May 6 – May 20

“LIFE’S PARADE AT YOUR FINGERTIPS”: DOUGLAS SIRK

Best known as the director of a string of lavish Hollywood melodramas made for Universal Pictures in the 1950s, Douglas Sirk (1897–1987) had a feature-film career that spanned almost 40 films between 1935 and 1959.

He was a successful theatre director in Weimar Germany before transferring his passion and critical eye to the silver screen, moving from Nazi Germany to the United States in the late 1930s before working across a range of studios and independent production companies before finding a home at Universal under the supervision of producer Ross Hunter. Sirk brought to his work a strong sense of drama, form and mise en scène, creating films famous for their stylistic excesses, precisely detailed décor and loaded texts and subtexts. Celebrated by the feminist and Marxist critics of the 1970s such as Laura Mulvey and the late, great Thomas Elsaesser, and championed by queer directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Pedro Almodóvar and Todd Haynes, his subversive command of the various forms of melodrama and other genres remains celebrated today. The seething worlds of Sirk’s creations are strangely fascinating, endlessly entertaining and provide extraordinary portraits of particular societies, character types and moments in time.

This season explores the various facets and stages in Sirk’s screen career, from his early, compromised works in the Nazi-controlled German cinema of the mid-1930s to his occupation as sojourner filmmaker elsewhere in Europe, and from his exploration of a wide variety of genres and modes of production to the extraordinary group of films upon which his contemporary reputation rests (All That Heaven Allows, A Time to Love and a Time to Die and Imitation of Life).

May 6

7:00pm IMITATION OF LIFE
Douglas Sirk (1959) 125 mins – PG

One of the great films about maternal sacrifice and race, Sirk’s swansong is celebrated as a sumptuous Hollywood melodrama nonpareil, as well as a characteristically searing critique of US materialism. This second adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s 1933 novel was made under the charge of producer Ross Hunter and is feted for its lush aesthetic palette, magnificent costume design and powerhouse onscreen performance by gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. A career high for Lana Turner and Juanita Moore, it also features Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner and John Gavin.

9:15pm ALL I DESIRE
Douglas Sirk (1953) 80 mins – PG

At the behest of her daughter – who has taken a lead role in the final-year high-school play – a fading vaudeville artist returns to visit the family she abandoned before pursuing her ultimately lacklustre stage career. Sirk brilliantly deploys stark black-and-white compositions and sweeping camera movements to precisely register a vivid small-town American milieu, compelling this simple family melodrama toward its heavy and moving climax. Featuring a characteristically sharp and bold lead performance by Barbara Stanwyck.

May 13

7:00pm ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS
Douglas Sirk (1955) 89 mins – G

This classic Sirk melodrama (later reworked by Fassbinder as Fear Eats the Soul and Todd Haynes as Far from Heaven), shot by the incomparable Russell Metty in glorious Technicolor, features an outstanding central performance by Jane Wyman as an upper-class widow torn between worldly passion for her Thoreau-reading gardener (Rock Hudson) and the rigid social pressures, material comforts and class expectations of both her deeply conservative children and the stultifyingly picturesque New England town they live in. With Agnes Moorehead.


8:40pm SHOCKPROOF
Douglas Sirk (1949) 79 mins – Unclassified 15 +

Sam Fuller and Helen Deutsch’s script follows an idealistic parole officer (Cornel Wilde) who falls for one of his charges (Patricia Knight), a “femme fatale” who wants to be a good girl – but society, and her past, just won’t let her. Sirk’s lurid melodrama teeters precariously between noir and something less readily classifiable. Undeservedly neglected, its deceptively trashy, tabloid surface mirrors the easy dismissal that the heroine suffers in the film. Charles Lawton Jr.’s meticulously framed images inspired a series of iconic works by British pop artist Richard Hamilton.

May 18 (Monday)

7:00pm BOEFJE
Douglas Sirk (1939) 94 mins – Unclassifed 15 +

46-year-old stage veteran Annie van Ees plays a 12-year-old delinquent who, with his best friend and partner in crime Pietje, dreams of ditching his hometown of Rotterdam for the idealised shores of America. Sirk’s last European production before he embarked upon a career in the US was a film he made in the Netherlands whilst in exile from pre-war Nazi Germany. In a Dickensian critique of the Dutch class system, with shades of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, Sirk explores the societal and human struggles between punitive, cynical and redemptive sensibilities.

35mm print courtesy of Eye Filmmuseum.

Special Monday screening to be introduced by Tom Ryan, author of The Films of Douglas Sirk: Exquisite Ironies and Magnificent Obsessions (2019).

May 20

7:00pm A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE
Douglas Sirk (1958) 132 mins – PG

This heartbreaking adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s anti-war novel is Sirk’s most personal film. Dedicated to the memory of the son Sirk left in Germany, it traces the life of a young soldier (John Gavin) sent to the Russian Front and forced to commit atrocities before meeting a girl while on leave. A sense of encroaching death and ruination grants poignancy to the film’s ill-fated love story and detailed portrait of everyday life in Germany during the war. Beautifully shot in ’Scope by key Sirk collaborator Russell Metty, it features Remarque and Klaus Kinski in supporting roles.


9:25pm APRIL, APRIL!
Douglas Sirk (1935) 82 mins – Unclassified 15 +

When a prince sends an order to the social-climbing owner of a noodle factory (Erhard Siedel) it triggers a chain reaction of mistaken identities, wild misunderstandings and hilarious deceptions. Sirk’s rarely screened first feature, made at UFA, is “a deliciously funny screwball farce” (Tom Ryan). The film features musical numbers but is also musical in a poetic sense, with its “upstairs-downstairs” depiction of bourgeoisie and servants forming “a contrapuntal household symphony” (Katie Trumpener).

February 5
OPENING NIGHT

February 12 – February 26
VITTORIO DE SICA: CINEMA, ITALIAN STYLE

March 4 – March 18
LIGHT AND SHADOW: THE MERCURIAL STARDOM OF MARLENE DIETRICH

March 23 – April 6
CAST A DARK SHADOW: THE BEAUTIFUL SADNESS OF DIRK BOGARDE

April 13 – April 29
THE BIG CARNIVAL: THE FILMS OF BILLY WILDER

May 6 – May 20
“LIFE’S PARADE AT YOUR FINGERTIPS”: DOUGLAS SIRK

May 27 – June 10
WILDFLOWERS: DANCING, DESIRE AND FREEDOM IN THE FILMS OF GILLIAN ARMSTRONG

June 17 – July 1
DRIFTING STATES: THE FILMS OF APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL

July 8
AT HOME IN THE WORLD: CECIL HOLMES, ACTIVIST FILMMAKER

July 15 – July 29
HIROSHI SHIMIZU: FORGOTTEN MASTER

September 2 – September 16
JEAN COCTEAU: THE POETRY OF DREAMS

September 23 – September 30
QUEERING THE ARCHIVE: THE CINEMA OF BARBARA HAMMER

October 7 – October 14
GALLOWS BACCHANALIAS, FRACTIOUS FAIRY-TALES AND THE RULE OF THREE: THE CINEMA OF JURAJ JAKUBISKO

October 21 – November 4
REACHING BEYOND THE FRAME: THE POETIC CINEMA OF ABBAS KIAROSTAMI

November 11 – November 25
BORSCHT, SAUERKRAUT, GOULASH AND LEMONADE: AN INTRODUCTION TO OSTERNS AND RED WESTERNS

December 2 – December 16
THE LAND IS OURS: YOUSSEF CHAHINE