Sirk. Sirk is another great auteur who was completely overlooked at the time (and laughed at a little) in Hollywood for his soapy melodramas mostly “made for women” (aka “women weepies”) starring rock Hudson (who is no great thespian). If you want to talk about how unimportant acting is in comparison with direction Sirk is a great place to start. For the purposes of this list all of his films in the 1950’s bare his signature and his top 3 films (all in the TSPDT top 500) are very worthy of study and admiration. He’s a mise-en-scene master who has influenced many great auteurs after him (see the work of fellow German Fassbinder, Almodovar, and Todd Haynes) and followed in the footsteps of von Sternberg. He’s not quite Htichcock or Ozu but his 4 films in the top 100 in the 1950’s is pretty dominant.

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it’s far more than costume and furniture and flowers in the decor from Sirk- here a vibrant lighting splash in All That Heaven Allows

Best film:  Written on the Wind. it’s a clear masterpiece and a big one at that. The mise-en-scene is the show here and if you can get by Robert Stack overdoing the melodrama in a scene or two the story, writing, and acting are really his best.

total archiveable films: 10

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 3 (Written on the Wind, All That Heaven Allows, Imitation of Life)

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framing and detail in Written on the Wind

top 100 films of the decade: 4 (Written on the Wind, All That Heaven Allows, Imitation of Life, Magnificent Obsession)

avant-garde color work in suburbia

most overrated:   Imitation of Life is #171 on TSPDT. If you listen to them it would mean this is Sirk’s best work. I think the melodrama is tougher to stomach than in my #1 and #2 films of his (Written and Heaven) but it’s not just that, and if I thought Imitation of Life had the best mise-en-scene I’d pick it as his #1– but I think it’s third in this category as well. I have it at #443 all-time.

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obstructing the mise-en-scene like von Sternberg in Imitation of Life
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set design mise-en-scene again in Imitation of Life

most underrated:  Written on the Wind is here again- it’s at #339 on TSPDT and I have it at #140 so we’re 200 slots off.

painting the frame in Written on the Wind

gem I want to spotlight:  All That Heaven Allows.  I think this is a masterpiece as well and since it comes the year before Written I think this is the place to start if you’re just going to do a Sirk film or two. It’s just so meticulously crafted its costume, lighting, set design and completely décor– it’s impossible deny for any lover of cinema.

a perfect image in All that Heaven Allows
another one here using silhouette– wall art in All that Heaven Allows

stylistic innovations/traits:  What is it with the Germans and vibrant expressionistic mise-en-scene? In 1968 in his famous book Sarris wrote “Time, if anything, will vindicate Douglas Sirk,”. Boy was he right. As I said in the opening Sirk was dismissed by critics as a sentimental director of popular films (that amongst other things now look like a great time capsule of affluent post-WWII suburban America). Now it’s impossible to talk about mise-en-scene too long without mentioning Sirk—the colors, set design, splashes of avant-garde lighting–  He himself said “I thought which has gone into every angle. There is nothing there without an optical reason.”

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the dissolve is the perfect edit for Sirk’s rhythms and pace– the most beautiful too
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another great edit here
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pretty impossible to capture this– form All That Heaven Allows

top 10

  1. Written on the Wind
  2. All That Heaven Allows
  3. Imitation of Life
  4. Magnificent Obsession
  5. The Tarnished Angels
  6. There’s Always Tomorrow
  7. A Time to Live and a Time to Die
  8. A Scandal in Paris
  9. Summer Storm
  10. Lured
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every inch of the frame designed– meticulous

By year and grades

1944- Summer Storm R
1946- A Scandal In Paris R
1947- Lured R
1954- Magnificent Obsession HR
1955- All That Heaven Allows MP
1956- There’s Always Tomorrow R
1956- Written on the Wind MP
1957- The Tarnished Angels R
1958- A Time to Love and a Time to Die R
1959- Imitation of Life MS

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives