Saturday, January 29, 2011
10:13 PM |
Hell is Other People Who Think of You With Such Good Intentions
We know people like Mona Plash, the gossipmonger in the center of Douglas Sirk's sly, subversive melodrama All That Heaven Allows
. Her tongue is a well-oiled scarlet machine of titillating tales, and people may publicly censure her for her gossip, but she is allowed to thrive for one reason: to make everybody else feel superior about themselves as they secretly delight in the tales of the fallen around them. Polite society is not so polite -- its cultivated airs are embedded in conformity. You stray, and you become the fodder for malignant stories, a wall of pressure around you that ultimately undoes you and the unpopular stand you have taken. This is what I get from my belated screening of this film, something I've watched on and off for the past two years or so. I find this vacillation strange considering this is perhaps Sirk's most famous film in the tradition of cinema he created with producer Ross Hunter (those slick and saturated melodramas, the so-called "women's weepies," which Universal Pictures churned out in the 1950s), and considering that I've already watched most of his other films, including Imitation of Life
, Written on the Wind
, and Magnificent Obsession
. What took me so long to finish this? I have no clear answers, except to say I've been quite busy dealing with more contemporary titles, and Sirk's masterpiece seemed to have this characteristic of "always being there," something I can return to anytime I wanted. Much has been said about the retroactive critical acclaim Sirk has since received for his previously critically ignored films, and much has been written about his films' subversive nature. (Read the Criterion essay on this here
.) I won't add anything to that scholarship. What for? What I can offer now is my personal response to it, as this blog's purpose dictates. And my response is surprisingly didactic and common: in Cary's (Jane Wyman) story, essentially of a beautiful caged bird who sings for love and finds it in an unlikely partner (much to the consternation of the other "proper" birds around her), I uncover a comforting truism. The moment you live your life around the fearful question of "What will people say?" ... that's the moment you become the living dead.
I have felt like Cary for most of my life. I am, after all, an outspoken writer and gay man, a teacher in a Protestant university, and sometimes I do feel the fangs of well-intentioned serpents like Mona Plash. There are many of them here. Some even pretend to be my friends. It gets tiring sometimes, battling these petty monsters, but sometimes, when I'm courageous enough, I just ignore them. Because life is too short to live it on the terms centered around pleasing people like these. The trick is to render their poison inutile. "Don't make unimportant thing important," Rock Hudson tells Ms. Wyman in this love story. I suppose we must. It is often very hard to do in practice, but he's right.
Labels: directors, film, society
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