Monday, January 11, 2010

Douglas Sirk Retrospective 2 - ALL I DESIRE

We're a big disappointment to each other, aren't we? You've got a mother with no principles; I've got a daughter with no guts.

Continuing with the Douglas Sirk retrospective, we have his 1953 melodrama, ALL I DESIRE. In a theme that Sirk would explore most famously in IMITATION OF LIFE, Sirk shows the price paid by a woman who sacrifices her family to her career, and who later is positioned as a rival to her daughter. Barbara Stanwyck stars as the classic Sirkian heroine, a woman who has made a break for freedom and personal happiness, by leaving her decent but dull schoolteacher husband, her three children and her possessive lover, to pursue a career on the stage. A decade later she returns, to find her grown daughter about to graduate, and her family convinced she has made it as a big star. As with all Sirkian heroines, she is forced to sacrifice and subsume her passions in order to make her judgemental family happy. This is the genius of Sirk - on the face of it, ALL I DESIRE is a deeply conservative morality tale in which a malcontent runs from her responsibilities, returns home with her tail between her legs, realises that she really wants her dull husband and settles down to her dull life. But in reality, it is a film about the invisible constraints of suburbia - the malicious force of small-town gossip - and settling for less than you wanted through exhaustion and desperation. The resolution is less a happy ending than a resigned return to repression. It is a tremendous film - and all the more astounding because it is examining the dilemma of MAD MEN's Betty Draper on screen at the time at which it was *actually* happening, right in front of an audience who think they're in for some populist sentimental nonsense.

ALL I DESIRE was released in 1953.

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