) ................................ ................................ ...................... 68 2 4 Shot Three (7.5 seconds) ................................ ................................ ................... 69 2 5 Shot Four (3.5 seconds) ................................ ................................ ..................... 69 2 6 Shot Five (7.5 seconds) ................................ ................................ ...................... 70 2 7 Shot Six (17 seconds) ................................ ................................ ........................ 70 2 8 Continuity Error ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 73 2 9 ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 78 2 10 ................................ ................................ ................................ 79 2 11 Window shots. ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 82 3 1 The intrusive extra ................................ ................................ ............................ 127 4 1 Vermilion at the window ................................ ................................ .................... 147 4 2 A single shot of Na ................................ .......................... 153 4 3 The camera conceals Vermilion. ................................ ................................ ...... 159 4 4 Establishing shot ................................ ................................ .............................. 167 4 5 Dinner table blocking. ................................ ................................ ....................... 168 4 6 Shot nine breakdown. ................................ ................................ ....................... 168 4 7 Shots nine and seventeen. ................................ ................................ ............... 169 4 8 Shot nineteen ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 171 4 9 Breakdown of a single shot of Naomi and Joyce.. ................................ ............ 178
8 Abstract of Dissertatio n Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy ESSENTIAL DISCRIM IN ATIONS: CLOSE READING AND DOUGLAS SIRK By Charles R. Newsom May 2012 Ch air: Robert B. Ray Major: English I argue that evaluative film criticism can be a rigorous and legitimate academic practice. Film criticism provides a written history of what film writers and scholars value, and it has historically entailed the evaluation Film Studies became institutionalized as a discipline, it left the job of evaluation to journalistic film reviewers, who lack ed the time, space, and inclination to do the detailed work of clos e reading that crit icism demanded. I first define film cr iticism as a specific practice, distinct from history, theory, and reviewing, and with historical connections to historical role in Film Studies, dra wing especially on the writings of Cahiers du Cinma in France and Movie in England. Finally, I seek to reclaim criticism for acade mic Film Studies by asking what the discipline can ga in especially in the classroom setting by reviving criticism today. My dissertation is a work of film criticism, with evaluation through formal analysis as its central task, and I use the American films of Douglas Sirk as a test case. With ideological era of film study. As a result, his work never received the extensive formal analysis that the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Nicholas Ray, or Howard Hawks did from French and
9 ests on merely a few of his films, a selection that has led to an insufficient, even inflated, view of his talent. I use formal analysis to open up a film that seems critically exhausted ( All That Heaven Allows ); to examine the role of an ordinary, seeming ly insignificant, moment in a film of extraordinarily melodramatic scenes ( Imitation of Life ); and to provide a more accurate framing, camera movement, and cutting) in fi lms that have received almost no critical attention ( Has Anybody Seen My Gal, Meet Me at the Fair, Take Me to Town, and All I Desire ).
10 CHAPTER 1 WHAT HAPPENED TO FIL M CRITICISM? Introduction Peter Harcourt describes the process by which great films mana ge to stay alive for successive generations as a miracle (25). For criticism to accomplish this feat proves even more difficult for a certain insight or observation to keep on affecting or altering the way its readers perceive a film. As I wrote each cha pter of this dissertation, reading matter? Of what use is evaluation? Why should any reader bother with detailed analyses of zed this same anxiety in a critic whom I admire. In his 2003 prologue to the revised edition of Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (1986), Robin Wood reflects on the influence his criticism had on film studies. In the last half of his career, Wood laments the fact that his most personal criticism generated hardly any response and had no real effect on film culture. Part of the problem, he suggests, stems from the fact that criticism itself the serious dialogue responses of others has ceased to be reaches of intellectual/academic activity, it has become thoroughly debased, the almost no Yet if value of So while this disse rtation contains an elaborate defense of criticism, close reading, and project: it matters to me.
11 But it matters to the discipline as well. What happened to for mal analysis and evaluative criticism in film studies? What have we lost by abandoning these methods? What can we gain by reviving such practices today? To answer these questions comprehensively would itself require a lengthy project, and the history of film study is far too varied to attempt a general, linear account of how formalism and evaluation have fallen out of style. But there are nine specific issues that have influenced this project. Filmmaking Choices and Evaluation One central idea provides the foundation for this entire work, and I can state it simply: Filmmakers make choices as they find solutions for a filmmaking problem at hand, and these choices entail value judgments; a camera angle is more or less good, a take is more or less successfu l, and so on. These choices, in turn, serve a two fold critical function: (1) they give the critic concrete material to evaluate; and (2) they allow the critic to evaluate films in a way that corresponds to how films actually get made. Thus, an intimate, and I argue, inexorable, link exists connecting filmmaking, formal analysis, evaluation, and our task as critics and teachers. The Function of Criticism This project is a work of film criticism, with evaluation through formal analysis as its central task. This fact distinguishes my writing from historical, theoretical, journalistic, or socio ideological study. If, in 1952, F.R. Leavis could write that criticism is a pursuit neither commonly practiced nor favored, the situation has only worsened sixty yea rs later ( Common Pursuit vi). The fault lies not so much with other competing methods as it does with the laziness and imprecision of critics who fail to do the close analysis that must accompany any legitimate evaluation. The problem, then, is not with evaluation itself, but with the hasty, unreflective nature of those value judgments.
12 My work takes its cue from an important insight Peter Wollen offers in his essay d to makers decide that this take or this e did not appreciate. Just subjective opinions? (217). unreflective evaluations articulate. The critic can do so by anchoring his or her value tic in nature: to Leavis summarized his critical goal in this way: The cogency I hoped to achieve was to be for other readers of poetry the readers of poetry as such. I hoped, by putting in front of them, in a criticism that should keep as close to the concrete as possible, my own developed qualifications) that [the conclusions I make], when they int errogated their experience, look like that to them also (214). I similarly hope that those who watch the films I discuss can read my work and say, account of Sirk enables him or her to respond more fully. As Leavis comments, the critic should welcome readers who argue with or qualify his own ideas; through that process, his response becomes even sh arper. Meaningful versus Successful In The American Cinema, Andrew Sarris distinguishes between the meaningful
13 divide, film criticism sides with successful: moments scenes, and films of exceptional quality. Anything can have meaning, but success marks a higher achievement. To make this distinction clearer, I suggest looking at similar scenes from two Sirk films, Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952) and All That Heaven Allows (1955). Each scene has the they gossip about a May December romance. I offer only a brief sketch of each scene to make my point. Late in Has Anybody Seen My Gal, Mr. Smith (Charles Coburn), an older man, attempts to play Cupid for a young couple, Millicent (Piper Laurie) and Dan (Rock Hudson), at a movie theater. When his plan fails and Dan storms out of the theater, Mr. Smith puts his arm around Millicent to cons ole her. As he does so, two gossips, a husband and wife, assume Mr. Smith is making at pass at Millicent, and the word soon spreads to her family when the couple attends a party later that evening at the home of cuss the rumor of the illicit affair, they do not very simple matter for an old scoundrel like him to turn the head of a n as the film overcompensates in poor dialogue for what it lacks in complexity of performance and mise en scne. In All That Heaven Allows, we find a scene similar in content, but remarkably different in execution. Here, an upper middle class widow, Cary Scott (Jane Wyman), introduces her young, working class boyfriend, Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), to her friends
14 for th Moorehead), to celebrate the engagement of another couple an older man and a young, vapid, gold digger. Before Cary and Ron even arrive, various characters peer through the curtai around various oppositions: (1) the hypocrisy surrounding May December romances: they are acceptable only if the woman is younger; (2) the clash of classes: Ron is looked down upon because of his profession (gardener) and the car he drives; and (3) sidedness in Has Anybody Seen My Gal) : some characters clearly disapprove, but most feel jealous the women, of Cary, and the men, of Ron. This scene, though, achieves its full significance only by its relation to another scene earlier in the film: the house party atmosphere; and a mixture of ages, classes, and ethnicities. Thus not only does the scene itself have a structure, but it fits into a larger structure within the film. Both scenes are equally meaningful. For example, both offer material to the critic interested in gender, age, or class. Or if thematic consistency interested a critic, he or In other words, both scenes provide evidence that can become charged with meaning by whatever reading interpretation, or framework a scholar applies. For these critics, value matters to the extent that the films accord with the framework he or she uses. For example, if class were the issue, perhaps one would identify one film as more progressive than t as films would be a non issue, and no disinterested evaluation would occur.
15 Both scenes, however, are not successful. The scene from All That Heaven Allows is, quite simply, better and more fully realized than the one in Has Anybody Seen My Gal Therefore, it merits the attention one affords it; when I watch the scene from My Gal its flatness strikes me, and nothing about the scene encourages me to consider it further. On the other hand, repeated viewings of All That He aven Allows suggest the attentiveness. In no way do I believe that all film writing mus t be evaluative or that social or historical concerns should play no role in film studies. But in film criticism all external approaches to a film are secondary. The History of Thematic Readings ify how I employ it here. over its form (how it works). Though I argue for formal an alysis and the study of film as different methods. The decision to look at films in close detail is only partially a personal preference; it is historically determined as well. Repeated viewings of films and close readings of them were difficult, if not impossible, before home video and the ability to pause, fast forward, and rewind. Thus, thematic, content based criticism resulted because critics lacked the tools so w idely available today. Despite the historical circumstances, certain critics, such as those at Movie, still managed to produce detailed close readings in the pre home video era.
16 Thematic, and specifically, sociological, criticism established institutional ized film study in America began when the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) established its film library in 1935, with Iris Barry as its curator. Though various film libraries and film museums had been organized and planned over the previous twenty years, MoMA had the first successful and lasting film archive in the United States. The secret to its 1930s through the communication research wing of the Rockefeller Foundation and later for government as the A merican, democratic art form, and the library had to remain politically neutral when not overtly pro neutral at first by promoting the film staff as sociologists rather than taste makers or ide invocation of sociology served largely to exempt MoMA from sticky aesthetic debates, on the one hand, and to disavow political responsib ility for presenting European and Soviet films during the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin on the other (133). and Nazis lived and thought, ignoring any potential aesthetic value the films might possess (Decherney 142). While the film library was the nucleus of U.S. World War II government sponsored propaganda, a sociological approach existed even outside propagand istic purposes. Decherney discusses an interesting and telling problem encountered at
17 We are so used to renting videos and watching vintage movie channels today that it is surprising to realize how ephemeral films seemed in 1935, two or three years earlier. The most common observation reporters made films. Film Library publ ications continually combated the laughter by insisting on the sociological rather than the artistic importance of film (133). Thus, to cope with the evolving tastes of moviegoing audiences, thematic readings (sociological, ideological, historical) repla ced formal, aesthetic ones as keys to datedness provides a constant obstacle in the film studies classroom; students often respond to classical Hollywood films with a dis missive laughter that regards the films more as quaint than aesthetically viable. Melodrama is particularly susceptible to this response, and not surprisingly, Sirk criticism has taken the same approach that MoMA did with silent film: insisting on the ide seriously as films but their ideas have value a view that this dissertation vehemently opposes. Although I ident ify MoMA as the institutional origin of thematic film study, its library played an important disciplinary role; MoMA put together circulating rental programs that fed the emerging film societies at many universities (Polan 173). As Dana Polan writes, MoMA night there was a proliferation of scattered courses in film appreciation or film history that were based on the MoMA collection and that regularized the study of film in standard patterns that would still be in place when universities came
18 more systemical foundation. method ofte n overlooks formal complexity. Ellen Rooney cites several consequences reduction of every text to its ideological or historical context, or to an exemplar of a prior theory (content) form reduced to an epiphenomenon; the rapid exhausting of the entire generalization of reading as The practice of reading as paraphrase proves some larger historical, theoretical, or sociological argument. This issue, I argue, is one a critic cannot do justice to a work without engaging with film form ( Personal Views 251). Rooney forcefully makes this very argument: Formalism is a matter not of barring thematizations but of refusing to reduce reading entirely to the elucidation, essen tially the paraphrase, of themes to be read (whatever its genre) is engaged only to confirm the prior insights of a theoretical problematic, reading is reduced to reiteration and becomes quite litera lly beside the point. One might say that we overlook most of the work of any text if the only formal feature we can discern in it is a reflected theme, the mirror image of a theory that is, by comparison to the belated and all too predictable text, seen a s all knowing and, just as important, as complete (29 30). Thematic readings would not be a problem if they were not so influential. At one point, melodramatic trash is actually a sustained critique of the American family. But this
19 criticism. Once a stable set of Sirkian themes became established (that is, the question of meaning was settled), no critic has challenged them. In film studies, a major origin of this thematic method occurred in 1941 when MoMA sponsored Siegfried Kracauer to emigrate to America and produce a study of Nazi propaganda, From Caligari to Hitler which pro posed that a national psychology/identity could be read through German films (Decherney 152). While many ic [today] is not to study literature but to study culture a disciplinary responsibility hitherto assigned to films he studied, but instead new knowledge about national ident ity and culture. In Making Meaning According to Bordwell, film scholars study two types of meaning: implicit and ut from the 1970s until the present era, symptomatic interpretation has been central. For Bordwell, symptomatic meanings are involuntary and unintentional meanings that arise l unearths and constructs these meanings, as if the critic were psychoanalyzing the text.
20 analyzable film secreting something significant about the culture which produces or consumes it: since the 1940s, this has been the text constructed by the most influential method exactly; on other national cinemas as well: to read the films symptomatically or allegorically as both diagnosing and describing national maladies. Bordwell identifies the same because the interpretive optic in force has virtually no way to register t hem. A more concrete way to put the charge is to say that in recent film studies interpreters have paid films are ideologically progressive has become a banal startin g point and has kept Film as Film reading method by e uses the example hat his business as a critic is with poetry not ideas (the business of the philosopher): Shelley and others yes, I have heard of it; but what interest can it have for the literary critic ? For the critic, for the reader whose primary interest is in poetry, those three poets are so radically different, immediately and finally, from one another that the offer to assimilate them in a common philosophy
21 can only suggest the irrelevance of the philosophical approach ( Common Pursuit 216). Leavis draws a clear line between those who deal with poetry as poetry and those who scholars, he does not make this claim with an oppositional attitude; rather, he wants to say that criticism has a limited scope and not that it is the only legitimate field of literary study. Likewise, in film studies, one can study film historically, theoretically, or sociologically all fruitful approaches. Film criticism is simply the field in which those who approach films aesthetically can practice. To do a psychoanalytical reading of Imitation of Life is not a wrong or unworthy pursuit it is just not film criticism. Later in the same essa the confidence of one who in the double strength of system ignores the working of poetry Consider how the sentenc see the understand for film study, we might say that the issue is not that the working of film hides beneath a a film possesses an obscure or abstract meaning, but simply that we do not notice, that we do not pay attention to what is right before our eyes. Film believe to b 4). The film critic studies the concrete details available for all to notice and evaluate.
22 To approach film as film does not mean that one must discount external knowledge. Fo r Leavis, [The critic] is concerned with the work in front of him as something that should contain within itself the reason why it is so and not otherwise. The more experience experience of life and literature together he brings to bear on it the better, of course; and it is true that extraneous information may make him more percipient. But the business of critical intelligence will remain what it was: to ensure relevance of response and to determine what is actually there in the work of art (224 225). In the study of classical Hollywood cinema, one works with the knowledge of films on e studies. But as much as I may know about the conventions of melodrama, for example, and can see the principles at work in the films of various directors, the distinctiveness of individual directors and films confronts me. John M. Stahl, Vincente Minnel li, and Douglas Sirk all directed melodramas and worked within a studio system and its regulated filmmaking practices. Yet however much they have in common, these a s critics, have our work to do: to analyze and discriminate among the various achievements (Leavis 216). The Two Routes Early film study, when not instructional, was thematic and soc iological but out of necessity. On the one hand, the sociological approach justified the usefulness of film study. On the other hand, the technology was not available for easy close analysis. Given this history, we see that an eventual shift to concerns for film form over film content was inevitable; as Andrew Sarris remarks, auteurism and its renewed
23 (apolitical) interest in visual style reacts against thematic, sociological criticism the The American Cinema organizes film history into a history of directors, selected by taste and judgment. Sarris pref ers this method to the The rise and fall of auteurist criticism is a well known story: the critics writing at Cahiers du Cinma in France and at Movie in England both renewed an interest in film form and inculcated a new found respect for classical Hollywood cinema. But by the politically es. As the humanities became newly apolitical approach as reactionary and politically irresponsible. Whereas an auteurist sonal imprint (a quality difficult, if subversiveness or progressiveness. Criticism largely became thematic, and formal qualities had value only insofar as they worked again surface. Critics still valued the same auteurs (John Ford, Nicholas Ray, Howard Hawks, etc.), but only to the extent that their work implicitly challenged the dominant ideology. During this era, the humanities strove to become more like the sciences, and formalist, auteurist criticism simply was not objective and scientific enough. It is no surprise, then, that auteurism soon gave way to auteur structuralism, an attempt to unite
24 auteurist study with the insights of s tructural linguistics. Auteur structuralism emerged in the mid to late 1960s with scholars associated with the British Film Institute (Peter Wollen, Jim Kitses, Geoffrey Nowell Smith. Nowell purpose of criticism becomes therefore to uncover behind the superficial contrasts of subject and treatment a structural hard core of basic and recondite motifs. The pattern work its particular str meaning on the surface, but unearths it. Although Nowell Smith mentions that these writers remained resolut Wollen distinguishes between a style centered auteur criticism and one devoted to Nowell Smith on deep structur criticism, itself became thematic, and form lost its place again. This narrative, while not inaccurate, makes formalism seem like a victim of the times one methodology replacing another. What has not received attention, however, are the internal reasons, specific practices within the field of formalist film criticism itself that lead to its demise. My approach will be slightly different: I visit a certain unexplored moment in Anglo American formalist criticism when evaluation became divorced from formal analysis. auteurist m ethod and suggests how film criticism could benefit from its method
25 Cameron (co founder and editor of Movie ) and Andrew Sarris. Both Movie and Sarris address the method a nd goal of formalist criticism, but each offers a different route for the formalist critic to pursue: formal analysis without (explicit) evaluation, or evaluation influential while method has never been popular outside of England. auteurism, critics] all have in commo n, I think, and that we would gain most by adopting, is the firm belief that form is at least as theory. A critic should try to separate the literary qualities of a scenario or the Cahi ers renewed emphasis on film form, a lengthy formal analysis of a film like Party Girl (1961) goes too far. Of course, one might argue, it takes such work to evaluate any film accurately. True, Roud might respond, but there are still two major problems. First, critics make up their minds from the beginning, and their criticism amounts to nothing more than a critique des beauts, concentrates entirely on the beauties of a work of art rathe r than attempting impartially Cahiers admitted, say,
26 film on a non (as Bazin terms it) then prevents [ ] appreciation of Kiss Me Deadly was that it led them to elect Robert Aldrich then and there to their pantheon of the truly great: Ha wks, Ray, Anthony Mann, Preminger, etc. And once a director is accepted by Cahiers it automatically follows that all his subsequent (and even previous) works are ipso facto words, their very evaluative method hinders their a bility to evaluate. Second, Roud argues that the critics evaluate narrative cinema without placing any value on the narrative content itself. It seems, Roud writes, that these prefer the unimportant, second order that the auteur in question can more easily overcome it and express his personality (171). Roud wrong with a B picture story. And, to be sure, the great director can transform it into a work of art. But the most satisfying work of art is Movie will do much to correct this strict separation of form from content within formalist criticism. Since Classical Hollywood cinem a is a narrative cinema, ignoring the narrative makes no sense. Movie writers treat plot and characterization as carefully as method, and from it, we notice key contributions. First, the journal brought the practice of close reading (developed out of the British practical criticism tradition) to film studies. Close reading, as Ian Camero n remarks, provides the basis for work: accused of a fascination with technical trouvailles at the expense of
27 meaning. The alternative which we find elsewhere is a gestal t approach which tries to present an overall picture of the film without going into what the film was actually like for the spectator (2). Though detailed, criticism remain s accessible to anyone who has seen the film under discussion. This close reading method allows the critic to maintain a close connection to both how films are made and how they are viewed: apart from his own intelligence are his observations in the cinema: what he sees, hears, and feels. By building up our theses about films from these observations, we are going through the same processes as the audience, although, of course, our reactions are conscious whereas those indu ced in the cinema, particularly at the first viewing of a film, tend to be reached unconsciously. We believe that our method is likely to produce criticism which is closer, not just to an objective ience of the film (Cameron 2). others what he or she sees in a work of art (91). Films not only move quickly, but the average viewer will not likely watch a film m ore than once and, thus, cannot register film viewer: one who, through repeated viewings, pays attention to the details that create the experience most spectators can not consciously articulate. discussion of aesthetic flexibility: Joseph Pevney, having made dozens of stinkers, ca n suddenly come up with an admirable western in The Plunderers or that [Vincente] Minnelli, after years of doing wonders often with unpromising material, could produce anything as flat footed as The Bells Are Ringing (2) Whereas for Cahiers, Howard Hawk Casablanca, Movie can recognize the genius of Vincente Minnelli and yet still call The Bells Are Ringing a
28 mediocre accomplishment. The critic must always be ready for auteurs to let us down: when a film career spans de but not always. Movie recognizes that good directors can make bad films, and bad directors can make good films (Cameron 2). Although Movie had its pantheon, individual films were always more importa nt than judgments for or against a director. They also recognize that films can have merit from sources outside the director; stars, writers, and even cinematographers can be auteurs, and films can be interesting for nonaesthetic reasons, such as their re lationship to external (historical) events or to auteur theory cannot Evaluation would seem like the natural end for close reading method. But though its critics constantly made implicit value judgments, they frowned on explicit ones. Though Robin Wood wrote for Movie, he distances himself from their anti evaluation stance: Movie rejection of evaluation always seemed to me somewhat rhetorical, more apparent than real. It seemed based on an honourable but misguided judgment was to attempt to force t hat on readers, an act of coercion, and the critic then describe as accurately as possible; the reader, his/her own perceptions would then be in a position to reach an enlightened response to the work in question ( Personal Views 340). But as Wood points out, Movie writers only described films they liked, and thus implicitly made value judgments all the time. Yet if the critic ne ver addresses a negative work or the negative in a generally positive work, he or she will be unable to make the necessary discriminations that evaluative criticism demands.
29 1968 book, The American Cinema, several times throughout this work, so I discuss him stresses the importance of aesthetic discrimination and criticizes decision to only write about films the critics like ( American Cinema 33). Although I admire this belief in the necessity of evaluation, his method proves lacking. One can easily see the difference between the methods of Movie and Andrew Sarris with a brief example: it to ok Robin Wood roughly two American films in The American Cinema (1968) lasts just over four pages. To borrow a phrase from Greg Taylor, if Mov method is one of depth extensive analysis of individual films is one of breadth the extensive evaluation of American film directors (90). As Taylor T he work makes evaluation democratic and user friendly: simply watch hundreds of films, and you, too, can notice directorial style and then discriminate among and rank vari ous of scholarship, it was also simple enough for the reader to absorb, because at root it was merely a polemical assertion that at least the personalities of the most interesting important value of Anglo American auteurist writing. writing style, for example,
30 but in the kind of work each does: Sarris forsakes the hard work of formal analysis, upon which sound evaluative judgments must rest, for hasty, quick evaluations: By divorcing evaluation from formal analysis, Sarris makes evaluation quick and easy, and film criticism becomes film reviewing. Though Sarris is critical of journalistic film reviewers, his method provides the foundation for such work. One must only ask oneself this question: if we take the most debased form of film reviewing today the thumbs up/thumbs down or star rating system whose method does it most resemble Though Sarris himself attacks critics who take a short cut to evaluation, his own 93). In 1962 and again in his introduction to The American Cinema he writes, Unfortunately, some critics have embraced the auteur theory as a short cut see it or you oward the reader, the particularly lazy auteur critic can save himself the drudgery of analysis, the auteur theory can degenerate into the kind of snobbish racket that is associated with t American Cinema 32). with Sarris, his book itself unfortunately does not live up to the high standard he sets for evaluative criticism. Evaluation without formal analysis inevitably devolves into film reviewing. Once film studies moved away from formal analysis in the 1960s, evaluation w as left to journalistic film reviewers. It comes as no surprise that Sarris, though the author of
31 several books, would go on to spend his career writing for newspapers ( The Village Voice and The New Republic ). As late as 1962, two routes one emphasizing close reading, the other evaluation co existed, but never coalesced. With minor exceptions (Robin Wood, V. F. Perkins), there have been few critics who pursue evaluation through formal analysis, but I want to unite these two practices. Inflation Threatens Why is evaluation so important today? After all, the internet age offers no The Social Network was the critically highest rated film of 2010, and its IMDB page contains links to four hundred and fifty nine film reviews from professional reviewers and amateurs alike. Through various social media, anyone can instantly comment on and evaluate the movies he or she watches. As a result, popular new releases today often undergo a process of instant canonizat ion. Examine these comments made about The Social Network upon its release: Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times : The Social Network is a great film not because of its dazzling style or visual cleverness, bu t because it is splendidly well made. Despite the ba ffling complications of computer programming, web strateg y and big finance, s screenplay t follow the story so much as get dragged along behind it. Peter Travers, Rolling Stone : The Social Network is the mov ie of the year. But Fincher and Sorkin triumph by taking it further. Lacing their scathing wit with an aching sadness, they define the dark irony of the past decade. The final image of solitary Mark at his computer has to resonate for a generation of use rs (the drug term seems apt) sitting in front of a glowing screen pretending not to be alone. Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post Dispatch :
32 Working from a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin ( The West Wing ), director David Fincher ( The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ) de at once timely and timeless. Richard Corliss, Time : The Social Network's Citizen Kane Citizen Kane The S s kinship to that (in Kane, the daily newspaper), as recollected by his colleagues; his difficulty communicating with women; his estrangement of his best friend, etc. Prai se for the film rarely contains more than a fleeting mention of aesthetics, and its ability to give a drama the pacing of an action movie ople in the era of social media. For Calvin Wilson, the newly and Richard Corliss mentions a cinematic analogy frequently made in many reviews: The Social Network Citizen Kane. Astonishingly, the se film theatrical release. Clearly, no work went into most of these reviews other than watching the movie once. Film reviewing, though, is a specific practice with its own lengthy history, and just because so many more film reviews appear today does not mean they dramatically differ from ones written decades ago. Film reviewers write for those who have not seen a film, and they primarily answer one question: is this film w time and money? The real problem is that film evaluation today only takes the form of the journalistic film review. Evaluation has been out of style in film studies almost since its beginning, and film reviewing took over the task that only film critics can properly perform. Evaluation may be the end of criticism, but more so than ever, we need a
33 method that slows down the evaluative process and reintroduces the hard work of close he evaluative moment discrimination of high from low, of more successful from less, of precious from cheap was by no means unimportant, but it could wait: wait, precisely, on understanding, which risked narrowness and blindness i f there were a premature clos The Social Network already old news. Professional film reviewers lack the time and space to take a pause and do the necessary work, and for those reviewers who write for blogs and websites, the online format favors shorter pieces. Yet without formal analysis, we lack the skills to make the essential discriminations within a give n field of study. The business of criticism has long gone unattended, and there is work to be done. Writing about poetry criticism, Leavis for the future of English poetr y must express itself in a concern for the present function of criticism; for it is the weakness of that function during the last twenty years that has ( Common Pursuit 32). L ikewise, since the 1960s, evaluation has been left to film reviewers, and the question of aesthetic value has been rarely raised in film studies. In addressing the same issue in Victorian studies, Jonathan Loesberg cites this very reason for why a return ends we might have for such a turn, one might note how little work has actually been
34 After all, Cahie rs du Cinma and Movie did extensive work on relatively few directors: Alfred Hitchcock, foremost, and then Howard Hawks, Nicholas Ray, Vincente Minnelli, remains wide open for aesthetic evaluation and reevaluation of the existing canon and its enshrined auteurs. but why we think it so. The goal of evaluation is not to make lists or to solid ify an unchanging canon but simply to stay on guard, to tend to the canon. As Peter Wollen writes, M arginal adjustments are being made all the time [to the canon] and even its central pillars are not necessarily fixed in concrete. It is a work of bricol age. New elements are assembled and outmoded areas are tacitly discarded. It is being patched up and pushed in one direction or another, through a complex process of cultural negotiation among a motley set of cultural gate keepers, [academics] included. These gate keepers both influence opini on and make practical decisions (218). The academic film critic, then, plays a crucial role in canon formation; when we choose to talk about, to write about, and to teach certain films, we keep those works alive and viable for exploration. Thus, it matters which films we value, and we need a method that helps us make such decisions. Greg Taylor comments, Critics are needed, quite simply, to help build and maintain a constituency for film art. Here the Arnoldian ide al of critical disinterestedness seeing encouraging sensitive response and honest, tough appraisal instead of patronizing affection and relaxed standards (157). it is troubling how quickly film reviewers proclaimed The Social Network a masterpiece. But considering reviewers make such claims with scarce regard for aesthetic quality, we should not find these judgments surprising. Taylor remarks,
35 We may be faintly amused when a popular cable network labels Back to the Future, A River Runs Through It, and A Fish Called Wanda includes Stars Wars, E.T., Tootsie, and Forrest Gump (but neither Greed nor Sunrise Perhaps these movies are Great Works, after all. How would we know otherwise? (156). Without formal analy sis, we cannot. It is not the case, of course, that one can prove a on e to translate an initial impression into a sound value judgment. Robin Wood writes, weakness: a value judgment is there precisely to stimulate thought, debate, argu ment, Rio Bravo 8). Though film reviewers evaluate, they only perform their function superficially: their various rating systems are designed does not have to search far to find film reviewers throwing around evaluative terms like much keep the gates of the film canon, but throw them wide open. Yet Godard warns, Opening the door to absolutely everyone is very d angerous. Inflation The important thing is to know how to distinguish between the talented and the untalen ted, and if possible, to define the talent, to analyze it. Th 196). This task confronts the film critic, and within this present work, I take on the films and reputation of Douglas Sirk and perform the necessary evalua tive work that has long gone unattended.
36 Why Douglas Sirk? Though Douglas Sirk first achieved success as a German filmmaker before emigrating to America (where he initially worked both independently and for Columbia Pictures), I will focus exclusively on Universal Pictures (1950 1959). Unlike other celebrated classical Hollywood auteurs, Douglas Sirk entered the film canon during the era of ideological criticism, and as a result, Sirkian criticism has suffe red all the effects that thematic methods bring about. Except for occasional, brief mentions in Cahiers du Cinma, no extensive analysis of Sirk on Sirk in 1972, 1971 Sirk issue, and the the major axioms of the auteur theory concerning the ability of gifted directors to create films of substa nce within conventional Hollywood genres, seemed dedicated to with the relation between film and ideology and praised films that seemed reactionary, but actually of fered a beneath the ideological critics. In the introduction, Halliday writes, On the surface, Heaven mawkish, mindless, and reactionary. Yet just beneath the surface it is a tough attack on the moralism of petit bourgeois America. Within the sto ry, and the genre (and the cast), Sirk has constructed a film which historicizes the lost American ideal of Thoreau and situates the barren ideology of bourgeois America in class terms (10).
37 All That Heaven Allows summarizes not on ly the basic approach to Sirk, but the symptomatic approach to film study. The surface of the film is surface/beneath the surface split so crucial to ideological cr iticism recalls Susan (6). The project of ideological criticism is not in itself a flawed method; problems arise, though, from certain excesses. First, it became the only When critics first discovered Sirk, this problem did not yet exist. Klinger writes, Cahiers's period developed full blown organic analyses of the aesthetic and ideological significance of style, but was characterized by a certain pluralism as critics rushed to authorize Sirk (32). But once Halliday published his interview, and Sirk became en throned as a subversive interview proved remarkably influential, and it is striking to realize that no account of Sirk has really differed from the one Halliday offered f orty years ago. Academics critics rarely settle for taking an artist at his or her word but that is precisely what happened. defined how Sirk should be approached, criticism b egan to demonstrate an increasing early Sirk critics did frequently take an aesthetic approach to his films, those apolitical writings were soon overshadowed by ideolo gical criticism (Klinger 12). Second, ideological criticism not only limited how one might legitimately study which films scholars studied. Klinger remarks,
38 T here was a thinning of the ranks in films considered important for analysis. Critics in the main line of film criticism no longer acted as if they had to prove Sirk's authorship by showing the consistency of his vision over his entire career. Their analyses focused instead on melodrama's transgressive relation to ideolo gy, and Sirk's films insofar as they provided a particularly cogent instance of the transgressive potential of the genre (20). that critics abandoned looking at his entir e career for only a handful of films. Ideological critics studied only the films that best fit their theoretical paradigm and that would work as evidence for their ideas: Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (19 56), The Tarnished Angels (1958), and Imitation of Life (1959). Sirk made twenty nine American films, twenty one of those at Universal directed, among other genres, war films, a Western, a historical epic, several domestic comedies, and a series of small town musicals all films of wildly varying quality. Ideological criticism produced a reductive view of the films it valued and an inflated view lms like All That Heaven Allows what happens when we factor in Mystery Submarine (1950) or The Lady Pays Off (1951)? Perhaps no other director has been discussed in terms o f style more than Douglas Sirk, by means of an anal Ideological criticism does indeed discuss form, but only after rerouting that interest
39 through ideas; Si in other words, when it performs the task that the ideological critic considers politically important (Klinger 14). While earlier, apolitical ae onization politics project is that progressive readings that is, specific appropriations of works for specific political purposes were often imperceptibly transformed into political effects criticism should come as no surprise: Sirkian critics do not make new discoveries, but merely discover in the same films the expected and the already known. In my work, I seek to unsettle the critical stagnation by analyzing films both inside and outside the traditional Sirk canon. In Chapter 2, I analy ze an iconic sequence from All That Heaven Allows the gift within the family in a demonstrate the paucity of this reading (and it is, for the most part, the only reading of this scene) and take notice of how much has been misse d in this famous sequence. In Chapter 3, I investigate a small, ordinary moment in a film of famous big moments: Imitation of Life.
40 ms from its balance of small and big moments not merely from the excessiveness of its obvious ones. Smaller bigger ones. The pressured, skill when we analyze moments so ordinary that they do n ot appear obviously significant. Whereas Chapters 2 and 3 are largely descriptive and analytical, Chapter 4 provides an example of what evaluation through formal analysis looks like. I analyze and evaluate related films outside the established Sirk canon, town tetralogy: Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952), Meet Me at the Fair (1953), Take Me to Town (1953), and All I Desire (1953). I examine how Sirk approached specific filmmaking choices in these films camera movement, framing, and editing and how he grew in skill as a filmmaker over the course of these four films. No matter the subject at hand a familiar scene exhausted by interpretation, an ordinary scene without obvious significance, or an attempt to more accurately assess skill check my close readings and evaluations against the facts of a given film. Teaching I spend a chapter on teaching, but here I want to briefly describe the influence teaching an introdu ctory film analysis class has made on this work. In the class, I teach formal analysis through the close readings of films, and my class differs from other film analysis classes in three ways:
41 First, I address film theory sparingly. For beginning film s tudents, film theory inhibits their ability to do close readings. The first two times I taught film analysis, I devoted roughly half the course to introductory theoretical readings. But no matter how simply I would break down theoretical ideas, students responded as if they were merely being given information. (Keep in mind, of course, that most students are non majors). Theoretical interpretations tend to close off a film to treat its meaning as settled and students often see little reason to argue wit h the conclusions. Formal analysis, on the other hand, allows students to experience the processes of discovery and settled in advance, and one instead probes a film to see how much it reveals and to notice the surprising complexity or intricacy of its design. This method enables students to figure out precisely why a scene or a film really matters to them, and to have the ability to test their own reading against the f Second, I treat film analysis as a matter of attention not terminology. Most introductory film classes and textbooks approach film analysis as a class to teach the various vocabulary terms for mise en scne, editing, and sound. But I treat film analysis as an issue of attention What we analyze is on the screen before us, but we must discipline ourselves to see what is in plain view. Teaching formal analysis, As a time based medium, the cinema passes before us too swiftly at a pace easy for spectators to comprehend but too quickly to allow pause for analysis. As a result, most people comprehend movies and know which ones they like, but have little to no abi lity to articulate just how a movie works to produce an effect upon them. Thus, as a class, we
42 es 12). If I can teach my students the value of this heightened awareness to cinematic signification and also cultivate their ability to articulate what they see into evocative, prose descriptions, I consider myself successful; and I also hope that my stu dents will possess a rare, useful skill not only for future cinematic encounters, but for a more poetic appreciation of life. Finally, I teach students how to read with the grain not against it. Many they already identify too much that they lack the ability to question and to achieve critical distance to read against the films operate with a speed and a smoothness tha t makes them not only immediately with For example, students often find it difficult to simply describe what they see onscreen. Reading films against the grain treats meaning as an occult, beneath the surface thing to uncover, and it tends to take two forms: demystification and progressivism. David Bordwell describes these approaches: O covert propaganda, sugar coated pills. Whatever explicit meanings can be ascribed to the work, the demystifying critic constructs reactionary implicit ones that undercut them. A secon d, contrary approach posits progressive implicit meanings lying behind whatever reactionary referential or explicit meanings the film may present (88). But if film form is the surface, even unconscious, meanings, that method ignores film form. Furthermore, Bordwell argues (and I would agree) that such interpretations have grown stale and make for the
43 no more diagnoses of the subversive moments in a slasher movie, or celebrations of a ideolo gically innocuous, but any judgment ideological or aesthetic should be In addressing a similar issue have not been a lot of arguments about why other than for the purposes of demystification or to learn what the culture itself takes seriously Moby Dick or Heart of Darkness deserves and inspires attention and rereading (13). Students often ask similar questions, and I am not sure I would have ever considered the question of value so seriously had it not been for my interactions with students. A student who never participates in class discussion will still of the film watching experience, so I start with the very value judgments students make and conceive of the class in those terms: to slow down those judgments and to get students to pause and consider film form. In class, we repeatedly ask questions such as the following ones: What makes this film worthy of study? Why does this scene work and that one does not? What d ifference does it makes if x (some element of the mise en specifically mean? Why value this moment/scene/film over that one? Will (or should) this film still matter in fifty year s? We critics, teachers, and students implicitly ask
44 such questions anytime we watch, think, or write about a film, so why not bring these questions out into the open? They sound simple, but the path to answering them requires work.
45 CHAPTER 2 THE I NSPIRED AND THE PARN ASSIAN IN ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLO WS (1955) aesthetic or ideological criticism. Early Sirk critics (pre 1971) often emphasized aesthetic beauty as an end in its elf; they recognized Sirk had taste and style, but they did little to establish the significance and implications of these claims. As Barbara Klinger writes in Melodrama and Meaning, critics, such as those at Cahiers du Cinma personal visions A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958), one of the earliest pieces of Sirk criticism, makes no mention of the Sirkian keywords and phrases that later critic ism so excessively deploys with his work: ideology, irony, subversion, The important thing, as Douglas Sirk demonstrates, is to believe in what one is doing in order to make it beli evable. In this respect, A Time to Love and a Time to Die goes one better than Tarnished Angels, Written on the Wind or Captain Lightfoot. They are not great films, but no matter: they are beautiful. But why are they? In the first place, as we have seen, because the scenario is good. Next, because the actors are far from bad. And finally, because the direction is ditto (Godard 138). roblems later critics will have with earlier ble because he believes in them. And his movies
46 are good because the story, actors, and direction are good. And for some, undefined reason, A Time to Love is better. A decade later, Andrew Sarris similarly evaluates nalization, and his films require no elaborate continues the common auteurist argument that Jacques Rivette made about Howard Monkey Business you only have to watch Monkey Business understands from these examples why critics came to view evaluative criticism as suspect a method for convincing the already convinced; by making rash judgments based on undefined notions of style, taste, and beauty with little or no formal analysis to support such claims, evaluative criticism could not survive the increasingly objective, scientific, and ideological criticism of the 1970s. evident. Sirk does require a rationalization, and his films do require an elaborate defense. We reading and formal analysis that Godard, Sarris, and other auteurist critics evade. In the present work I make an effort to rescue evaluative cr iticism from its association with film reviewing, rampant impressionism, and hasty judgments. But one would make a mistake to assume that Sirk criticism improved in the post auteurist, ideological era. Though ideological criticism would give a second li introduction), the resulting criticism soon grew stale and repetitious. Once critics settled
47 on has scarcely changed. In his 1971 introduction to Sirk on Sirk, All That Heaven Allows, for exampl e, is typical and full of Heaven Yet just beneath the surface it is a tough attack on the moralism of petit bourgeois k revival event of 1971 Sirk issue Paul Willemen likewise uses a surface/depth metaphor; the second, beneath the 2). Decades later, these same ideas remain commonplace and have filtered down from Screen theory to the back of the All That Heaven Allows repressed wealthy widow and Rock Hudson is the hunky Thoreau following gardener who love sp town America. Onc e critics defined Sirk and matched his cinematic signifiers with particular signifieds,
48 how a viewer should interpret the film as both beautiful and subversive has already All That Heaven Allows repressive not differ in tone from the self evident style and beauty Sarris and Godard claimed years before. Forty years after the Halliday interview, Sirk issue, and the Edinburgh ttle about the films of Douglas Sirk. The more critics precisely defined the Sirkian system by cataloguing formal and thematic repetitions, the less important new discoveries became. This chapter attempts to destabilize and, thus, reinvigorate the critic al discussion of All That Heaven Allows representative films. If All That Heaven Allows has entered the film canon, remaining mere ly because it exemplifies the critical theories scholars have applied to it. I believe we can better evaluate the film and its achievement without referring to irony, subversion, bourgeois ideology, etc., but instead through applying an evaluative princip le. ussion
49 of All That Heaven Allows. I merely seek a useful method and a new way of thinking over the past forty years. His popular melodramas Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels, and Imitation of Life have become victims of a monotonous, limiting criticism. When one scholar can describe asing describes a film or a product with a registered trademark a Sirkian brand (Harvey 54). Sirk criticism only continues this trend by finding the same themes and stylistic devices else Can they still surprise us and do something other than the expected and the already known? I proverbs, of a principle will matter because of the instances which the principles would witho ut concrete instances of that principle at work. Principles, though, are not All That Heaven Allows in new ways and to begin a discussion not achievable through current cri expla its appropriateness for a study of Douglas Sirk.
50 nly be spoken by poets, but is not in the Great men, poets I mean, have each their own dialect as it were of Parnassian, formed generally as they go on writing, and at least, -this is the point to be ma rked, -they can see things in this Parnassian way and describe them in this Parnassian tongue, without further effort of inspiration. manner, of his mannerism if you like. But I mus t not go further without giving you instances of Parnassian (130). oneself writing it if one were the poet. Do not say that if you were Shakespeare you can imagine yourself writing Hamlet, because that is just what I think you can not that which we expect from Sirk and which Sirk and other fi lmmakers can repeat and imitate. In film, we could define the Parnassian as follows: if one were a particular director (Sirk, Hitchcock, Bergman), one could imagine filming a scene or composing a shot in just this way estab lished style. And we could define the inspired in the following terms: even if one were the director, one could not imagine doing that We can mark as Parnassian in Sirk all the images and scenes about which we already know what to say; the signifiers h ave been matched with signifieds, either through the history of Sirk criticism or by Sirk himself through interviews. One can easily spot and teach the Parnassian, and it occurs when one can say it is just like Sirk to film a shot or scene in this way. I n film, the move from the Parnassian to the inspired is a move from the second from a recognizable personal style to
51 technique, and both auteurist and ideological criticism have established and defined m of connoisseurship define that ineffable, imprecise characteristic which separates a great from an average director. Kael correctly identifies and criticizes the overly impressionistic definition Sarris offers of a great director, but in her own criticism, she did not offer any solution to a true problem in film studies: how do we evaluate films an d distinguish not merely the good from the bad, but the good from the great. Sarris was clearly on to something with his circles that one can possess a recognizable, personal style (the second circle), yet still not be an auteur (the third circle). Or i we could say that a consistent director can easily and regularly produce Parnassian work (a film typical of a particular director), but a truly inspired work proves more difficult to achieve. I should pause, though, and remark that I do not have auteurist aims. Auteurists concern themselves with assessing careers, but I am concerned with moments, scenes, and films. Though I will study All That Heaven Allows I do not intend to draw general conclusions about Sirk, but ins contribution to it. I will not raid the film for Sirkian elements his Parnassian and foreclose the possibility that the film may have more to offer than the Sirkian system ents on the auteur theory and criticism mirror my own: films. Auteur theory in its more primitive and extreme manifestations has
52 marked a phase through which it was necessary f or film criticism to pass. Now that the notion of directorial authorship has become a commonplace, it should be possible to move away from the position that sees the identification of authorial fingerprints as the ultimate aim, to a position that regards probably the most, but certainly not the only, important one among the complex of influences that combine to determine the character and quality of a particular film ( Personal Views 231). As ideas an d themes grew more important than the films themselves, the pressure to define Sirk and the Sirkian continually avoided detailed discussions. That Sirk repeatedly uses certain stylistic devices has been much remarked upon, but the aesthetic value of these filmmaking choices has received very little attention. A close reading based on principles will avoid the impressionistic pitfalls that skill through concrete, materia l proof the filmmaking choices a director makes. I will the recognizable, repeatable, and often imitated 1970s. t he ideology and to be completely under its sway, but which turn out to be so only in an directly cites Comolli and Narboni, and all three believe a critic should primarily work t o
53 syntax proves deceptive, indicating the question how art should relate to reality arises from the films themselves. Clearly, though, Willemen brings this question to the films and imposes it on works that have no explicit ideological concerns. By posing this fy outside his that routinely manufactured reliable products. As do not argue that Willemen is wrong, that Sirk does not consistently compose shots in a views cinematic meaning in a faulty way. H is method, as I will demonstrate, makes watching a film like filling out a checklist Irony? Check. Mirrors? Check. Split characters? Check until one eliminates all surprise. When elaborating his ideas, Willemen even uses lists in composing these two ess ays. The Sirkian system concerns itself with recurring signifiers and stylistic devices that Sirk uses, but more so with a Parnassian includes precisely those techniques th at an artist commonly relies upon and repeats; thus, the truly inspired in Sirk must be something beyond the confines of the about All That Heaven Allows that something exceeding the expected and the already film transcends the system that confines it, I must define the Sirkian system itself. As I discuss various devices within the Si rkian system, I will explain how Willemen ascribes
54 many techniques to Sirk that other filmmakers commonly practiced in other contemporary productions. Willemen performs the usual critical move in enumerating the restrictions placed upon Sirk (by Universa l, by genre) and how Sirk works within these restrictions, but in no way from run of the narrative, he su cceeded in introducing in a quite unique manner, a distance between Willemen precisely defines the Sirkian System: an anti illusionist mode of representation. In oth er words, Sirk adopts a style that makes the spectator aware he or she is watching a film and a performance (269). the intensification of generic rules/restrictions (270) stage like settings and techniques (long shots, e.g.) (270) choreography as expression of character (270) and t principle dichotomy: surface reality versus secondary reality (271) ironic use of parody and clich (271, 276) split characters (271)
55 an emotional level), yet the scale remains distant medium and l ong shots (thus distancing the audience at the same time) (276). quickly realizes how generic the points seem and how little the information tells us about of brief, parenthetical expressions, Willemen includes practically own career) to corroborate these claims. Note, however, that although Willemen bases his conclu sions on formal elements (framing, props, camera movement), his conclusions derive only from the mention of those elements not their use. W.V. Quine made a crucial distinction between use and mention that proves important for deciding what information is r elevant for a formal analysis. Simply because a text mentions some detail does not necessarily mean that detail has a use within the text; context, patterns, repetition, and function matter in making that determination. But today, Marjorie Levinson write s, has vanished, giving rise to a situation w [t]he fac t that some item is men tioned in a text is suffici archivechurning goin (213). We have forgotte n, in short, that the erial in the first pl ace by virtue of its relation ship to an act of framing, an act of A detail not motivated by the work and without significant functi on counts as a mention (Levinson 565). And scholars more concerned with mentions generally care about some aspect of culture rather than the text at hand (Levinson 566). This description fits Willemen, Halliday, and most Sirkian critics, who consider Sir to history (1950s America) or to theoretical ideas (distanciation, self reflexivity, etc). For
56 Willemen, the mere presence of a mirror makes a film self reflexive, while the actual function of such formal elements within the film itself does not receive mention; he makes such conclusions without any formal analysis. scrutinize, for example, three related characteristics: s tage like settings and techniqu es an anti illu sionist mode of representation, and distance between the audience and the depicted actio n. For Willemen, stage illusionism. The stage like settings make the spectator aware of the film as a per formance and make the spectator conscious that she does not view reality unhampered. One can attack this claim on two fronts. First, it perpetuates the myth of the nave spectator found so often not only in Sirk criticism, but in film criticism in genera pol itically S film and another that transcends its surface message to comprehend its buried, critical 5). But second, and more specifically, most major Un iversal/Ross Hunter productions of the late 1950s/early 1960s feature stage like settings usually a scene in a large mansion, always with a very open floor plan and often with a massive staircase and foyer. Though we see such settings in various Sirk films ( All I Desire,
57 Written on the Wind, Imitation of Life, etc.), we can find similar settings in Ross Hunter productions not directed by Douglas Sirk ( Portrait in Black, Midnight Lace, Flower Drum Song, Madame X ). Each setting has local significance within the specific film, as a setting upon which (sometimes major) action takes place (death, for example, in Written on the Wind and Madame X ). But the meaning of such details will result from their function within the respective films, and to draw general co nclusions (stage like settings = an attack on illusionism) overlooks this specificity. Even a B film like Tammy and the Bachelor contains surprisingly self reflexive moments; the family that Tammy visits dresses up for profit heri tage festival in which the house transforms into a theater and the entire family performs. Stage like settings are not unique to Sirk, but Alexander Golitzen and Russell Gausman i n particular. Film after film contains similar sets because the same producer and set designer collaborated on most of the productions se of symbols as emotional stimuli identify a property of cinema in general association of Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) with both Christmas trees and deer in All That Heaven Allows. simply refer to the way Hollywood makes movies? From the puppies in The Birth of a Nation to the automobile in The Magnificent Ambersons, symbols flood cinema history, and the (potentially) symbolic use of objects seems endemic t o cinematic signification.
58 baroque color schemes denotes probably the Take Me to Town (1953), Sirk worked most frequently with Russell Metty as ci expressionistic u se of color in non Sirk films, especially Portrait in Black (left) Flower Drum Song (right) and Madame X (bottom). overcomplicates the study of Sirk. The above examples present a red uctio ad absurdum of the oversimplified argument films. If the Sirkian system represents nothing more than a checklist of techniques, this status, and it Yet if we assume Willemen would acknowledge that other filmmakers rely on similar devices, then he would most likely add that Sirk does a better, more effective job at em ploying them. And I would agree with this point; baroque color schemes, for example, are not unique to Sirk, but Sirk gives this technique a significant organization Sir themselves, but with something else a possibly indefinable skill or quality beyond color schemes, mirrors, distanciation, et c. do not matter as much as the way Sirk puts them to work, the
59 argument, one must find it lacking, and the very fact that the techniques he mentions can be regularly imitated and repeated by others and by Sirk himself marks them as Parnassian. Some, perhaps, could take my argument to imply that Willemen defines Sirk in one way, and I simpl y want to replace his definition with a more accurate one. But I have entirely different intentions. To do a close reading of All That Heaven Allows only to arrive at general conclusions about Sirk a better definition of him would be to make the same mis take previous Sirk critics (including Willemen and the auteurists) have made. Any conclusions I reach will be relative to the film at hand and its details. So if we define the Parnas sian in Sirk as any element that could be categorized nothing more than what Willemen indicates, they would seem unable to continually surprise us beyond the fact that they fit well within established critical categories. To attempt an answer to this question, I turn to All That Heaven Allows. All That Heaven Allows All That Heaven Allows Sirk made after the release and immense success of Magnificent Obsession (1954) between these two Sign of the Pagan (1954) and Captain Lightfoot (1955) but Sirk had completed both b efore release.) Also, Magnificent Obsession officially made Rock Hudson a star, which guaranteed larger budgets and
60 better stories for the movies Sirk would make with him. And, as I will explain, All That Christmas sequence provides a more exact dividing line between one films before this eight minute sequence can match it. And with only two possible exceptions Battle Hymn (1957) and Interlude (1957) (eight films) far outweighs his early career. I have proposed that something exceeding the expected and the already known must account for success, but I should slightly amend and personalize this statement: I am drawn to one particular sequence sequence and emotionally affected by it, but nothing Sirk criticism has offered thus far has helped me understand my response. I can compare my experience to how G odard really know what 232). Likewise, my close reading here will work to give tuition to my intuition about this sequence. After all, if we study the most representative earn something about his talent. Halliday writes that All That Heaven Allows is not a major Sirk film (I production to repeat the success of Magnificent Obsession, these circumstances gave Sirk much more freedom: All That Heaven Allows has really no story worth talking about unlike Magnificent Obsession, which has a very strong and inflexible story, and an u navoidable structure.
61 But it is precisely this flabbiness in Heaven (the result of its purely opportunistic origins) struck equilibrium between studio success for the studio, a certified star (Rock Hudson), and more creative control for Sirk. All That Heaven Allows marks the first film to benefit from this convergence. I purposely stay away from discussing Parnassian elements the kind of moments typi cal of Sirkian melodramas for which most critics go hunting. I will not discuss lavish color, self reflexive mirrors, irony, beauty, distanciation or any other element of the Sirkian system. I will examine the filmic qualities one cannot precisely calcula this way, moving the camera just so qualities one cannot easily classify and assimilate into a system. I will explore how Sirk handles the filmmaking basics: the camera, the performers, and the editing. It is on this level that I hope to show that Sirk exerts a great level of influence, control, and inspiration. When I discussed Sarris above, I mentioned that no one would disagree technique. In on e sense, this seems so natural to move past mere technique to discussing Sirk as a stylist or an auteur, we have no criticism that studies Sirk on this elementary, y et crucial, level. In All That Heaven Allows Cary Scott (Jane Wyman), a widow and mother of two grown children, pursues a relationship with her young gardener, Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson). But beyond the age difference, the lifestyle difference between Cary and Ron disturbs both her children and the townspeople. One character describes Ron as a
62 read Walden because he already lives it. The relationship, of course, bec omes the talk of the small New England community in which she lives, and the combination of country Kirby. Her children, Ned (William Reynolds) and Kay (Gloria Talbot t), beg her to do so for the sake of the family, but as soon as they get their way, it becomes clear they have Christmas sequence, and it marks a turning point for both create an impact that far outweighs the facile symbolism of deer, nature, Christmas trees, and all other elements of the Sirkian system we find in the film. These eight placement strategically elevates the entire film. Without this sequence, the film would still be good with performances, cinematography, and a score far above average. And as it deals with usual Sirkian themes and situations, one could label it Parnassian. But with this sequence, the movie becomes something more. The sequence begins as Cary goes to meet her children at the train station as they arrive home for Christmas break, and it comprises four scenes: the train station, the Christmas tree lot, the carolers, and Christmas morning. I will describe each in detail and demonstrate how this sequence rises above the Parnassian and exists as an in spired piece of filmmaking. Examining similarities between All That Heaven Allows, another Sirk film, (1955), and a non Sirk film, Madame X (1966), will provide comparisons for my argument.
63 Scene One: At the Train Station In an e xtreme long shot, the camera pans right to follow Cary as she walks toward the train to meet Ned and Kay. A friend, there to meet her husband, accompanies Cary, and the first cut occurs when her friend spots her spouse stepping off the train. The camera frames Cary in a medium shot, but we cannot see her face. As her friend walks away, the camera pans slightly to the right, and we see Cary, now in profile, as she greets the town doctor. Thus, as soon as the two shot of Cary and her friend ends, Sirk imm ediately frames her in a two shot again with the doctor; Cary has not yet solely occupied the frame. She complains to the doctor about persistent headaches (which he will later diagnose as the result of poor romantic decisions). The conversation soon end s and the doctor walks away, and both the camera and Cary remain in place. Now alone, she glances around as the train whistle blows, and she suspects that her children might not have arrived. The train begins to move, Cary walks left out of the frame, a nd the second cut occurs as we see a messenger bringing Cary a telegram. The camera pans with the messenger as he moves right towards Cary, and she now enters the frame. After relaying the contents of the message and handing her the telegram, the messen ger walks away, leaving Cary alone as she holds the telegram. The camera pans left as Cary slowly walks away from the train station (and offscreen), crumples the telegram, and throws it on the ground. Though the shot scale never comes closer to Cary th an a medium shot and we are scarcely granted more than a profile view, Sirk uses the expressiveness of Jane despite the distance he keeps from her. Through king and her
64 selfishness for the first time. A B C D Figure 2 This scene marks the moment Cary becomes aware of her loneliness, and the were selfish and petty, but not to this extent. We can doubt whether or not Cary and Ron will end up together, but we never assum leaving her completely alone. When she ends her relationship with Ron, she does so for her family, and, like Cary, we assume this decision will restore peace in the Scott home. This moment is the first of the Christma in the television), this shot ends the scene; but unlike the other two, Sirk does not use the fluid tracking into close ups tha significance. Here, the camera simply presents the scene in a way that will best enable
65 lesser director handling this moment m ore crudely, cutting in to close ups or at least encouraging Jane Wyman to act more responsively rather than what Sirk has her do here: merely respond. In other words, either the camera and editing would do most of this information in both a medium close up and in a single take, Sirk achieves an ideal balance between the camera and the performer; these stylistic choices arise organically from the drama rather than feeling imposed. Quite astoundingly, an emotional punch results from what seems like so little effort from either Sirk or Wyman. As the stills show, Jane Wyman responds by slightly varying her facial expressions: a slight furrowing of her brows and almost imperc eptible movements of her face and eyes. But because the narrative itself puts pressure on this moment, excessive stylistic expenditure seems inappropriate. Sirk will make the opposite decision shortly later in cenes will demand the increased emphasis. with the next one. Scene Two: The Christmas Tree Lot Cary leaves the train station and heads to a Christmas tree lot. Because the sc ene begins with Cary walking in the same direction as the last shot ended and wearing the same jacket and boots, we infer that Cary has gone directly from the train station to the lot. But Cary wears a different colored scarf, which, if not a continuity e and Cary visits on a night when Ron is assisting him. She sees Ron for the first time since their breakup, and we notice tenderness and longing between them. The y
66 a female companion, grows angry, and leaves with her silver tipped spruce the very b eginning. Of the four scenes in this sequence, this one feels the most Parnassian and, not coincidentally, it is the only one to feature Rock Hudson. Each scene about Cary and realization succeeds; each scene about romance falls flat. In fa ct, their does not find it surprising that a movie romance seems typical even here, when mixed her scenes alone and with her children seem alive and convey a deep loneliness rarely seen in classic Hollywood cinema. Wyman shows more genuine emotion during the previous scene than she ever does with Hudson. Compare her non verbal reaction (in the sti lls above) during the previous scene with the exaggerated smile during this one when, scene in a Christmas tree lot, the film attempts to naturalize the silver tipped spruce reference, but its overdone quality seems more like an attempt at a trite emotional At both the tr ain station and the tree lot, Sirk manipulates shot scale and camera focus for precise, expressive effects. At the train station, we never see Cary closer than a medium shot. In that scene, Sirk also uses deep focus, leaving the spectator free to examine background and foreground. Deep focus seems like a natural choice, as both
67 Cary and the audience expect the children to enter the frame (from somewhere) at any discover th e children have not arrived and Sirk continues to use deep focus, the frame. At the tree lot, however, Sirk focuses and restricts our view of the action. Most of the scene involves a conversation between Cary and Ron with Cary framed in a medium close up and shallow focus. Here, Sirk concentrates our attention not only on the central action (the conversation) but also on whoever currently speaks. For example, when Cary sp eaks, only she is in focus. Because the setting itself here could offer diverse visual pleasures, one regrets the restricted view of the Christmas tree lot least intere corroborate this view. setback of starring Rock Hudson. Paradoxically, Universal and Sirk manufactured Hud successful about All That Heaven Allows stems from Jane Wyman and her filmed performance. Scene Three: The Christmas Carolers The last two scenes both end with an iconic image: Cary at the frosted pane ach final shot creates a complex,
68 emotional punctuation, carefully placed and orchestrated, so I will spend more time on these two scenes. The caroling scene contains six shots: Figure 2 2. Shot One (14 seconds) In an extreme long shot, we see Cary dec orating the Christmas tree she purchased and offscreen. Their caroling becomes audible just as Cary steps on the ladder. As she climbs a ladder to hang garland, Cary n otices the sound, begins to step down, and (offscreen) walks to a window to see the carolers. As she begins her climb downward, the camera cuts to a second shot: Figure 2 3. Shot Two (3.5 seconds) of view (although without the windowpanes), yet there is no point of view figure to anchor this shot to her viewpoint.
69 walking and the sleigh moving towards offscreen left. The shot lasts for only a few seconds, and its purpose is questionable. Though we assume the shot will give a visual to the sounds we have just heard, this shot presents nothing clearly. Not until the third shot do we get a much clearer picture of what Cary hears. Initially, then, the mystery grows more mysterious, with a dark figure in the foreground, a sleigh carrying passengers we cannot see, and a diegetic sound with no clear onscreen source. Figure 2 4. Shot Three (7.5 seconds) In a long shot, we n ow clearly see the carolers. The sleigh moves from screen right to screen left and closer to the camera, which begins to track along with the sleigh around Figure 2 5. Shot Four (3.5 seconds)
70 No movement occurs within the shot neither characters nor camera other than the falling snowflakes. This shot anchors the point of view figure completed in shots five and six. Figure 2 6. Shot Five (7.5 seconds) Then, the film of in the opposite direction of the sleigh. The sleigh moves from right to left, but her attention begins with the child riding the horse (left) and moves right (camera panning and slightly tilting downwards) to the children in the sleigh. The cut to the emotional Figure 2 7. Shot Six (17 seconds) Though Cary weeps, the falling snow at first distracts us from the moisture flowing down her cheeks. When the camera tracks forward, the tears now glisten and become more
71 awareness, this shot shows us that it was more than fleeting. The tears, in fact, look almost like scars, with her emotional state seared into her skin. The camera tracks until it frames Cary in a medium close up. for exteriors, with the accompanying connotations of warm and cold. But here, binaries like inside/outside, red/blue, and the appearance of warmth, the empty house has become, for Cary, a cold, lonely place. t, a more complex operation occurs here, and we should analyze this shot as part of a pattern before settling on an interpretation. Throughout the film, Sirk develops a pattern using images of Cary standing at a window. Before her romantic entanglement wi th Ron, we see Cary at an unfrosted window. But after she and Ron begin their troubled relationship, Cary now stands at frosted windows, which ymbols Christmas trees, deer, the television set the full meaning does not become apparent without repeated viewings. When we witness Cary crying on Christmas Eve, we do not yet realize we will never again see Cary looking through a frosted window. The n ext time she stands at a window, we will see snow outside, but the window will be clear; she will have decided to go back and to stay with Ron, and the window now reflects the clarity of her vision. Though Christmas Eve finds Cary at her loneliest, we soo n discover it is also the turning point in a pattern. If we
72 interpret this shot within this pattern, Cary does not so much cry as she thaws and melts a necessary, cathartic stage before she comes fully alive as a character and decides to return to Ron. Y et the film makes such an interpretation available only retrospectively. Without repeated viewings and close, formal analysis, one understands how the aforementioned ironic interpretation, though overly simplistic, seems plausible. Though the shot of Cary at the window has historically received the most attention, I have learned as much from the second shot as I have from anything else Sirk composed and directed. I initially found myself puzzled by this shot and its purpose; it seemed unnecessary and out of place. The closer I looked, the more was unlocked, and my discoveries led me to conclusions I never could have reached without careful analysis. In shot two (Figure 2 8A), the sleigh moves forward on the left side of the frame. On the right side, we see a hedge and, behind that hedge, a couple waving a man in a grey coat, carrying a present and wearing a hat, and a woman in a brown coat. They stand just past the hedge and turn to the left and wave as the sleigh goes by. In shots three (Figure 2 8B) and five (Figure 2 8C), the same couple appears in the same position and still waving. Thus, what seems to be a progression (a sleigh moving forward while Cary watches) is actually a subtle use of overlapping editing; we witness the same event, three tim es, from slightly different camera setups. But while shots three and five are essentially the same shot with a slightly different scale and camera movement, shot two is considerably different: it is shot from the completely reverse angle. Notice that in shot two, we see the hedge on the right with the couple behind it. In shots three and five, we now see the hedge on the left and the couple in front of it.
73 A B C Figure 2 8 Continuity Error. A) Shot two, B) shot three, C) shot five Thus, Sirk br eaks the 180 degree rule, but we do not notice because the sleigh always moves forward, from right to left, on the left side of the frame though it literally reverses direction from shot two to shot three. But even the sleigh movement is not as continuous as it appears. In each shot, the sleigh moves past the same waving couple; but just as the couple repeats their wave in each shot, so the sleigh simply repeats its movement. After shot two, each new shot of the sleigh (shots three and five) shows the
74 sl eigh starting back in its original position. Thus, the sleigh never actually moves forward, and the movement truly is an illusion. The images we view in shots two, three, and five are essentially the equivalent of a stuck, looping record. So what does give the continuity here, since the film breaks basic continuity style rules? Music. We perceive movement because objects in the frame move, the camera element here. We p erceive the scene as moving forward because the lyrics carry us forward. The song, thus, overlays the images and gives them a continuity they do not score whose melod We see and hear melodrama boi led down to its essentials and naturalized within the diegesis. Narratively, shot two has a questionable purpose, but rhythmically, it works. Shot two (lasting 3.5 seconds) exist s to rhyme with shot four (3.5 seconds) and also to set up a rhythmic relation between shots three (7.5 seconds) and five (7.5 seconds). The contents of the images, though important, do not matter nearly as much here as the precise timing and pacing. Aft er the first shot (14 seconds), the middle four shots have
75 a pure, rhythmic alternation, and the scene concludes with shot six held for a slightly longer seventeen seconds like the final note of a musical composition. Even though Universal allowed Sirk to cut his pictures, surely, one must argue, no Hollywood director working at Universal Pictures in the 1950s would have taken such a and rhyming movements. The other thr ee scenes I discuss, for example, lack the rigid structure of these six shots. If Sirk intentionally aimed for precision, he would not have included shot two; rather, he intuitively established the rhythm here. Even if intentions do not matter, we still were intentional, it would weaken my argument for this entire sequence as an inspired as opposed to a Parnassian piece of filmmaking, for Sirk (and others) could easily repeat it. At least in this sequence, Sirk works from what Robin Wood would call a Hawks technique, he also claims to have worked by feeling and intuition (Stern, Harvey 57). So whether Sirk int entionally timed the six shots from All That Heaven Allows or the variable, consciously or not, who makes this shot (and scene) alive. Scene Four: Christmas Morning On Christmas morning, Ned and Kay arrive home and burst through the front door. In d some small talk before mentioning presents. But, like Ned, she looks at the presents set
76 but as Cary she will never have that with these children). While Ned runs upst occurs and we see Kay removing her glove and revealing an engagement ring. The camera remains on Kay as Cary enters the frame, stunned. Cary questions whether Kay is too young, but Kay quickly reminds her she was seventeen when she married. With her left hand, Cary slowly clasps the left side of her face (turned away from the camera) and heads to the couch to sit down, the camera panning with her as she reframes Cary on the couch and Kay kneeling beside. A shot/reverse shot pattern then begins between Cary and Kay. Kay reveals that she realized she truly loved her fianc, Freddy, the day she and Freddy fought abo relationship was ruining her life. When Cary subtly reminds her of her actions, Kay a blank face. In fact, though she converses w ith Kay, she rarely makes any eye contact with her and instead stares directly ahead.
77 But another cut soon occurs as Ned reenters the scene. He announces they should all enjoy Christmas because it is the last they will spend together in this particular h ouse. Ned has received a scholarship to go to Paris and will have a job offer in Iran; Kay will marry. And the house, too big for one person, must be sold. Selling the b delivers her lines and responds to these several sudden revelations from Ned, her voice evinces disbelief not just that this is happening, but that it hardly seems possib le that Ned and Kay cannot understand their callousness. The doorbell rings, and Ned goes to answer it, as the camera cuts back to Cary and Kay. wrinkled, and then she rests her face in her hands, tilts her head directly towards the next to her on the couch and apologizes. Cary remains unmoved by this act, yet Kay her head and st and the film cuts to Ned and the television salesman wheeling in a television set. The into the blank television screen, and Cary sees her reflection as the salesman remarks, right there
78 Figure 2 lection This scene recalls the relationship between Clifford Groves (Fred MacMurray) with his children in which Sirk made in the same year (1955) with William Reynolds again co starring as a selfish, ungrateful son (now named Vinn ie). In that film, however, the parent child relationship is eventually restored or at least the ending suggests this restoration. In both Barbara ther) their despicable behavior and attitude towards Cliff. Eventually, the children even All That Heaven Allows will end with Cary In fact, after Ned presents Cary with the television set on Christm as morning, we never see the children again for the remainder of the film (its final 15 minutes). Always Tomorrow however, ends on a shot of the three children as they gaze upon ome couple, All That Heaven Allows, Ned and Kay never have anyone tell them off or make them aware of their behavior. Though Kay will apologize to Cary here, Ned
79 seems even more disgusting as the scene progresses and he takes such pri de in giving Cary a television. In interviews, Sirk often spoke of how Ross Hunter forced happy endings, and he suggests the viewer should interpret them ironically. One can easily give ending the ironic interpretation: the chil interpret the film this way makes ending the weaker of the two. For as trite, or even silly, as one may view All That Heave final scene, with Cary and Ron reuniting after his near fatal fall, one feels Cary truly deserves a happy ending, however problematic, after the way her children have treated her. ss like a sponge. Though an emotional outburst seems well deserved here, we witness none in this scene: A B C D Figure 2 D) reaction to the television.
80 Like Cary at the window, the image of Cary in the television belongs to a pattern of faced responses to the people and situations she encounters. In other television image striking, but it would not have the emotional depth that it does. Take, early scenes with Ned and Kay, Cary often does not know how to respond to them; she appears hesitant or even stares at them somewhat blankly, just as she does here. But when you see her face as Ned presents her with the television, her loss for words suddenly seems devastating in a way that it did not earlier in the film. making role in Johnny Belinda (1948) provides an excellent comparison. As a deaf mute young woman, Wy man spends the entire film reacting to what others say and do to her. Sirk uses this talent adroitly, not by making her inarticulateness the explicit subject of the movie (as in Johnny Belinda ), but by using her talent for reacting. Cary responds here as she has throughout the entire sequence, but seeing her reaction in the television adds an inflection by giving her expression a sense look of an aged photograph. When Car y sees her reflection, it is not a moment of self awareness (that moment has already occurred), but of prophecy: her fate sealed and her loneliness crystallized. A haunting image supports this view: as the camera tracks closer to the television, its dark shadow passes across the screen and creates a ghostly, ominous presence. An important moment, however, comes just before the final shot, and involves
81 throughout the film (and t his sequence in particular), one could argue that Wyman intentionally performs this gesture, but it seems quite unconscious. Just before the cut herself from speaking. Kay has just delivered her line about how nothing matters as Ned continues, sa again, and then she looks up just before the cut. Her mouth moves so slightly that one requires repeated viewings to notice the gesture and register its poignancy. The image of someone opening her mouth to speak, but stopping just short of an utterance, of having something to say, but suppressing it, both fits within the pattern of how Cary responds throughout the film and reveals emotions and thoughts almost disclosed, but instead kept private. Inspired Filmmaking What, then, does All That Heaven Allows teach us about the language of genre, conventions, ideology, biography influences any art, this fact does not rule out the role individual creativity plays in artistic creation. For the most part, a single individual produces a literary work, while it takes numerous people to create a film, making it impossible, at least within Hollywood, for any one person to have total creative control. But while no one filmmaker has complete control, a single filmmaker can give a film coherence, organic whole. As Sirk comments to Halliday, coherence, not control, proves m ore important:
82 maybe only half of it. You go to 126, just take the long shot, which is 5,000 miles away from the studio, come back to the scene after weeks, then finish scene No. 8, a nd continue in this bewildering way. The matching of the mood of scene and characters, of light and length: all this has to be present Though the shots of Cary at the window and in the television set see med significant, I did not find them truly meaningful until I realized the role these shots played in an overall pattern. In other words, I discovered that the film, shot completely out of continuity, had a formal design, rather than merely a narrative st ructure, holding it together. And whether intentional or not, such coherence does not result haphazardly; at the very least, we can credit Sirk for giving a shape to the material that it would otherwise lack. Consider, for example, two similar shots: A B Figure 2 11. Window shots. A) The window shot from All That Heaven Allows, B) the window shot from Madame X. similar shot in Madame X (1966) will prove instructi ve. Madame X is particularly regular collaborators worked on the film as well: Russell Metty (cinematography), Milton Carruth (editing), Alexander Golitzen (art dire ction), and Frank Skinner (score). To
83 The film tells the story of Holly Anderson (Lana Turner): the wife of an aspiring politician, Clayton Anderson (John Forsythe); the mother to their son, Clayton Jr.; and the daughter in law of a controlling, protective mother in law, Estelle (Constance Bennett). Clayton spends the majority of his time away from home on State Department trips. While he shows tenderness and genuine lo ve for Holly, his political aspirations guided by his mother are his true love. Neglected by her husband, Holly begins an affair with a known lothario, Phil Benton (Ricardo Montalban), but she never stops loving her husband. The affair originates in bore dom, and Holly somewhat reluctantly enters into it. The shot in question occurs roughly thirteen minutes into the film. Holly has not yet begun her affair with Phil, and in the very next scene we witness his second offer to her to attend a concert, which she will finally accept. In two scenes prior to this absence with Estelle. Estelle responds that Anderson men are ambitious and that Anderson women must patiently accept a life of loneliness. This scene dissolves into a short scene that takes place outside at the mailbox, with Holly and Clayton Jr. checking the mail for a letter from Clayton. When they find no letter, Holly puts her arm around Clayton Jr. and they head up the driveway. Another dissolve transitions to a shot reminiscent of Cary in All That Heaven Allows. As Holly walks forward to the window and gazes aimlessly. The fil mmakers intend the scene done in a single, eleven second take to carry a great emotional weight and to make the audience sympathize with her loneliness and her upcoming decision to have an affair.
84 In All That Heaven Allows, Sirk makes the window shot bot h the final shot in the film. In Madame X, the director handles this moment rather sloppily, and it feels more like an unnecessary insert that does not fit logically with stands at the same window in the room where she just conversed with her mother in law. In both the mother in law scene and the window shot, Holly wears the same outfit. But between these shots, we see the brief mailbox sce ne with Holly in a different dress, earrings, and hairstyle, and with clear, not rainy, weather. An incongruity occurs because the window scene follows the mailbox one back to the rain and the previous outfit, jewelry, and hairdo although we witness the e vents in chronological order. events than from its content. As I have argued, you can take the same shot (as Madame X does) but not produce the same effect In other words, I do not base my argument on simply two shots that look alike; both shots share an intended emotional effect: to show a lonely mother and wife/widow. As if in a Sirk film, Clayton chose Holly to play a role, not to be loved. In All That Heaven Allows Cary contemplates her role as a mother just as Holly contemplates her role as a wife. Both have been abandoned (by children and by a husband); both contemplate controversial emotional decisions (do I go back to Ron? and do I have an affair?). But the shot in Madame X cannot carry the emotional weight it needs to because the filmmakers did not develop it as part of a pattern. Because the Madame X shot occurs just thirteen minutes into the film (compared to over seventy minutes in All That Heaven Allows ), the film simply has not had enough time to build the emotional payoff Sirk achieves.
85 Just as we would benefit from discussing coherence rather than control, we should realize inspired filmmaking results not so much from what a filmmaker creates as what he o crew, even after Sirk retired. Thus, in movies like Madame X (1966) Portrait in Black (1960) Back Street (1961), and even Tammy and the Doctor (1963), we witness the same filmmak ers at work simply without Sirk. But if one analyzes any of these films (as I did above with Madame X ), one quickly realizes that Sirk brought out qualities in could prod uce both All That Heaven Allows and a film as bland as Tammy and the Doctor indicates that Sirk not only enabled his fellow technicians to do their best work, but he also balanced and restrained their baser impulses. Quite remarkably for someone who spea ks so much of ideas in his interviews, Sirk did not make his films in this way: In film you have to learn to use what you find on the set. You can never must leave yourself perfe ctly open and flexible. You may get an idea from experience, I worked everything out and nothing worked out. But once I ever prepared myself too much. Also, I learned to improvise on the set a 56). Thus, Sirk did not first decide on an idea or message and then go about choosing the appropriate images and organization to deliver it. The inspired moments I discuss here result not from any meaning imposed upon them, but from a quality Sirk considers essential:
86 other words, how do es one choose among the various ways to compose a shot, and when does one start and stop the camera? Such questions almost sound too basic, but how a director handles these essential concerns determines the value of the filmmaking choices he or she makes. Sirk, at least in All That Heaven Allows, demonstrates that he can make inspired choices at this fundamental level. Sirk Blackmailed I sensed their importance, and they co ntinually moved me, but I, too, found myself at a loss for words. A close reading, though, allowed me to unlock the sequence and to lusion of this chapter originated with the idea of All That Heaven Allows ; I took a principle and followed it as far as it would lead by pursuing certain moments that interested me without knowing p recisely why. The work may at times seem tedious timing shot lengths, counting shots, comparing and contrasting the smallest of details but it has a larger purpose. As I argue for the necessity of formal analysis, brief, general descriptions simply would not suffice. But the Sirkian system and traditional Sirk criticism only offer such generalities. beyond the definable, the classifiable, and the expected: ga rde texts are uncertain : how to judge, to classify them, how to predict their immediate or eventual future? Do they please? Do they bore? Their obvious quality is of an intentional order: they are concerned to serve theory. Yet this quality is a blackm ail as well (theory blackmailed): love me, keep me, defend me, since I conform to the theory
87 as well ; Cage has a certain charm as well -But those are precisely the attributes Though I criticize Willemen, it is not because Sirk does not do the things he says Sirk does something else as well, the attributes not recognized by the Sirkian system. That this unspecified quality cannot be pinned down and categorized is a benefit, not a fault or a criticism. This fact simply demands that crit them the fastidious, detailed attention they deserve. A critic must be one on whom nothing is lost, yet the Sirkian system misses so much; All That Heaven Allows lives a complex, vivid life ou tside any system.
88 CHAPTER 3 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TEACH A FILM? To my knowledge, very few film scholars have written about teaching the introductory class on film style (a course often titled Film Analysis, Introduction to Film, or Film Appreciation) Six European Directors and that address the day to day classroom work of screening and discussing films. Though we spend much tim e in classrooms, the classroom itself seems largely absent from our work a phenomenon Dana Polan notes in his study of early film pedagogy, Scenes of Instruction Disciplines, their historians seems to say, are formed through professional activities and i nstitutions such as scholarly journals, professional societies, and their meetings, the reading and writing of specialized research, credentialing of graduate acolytes, and so on, but rarely through what happens in the average classroom session. It is as if the everyday work of imparting instruction to a student population is taken to be a secondary 21). In this chapter, I will work to correct this lack by exploring a crucial, practical question: what does it mean to teach a film? Of course, as any history of film pedagogy demonstrates, teachers have put film to numerous uses over the last century: as patriotic training for immigrants; as an exemplary business model; as a mine field for sociological research in communications departments; and, only more recently, as an art form in itself this latter stage largely corresponding to the birth of film studies as a discipline in the 1960s. Here, I suggest that the introductory class on film style should train students to develop a heightened attentiveness to film form and to articulate what they see through precise, detailed prose descriptions. Yet before I can discuss how to accomplish this
89 goal I must firs t begin by exploring num erous problems an instructor encounters when teaching film from the issue of in itial, personal response to perhaps the most difficult problem: indifference I then closely examine one type of text that does discuss introductory film instruction: the film ostensive definitions, I explain how these textbooks use flawed methods when teaching film form. In opposition to the definition and example method of textbooks, I then advocate the study of filmmaking choices through descriptive analysis as an effective way to alert students to film form. And finally, I put the principles from this chapter into practice by exploring a single filmmaking choice in Imitation of Life (1959). Pedagogica l Problems Hasty Evaluation In Culture and Value Ludwig Wittgenstein poses an evaluative problem that film studies instructors confront in classroom teaching: If I say A has beautiful eyes someone may ask me: what do you find beautiful about his eyes, and perhaps I shall reply: the almond shape, long eye lashes, delicate lids. What do these eyes have in common with a gothic church that I find beautiful too? Should I say they make a similar impression on me? What if I were to say that in both cases my ha nd feels tempted to draw them? That at any rate would be a narrow definition of the beautiful. It will often be possible to say: seek your reasons for calling something instance wi ll be evident (24). For Wittgenstein, evaluative judgments do not require a specialized vocabulary for their validity; rather, they must be expressed with greater precision, moving from abstractions lmond shape, long eye lashes,
90 terms corrects a problem George Orwell sees as indicative of modern prose in general: a move away from concreteness and into abstraction ( 278). Ideally, Wittgenstein suggests, evaluation should lead one back to the concrete. And, as Francois Truffaut nto a professional, but it does (Dixon 5). The problem, as Wittgenstein points out, is not that we evaluate, but how we do so. We make value judgments all the time, yet rarely do we refine these judgments art. These initial remarks on evaluation require that I provide a context for the discussion that follows. While most of this chapt er applies to any course on film style, my comments about evaluation and how students respond to films apply primarily to introductory classes. For example, I begin by discussing evaluation, because it is the most familiar way introductory students respon d to films, a situation no doubt noticeably distinct from a more advanced class. And, of course, I talk here only about one kind of film class one on style; issues of form and evaluation may not play as great a role (or any role) in a class with more hist orical or theoretical aims. There is also a personal context: much of this chapter arises from my own experiences teaching an introductory film class. When I first began teaching, I thought very little about questions of value, and such questions did not enter into my pedagogical methods. But my interaction with students, coupled with my own reading, generated a concern about evaluation that initially did not exist. A key question
91 constantly arose: what do I want my students to take away from this class ? Most of my students are non majors, and this course will be the only film class they will take. Yet whether comprised of majors or non majors, a film class differs from other humanities courses in at least one important way: while one could imagine a s tudent taking an ancient philosophy or Victorian literature class and never again reading Diogenes or Dickens, it seems unimaginable that a student would take a film class and never watch another movie. Thus, not only do students enter a film class primar ily responding to films through evaluative judgments, but also they more than likely will continue to do so after the course ends. As Peter Wollen comments, consumers of art constantly make evaluative judgments without reflection (217). The film instruct or, then, should alert students to the overlooked nuances of film form and provide a model for how to make sound, well supported evaluative judgments. Though we make hasty evaluative judgments in casual conversation all the time, we aim for more in a class on film style. For most students, their response to a film either is an evaluation, or an evaluation soon follows an initial response. While the ability to make sound evaluations is one goal of a class on film style, the first goal must be elucidation: obscures. Evaluation should not be the first order of business, but the last the result of careful, close scrutiny of film style. As a teacher, one attempts to slow down these value judgm ents and switch the emphasis to analyzing the filmmaking choices that encounter a moment of poetics a moment in which they are forced to ask not only what the text means, but as well how
92 tends to go right for the interpretive jugular. It does not sufficiently pause, and reflect, in 161). In the film studies classroom, we must make explicit the reaso ns for the value judgments we make, and this task requires one to develop goal of an introductory class. When Roland Barthes writes about realist narrative struc ture in S/Z, he speaks of the necessity of delays and stoppages in narratives, which postpone the inevitable ending of a story and allow it to develop. These delays prevent a story from ending as soon as it has begun. Similarly, I want to put up delays a nd stoppages in the usual critical it, and then moves on to the next film. Interestingly, Roland Barthes uses the cinematic metaphor of slow motion when describing hi by textual analysis (12). Mere Entertainment As a popular art, film does not seem worthy of close scrutiny, so we tend to make judgments rather quickly. This condition does not result solely from viewers themselves, but f rom the commercial system that produces this art. As Barthes writes, popular art is characterized by its disposability: we read one magazine, then purchase the next; we watch one film, then move on to the next. Spending too much time on one text keeps us from purchasing others; thus, this commercial system practically outlaws rereading and re watching, essential tools for developing an attentiveness to form. Barthes remarks, Rereading, an operation contrary to the commercial and ideological habits of ou
93 another book, and which is tolerated only in certain marginal categories of readers (children, old people, and p rofessors) [is] here suggested at the outset (15 16). Students are often puzzled, and even frustrated, when we spend a large amount of time on one particular scene or when an analysis moves shot by shot or frame by frame. Treating film in such a way, for many of them, seems tantamount to a close analysis of a newsstand magazine or a current fictional bestseller. Certain films, say, European ones, seem more important (as if they require interpretation), but Hollywood films do not seem to demand such detail ed attention. Of course, serious analysis of Hollywood cinema was the revolution of Cahiers du Cinma and Movie criticism in the 1950s and 1960s: these critics opened up Hollywood cinema for meaningful study. As willingness to turn its exegetical lens to the most overlooked products of the Hollywood industry marked a significant point in cultural criticism ilms with th still exists in popular conceptions of Hollywood that it is mere entertainment and it has crept back into academic film studies as well. In many ways, any cinema that can pride itself on its distance from Hollywood contemporary or classic. Initial Response and the Literary Level depend on knowledge being a mechanic or savor a dish without being a chef, one can enjoy a film without being a formalist. Although when one wants to know why a film affects one in some
94 way, one mu st inevitably turn to formal concerns. Yet a viewer may like a particular film for multiple reasons, and none may be formal. I concur with V.F. Perkins here: any medium for its own sake. He may decide this his own political, racial, religious or even hygienic objectives are of such overriding importance that he will give his admiration to any picture, regardless of formal integrity y of us wants from the movies is his personal affair (187). There is, after all, nothing wrong with responding to films for non formal reasons, but a film class should make students conscious of how a film functions on this level. And contrary to many stud the surface on the surface. I find that students have no problem generating a ten page research paper, but ask them, using ordinary language, to produce a description of a shot or a short scene, and the results are usually disheartening. What is easiest to see proves because of their si mplicity and familiarity. One is unable to notice something because and do see onscreen, and this chapter will address methods for accomplishing this task. of t The demoralization of our theatre audiences springs from the fact that neither theatre nor audience has any idea what is supposed to go on there. When people in sporting establishments buy their tickets they know exac tly what is going t o ). While perhaps some may watch a sporting event as pure
95 entertainment, the majority of sports fans know the rules of the game being played. exp ression. At least with Hollywood cinema, filmgoers do have some idea of what to expect: a compelling narrative. But they lack knowledge of the form that expresses this narrative. And it is to this literary level that students respond when they seek to b roaden their responses beyond the purely evaluative. In fact, every film class I teach ruth: characters, and themes. This tendency results from our relative familiarity with discussing literature (as learned in grade school) and our general unfamiliarity with d iscussing aesthetics especially of non verbal forms. As Peter Harcourt writes, films most literary level, the level that most closely binds film to the techniques of the novel, that most easily allows the established literary critical vocabulary to be employed in the characters who are doing things and saying things charact when responding on this literary level, students may recognize a film works on some formal level to affect them; they simply lack the training to articulate just how a film produces this effect. The class on film style, then, sh to analyze precisely. It is difficult to a nalyze partly because we lack a vocabulary
96 adequate to describe the possible richness of the many visual, verbal, psychological, notes in the aforementioned passage fr om Culture and Value : the importance of language, diction, and precision in the way we respond to art. For Andr Bazin, responding to film form shares something in common with having a refined palate, and he makes an apt analogy between film evaluation a nd wine tasting. The wine lover alone can discern the body and the bouquet, the alcohol content and the fruitiness, and all these nuances intermingled, where the uninitiated can only inevitably raises the problem (or at least the criticism) of elitism, a charge Robin Wood takes on in his learn to either spontaneously Wood, is one of definition: appreciated by anyone, irrespective of background, tr is elitist. As soon as one allows for the desirability of discrimination, then elitism creeps While most people would trust a sommelier to make a wine selection without putting up much of a fight we assum e he or she has some discriminating skill that we lack no mediator seems necessary when it comes to film. In addition, popular art does not seem to demand such detailed attention because it often does not appear
97 obviously significant. As Wood remarks here are great works of art plenty of them which have been enjoyed readily by the general public, but a condition of this example, developed an invisible style, a style one that should not draw attention to itse lf. Thus, to take notice of style and to respond le there is certainly no obligation to take notice of a film Imitation of Life (1959), will otherwise remain relatively closed off to contemporary spectators or worse, be of mere historical interest. These comments do not diminish the importance of untrained response to films. Personal response, in fact, provides the basis for exploring film in greater detail: T o recapture the nave response of the film fan is the first step towards intelligent appreciation of most pictures. The ideal spectator is often a close and cares not wherefore. One cannot profitably stop there; but one cann ot sensibly begin anywh ere else (Perkins 156). When we first view a film, we can approach it from two directions: the direction of knowledge (or scholarship) and the direction of ignorance, and Peter Harcourt sides with ignorance over knowledge when it comes to our initial res undoubtedly need scholarship to help us understand danger is to approach film on a conceptual level raiding films for i deas or seeing films as merely examples of some concept. Knowledge (historical, theoretical, etc.) should plurality of meanings (Harcourt 21).
98 The Speed of Film To approa ch a film as a literary object does not only result from our familiarity with literature, but it is also encouraged by the speed of film itself. For most viewers, a first viewing is the only viewing, and one simply does have the ability to pay detailed at tention to form when trying to understand the narrative. We must slow down, pause, and repeat moments, scenes, and entire films in order to appreciate film form. When ey moments and meanings then become visible that could not have been percei ved, hidden under narrative flow and the movement of film at twenty four frames that nothing is actually hidden; the speed of film merely prevents us from seeing what is alre ady present onscreen: The paradox here is that, while it would be almost impossible to pick up these aesthetic reverberations consciously at twenty four frames per second, once halted and analysed, the meanings inves ted in such a segment are not hard to i dentify. From this perspective, there is a built in or obvious narrative continuities, its forward movement, in the interest of discovering the se, otherwise hidden, meanings (232). Eve n if one does find time to notice form on a first viewing, it often occurs at the e earthquake, the blocks of signification of which reading grasps only the smooth surface, imperceptibly soldered by the movement of sentences, the flowing discourse of narration of literature, his basic idea applies to watching films as well. We break this process by re watching films, a practice many students resist because they see popular
99 entertainm ent as a passive experience. As Barthes remarks, we tend to view the making of art as a creative, even glamorous act, yet we view the consumption of art as S/Z reacts against this idea by considering readin g and especially rereading as a form of work (10). That watching films could likewise require work is a foreign concept for most film viewers. Yet re viewing a film marks an essential first step for close analysis: it stakes a claim for a serious consid eration of the film at hand, and it releases (or begins to reading, the reading which places behind the transparency of suspense (placed on the text by the first avid and i gnorant reader) the anticipated knowledge of what is to come condemned by the commercial imperatives of our society, which compels us to squander the book, to discard it as though it were deflowered, in order to buy a new Today, though, new technologies make it easier than ever to do the work of formal analysis and to analyze films in ways once available only to those with an editing table. Beyond the fact tha t DVD players and computers allow one to manipulate film time, most home computers now feature programs with basic editing capabilities. technologies have also brought new dimen sions of possibility to textual analysis, not only for critical and for academic purposes, but also for the spread of film appreciation scholars had to rely on memories of single viewings of films or on subpar versions (for
100 example, a 16mm, cropped, black and white print of a Technicolor Vistavision film), today there is simply no excuse to not closely scrutinize the films we write about: To my mind, the new ways of consumin g old movies on electronic and and a new wave of cinephilia. Now, anyone can view a favourite movie by selecting special scenes, stopping the film on a privileged moment or gesture returning to and repeating images that suddenly seem to acquire new significance and beauty and demand further thought and interpretation (Mulvey 242). Though commercial imperatives suggest the disposability of popular art, new media technologies enabl e spectators to give a film under consideration the attention it deserves. Yet though the tools for textual analysis have been democratized, the practice remains the domain of the very few who take the time. The Problem of Indifference Although we may beg in with personal response and acknowledge its legitimacy, the film class itself is an exercise that refines an initial response through the close, formal analysis of films. Often, though, a teacher faces an equally difficult task before this process can e ven begin: the problem of indifference. If teaching and learning are collaborative processes, indifference on the part of students presents a problem. Andrew Klevan stresses the importance of collaboration when discussing films in detail with students. After screening films for his class, he and his students move slowly through potentially significant shots and scenes: Although I have a broad sense of moments that may be eventually revealing, I only intermittently have a prepared articulation of these mo ments ready and waiting. Where possible, I want to be involved in the by moment endeavour to find appropriate words, and I want them to sense my involvement, so their pursuit will feel original (221). Though the situation sounds so basic a film on the screen behind you and a classroom of students in front of you nothing could be more daunting, or even
101 demoralizing, than when students simply do not bother to respond. Ideally, for Klevan, an instructor prepares minimal remarks so that he o r she does not appear to force the discussion in some way; the real learning begins, then, as the teacher and students evaluation, and such judgments take a particular indifference, but I suggest at least two possible justifications for the study of film style: one directl y related to film, the other to the question of style itself. Even if a student has no response to any film screened during a semester, what will she have learned? At the very least, students learn to put into words why they respond to a film in a certa in way whether positively or negatively. After all, film analysis is a skill, like writing well or the ability to formulate arguments. It is no easy task to translate a wordless response into a precise articulation of how a movie formally unfolds. If no thing else, students learn a method they can then apply to any film they watch. They now have the proper tools to make reformed evaluative judgments; of course, they may never do so again outside of class discussions and assignments, but
102 the class will ha ve at least have made them conscious of what it takes to adequately evaluate a film. I also emphasize that achievement in film is similar to achievement in anything else. People admire exceptional accomplishments in all areas of life in sports, architect ure automobile s the list is endless. As Alfred North Whitehead remarks: Style in art, style in literature, style in science, style in logic, style in practical execution have fundamentally the same aesthetic qualities, namely, attainment and restraint. Th e love of a subject in itself and for itself, where it is not the sleepy pleasure of pacing a mental quarter deck, is the love of style as manifested in that study (Williams 142 143). I simply try to giv e my students the tools to recognize, describe, and a nalyze exceptional cinematic achievement If you admire a dish, you can get the reci pe. If you admire a building you can study its architecture. If y ou admire a sport, you know how a game is played and when it is played wel l. For most people, film rem ains a mystical art, but approaching a film as a series of material filmmaking choices gives students access to the decision making process that created the effects we witness onscreen. A class based on formal analysis of film style gives students a metho d to accomplish this task. Definitions and Examples There is, of course, one place where introductory film instruction does receive attention: film textbooks. But if indifference is a key problem, these textbooks only nce to film form. These books function as massive vocabulary manuals, filled with copious definitions, examples and information. For example, one book defines sixty four terms in the chapter on cinematography alone, and hardly any major introductory tex t contains fewer than five hundred pages. But despite any superficial differences among various texts, each major textbook teaches film form by a single method: definition and example. The authors verbally define some
103 term, and then they either describe a shot from a movie where this term can be seen, or they include a film still that ostensively defines the term in question. Even though these books present information that can be useful, the definition and example method they employ fundamentally misund erstands how we learn. If students learn form through definition and example, they will never learn to sense the importance of film style. Only when one already grasps the importance of style do these textbooks offer useful, even invaluable, material. M y argument may seem like a minor quibble. Indeed, this issue would not matter so much if it were not the way every major American film textbook works. Teachers could use the textbooks in a productive way, but only if they adapt the books to fit a method that matches how we actually learn (as I will discuss below). But when teachers use textbooks, they tend to do so because they assume the authors have already taken the trouble to effectively organize the material. In other words, one should be able to u I will offer a more precise view of how these textbooks work by considering four popular introductory film textbooks: Anatomy of Film by Bernard F. Dick; The Film Experience by Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White; Film: An Introduction by William H. Phillips; and Film Art by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. Consider how each book defines a single term: the low angle shot: Anatomy of Film : m below, it is a low angle shot. Serving the opposite function of a high angle shot, a low angle shot makes
104 Citizen Kane uardian hovers over him as he presents the young Kane The Film Experience: The Piano (1993) (112). Film: An Introduct ion: Raging Bull (1980), Jake La Motta is celebrating winning the world middleweight championship. At hi s moment of triumph, he is shown from a low angle shot that makes him seem prominent, dominating, and powerful. Filmmakers often use Film Art: Definition: angle framing positions us as looking up at the framed They Were Expendable (1945) (194). not just offer a definition and an example, but a possible interpretation as well: low The essential goal has always remained the same: to help students develop an appreciation and critical a wareness of film with a brief, clear, and
105 as any other and helps students identify the components of a film in order to interpret it (v). Not only does such a statement discount an y uniqueness to film as a medium it should be read like any other text but it also suggests film form is mostly useful for producing interpretations, a task both Dick and Phillips perform through their respective definitions. The other two texts (Corrigan /White and Bordwell/Thompson) at least spare the reader preliminary, facile interpretations and instead present short definitions and visual examples. Either method, though, remains ineffective. In these four definitions, we also see the two possible ways to define: verbally and ostensively. If one were to define, for example, a medium close up, a text might a vocabulary building exercise that enables one to pass a multiple choice test, but a verbal definition tells us absolutely nothing about the use of the term under discussion. For many terms, then, textbooks choose to include visual examples that provide ostensive definitions. For while one can easily define shot scales through a verbal sive one, so a teacher inserts Breathless into the DVD player, fast forwards to the proper scene, and says: within this particular trivial information without addressing its use within a particular film.
106 This problem occurs in all textbooks that present definitions and then show film stills or ex cerpted clips to enable the instructor to ostensively define what she teaches. Students already have trouble responding to examples from films they have not viewed, and excerpted clips only make the problem worse. Stanley Cavell writes of this very probl em and uses the example of identifying a point of view shot: such a shot may be established by, for example, cutting to it from the face of a character and cutting back from it to on to say why this way of establishing a point of view is used, and why here, and why with respect to this character, and why by way of this But w hat will you be saying if you say, speaking about this work, that this shot is a point of view shot, and you go on to say nothing further about this shot in this work? Unless your words here are meant to correct a false impression, they do not so much as a dd up to a remark. They are at most the uttering of a name, which, as Wittgenstein puts is, is a preparation for going on to say something (187 188). filmmakers have employe d them for a particular purpose within a specific film. If we with everything else within the shot, scene, or film. Clips, of course, can be immensely useful when te aching, but not in the way textbooks use them. They do not use them to look: a low Without a doubt, students can benefit from specialized vocabulary at a cert ain level of study. As one develops a keener attentiveness to film form, more technical knowledge can enable one to notice aspects she had previously overlooked. But for most introductory students, film form remains out of focus, and these textbooks cann ot
107 accomplish the focus pull these students need. Film textbooks may work for vocabulary building, but they fail to impress upon students the importance of film form. V.F. Perkins and other Movie influenced writers (Andrew Klevan, John Gibbs, Douglas Py e, etc.), reverse the process found in film textbooks: rather than evoke a film scene as an example of a certain formal term, any formal discussion arises when text book, but he does share a somewhat similar aim: to enumerate several formal choices available to filmmakers. He does so, fortunately, in a few short pages and without the claim to exhaustiveness that textbooks attempt to achieve. I will quote Perkins at length to demonstrate just how much his approach differs from the standard film textbook. Here, he discusses the effect a low angle produces in a scene from The Lusty Men (1952): To shift the frame via camera movement, on the other hand, is to impose an order of perception on objects which exist in a continuous time and space so that they could, in principle, be seen all at once. [In] The Lusty Men Ray introduces his rodeo star hero in a shot which starts with the camera looking in through the gate of a bull pen. The animal charges along its track to halt at the gate with its eyes glinting in fierce close up. At this the image tilts upwards to frame Mitchum above the animal, preparing to mount. A direct contrast is drawn between two kinds of strength the power of a movement links these two images in comparison as well as contrast. For all his apparent mastery, as we look up to him outlined against the sky, Robert Mitchum is like the bull in being contained within the structures of the rodeo: his image, too, is framed, hemmed in, by the wooden posts of the bull pen. The movement and angle of the shot give a precisely calculated degree of overstatement to the assertion of mast ery. Within fifteen seconds Mitchum will be floundering, injured, in the dirt of the arena. His previous inward smile of self of the all endorsement of his supremacy (5).
108 Perkins avoids assigning any single, set meaning to a formal technique; one can only make sense of the low angle shot of Mitchum by also payi ng attention to the fenced in Film as Film and no valid discussion of form can take place that does not adhere to this maxim (109). Notice, also, that Perkins does not use a specialized vocabulary when discussing form. Quite strikingly, in an essay almost entirely about mise en scne, Perkins never once uses that term. He simply looks at various scenes in detail and examines the cho style, we witness a crucial difference from the way textbooks discuss form: instead of How does a low angle function in this further explain why I view introductory textbook methods as ineffective. First, one out film form in this way amounts to unless he already knows the rules of the game up to thi other words, to begin with a definition (as textbooks do), one must already know definition will merely be a fact without actual understanding. For example, if I show a
109 still of a low gives my students a fact, but tells them nothing about the use or function of low angle shots. To accomplish this task, one must discuss form within the context of a given film, as Perkins does above with The Lusty Men Film textbooks, though, do not teach in this way. Instead, they teach film like this is as a fact about a particular chess piece, but will have no real understanding of that piece i.e., how it is used. If one begins with an ostensive defini tion, one must immediately define its use for it to make any sense. But film textbooks begin with verbal definitions, support these definitions with ostensive ones, and never address use. Though textbook authors use ostensive definitions, they fundamental ly misunderstand what such definitions require in order to work. A second analogy about learning chess is particularly useful here: I am explaining chess to someone; and I begin by pointing to a chessman In this (7 3). before use, the learner will at least have to know what game playing and game pieces are in general before that statement can begin to make sense. For the most part, a lmost all people have a general knowledge about games before they learn to play some new game in particular; ostensive definitions, then, require previous knowledge of a more general language. But the language game of film form is a specialized language, for we
110 do not have the same kind of general knowledge about film aesthetics, which we can then apply to a particular case (angles, camera lenses, shot scales, etc.). Defining a low because we recognize the similar instance occurs, Wittgenstein remarks, if you try to teach an English speaker the is what the Germans (Kenny 75). The English speaker will understand because of the similarity of the w ord in both languages But if one tries to ostensively define a telephoto lens, for example, confusion could more easily set in because most lack fami liarity with the language of optics. We need, instead, an ordinary language with which to teach and talk about film form, and we have such a language in one that we already speak: the language of ause we make decisions language we can adopt to examine film form. Because we know how to talk about choices, we can talk and write about film clearly and precisely w ithout first learning a judgment about this or that because they have not studied philosophy. This is irritating nonsense, because the pretence is that philosophy is some sort of science. People format and methodology, is a film textbook really much different from a biology textbook? These textbooks work on a level of generality that W ittgenstein sees as Blue
111 and Brown Books 18). What could be more indicative of this attitude than when Phillips examples (vi). Wittgenstein continues, On the other hand we may say that people who have never carried out an investigation of a philosophical kind, like, for instance, most mathematicians, are not equipped with the right visual organs for this type of investigation or scrutiny. Almost in the way a man who is not used to searching in the forest for flowers, berries, or plants will not find any because his eyes are not trained to see them and he does not know where you have to be particularly on the lookout for them (Kenny 69). In general, students have not carried out an investigation of the aesthetic kind, and we must use a method that trains t hem to see what they miss. We need a new way of seeing, and a descriptive method of writing provides us with this new view and accomplishes the necessary task of elucidation, a task at which standard film textbooks fail. One must analyze filmmaking choic es through detailed descriptions in order to teach film form in a way that causes students to truly sense the importance of film style. Description and Filmmaking Choices Though I focused on the topic of definitions in textbooks, one could also argue that these books make an even bigger mistake: what often matters what we really care about in a film is not what can be defined through general definitions, but those gesture, Philosophical Investigations 194 ). This imponderable evidence such as the way someone moves on screen or how an actor delivers a line has no precise definition and proves difficult to describe. Such subtle quali ties captivate us without our kn owing precisely why, yet through description we seek words to articulate our experience of the film. This task of description must occur before a more technical
112 knowledge of film form (as offered in textbooks) will have any real meaning. If one cannot de tect and describe significance in ordinary language, what good would a specialized language do? For Peter Harcourt, description is one of the primary tasks in the film studies classroom: As with painting, unless we can translate the multi sensorial expe rience of watching a film at least partly into words, we have nothing we can talk Any critical method concerned with film must begin by offering some kind of description of what the critic proposes to criticize, an observation of what has appeared on the screen (15). Thus, it is more important to accurately describe a film in ordinary language than to know t he technical terms for mise en scne, editing, and sound As Harcourt writes the must attempt to describe how key moment s in the film actually have been organized, how they appear, (15). But teachers most often encounter a relative lack of attentiveness to the kinds of subtleties I have b een describing. If we keep the discussion at the level of imponderable evidence, it may seem overly impressionistic, and students will remain confused as to what exactly they should write about. Thus, we must continually return to the concrete in the dis cussion filmmaking choices. -hundreds of them every day and at every stage in th e translation First, when we analyze a film through filmmaking choices, we use a method that corresponds to how films are actually made. Films are not made from ideas, b ut from
113 concrete decisions, and this method gives us a way to analyze these decisions. As concrete means by which to make evaluative judgments, for we can evaluate the quality and the appropriateness of the choices a director makes. If we talk about filmmaking choices, Film makers decide that this take or this edit is the Wollen r emarks, filmmaking itself involves value judgments: a take is more or less good, an angle more or less appropriate. Thus, a pedagogical or critical method that emphasizes filmmaking choices inevitably engages with questions of aesthetic value. Perkins vi ews the director as a coordinator; she may not have control over casting or editing, but she does have freedom in terms of arranging elements within the happens when you put together, in a particular way, a posture, a facial expression, an off task of co formal detail s when one takes notice of filmmaking choices. For directors do not make choices in isolation, but in relation to other elements within a specific scene or to a m ake claims for an individual element or moment without considering it within the
114 to a single detail, one automatically notices others, and this process elucidates a f formal level. Additionally, as one attempts to become more precise in a description, one notices elements one had previously overlooked. Imitation of Life Students need to see that form matters by reading criticism that takes form seriously, so I no w turn to explore Imitation of Life by using the techniques advocated throughout this chapter. I will closely examine a scene that strikes me each time I view the film. After I carefully describe the scene, I will then hone in on a specific filmmaking ch oice. by John Stahl and starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers. Though Douglas same: two struggling single mothers, one white, the other black, befriend each other, and move in together in order to create a more stable (financially and otherwise) home individuals: from the immense success of the white mother, who neglects her daughter, to the intense sorrow of the black mother, whose daughter renounces her own race and passes for white in seedy night clubs. I must condense the scenario to its most basic minute running time. In my five m inutes, as those events most closely relate to the scene I discuss. As my scene analysis will require them, I will make mention of other relevant plot points.
115 The film opens at Coney Island and introduces the five central characters: Lora Meredith (Lana T urner), a white, single mother and a struggling actress; Susie, her young, carefree daughter; Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore), a single, currently finally, Steve Archer (John G romantic interest. When we first see Lora, she has lost Susie, and her search will bring found Susie, and the two become friends just as quickly as Susie and Sarah Jane do. Lora soon discovers that Annie and Sarah Jane are currently homeless; Annie has a difficult time finding housekeeping jobs (the only profession seemingly open to her) because she insists on ne ver parting from Sarah Jane. Lora invites them to stay for one night in her coldwater flat. Annie clearly offers herself as a maid, but Lora insists she cannot afford to hire her. But after Lora awakes the next morning to find breakfast prepared and lau role within the house is never precisely defined, but Lora clearly gives her a room in exchange for taking care of the house. five minutes) works to establish these second half. While Lora hunts for respectable acting jobs, Annie takes care of the home. Annie becomes a mother not only to Susie, but to Lora as w ell, who needs frequent consolation when job after job goes bust. Lora also begins a relationship with Steve, but when he gives her an ultimatum marriage or a career she chooses a career. And soon after she makes this choice, the film moves into a fiftee n minute
116 and screen, grows immensely self absorbed, and completely neglects Sus ie; Annie remains in charge of the (now much larger) home, but is driven to an early death when Sarah Jane disowns her; Susie (Sandra Dee) comes to know only a life of privilege except the privilege of having a mother who genuinely cares; and Sarah Jane (S usan Kohner), passing for white, brutally mistreats Annie and moves from nightclub to nightclub in an effort to escape her past. first half merits a formal analysis for three reasons: (1) the early scenes privilege narrative economy o ver melodramatic excess, and are thus generally overlooked because of their ordinariness; (2) the film seems to demand a socio ideological approach because of its content and themes; and (3) the datedness of the or inaccessible to contemporary audiences. en scne, a stylistic choice that corresponds to the narrative situation: Lora and Annie are financially struggling. Clearly, the i ntentional drabness makes the second half look all the more extravagant. Once Lora becomes famous, the film showcases more expensive sets, more elegant costumes, and more expressive lighting. In terms of the narrative, the first forty five minutes are ex pository, giving the audience the history of second part. Imitation of Life Jane passing at school; numerou s confrontations between mothers and daughters;
11 7 Annie catching Sarah Jane at various nightclubs; Susie confronting Lora about being a bad moth and We expect such moments from melodramas, and Sirk manages them well. But what about the the only major event)? The first forty five minutes seem risky because they are so uneventful n Annie catches Sarah Jane passing at s chool, but it ends rather quickly. But other than this moment, the film remains calm until its second hour in which one melodramatic even t after another occu rs. Though a film of big scenes and pressured moments, the smaller moments, like the one I discuss, Black Orpheus can handle the big scenes (and the history of Sirk criticism can attest to this fact), but as I demonstrated when discussing All That Heaven Allows those scenes are not where true inspiration occurs. In Chapter 2, I showed how close analysis could open up sequence finds life in its smaller moments, ones that previous criticism had neglected. This analysis takes a different approach: here I examine a scene that seems merely perfunctory and that does not appear overtly significant. Formal analysis, though, can penetrate the ordinariness. I begin by exploring a simple, unremarkable scene and discover how the film is alive in unsuspecting wa ys. Additionally, Imitation of Life seems to demand socio ideological criticism. After all, race, gender, and class are the explicit subject matter, and obvious binaries
118 structure the film: black/white, mother/daughter, failure/success, poverty/wealth, ma sts we formal and narrativ e structures though, appears more sociological than cinematic: her real concern is the culture that produced the film, not the film itself. Likewise, all of the n ewer essays selected for the rather, I take issue with her idea that criticism has already exhausted the film on both the formal and narrative levels, and that new wor k on the film should move in a more historical or sociological direction. As I hope my work argues, certain films (and I believe Imitation to be one of these) seem formally inexhaustible and the prospect for continual discovery keeps such films alive dec ades after their theatrical run. Yet I can track focus on Sirk as an ironic visual stylist, the standard, formalist way of investigating his work has grown stale. Con considerably dated, and a formal investigation can give us access to the film in a way cultural cod
119 becomes a nauseating mixture of common opinions, a smothering layer of received then translated into the 1959 film, and then viewed again over fifty years later. Our thinking about race and gender has changed radically since 1933 and 1959, so the content cannot help but feel dated. About this datedness, Barthes continues, author to afford opportunities in his work for what will be modern, but rather a fatal (206). In other words, we cannot fault Hurst, Sirk, or the film itself: they were merely reproducing the stereotypes of their era. Formal analysis, though, can prov ide us with a fresh view of a film that initially appears closed off because of its dated content. inaccessible. Charles Affron provides useful advice here; in his comments abou t sentiment that are attainable if we are prepared to pitch our tension of awareness as unde rstanding those films requires us to literally see the world through the very lens provided by the film. success depends on our learning to experience the world the same way the movie does. Often, we must allow a film itself to teach us how to view it. In Imitation of Life we experience a stylized, soap operatic, overtly symbolic, and, at many times, ridiculous world, but the film does possess a consistent,
120 sometimes rigorous, organization of its material and we must become conscious of this formal level through our analysis. The Scene: Summary and Description At thirty conversation in the hallway outside her apartment. An extra appears, carrying a Christmas present an d a sled; he walks through the middle of the two characters while the corner. This analysis focuses a single filmmaking choice: Why did Sirk choose to include this extr significance arises from its inclusion. On the narrative level, the scene exists to accomplish two tasks: to show Lora up and to show how Lora gets her first majo r acting job. Thus, any filmmaking choices made within this scene work to forward these aims. I will begin with a brief summary of the entire scene, move to a detailed description of specific parts of it, and then work to understand why Sirk includes thi s extra. Thus, I will move through the process we lead our students through: from the literary level (a summary of the action), to a detailed description, and finally to an analysis and evaluation of a filmmaking choice. In this scene, Steve and Lora are going Christmas shopping. As they walk into the hallway outside her apartment, Steve hints that he has bought a Lora gift an engagement ring. Once the subject of marriage comes up, they stop their progression down the hallway. Suddenly, an extra appears forcing his way in between Lora and about marriage, with Steve trying to convince Lora. Before long, Lora hears the phone
121 ring inside her apartment, and she decides she must take the call once Annie mentions that her agent has called to offer her a job. Lora accepts the job, which angers Steve, and they begin their trip down the hallway again, eventually continuing their conversation in the stairwell as Steve attempts t o convince Lora to choose him over a career. Lora, though, angrily rejects Steve, and runs both out of the apartment building Notice, of course, how much a summary misses. Too often, though, descriptions of f Ellen Rooney comments, most critics today do not work from texts themselves, but from inciden characters and their actions. I use one here only to provide a useful context, but the real work of analysis begins with a detailed description. I am particularly concerned with the action that takes place in the hallway outside particular parts of the scene will not receive as much attention we can disc uss a single filmmaking choice, though, we need a detailed description of the scene itself. shopping. He apologizes for his tardiness, but soon opens a magazine and places it in first scene has been published as a beer ad, and the photo landed him an advertising job for a beer company. Here, the beer can photo makes its third appearance in the
122 film. Steve took the photo the first time he ever met Lora at Coney Island, and he then in person and pursue a possible romance. The photo has now doubly paid off for Steve with both a girlfriend and a job and he proudly presents it to her in this scene. Steve had revealed his artistic ambitions including showing his work at MoMA. Steve looking, green folding for Steve, but as we will see, wary of anyone who settles for less. The y then head out into the hallway. They pause briefly several feet from the doorway at a corner where they must turn to enter the longer corridor. The pause, though, occurs as more than just a need to turn; it happens as Steve faces Lora and mentions that he bought her a Christmas gift. She seems bothered, but Steve seems sure. They make it only a few feet farther before they stop again, Lora expressing her embarrassment that she does not have the money to buy Steve anything. A cut occurs, as the camera now frames Steve in a close moment of horror. The extremity of her reaction makes the quick cut back to Steve even more ri After these three close ups, we now see the characters in (roughly) a medium two shot. Lora begins to list her legitimate concerns about marriage, and Steve has a response to each. Throughout the shot, Lora gradually turns more and more away from Steve and toward directly addressing the camera her characteristic pose throughout
123 the film when she consciously performs. This turning occurs within a single take and corresponds to specific lines that Lora delive rs as she comes up with reasons why she getting his first big professional break. I vain would be too reductive; as Lora will state directly in a few minutes, she is disappointed, more than anything e lse, that Steve would be so satisfied selling photos for beer company ads precisely the kind of work from which she desires to escape. Lora turns roughly forty five degrees away from Steve before she delivers her next line: he does not look him in the face when she says a line that could be interpreted in multiple ways: would it be foolish to get married in general? Or merely to someone with low financial prospects? Or foolish on the part of Steve because marriage would slo w down his career potential? As the scene continues, this third interpretation seems to be the one Lora intends: she does not respect Steve because he would so easily give up a chance at a career to settle down in a marriage. When Lora now turns away fro m Steve and faces directly forward, she delivers a third line the more Lora wants to sidestep the real issue why she does not want to marry Steve, the less personally she ad dresses him, the third line being nothing more than a theatrically and, finally, the abstra
124 manipulation of language make concrete the thought process she cannot yet explicitly express to Steve, for she does not want to hurt his feelings. Her reticent movements give shading to the dialogue she delivers, causing the viewers to see a difference of degree between what she states aloud and what her movements imply. Later, when they argue, she will instead tell him directly to his face how little respect she has for him. Steve, though, does n ot pick up on the interpretation offered to the viewer here, in part because he and Lora are soon interrupted when a neighbor, holding a Christmas package and a sled, comes up the hallway. He forces himself between Steve and Lora, pressing Steve flat back ed against the wall, and forcing Lora to move back closer to her door and eventually against the wall as well. The camera tracks back as the characters move forward in the frame, and the camera now frames Steve and Lora in a medium close up in the reverse positions as before (Steve left; Lora right). All the action since the last close up has occurred in a single take (their debate about marriage, their moving up the hallway). A series of alternating close ups begins as Steve and Lora continue to debate way back to the corner of the hallway where her apartment door lies. But just as their the door and sees Annie answering the phone. Steve grabs her left arm to restrain her from entering. He pu lls her back and completes the kiss he has been attempting for some time now. Sirk cuts away from the kiss to Annie talking on the phone in a medium close
125 agent, is on the phone, calling to offer Lora a job, the one that will eventually lead to her her that a prize flea powder a d she posed for earlier in the film and wants her to audition for his latest production. For the second time within this one scene, a photograph from earlier in the movie pays off: first for Steve, now for Lora. Though Lora will criticize Steve for usin g his photograph to sell beer, she quickly forgets that posing with a Saint Bernard leads to her first real job. Sirk cuts back and forth between Lora and Loomis on the telephone, and when Lora realizes Loomis is not playing a joke on her, she agrees to i Lora she would have to sleep with any man who wanted her in order to jumpstart her career. Steve, thus, is rightfully suspicious, and he demands that Lora not accept sternly. Lora then indignantly replies, When he responds that he loves her, she tells him that is an insufficient reason, and she turns away from him to leave. The camera pans right as Lora scurries down the hallway and starts down the stairs, wi th Steve following closely behind. Analysis of a Filmmaking Choice choice of the intrusive extra. Had it not been for my desire to pursue this interest and see where it led, thi must start slightly later in the scene, with a moment that forces the viewer to reconsider
126 tions become blatantly aggressive. When Lora gets off the phone, she decides to cancel her date and go pick up the script instead. Steve then moves to intentionally block her. She moves around him, but just below the frame, he grabs her arm. Her alarme d response alerts us to this action, for we can only see his thumb. During their first time in the hallway, neither Lora nor we saw any overt aggression on the part of Steve. After all, we sympathize with Steve when Lora rejects him, as we come to view L makes us rethink the first hallway action. When we return and re view it, we notice Steve has been intentionally directing, blocking, and grabbing Lora since the beginning; we simply di d not register these as aggressive acts. In fact, just moments before Lora spoke with Loomis, Steve had g r abbed her in order to kiss her. In a grand gesture, reason se ems romantic, not forceful. This view changes, though, once he roughly grabs her after the phone conversation. Now, both Lora and the viewer realize that Steve is holding her back, trying to prevent her from leaving. When Lora realizes his aggression, sh e experiences an aspect change: Steve is more interested in controlling her, not loving her. Notice the way her eyes deliberately move up his body as he grabs But just actions here. And retrospectively, we discover that Steve has been directing her all along not merely beginning with his use of restraint here. When they first enter the hallway, S teve announces that he has bought Lora a gift, which comes as a surprise to
127 her because she did not think they were exchanging gifts. But rather than let her taking h old of her arm and leading her down the hall. Once they pause for a second time and discuss marriage, Steve does not block or restrain her in any way. She could freely move down the hallway if she chose. But then the extra passes through, interrupting St By why does Sirk include this extra here? What function does he serve? Figure 3 1. The intrusive extra On the one hand, the extra solves a merely technical problem: Lora and Ste ve are leaving to go shopping. But if they continue down the hallway, down the stairs, and out the door, Lora will not hear her telephone ring the call that will give her a job and obstacle that apartment so she can hear her phone ring. But why did the filmmakers use an extra to solve this problem? They could have used something or someone other than an extra; for example, Lora could forget her purse or need to tell Annie something. But any other option one can imagine would seem forced; for example, we would view the action as scripted and unnatural if Lora
128 had forgotten her purse and went back to the apartment at the precise moment the phone rang. Using an extra, however, adds a realistic detail that naturalizes the action here. As a result, when the extra and the offscreen sound force Lora back toward her apartment, we view these occurrences as mere ly coincidental. We do not yet have the movements here. They just happen quite naturally, and Lora and Steve merely seem like the victims of annoying, incidental intrusions. If using an extra is the best option, why did the filmmakers select this particular extra? Why use a gruff, heavy set, older man? What difference would it make if it were a young child even Susie or Sarah Jane; a young, handsome man; or a kindly, elde rly woman? Here, we can notice another key role the extra plays: the forcefulness of the not treat her this roughly. It is significant that the extra is male, push y, and rude, for he surface later in the scene, the film does not enable us to have this perspective just yet. At this point, the film still wants us to view Steve with s ome sympathy. And when we aggression. Once the extra passes by and moves behind the camera, Steve and Lora continue their conversation. Not only has Steve been interrupted but also he now begins to realize Lora may not accept his proposal. He must, then, become more Lora can still freely move backward or forward down the hallway. But then, for the first
129 time, Steve does not merely direct Lora he now blocks her with his left arm. We can give various interpretations to why Steve now blocks her. Perhaps Steve forces an intimate framing here so that no other intrusion (another neighbor) can force them apart and interrupt their conversation. He also may begin to sense that Lora will reject him, so he becomes more aggressive as a response. For now that Steve has given her give you a home, fails with his words, he turns instead to another form of ma nipulation: romance. When he pins Lora in, it creates a more intimate space in which he can persuade her to give in. Though she clearly does not want to marry Steve, she does want to give into the heat of the moment, for she continues to protest while sw But just as they are about to kiss, the sound of a door opening offscreen interrupts them, and Lora moves back even closer to her apartment door. Lora is now backed into a corner (literally and metaphorically), with reentering her apartment the only direction does give in to the moment, but the second their lips lock, her phone rings offscreen. Lora goes to answer it, leaving Steve clearly frustrated. On a second viewing, it now seems more than merely coincidental tha t Lora is pushed back toward her home as Steve increases the pressure of his proposal. She is not simply pushed toward her apartment, but toward the life of domesticity inherent in
130 th e extra and the offscreen sound push her. But now, those external forces combine with the pressure Steve exerts upon her to give up her career and settle down. On the first viewing, these movements seem natural; on the second viewing, Lora appears overwh elmed and desire to escape. If the first two interruptions (the extra and the offscreen sound) have pushed Lora back toward her apartment and support the interpretation that Steve forces Lora to accept a life of domesticity, the film soon reverses such a view: what seemed like entrapment soon becomes liberation. When the phone rings and the apartment door opens, the trap opens up. For once Loomis offers her the job, Lora mov es forward down the hallway, down the stairs, and out the door with great determination no matter how many times Steve tries to reestablish his dominance and block her. Both Lora and the viewer experienced an aspect change when Steve grabbed her arm. Now the viewer experiences a second aspect change: the film switches the initial interpretation we had of the action. misleading, for we can plausibly accept both interpretation s at the same time. Though Lora is being pushed back into the home, back to a life she does not want, at the same time as this very movement is necessary to free h er. In fact, we need both Furthermore, the complexity of these interpretations is only available retrospectively, for
131 s first half until watching the entire scene and then re only once, one sympathizes with Steve; he seems to be selfishness. This vanity is clearly suggested by the film: she wants money and fame over everything else in life a husband, friends, or even the daughter she already has. proposal with a financial concern. But the intricateness of the action here complicates the one sided interpretation they watch the film. Retrospectively, we real ize this shading and grading (to use V. F. The extra is not important by himself, but he becomes significant through his relati onship to o ther elements of the mise en sc ne and to their development within this scene. The extra provides the film with a subtle, plausible reason for Lora to be pushed backward. For if we cannot interpret Lora as being forcibly pushed into the home, her desire to reject and to escape from Steve lacks sufficient motivation she merely seems cruel. Thus, when we re watch the film, we feel for situation more deeply because we are aware from the beginning that Lora is being forced back yet she still manages to escape. Thus, at least in this one scene, egoism), yet understand h er desire to escape the false dilemma forced upon her (marriage versus career).
132 Evaluation What is the value of the way Sirk shot this scene? Could he not have solved the problem at hand in a much simpler way ? Why have Lora and Steve leave the apartment at all, since they must return there anyway to hear and answer the phone? apartment. This fact gets at the key evaluative point here: this scene could have been treated lik e the minor scene it actually is. In a film of grand visual excess, this particular, drab scene the bare hallway of a dismal coldwater flat lacks the usual Sirkian visual excess we find later in the film. In addition, the scene does not stand out because it appears merely functional. It exists to tie together and cover a lot of information: the beer can photo, Loomis, the flea that th ey do not become aware of style. The scene becomes stranger, though, the more one thinks about it. After all, it takes six full minutes for a character to leave her apartment building. Sirk takes a scene that required a simple, easy setup and expands it subtle, indirect way that would have either been absent, or been told rather than shown. T attention viewers afford it. Thus, I attempted to account for a neglected scene I have long sensed was important, but I previously lacked the words to express this significan ce precisely. everybody told stories, and theirs were
133 not fundamentally different but because of Something Else, because of th e way in ingredients, there is not much that separates The Reckless Moment (1949), J ohnny Guitar (1954) or Written on the Wind (1956) from dozens of mediocre products of the Hollywood machine. The crucial factor is the direction of Max Ophuls, Nicholas Ray, ke specific choices that bring the material to life, while other directors will only falter. And for many viewers, Imitation of Life does not stand out from dozens of other outdated Hollywood tearjerkers. But when we examine the decision making process that created the film, we can see through its datedness and gain access to its form. We must do justice to lying in plain view and simply waiting for someone to take notice.
134 CHAPTER 4 ECONOMY AND EMOTION ALL TOWN TETRALOGY Sirk and Authorship Throughout this work, I have emphasized the importance of filmmaking choices in analyzing and evaluating film scenes, for these choices provide the critic with concr ete material to assess. In Chapters 2 and 3, I performed close readings of individual scenes and sequences. This chapter has a more ambitious goal: to demonstrate more extensively how to use close reading to evaluate not merely individual scenes, but a d films from his later career, his earlier career at Universal Pictures requires attention if we are to have a more accurate view of his particular talent. Here, I will examine four related Si rk films and consider the value of various filmmaking choices Sirk makes. clearer view of his development as a director. As I evaluate these four films, I will explore how Sirk approached choices of camera movement, framing, and cutting/shot length choices that, with relative certainty, one can say that Sirk made. In his interview with Jon Halliday, Sirk himself suggested the relation among the films I discuss, period f ilms set in small, American towns: Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952), Meet Me at the Fair (1953), Take Me to Town (1953), and All I Desire (1953). These films provide apt material for evaluation, not simply because of this similarity, but also because of th e clear growth in quality that happened within two short years before how this development occurred. With the exception of All I Desire, the other three films have a ttracted no critical attention, and this essay, to the best of my knowledge, marks
135 the first extensive work on these films. This situation at least partially results from the unavailability of either Meet Me at the Fair or Take Me to Town on any home vide o format; and only within the past few years has Universal released Has Anybody Seen My Gal? and All I Desire in the Unites States as part of actor based DVD collector sets, however, and not as stand alone discs. I begin by discussing evaluation and the kinds of choices we can attribute to directors Sirk in particular. Then, I move to a general discussion of these four films, offering plot synopses and comments that prove essential because so few have seen these movies. Next, I state and define the cent ral filmmaking quality one sees from my close work on the films themselves and was not merely some idea I imposed on the project from the outset. I did not, for examp le, decide that Sirk was an economical filmmaker and then search through the films for the most economical moments; rather, close analysis suggested this idea to me. Thus, I devote the remainder of the chapter to close readings and comparisons of the form al techniques employed throughout these four films. My method here is simple: evaluation through comparison. Clement Greenberg made this link explicit: Esthetic evaluating means, much more often than not, making distinctions of extent or degree, of more or less. Relatively seldom does it mean a flat either or, a yes or no, a guilty or not guilty. Esthetic judging tends to mean shading and grading, even measuring though not with quantitative precision, but rather in the sense of comparing (and there esthetic sensibility without exercises in comparing). Esthetic evaluating is more on the order of appraising and weighing than on that of verdict delivering (7).
136 This chapter reacts against the journalistic practice of verdict delivering evaluations, the thumbs up/thumbs down, for it or against it style commonly found in film reviewing. The American Cinema provide the relevant contrast for my work in this chapter. I must begin with good directors make good films, and bad directors make bad films. Besides the evaluative, it begins at a much too general level. Since Sarris aims to produce a ranking of directors, he does not spend much time on individual films, let alone scenes or moments from those films. He lacks either the time, the inclination, or, as a journalist, the space to do so. How else could he praise or dismiss entire careers in a single paragraph as he does in The American Cinema ? For Sarris, the unexamined film itself is a basic unit, evaluated by critics of immense taste a taste developed and honed by watching as ma ny movies as possible. Of course, one does develop cinematic taste by watching, comparing, and ranking thousands of movies. But as a authoritative evaluation can occur wit details. directors make good choices, and bad directors make bad choices. If we move the
137 level of analysis from whole films to the choices that compose those films, we can make possess a scientific objectivity. This l ack is not a fault, but instead a necessity for Leavisian critical debate: a critic puts forth a judgment, and others accept, reject, or rewatch films and do close re adings because one would have already solved the issue of value. But value judgments fall on a scale, from the impressionistic to the more objective. On the far end of the scale, we find the purely subjective, initial response one throughout this chapter should suggest my distance from such impressionism. So although value judgments cannot possess the rigor of scientific proof value judgments can be more or less objective, more or less sound, based on whether or not they correspond to the way a film formally works. Also, critical debate would cease to exist if evaluations were merely lofty judgments. One must fault Sarris here; although he intends that his polemical rankings spark debate, they come across as theological, his reasons too personal and impressionistic to argue with. He rarely gives the reader anything concrete with which he or she can objectively debate. The issue conclusions in The American Cinema (his entry on Sirk, in fact, is particularly insightful), criticism. Consider, for example, a f ew sentences from his entry on John M. Stahl
138 Leave Her to Heaven or Margaret Sullavan having one last tryst with her forgetful lover on the second level of a duplex or Irene Dunne having a somber farewell 140). This brief passage contains everything frustrating about Sa rris: while he clearly knows favorite scenes. How does one seriously engage a cri tic who begins a sentence with a province of journalism. Yet if we move the discussion to the level of choices, problematic issues about authorship arise. For if we discuss choices, who is responsible for these choices? The director? Various collaborators? Hollywood filmmaking conventions? Because I concern myself with analyzing the effects of what I see onscreen, citing an origin for each aesthetic choice is not importa nt. But as I will explain, there are choices we can safely assume a director made. Not even the strictest auteurist believes that a certain directors bring a cert ain quality to their films even if we have trouble precisely defining that quality (Wood Hitchcock 9). It is not illogical to believe that while Sirk is not responsible for every aesthetic choice in his films, a film like All I Desire, for example, would contribution is not nothing. In his book on Hitchcock, Robin Wood makes an excellent point: expressed intentions to reject the fact that on certain levels the creation of a work of art or an
139 wanted to place his camera where he did, why he wanted to move it, why he wanted to cut, why he wanted his actors to move in certain ways, turn their heads at certain moments, speak their lines with certain intonations (20). In my evaluations, I make precisely these kinds of claims for Douglas Sirk: perfectly reasonable ones. I continually return to an interview Godard once gave to Cahiers du Cinma: while shooting, is: why do one shot rather than another? Take a story, for example. A character enters a room one shot. He sits down another would the film be better or less good? (Godard 223). As Godard remarks, even he does not always co nsciously think of such questions while shooting; but whether consciously or not, the director still deals with the question of why to compose this shot in this way. We can know, with relative certainty, the kinds of decisions we can attribute to a direc tor. Each day on the set, the director makes decisions about framing, camera movement, and performance. Thus, for any film, we can say that the director did these things at the very least. In the specific case of Sirk, we have evidence that he had consi derable control on the set once he began working with producer Ross Hunter on Take Me to Town (and nine subsequent films) At least two sources besides Sirk himself confirm that Hunter would meet with a director before shooting began and often intervene a t the narrative level (imposing happy endings, for example), but he would and, he cla ims, even editing (though it is unclear whether this control over cutting was merely in camera, post
140 Additionally, Sirk no doubt benefitted from the B picture mentality at Universal in the 1950s: as long as he worked efficiently and completed assignments on time, little to no intervention occurred. Yet whether Sirk was a great, expressive artist or merely a director doing a job, decisions had to be made, and we as critics can analyze and evaluate those choices. The intentions behind those decisions do not matter, but we can assume there was one intention (common to classical Hollywood directors): aesthetic choices were made that best supported the narrative. Even in a film as wildly stylized as W ritten on the Wind (1956), the aesthetic choices support the craziness of the story and its characters. But just because aesthetic choices work to support a narrative does not mean those choices are givens. Yes, there are conventional ways of, for exampl e, filming a conversation, and a director can easily fall back on the conventional methods. But working within those conventions, directors can work creatively and do more than simply what is l discuss). Only when we analyze several films by the same director can we determine whether moments of greatness in one film were merely lucky accidents or signs of filmmaking skill. The conclusions I reach about Sirk here are confirmed by the fact that Sirk continued to make similar decisions for the rest of his career. One must compare the kind of simple (but not simplistic ) questions raised by interview. For example, Sirk credits himself with the idea of doing a series of films about small Take Me to Town was supposed to be part of a larger idea I had a group of stories about small town life. I felt that with the little
141 money at my disposal it until Sirk wo rked with producer Albert Zugsmith ( Written on the Wind and The Tarnished Angels ) would he have the privilege of choosing a project to direct (Halliday 9). And before the success of Magnificent Obsession in 1954, Sirk was simply another Universal house di rector, whose assignments were chosen for him. No one at this way. Sirk takes this view when reflecting in the 1970s era of a personal cinema, but it does not corre spond to the way films were made as a communal, studio based art in the 1950s. ( Vietnam to Reagan 10). Such a strictly auteurist account would concern itself with detect itive auteurism lay in its reduction of the potential interest of a film to its authorial signature, so that a film was worth examination only in so far as it could be shown to be characteristic (stylistically, thematically) of Ray, Mann, or Hawks, for ins Vietnam to Reagan 10). I am interested in how Sirk developed as a filmmaker not in how successfully Sirk was able to express himself personally through his films. Whether or not Sirk had a grand statement to make with his films (the portrait that emerges of him from the Halliday interview) does not interest me. Statement or no statement, there is
142 still a film to be made with lights, cameras, actors, and props the concrete materials of filmmaking. We can largely avoid the traditional criticisms o f auteurism if we can move The Films Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952) In Has Anybody Seen My Gal, an aging millionaire, Samuel Fulton (Charles Co burn), poses as an artist named John Smith in order to decide whether or not to donate his entire fortune to the middle class Blaisdell family: Charles (Larry Gates) and Harriet (Lynn Barr), and their three children, Millicent (Piper Laurie), Howard (Willi am mother, but when she rejected him, he instead devoted his life to the career that brought him fortune. Now, he wants to give his fortune to the family he never had. But first he wants to test them out to see how they would handle the money, so he poses as an Fulton/Mr. Smith tests the family with a small amount $100,000 and they instantly become unbearable, nouveau riche social climbers. They blow through the money on a new house, new clothes, and large parties, and the family soon finds itself in debt. B ut the ruin is more than financial; Harriet refuses to let Millicent date the working class Ron, and instead forces an engagement between Millicent and the wealthiest bachelor earns
143 cover as Mr. Smith, and he leaves town at the end of the film, having decided that making the Blaisdells his heirs would ruin the family he has come to love. Most of this film simply exists to put the characters through the motions the plot requires. Two performances, though, elevate the film: those by Charles Coburn and Gigi Perreau. Scenes involving the friendship between Mr. Smith and Roberta, the young est Blaisdell, elevate the film and account for its quality. Their interaction creates Meet Me at the Fair (1953) Meet Me at the Fai r has the weakest story of the four films under consideration, and any synopsis will inevitably sound as spotty as the story itself. Doctor Tilbee (Dan Dailey) and Enoch Jones (Scatman Crothers) travel with their wagon, perform shows, up a young boy, Tad (Chet Allen), who has escaped from maltreatment at a detention home/orphanage. On the one hand, we have the story about the relationship among these three characters. On the other hand, the film contains a subplot about crooked small conditions and also to mainta in custody of Tad. A woman, Zerelda Wing (Diana Lynn), knows of the conditions as well, but is engaged to one of the politicians. Eventually, she Meet Me at the Fair marks the nadir of Sirk awkwardly, with several third rate musical numbers and fantasy flashback scenes. Many musical numbers were clearly inserted to showcase the casting of Chet Allen, a
144 child opera singer recently made famous by the first made for television opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors grade musical? In addition, the film contains several flash back fantasy scenes, where Doc Tilbee spins tall tales abo ut hand to hand combat with Chief Rain in the Face or his role as an understudy for Edwin Booth in Romeo and Juliet. Sirk ul A Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) (Halliday 87 88). The film does show potential with the rapport between Dan Dailey and Scatman Crothers, but it realizes that potential only intermittently. Though the script presents problems, the mise en scne presents an even bigger one: cluttered framing. The basic mise en scne practice here is to completely fill the frame with characters and other objects in order to obscure the cheap (and often non existent) sets. As a result, Sirk composes Meet Me at the Fair with an excessive number of medium shots; and even when medium shots are not used, Sirk fills the frame in order to obscure the background. This mise en scne practice abstracts characters from their environment, and as a result, this small to wn film lacks any feeling for small town life. In fact, the first wide scale shot of the town occurs twenty five minutes into the film and only lasts ten seconds. in mind tha statement that Sirk possesses a clear artistic vision, the first half contains a tr uth: of
145 Meet Me at the Fair suffers the most from the conditions of its production. Take Me to Town (1953) Take Me to Town 1959). For the first time, Sirk worked with four key collaborators, who contributed to the success of his best films: Russell Metty (cinematographer), Ross Hunter (producer), Julia Heron (set decorator), and Alexander Golitzen (art director). Through these collaborations, Sirk became a better film maker, and it becomes unclear whether to treat are true: (1) Before Sirk collaborated with any of the above four, his output at Universal was mediocre; and (2) when from Universal, the results lack stylistic sophistication. Throughout the four films I discuss, we witness Sirk and his collaborators growing more familiar with each other, becoming more assured o f their skills, and honing their filmmaking craftsmanship. The story involves three young children (Petey, Corny, and Bucket) who decide to find a new mother and wife for their widower father, Will Hall (Sterling Hayden). They do so when they meet Vermil lam. Vermilion committed no crime, but her association with a known criminal and escaped convict, Newton Cole (Phillip Reed), has resulted in her being pursued by Marshal Ed Daggett (Larry Gates). W ill, a logger and the town preacher, returns from work one day to find that the children have invited Vermilion into their home; she agreed to watch the children simply as an excuse to get away from Marshal Daggett when he arrived in town. Will at first d emands that Vermilion leave his home, but he soon comes
146 entertainer (they are precursors to the wretched gossips of All That Heaven Allows ), but Will suggests Vermilion p rove herself to them by taking charge of the town fundraiser to raise money for a new church. The criminal subplot plays a minor role in the film acceptance within the Hall home and reluctant (but eventual) acceptance by the townspeople. A scene occurs late in Take Me to Town (1953) that today seems self reflexive, Vermilion directs a inspects various aspects of the production as everyone prepares for the opening. At one point, she directs two female performers as they rehearse a musical number. As song. The co mparison lends itself to some particularly cinematic commentary professional. Where the women are timid, Vermilion is confident. Where their movements are clumsy, hers are precise. Where their voices are creaky and shrill, hers is sure and bold. When the rehearsal first begins, the trumpet player is on the wrong page, and the pianist cannot keep up; when Vermilion performs, the tempo picks up, and the musicians remain in sync. When the ladies perform, one pays attention to the silly lyrics; when Vermilion performs, we focus on her energy. The lyrics have not
147 changed, but her treatment of the material elevates what was laughable when performed by amateurs. Vermilion k nows what the amateur performers do not: style is Take Me to Town films. Though not a great film, Take Me to Town previous Universal pictures lack. For the first time, one senses control behind the camera and care behind the choices being made. It comes as no surprise that Take Me to Town contains the first shot in functional and aesthetically pleasing. Here, Vermilion and Will have just finished a conversation in which Will thanks her for cooking a good meal, but still demands that she leave the next day. The fram ing, lighting, and performance of Vermilion work to seduce Will; if she can attract him, perhaps he will let her stay on. The shot below takes place just as Will has reentered the house, and Vermilion remains standing on the porch: Figure 4 1. Vermilio n at the window Without a doubt, the shot results from the new and fruitful collaboration between Sirk but Sirk and Metty will frequently return to window framings wh en working together.
148 All I Desire (1953) Though All I Desire has received some critical attention (by Lucy Fischer, V.F. Perkins, Michael Walker, and Deborah Thomas), it still remains largely unknown and underappreciated. It is the first great American Si rk film. I will not spend as much time here on the film because it receives the closest attention in this chapter. It is no coincidence, of course, that the best film under discussion reveals the most through formal analysis. The plot involves Naomi Murd family she abandoned roughly a decade ago: her husband, Henry (Richard Carlson); an older daughter who resents her, Joyce (Marcia Henderson); a younger daughter who idolizes her, Lily (Lori Nelson; and her so n, Ted (Billy Gray). Naomi left town at the turn of the century both for personal freedom (to pursue her acting career) and to escape the scandal of an affair with a man named Dutch Heineman (Lyle Bettger). But while her family thinks she is a Broadway s written a letter to Naomi, requesting her presence at her own performance in a high school play. Naomi decide s to return to Riverdale, Wisconsin, where she causes quite the townspeople. Once the basic plot is set up, the film is far more streamlined than the other three, with the focus largely on the emotions of Naomi and her family as they cope with her return. For Henry and Joyce, it all happens too quickly: for them, a wife and mother cannot simply abandon her family and cheerfully return a decade later and expect acceptan ce. From the beginning, however, Naomi treats her return as a performance. Though Naomi acts as if she had never left and seems to treat the
149 Economy Past critics have admired Sirk for his irony, his mastery of melodrama, and his filmic statements about the disintegrating 1950s America; they viewed him as a termite artist, ste the definable: his economical approach to filmmaking. His skill is that, given the material s at hand (script, actors, sets, camera, etc.), he makes use of these materials in ways few filmmakers do. Most directors organize the frame in order to present the clearest view et accomplishes more. In classical Hollywood films, character movement motivates camera movement; Sirk also generally uses motivated camera movements, but he uses these movements to do more. Filmmakers use editing to tighten the action and continually pr ovide the ideal vantage point; cuts occur as characters move and speak in order to seamlessly weave various shots into a coherent form; Sirk cuts for these reasons, but again does more often establishing a dialectic between long takes and cutting that has thematic resonance within a given scene. Within the formal options available to filmmakers, Sirk continually makes choices that satisfy the requirements for engage viewers. Sirk has the same choices available to him that all filmmakers do (see between economy and style:
150 Finally, there should grow the most austere of all mental qualities; I mean the sense for style. It is an aesthetic sense, based on admiration for the direct attainment of a foreseen end, simply and without waste. Style in art, style in literature, style in science, style in logic, style in practical execution have fundamentally the same aesthetic qualities, namely, attainment and The administrator with a sense for style hates waste; the engineer with a sense for style economises his material; the artisan with a sense for style prefers good work. Style is the ultimate morality of mind (Williams 142 143). attainment of a foreseen end, simply and without waste for what Sirk accomplishes in his best films (142). To be an economical filmmaker means one finds a solution for the filmmaking problem at hand both by using and rigorously organizing the available resources and by making everything within the frame count. This chapter traces how Sirk became a better, more economical filmmaker throughout the course of four films. Yet the best way to discuss economy is not to define it, but to show examples uses a single prop a mirror in the opening scenes of two films, the earliest and last in the series. I then expand my scope to the broader concerns of mise en scne and ainder. Sirkian criticism has often identified mirrors as the stock in trade of the Sirkian mise en scne. Scholarly discussions of mirrors typically leap to a discussion of self reflexivity. Sirk himself encourages such a view; when Jon Halliday questio ns Sirk about the use of mirrors in a scene from To New Shores (1937), Sirk cannot recall any the mirror business in Zu Neuen Ufern. But the mirror is the imitation of life. What is
151 interesting about a mirror is that it does not show you yourself as you are, it shows you philosophical answer tells us nothing and eful question would formal choices become more economical, we can look at the differences in how Sirk employs mirrors in an earlier film versus in a later one. An answ er to this question will of mirrors, what works as a decorative, realistic detail in an earlier film becomes expressively employed in the later one. After a few estab lishing shots, Has Anybody Seen My Gal? opens with Samuel Fulton going over his will with his attorney. Fulton sits up in bed, while his attorney sits in a chair next to it. A large mirror figures prominently in the background, but its purpose remains qu estionable. More than likely, it exists as a realistic detail: bedrooms generally have mirrors, and so does this one. The mirror provides neither us nor the attorney with a view not already available through the blocking. The attorney and the viewer sim ply see a different side of the profile. If, for example, the blocking obscured interesting aesthetic choice. In other words, the mirror seems merely decorative, providin g us with nothing we do not already see; its potential to do more is wasted In addition, the choice to soon begin cutting through shot reverse/shot makes the mirror seem even more unnecessary. The mirror could have served to create intimacy in a unified space and in real time, but the characters are soon abstracted through cutting. Whereas a more creative approach could have turned an introductory, perfunctory
152 scene into a more interesting one (as with the hallway in Imitation of Life ), here convention merely takes over with the shot reverse/shot breakdown of the cinematic space. The mirror provides creative possibilities that Sirk does not put to use. Compare this opening scene with the opening of All I Desire, which takes place oom as she receives a letter from her younger daughter, Lily, asking her to return home after many years away to attend her performance in a school play. The shot lasts for fifty star reads the letter and Naomi responds. The sho t begins with both characters framed in a medium shot: the co star at her dressing table and Naomi in the mirror, looking at the letter (Figure 4 2A). The co star senses a disturbance as Naomi looks at the letter, and the camera pans right as she asks Nao 2B). Within a few seconds, Naomi hands the letter to her co star to read, the camera pans back to the left, and she begins to read it (Figure 4 2C). When she finishes reading it, th e co camera pans right again, repeating the movement that occurred in the second still (4 2D). A B
153 Figure 4 three, D) still four. C D Figure 4 2. Continued But why shoot the scene in this way? After all, the set up of still two (and four) could have been used fo r this scene: both characters in (roughly) medium shots having a conversation. So why does Sirk add the camera movement and the mirror framing of Naomi? These stylistic choices give a visual coloring to the characterization of Naomi that Sirk establishes productions throughout Europe, but she is actually a bottom billed vaudeville act. The reading o f the letter is a moment of deflation for Naomi, and the formal choices cannot. Rather than use the medium two shot framing that we see in still two, Sirk moves the camera to frame Naomi in a mirror while her co star reads the letter. The mirror, though, adds an interesting effect: within the mirror frame, we still see Naomi in a medium shot just as we see her co star in a medium shot, but Naomi is smaller because of the mirr or. Sirk frames Naomi using the same shot scale, yet reduces her size through the mirror. This framing occurs, of course, as Naomi listens to her
154 framing brings Naomi down to s ize literally. If Sirk had instead framed Naomi in a medium shot without the mirror (Figure 4 2B), she would have taken up a significant portion of the 1.37:1 frame, and this interpretation would have been lost. The most common technique for heightening emotional impact at a moment like this would be to cut in to a close up. At least here, though, Sirk is economical not cheap. Additionally, the framing visually juxtaposes Naomi and the letter the fictional Naomi and the real Naomi, introducing a crucial thematic structure in the film regarding how people perceive her character. The formal choices Sirk makes here do not add something beyond the drama (that is, narration), but they deepen its impact. In Has Anybody Seen My Gal? and All I Desire, both scen es have a single purpose: exposition. The former is merely expository: we receive the information the something more on oes so in an aesthetically engaging way. Sirk makes formal choices that unobtrusively characterization. In Theory of Film Practice, Noel Burch distinguishes between the practical use use. In other words, the filmmakers give special thought to an aesthetic choice, making it part of a structure or pattern in a give n scene or entire film. For example, every film has off screen space, but very rarely does the dialectic between onscreen and offscreen Nana Nana seems such an
155 important film today, it is not merely because it marks the beginning of the extensive use of off screen space but, more importantly, because it marks the first structural use could be used more creatively, like off s screen space came to be used almost exclusively as a way of suggesting events when directors felt that about framing part of a body to suggest off banal today as a way of situating a reverse angle shot (for instance, the back of a head 29). Burch himself admits that very few films (and virtually no Hollywood fil ms) meet his rigorous ideas, but after all, he intended his text a handbook for potential filmmakers. Nevertheless, we can take away from Burch a useful idea: the difference between sensing that a particular formal choice plays a given formal choice, can we detect that the filmmakers were aware of why this choice and not others? I believe we can by examining and charting the development of town tetralogy. Throughout these close readings, I will demonstrate that choices made by convention and practicality in the earlier films become complex and purposeful in All I Desire.
156 Camera Movement Camera movement provides an apt aesthetic choice to examine in these four films because it precisely follows this trajectory from unawareness to awareness. Obviously, an exhaustive cat alogue of camera movements would be unnecessary, so I have selected a few typical instances to make my point. In the first three films, camera movement supports character movement and little else. Sirk continues to use motivated camera movements in All I Desire, but the camera suddenly comes alive in a way it had not before; it moves, looks, examines, follows even when a static camera would have done the job sufficiently. Has Anybody Seen My Gal? take her out. The shot begins with Harriet carrying a coffee service, setting the tray down, and walking toward the door. The camera pans left as she moves across the screen and stops to s to Millicent that Carl has arrived. Roberta then follows the reverse path that Harriet took, walking from the foyer to the serving platter Harriet set down. The camera pans right and follows her as she does so. After picking up a sugar cube from the t ray, Roberta steps a few feet to the left and stands in the doorway to watch Carl enter and greet the Blaisdell family. The camera pans left with her movement, and then tracks slight forward, removing Roberta from the frame. Within a few seconds, cutting begins. The movement here tral focus, one can imagine
157 action: it would have been too awkward to cut away from the central action to show Roberta getting sugar cubes. But by uniting her action with th e central one, her action fits in more organically. Thus, we have a purely practical reason, the very kind Burch discusses. Meet Me at the Fair In this shot, Doc and Enoch have arrived at the orphanage to rescue Tad. A crane shot is used to follow the t The camera remains outside, starting at the ground level, craning up to the second floor, and then craning up and right to the door Doc and Enoch presently enter. Within the context of the film, t his camera movement comes across as strange and quite noticeable, partly because the shot differs from any other in the film. Sirk composes Meet Me at the Fair primarily with static compositions and medium shots. In the first two films, not only does the camera rarely move, but also crane shots never do more than work as establishing shots to set up a scene. This crane shot neither adds anything to the scene nor fits with any pattern the film develops. One could assume that, like other aesthetic choices in this film, the camera remains outside so that the filmmakers did not have to construct an extra interior set. The shot, though, does provide the kind of framing through windowpanes that would later become a staple of one compares this window framing with the aforementioned window framing shot from Take Me to Town, one can see precisely the Here, the window panes merely allow a clearer view o f the action from outside; in Take Me to Town Sirk coordinates window panes with character blocking and lighting to achieve an aesthetic effect: to make Vermilion look attractive to Will since she cannot directly state
158 what she wants. Sirk and Metty coul d have framed Ann Sheridan in any number of ways, but selected a formally interesting option. Neither of these instances, though, can framing will carry greater thematic resonance. Take Me t o Town Take Me to Town is the transitional film in this series. Thus, I have selected two different camera movements: one typical of the earlier films, the other a more complex one. In the first, the camera merely follows character movement: as Newton Ha ll rides out of town (on a white horse), and Petey, Corney, and Bucket ride into town (on a black horse). The camera begins with Newton in the frame and pans right as he rides out of town. Once the boys enter the frame, the camera pans left with them as they move into town. Compare this movement, though, with another from the film. Here, two events happen: first, the boys have come to ask Vermilion to live with them, and they await an answer. At the same time, Marshal Daggett has shown up and searches for Vermilion as her friend, Rose (Lee Patrick), attempts to stall him. Her potential arrest, of course, simple, but it differs slightly from the previous two films. The shot begins as Vermilion climbs out her dressing room window and crouches down just as Rose and the marshal enter (Figure 4 3A). The boys stand offscreen left, where Vermilion told them to wait moments before. After the marshal walks forward, looks out the wi ndow (forcing Vermilion to duck even lower), without seeing her, the camera tracks forward, placing Vermilion offscreen (Figure 4 3B). We now see only the marshal and Rose, with the window itself providing additional framing. Once the marshal realizes Ve rmilion has left,
159 he immediately begins flirting with Rose, and they soon walk out of the dressing room. The camera now tracks back from the window and to the left, framing Vermilion and the boys (Figure 4 3C). As she and the boys begin a conversation, a cut occurs, and the shot ends. A B C Figure 4 3. The camera conceals Vermilion. A) Still one, B) still two, C) still three How exactly is this movement more complex than previous ones? I do not argue that this movement here is complex merely th at it is more complex than previous camera movements in the first two films. It achieves this increased complexity because camera movement obviously converts off screen (29). But in the previous examples, off screen space is not charged as it is here. When in My Gal Harriet temporarily moves offscreen and the camera follows Roberta, we give
160 ce. In Meet Me at the Fair, we do not wonder what happens on the first floor when the camera rises to the third. But in this second example from Take Me To Town, the outcome of something within the frame affects something else hidden outside the frame; n ot only a relation, but also a tension, exists between screen space and offscreen space here. When Vermilion occupies offscreen space, we remain aware of her presence. For not only does she hide, but the camera has moved to hide her as well. Thus, the ca tension by both observing and participating in the action. All I Desire school graduation. The shot in question lasts fifty six seconds and begins with on ly Lena and Ted in the As Lena finishes this statement, Lily appears, walking down the stairs. Lily scurries to and the camera pans left with her, leaving Lily and Lena in the frame, but Ted offscreen. Lily moves right to embrace Lena, and the camera pans with her movement again. Ted enters the frame again, but he now gets up from the table. As he does, the camer a pans right with him and tracks slightly forward, but never comes to a complete stop. Lily, in a reproaching tone, breakfast nook to the living room, but it now tracks right rather than panning. Lena follows Ted into the living room to inquire where he is going, and the camera temporarily stops tracking to frame them through an interior window. As Ted exits, Joyce comes down the stairs, and the camera pans slightly right to frame Joyce and Lena in the middle of the windowpane as they embrace. Joyce and Lena walk left into the breakfast
161 nook, and the camera tracks with them. Notice, however, that once Joyce sits down at the table with Lily, the camera never remains completel y still. No full pans, tilts, or tracks occur for a few seconds, but the camera slightly wobbles instead. As we soon The camera makes three quick movements as Naomi app ears. When Lily made the same entrance earlier, the camera did not move until she was all the way down the stairs. But the moment Naomi enters the frame, the camera tilts up, quickly tilts down, and then pans left with her as she enters. Once Naomi sits the camera remains wobbly, but no significant movements occurs; soon, Henry comes downstairs, and the situation, camera movement, framing, performance, blocking, and sound occurs on a also the moment when Henry reveals that Naomi may stay permanently in Riverdale. Thus, the general mood is one of anticipation, and the style here fi perfectly. In addition to the more noticeable camera movements, observe how the camera never stops making very slight movements and adjustments throughout the scene. The camera moves anxiously, as if it observes with the same intensi ty and excitement that prominent chirping sounds. A remark Sirk once made to actor G eorge Sanders
162 good camera is Once Henry enters, though, the mood soon turns serious when Lily discovers that she will not accompany Naomi to New York because Naomi will remain in Ri verdale; arguments begin, Lily grows angry, and the composition becomes more static. The only significant movement occurs as Lily grows angry with Naomi for the first time. Sirk initially frames Naomi, Henry, and Lily in the same frame, with Joyce offscr een right. Yet once Lily gets mad, she stands up, and a camera movement now connects Lily with Joyce, highlighting their emotional connection. Sirk expressively blocks the character movements in other ways as well. Lena is the only character who remains backbone since Naomi left, and she is the one constant here as well. Lily, Naomi, and Henry all enter from the same staircase; thus, their entrances connect these sympathetic characters and distinguis h them from Joyce, who enters from another staircase in the living room. Joyce must walk a greater distance to the breakfast table (a place of warmth) than the other characters must travel; this details seems significant since Joyce, at this point, still remains emotionally distant from Naomi in a way that that movements, and he makes a subtle distinction worth noting: But every movemen t followed one rule, which was a rule of iron with me. (It has been discarded today.) That is, that a camera movement ought to be be justified by the camera. I lay out my camera mo ves before plotting the people (Stern).
163 motivate the camera movements. With his second statem ent, though, he adds an interesting point: a motivated camera movement can (or should) add something to that characters and camera are both acting and acted upon at the same time. Usually, a tracking shot that rushes towards an immobile character, for example. As Sirk mentions, such unmotivated movements occur more frequently in post classical Hollywood. But working with motivated camera movements, Sirk makes his movements an important quality of the economical filmmaker: the camera functions to present the characters and their actions, but it also adds a creative stylistic inflec tion. In this scene, for example, the anticipatory mood is suggested by the story (via the the other hand, the camera itself seems anxious through its constant, sometimes imperceptible, movements throughout the scene. Framing In Has Anybody Seen My Gal? and Meet Me at the Fair Sirk makes framing ue delivery. The framing, particularly in medium shots, serves to isolate characters as they deliver their lines, as if the spectator cannot be trusted to know to whom he or she should pay attention; a cut generally occurs as soon as the characters move b eyond a medium shot. This practice changes, though, with All I Desire and subsequent Sirk films. In this section, I look at how Sirk frames three different dinner scenes: in Has Anybody Seen My Gal, All I Desire, and
164 (1955). Alth ough lies outside the four films in this chapter, I find it useful to compare the earlier films with this later one in All I Desire. We can observe ho w Sirk treats roughly the same ingredients families, an outsider, a set dinner table differently and more creatively with each progressive film, from the rudimentary set up of My Gal to the expressive organization of Tomorrow. Has Anybody Seen My Gal? I begin with a shot breakdown of a dinner scene from Has Anybody Seen My Gal For the sake of space, I only discuss the first six shots out of nineteen. One first sees an establishing shot. The scene takes place during Mr. Smi Blaisdell household, and he complains that he cannot eat the food Harriet serves. about his wish for a car, the second cut occurs to show Howard and Charles talking. The third cut happens as new raccoon coat? Howard th cut then occurs as the standard continuity style practice common to any film. Throughout this entire film, framing choices never vary: framing decisions support character dialogue. Sirk frames characters in medium shots, often two shots, but even then, isolated from others within the scene. As a result, one does not feel the rela tionships here, and they do not develop organically. For example, when Mr. Smith mentions his affection for the family
165 later in the film it contradicts how the l, Charles and Harriet treat him unkindly, not suggest. So what would it look lik e to treat a dinner conversation as something more ? Dinner scenes from All I Desire and provide an answer. All I Desire In All I Desire, Sirk uses framing to show visually the conflict Naomi brings to the Murdoch household with h er arrival. One sees the four family members present within a When she arrives, the first cut occurs, and one sees a close Sirk shows how each family member reacts to her arrival all within a single shot, but with one major change: the entire family is never present within a single frame as before. Instead, the camera pans (and sometimes tilts) around the table as they react. A third framing choice then occurs as Naomi enters the home: once Lily opens the door and lets Naomi inside, the family will never again be all present within a single shot or a single frame throughout this scene. The framing choices demonstrate how Naomi literally inter rupts the familial space and any harmony within the home. Once Naomi enters the house, she always shares the frame with at least one other character until the framing noticeably changes when she greets Joyce, her staunchest opponent. The coldness of Joyc shots of Naomi close ups that completely abstract her from the family. One sees this second close
166 Naomi had an affair). Once Ted (innocently) menti ons the name, the framing further shots contained individual characters. Once these two events occur, there are seven with Naomi, Joyce, and Henry all seen in isolation at various times. Since Henry and emotion present within this scene. Through such deliberately modulated framing how characters are framed, who is included, who is exclud ed one sees both the damage Naomi has caused her family and the emotional rift she causes by her return. In the organization is simpler but more rigorous. This dinner scene shares a similar narrative situ ation with Has Anybody Seen My Gal : an outsider dines with a family for the first time; it also bears a similarity to All I Desire because we see an outsider bringing conflict into a once peaceful family. Though I will briefly recapitulate in order to establish the friendship/romance with an old girlfriend, Norma Vale (Barbara Stanwyck), and he invites her to dinner with his family; the coup son, Vinnie (William Reynolds) and elder daughter, Ellen (Gigi Perreau), suspect their right side. At the far left, you ha ve two characters completely ignorant of Clifford and daughter, Frankie (Judy Nugent, just offscreen in the still below). At the third place on the left sits Ann (Pat relationship harmless even though she knows that Vinnie and Ellen suspect an affair;
167 even if it is an affair, Ann believes Clifford deserves the attention he receives from Norma because he does not receive it from his ungrateful family. Figure 4 4. Establishing shot Here, Sirk frames with an almost mathematical precision, and one clearly senses the work of creative individuals not merely conventions. Quite remarkably, Sirk accomplishes muc h of this organization by the use of candlesticks. As in All I Desire, it matters who is in the frame and who is outside of it; but here, it also matters who is framed together and where the characters sit. Sirk uses the framing to divide characters base and their feelings about it. A B
168 C Figure 4 5. Dinner table blocking. A) The guilty, B) the suspicious, C) the ignorant After the scene begins, the organization becomes clear. Clifford places a she knew him years ago. Vinnie saw Clifford do the same thing when he first spotted Norma and Clifford together earlier in the film, and this actio n visibly increases his and the ignorant: Sirk then moves from simply dividing the characters through cutting to dividing the characters within the same shot through the careful framing of candlesticks. A slight pan occurs in the ninth shot, and the camera reframes from the first to the second still: A B Figure 4 6. Shot nine breakdown. A) Shot 9a, B) shot 9b In the first still (Figure 4 6A), Ann appears especially marked as a single character tightly framed by the candlesticks. This framing seems appropriate since she is the only camera then pans right, and we see the framing of the se cond still (Figure 4 6B), with a
169 single candlestick marking the major opposition within the film. Once Sirk sets up these when present within the same frame. One never, for example, sees Vinnie and Norma Marion and Frankie never mix with the suspicious ones. Ann sit apart from Vinnie, her boyfriend? Logically, it makes more sense to sit them next to each other; instead, though, Sirk blocks the characters to create a visual pattern here. Because of her place at the table, Ann works as a buffer between the guilty characters and the ignorant ones, and so her placement between Norma and Frankie proves essential. In addition, if Ann and Vinnie sat together, that blocking would throw off the grouping of the suspicious characters, Vinnie and Ellen. For even more evidence, one could also compare shots nine and seventeen: A B Figure 4 7. Shots nine and seventeen. A) Shot nine, B) shot seventeen In both shots, the characters sit in the exact same positions, and the shot scale is almost precisely identical; the camera is tilted slig htly lower in shot nine, and this change marks the only noticeable difference. Therefore, if one sees a candlestick in the second shot (Figure 4 7B), one should also see that candlestick in the first (Figure 4 7A). Yet the opposite occurs here: while the table contains four candles (a fact
170 established in the opening shot of the scene), one candle is removed in shot nine, only to be replaced in shot seventeen. One could, of course, attribute this change to a continuity error, and were it, say, a backgroun d prop, one could more likely assume such an error occurred. But an error seems unlikely here: the character groupings are too controlled and the candles are too prominent within the frame to go unnoticed by the filmmakers. So why does the candlestick d isappear in one shot and reappear in another? On the one hand, a technical reason exists: the camera moves in shot nine, from the framing that specially marks Ann to a framing that divides Norma and Clifford from Vinnie and Ellen (Figure 4 6). So having the fourth candle in place at the beginning of 6B). But the addition of the fourth candle and the separation of Clifford and Norma in the seventeenth shot serve a dramatic purpose as well: b draws attention to each character as an individual rather than as a couple, and this change corresponds to the drama: on ce Vinnie leaves, Norma begins to realize the scene. Clifford, though, goes on the offensive: when Ellen gets up from the table to leave, Clifford insists that she sit ba delivers this line, one now sees the candlesticks separating Norma and Clifford for the first time.
171 The addition of the fourth candlestick also sets up a possible interpretation for shot nineteen (Figure 4 8). Soon, Clifford has had enough and stands up both to reprimand Frankie and to demand that Ann bring Vinnie back inside. As he does so, he stands with a candle As he defends Norma, he physically enters her domain, and one visually witnesses candlestick, the scene would lack this effective, yet subtle, visual underscoring. Figure 4 8. Shot nineteen In these later films, Sirk uses dinner table conversations to show conflicts and allegian ces through careful blocking, precise framing, and, in the case of Always Tomorrow, the controlled use of props These techniques are not excessive and do not impose themselves on the narrative; rather, they both serve the drama and heighten it in a way that the story and dialogue alone cannot accomplish. The dinner scene in Has Anybody Seen My Gal could have been directed by anyone, and the framing choices do nothing more than follow convention ; the other two dinner scenes evince far too much cr eativity to be simply anonymous.
172 Cutting and Shot Length In his earlier films, Sirk not only shows a lack of trust in his audience through his framing choices, but he also demonstrates a lack of trust in his performers through excessive, unnecessary cuttin g. I focus here on editing within a scene, as opposed to between scenes. There are various reasons why a filmmaker would cut within a scene: perhaps the characters move, and a cut makes the action more legible; a match on action occurs as a character mov es from one room to another; or a shot/reverse shot pattern accompanies a conversation. Filmmakers can choose among such editing choices when deciding how to best break down a scene to achieve an intended effect. The central problem in the earlier Sirk f ilms is that unnecessary cutting often ruins the effect the filmmakers attempt to achieve. Each film here is about relationships, either among families or de facto families ( Meet Me at the Fair ). But how can one hope to organically develop relationships between characters when they are too frequently fewer, smarter cuts so that the filmmakers can establish the relationships so central to these films. Economical editing m eans (1) that filmmakers cut only when necessary performers. When filmmakers edit economically, they allow the actors to carry the drama instead of guiding the vie organic, felt experience. One can clearly observe the difference between non economical and economical cutting and shot length decisions when comparing the scenes from Has Anybody Seen My Gal? and All I Desire below. I discuss Meet Me at the Fair in between these two films because that shot represents a fortuitous
173 economical moment as opposed to the more clearly intentional decisions made in All I Desire and later Sirk films. When I discuss Meet Me at the Fair and All I Desire, I look at two shots that occur in a continuous take. For if economical filmmakers use cuts only when necessary, longer takes inevitably result. The long take in Meet Me at the Fair is an exception; All I Desire though, ext ensively uses long takes, and when cuts do occurs, they do for an expressive purpose (as in the dinner scene, for example). I find these two shots significant because they are exactly the kind that Sirk would usually break down through multiple cuts. Has Anybody Seen My Gal? Consider this short scene between Dan and Mr. Smith in Has Anybody Seen My Gal t to Thus, as their conversation begins, a match on action cut occurs as Mr. Smith hangs up his umbrella. One now sees the two characters in a medium long shot. For the purposes of this scene, another cut proves unnecessary and a future shot will demonstrate this point momentarily. The spectator already has a clear view of the two characters and an ideal vantage point to witness their discussion. But another cut does soon occur on the action of Dan hanging up his scarf atop the drapes. Dan and Mr. Smith now occupy a medium shot, but one soon realizes this cut was unnecessary. When Dan removes his jacket, he tosses it on a chair just to the left of Mr. Smith the chair visible in the second shot So, Sirk cuts again to a medium long shot so that the audience can see this action. Why did Sirk cut away in the first place when he has to
174 cut back a mere ten seconds later? The framing now repeats the framing in shot two. After the cut to shot four, though, there are no more cuts, and instead the camera moves to keep both characters in the frame as they move. This unnecessary cutting demonstrates the lack of creativity (or awareness) that goes into the editing decisi ons here: when the characters stand in place and talk and there is absolutely no need to cut this film in general), almost every adjustment of the characters results in a framing adjustment through cu tting. But in the fourth shot (where a cut would seem more likely making logic), the camera moves in a continuous take, even though the characters move around more than they have in the previous three shots. The editing here would make more sense if Sirk had employed a shot/reverse shot pattern; but each shot is a two shot making the cuts even more unnecessary. Perhaps defects in performance played a role in this scene and throughout the film: with the (minor) exception of C harles Coburn, a character actor, the film has no stars. At this point, Rock Hudson was still three years away from his breakout role in Magnificent Obsession (1954); this film was also his first with Sirk. Without a doubt, working with a star like Barba ra Stanwyck in All I Desire opened up the formal possibility for longer takes and less coverage to cover up performance errors. With the exception of A Time to Love and a Time to Die 1954 films feature star performers. Meet M e at the Fair I now examine a scene from Meet Me at the Fair that resembles the one from Has Anybody Seen My Gal Like the previous scene, this one involves editing when
175 characters remain roughly in the same position throughout the entire scene. One can notice how a long take makes sense here and benefits the performances. A characteristic framing occurs throughout the entire film because the main characters ride on a wagon: a two or three shot with the characters sitting at the front of the wagon, wit h the camera either at an oblique angle, or facing them head on. Because of this framing, any cuts will need sufficient motivation; otherwise, they will be simply unnecessary. Since the characters remain in close quarters while traveling, the film has an opportunity to develop a real rapport between them. Though Meet Me at the Fair is the least successful film overall, one senses a natural friendship between Doc and Enoch that resembles the one Mr. Smith and Roberta share. Although thoughtless editing c onstantly threatens to ruin this opportunity (and generally does), one particular moment stands out. Here, the characters sing a song with a call and response structure, so the cuts back and forth between Doc/Tad and Enoch make sense in this context. I e xamine one particular shot: the second shot of the scene, a long take that lasts one minute and thirteen seconds. It is precisely the kind of shot on which Sirk would usually cut in his early work. For example, in the scene from Has Anybody Seen My Gal a character cannot even perform simple actions like entering and room and taking off a coat without cuts. Tad up with a song. A cut occurs as Enoch turns around to grab his guitar, and the second shot begins. Before the cut, Tad questions whether or not Doc is a real doctor. ck for his
176 guitar, and Tad questions exactly what kind of doctor Enoch means. Enoch briefly and Tad continues to question Doc about the wonders he has seen. Within moments, Enoch finds his guitar, and he and Doc begin their song together. Soon, Tad joins in on the song, and the camera tracks in to frame him in a medium close up in order to mar k the occurrence. The shot lasts well over a minute before Sirk cuts at the beginning of t he action play out in real time, and this decision results in a rare, relaxed moment search for the guitar as he pauses to respond to Tad and then resumes his search just t he type of ordinary activity that filmmakers generally elide through ellipsis. Moments ehind what one watches. All I Desire Once again, All I Desire provides an example of technical sophistication. I explore a scene that Sirk more than likely would have broken into multiple shots in earlier films. One should notice how much Sirk accompli shes here through long takes and reframing occurs in a single, continuous take and lasts approximately fifty eight seconds. d Joyce to go horseback riding. Joyce has grown jealous of Naomi, fearing her boyfriend prefers her
177 fun loving mother. Naomi tells Russ she cannot go because she did not pack any riding clothes, but Joyce comments that she can find her old riding clothes in the attic (Figure 4 momentarily (Figure 4 9B). Naomi gets up from the window and excitedly s curries to where Joyce stands, and Sirk uses a medium long shot to frame them (Figure 4 9C). narky step tow ard the camera; Naomi sidesteps a chair in her way (Figure 4 9E). So far, the camera has not moved, but it now tilts just slightly upward to frame Naomi and Joyce in a medium shot (Figure 4 just responds aggressively to this question (Figure 4 her mouth open Upon delivering this line, Naomi not only leaves her mouth open, but t urns and slightly
178 going to get dressed, Naomi leaving the room. The c amera, though, remains in place as the scene ends. A B C D E F G H Figure 4 9. Breakdown of a single shot of Naomi and Joyce. A) Still one, B) still two, C) still three, D) still four, E) still five, F), still six, G) still seven, H) still eight.
179 If Sirk had divided the action into multiple shots, what would the shot lack? Most importantly, cutting would too quickly defuse the tension between Joyce and Naomi that the scene attempts to build. One can better feel this tension by experiencin g their interaction in real time. Normally, one could expect a close up when the scene grows heated and expect a shot breakdown like the following one: Close up of Joyce Cut to close Cut to close and so on. Cutting would mean that one could not see one character acting (speaking) and the other reacting simultaneous ly; instead, the camera would privilege one over the other as the film cuts back and forth. Yet this scene emphasizes an equal tension between characters, so it is important that the viewer sees one character speaking and the other character responding wi thin the same frame. Cutting into close ups would weaken the performances; the viewer would know that the tension was constructed on an editing table and not allowed to arise naturally. Here, the pressure instead falls on the performers, and they work to gether admirably to create a genuine antagonism between emotions through her body language. Certain minute details arise that one can only notice and appreciate on repeated view ings. One observes the expressiveness of how her mouth forms a slight snarl when angry or how she cocks her head when provoked. Neither cutting nor elaborate camerawork is needed here; aside from a slight tilt, the camera remains a motionless observer, and the performers carry the scene. Not only has Sirk learned when not to
180 cut, but also when not to intervene in general, getting the most out of a shot by expertly directing the actors. Stylistically, this shot sho wcases lean, economical filmmaking the
181 CHAPTER 5 poor script into art. In Imitation of Life rk has used his command over canonical films, one quickly run s into a conflict with Sir trans formed trash into quality. If that were so, Mystery Submarine (1950) would be the equal of All That Heaven Allows The story of Magnificent Obsession often receives the most criticism, but such a judgment usually m eans that one has not seen a film like Meet Me at the Fair arguably the least promising Sirk screenplay. Does Sirk simply redeem some scripts, but not others? director w ho can do something with nothing as Jacques Tourneur could, for example. The truth, though hardly ever discussed, is that all the films in the official Sirk canon had better scripts, bigger stars, and bigger budgets than his less successful films. When h e had those things, not only did he do better work, but he brought out the best in those performers and technicians as well. Though Sirk had worked with stars in several early films, they tended to be past their prime (Claudette Colbert, Barbara Stanwyck, Ann Sheridan). That Universal was able to secure Jane Wyman at that time a major star for Magnificent Obsession anything else: the film brought substantial box office returns; it catapulted the f ledgling
182 its characters. For example, in My Gal, a middle class family strikes it rich take precedence over any genuine human qualities and emotions. But contrast My Gal with All I Desire, and one can clearly see the difference. All I Desire had the same potential to feel more like a scripted premise than a human story: a mother, who abandoned her family, returns home a decade later, both causing turmoil within her family and reigniting the passion of her former illicit lover. Yet Si rk employs formal techniques camera movement, framing, and editing not to transform or Throughout the present work, I have tried to discoun ironist imitations. In other words, given all the bad things one could say about Hollywood its hokum, its commerciality, etc. is it not astounding that great works were actually produced and still matter today? To call Sirk a great ironist, then, is not so much to praise a quality Sirk applied to those films, but simply to acknowledge the difficultly of producing quality art at Universal Pictures in the 1950s. If Sirk were merely an ironist, I do not believe he would be an artist we still care about. Sirk respo nded to scripts not through irony, but through seriousness, often treating throwaway or ridiculous material with more respect than it deserved; at his best, he achieved an emotional honesty rare in Hollywood cinema.
183 c consistency, but he matured as a filmmaker even up to his last film. Many auteurists, of course, demand aesthetic consistency from their directors; yet when both the medium itself and the culture evolve so quickly, this criterion seems exorbitant. Or t o put it more simply, when a director makes twenty one feature films for a studio within nine years, he will occasionally fail. But what if Sirk had only made All That Heaven Allows or or Imitation of Life ? Peter Bogdanovich recal ls a conversation he had with Orson Welles: One time Orson Welles and I were talking about Greta Garbo. Welles adored her as an artist and was raving about her extraordinary presence, out of Camille and Ninotchka ) were really good movies? Welles looked at me If one is enough, Sirk has at le ast four and probably closer to eight. As I unearthed even the rarest Sirk films, I sought to remain open to the aesthetic experiences they had to offer. Yet Meet Me at the Fair The Lady Pays Off, and Week End with Father for example, simply did not of fer the formal richness I continually found in a film like Imitation of Life. Thus, at the end of this project, it strikes me that I celebrate the same films critics have historically recognized but for different reasons. Clement Greenberg remarked that great works of art are valued for many different, even Despite all the differences, the (Greenberg 26). For example, the ideological critic values All That Heaven Allows for its sharp critique of empty, upper middle class morals; I argue that approaching the film ideologically causes on e to miss the aesthetic density that goes beyond its political
184 message. But we both are still talking about All That Heaven Allows On some level of value, then, we both agree, and the film remains alive. Though I hesitate to assign any single quality t o great art, inexhaustibility must be one of those qualities. Peter Wollen, permanently across time, but precisely because it proves itself susceptible to a range of as Greenberg remarks, the agreements about which films we value will outlive critical di fferences. We must recall, then, the humble truth Randall Jarrell admonishes the critic k of art will survive not the critic. I write about films on which I am neither the only wor d nor the last word, yet I focus my attention and offer my words to honor and preserve their achievement.
185 LIST OF REFERENCES Brig ht Lights Film Journal Issue 6 (1977). Print. All I Desire Dir. Douglas Sirk. Universal, 2010. DVD. All That Heaven Allows Dir. Douglas Sirk. Criterion, 2001. DVD. Barthes, Roland. Roland Barthes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977. Print. --. S/Z. New York: Hill and Wang, 1974. Print. Cahiers du Cinma, The 1950s. Ed. Jim Hillier. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985. 165 168. Print. --politique des auteurs Cahiers du Cinma, The 19 50s. Ed. J Jim Hillier. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985. 248 259. Print. Bogdanovich, Peter. Movie of the Week. New York: Ballantine Books, 1999. Print. Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. Film Art. 9 th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2010. Print Bordwell, David. Making Meaning. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989. Print. Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Del Rey Books, 1991. Print. Brecht on Theatre. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001. 6 9. Pri nt. Aesthetics and Ideology. Ed. George Levine. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994. 153 167. Print. Burch, Noel. Theory of Film Practice. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1981. Print. Cameron, Ian Films, Directors and Critics Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism Issue 1 (2010): 1 4. Web. 7 August 2010 Cavell, Stanley. The World Viewed: Enlarged Edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979. Print. Comolli, Je an Film Theory and Criticism. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 686 693. Print.
186 The Social Network Time Time Inc., 24 Sept. 2010. Web. August 2011. Corrigan, Timothy and Patricia White. The Film Experience. 2 nd e d Boston: Bedford/St. Decherney, Peter. Hollywood and the Culture Elite. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. P rint. Dick, Bernard F. Anatomy of Film. 6 th Dixon, Winston Wheeler. The Early Film Criticism of Francois Truffaut. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. Print. The Social Network Chicago Sun Times Sun Times Media, 29 Sept. 2010. Web. August 2011. College English 63.5 (2002): 533 546. Print. Way Mirror: Imit ation of Life Imitation of Life Ed. Lucy Fischer. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991. 3 28. Print. Gibbs, John. Mise en Scne: Film Style and Interpretation (Short Cuts) New York: Wallflower Press, 2002. Print. Godard, Jean A Tim e to Love and a Time to Die. Godard on Godard. Ed. Tom Milne. New York: Da Capo Press, 1986. 134 139. Print. --Luc Godard Godard on Godard. Ed. Tom Milne. New York: Da Capo Press, 1986. 171 196. Print. --t Pierrot. Godard on Godard. Ed. Tom Milne. New York: Da Capo Press, 1986. 215 234. Print. Greenberg, Clement. Homemade Esthetics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print. All That Heaven Allows. Douglas Sirk. Eds. Laura Mulve y and Jon Halliday. Lancashire: Tinling Printing Group, 1972. 59 66. Print. --. Sirk on Sirk. New York: Viking Press, 1972. Print. Harcourt, Peter. Six European Directors. Baltimore: Penguin, 1974. Print.
187 Harvey, James. Movie Love in the Fifties. Ne w York: Knopf, 2001. 371 393. Print. --Film Comment 14.4 (1978): 52 59. Print. Has Anybody Seen My Gal? Dir. Douglas Sirk. Universal, 2008. DVD. A Hopkins Reader. Ed. John Pic k. Garden City: Image Books, 1966. 128 135. Print. Imitation of Life Dir. Douglas Sirk. Universal, 2008. DVD. Poetry and the Age. New York: The Noonday Press, 1972. 70 95. Print. Kenny, Anthony. The Wittgens tein Reader. Malden: Blackwell, 2006. Klevan, Andrew. Film Performance: From Achievement to Appreciation (Short Cuts). New York: Wallflower Press, 2005. Print. --Style and Meaning: Studies in the Detailed Analysis o f Film. Eds. John Gibbs and Douglas Pye. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005. 214 227. Print. --F ipresci International Federation of Film Critics, Oct. 2008. Web. September 2009. Klinger, Barbara. Melodrama an d Meaning. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. Print. Leavis, F.R. The Common Pursuit. Edinburgh: Peregrine Books, 1962. Print. --Nor Shall My Sword. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1972. 101 134. Pri nt. --. The Great Tradition. Edinburgh: Peregrine Books, 1966. Print. Aesthetics and Ideology. Ed. George Levine. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994. 1 28. Print. Levinson, Marjori PLMA 122.2 (2007): 558 569. Print. Victorian Literature and Culture 27:2 (1999): 537 544. Print. Madame X Dir. David Lowell Rich. Universal, 2008. DV D.
188 Meet Me at the Fair Dir. Douglas Sirk. Universal, 1953. Film. umstance: Intertextuality, Adaptation, and All That 45.4 (1993): 3 21. Print. Mulvey, Laura, Griselda Pollock, Formations of Pleasure. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983. 156 171. Print. --Twenty Style and Meaning: Studies in the Detailed Analysis of Film. Eds. John Gibbs and Douglas Pye. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005. 228 243. Print. All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays. Orlando: Harcourt, 2008. 270 286. P rint. Perez, Gilberto. The Material Ghost. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. Print. Perkins, V.F. Film as Film London: Da Capo Press, 1993. Print. --Rouge 9 (2006): 1 7. Print. --Movie 34/35. (Winter 1990): 1 6. Print. Phillips, William H. Film: An Introduction. 4 th Print. Polan, Dana. Scenes of Instruction. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. Print. Essays in Appreciation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. 311 332. Print. Cahiers du Cinma, The 1950s. Ed. Jim Hillier. Cambridge: Harvard Univesity Press, 1985. 126 131 Print. Modern Language Quarterly 61.1 (March 2000): 17 40. Print. Sight and Sound 29.4 (Autumn 1960):167 171. Print. Sarris, Andrew. The American Cinema: Directors and Director s, 1929 1968. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996. Print.
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191 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Charles R. Newsom grew up in the suburbs of Memphis, Tennessee. He first attended the University of Memphis, where he earned a B.A. in philosophy (2006). He then co ntinued his education with an M.A. in cinema studies from The Savannah College of Art and Design (2008). After being introduced to the work of Robert B. Ray, he decided to study film at the University of Florida. He received his Ph.D. in English from UF in May 2012.