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In the Realm of Melodrama: A Douglas Sirk Retrospective

MUBI Special

“The angles are the director’s thoughts. The lighting is his philosophy.” —Douglas Sirk

It certainly is hard to believe that there was a time in which the films of German exile, melodrama maestro Douglas Sirk were underappreciated, even stigmatized as “weepies” or “soap operas” devoid of artistic value. But the truth is that it wasn’t until Godard, Truffaut and the young critics of Cahiers du Cinema called for a reappraisal of his oeuvre, that he was recognised as an auteur and the greatness of his cinema started to be understood. The self-reflexive richness of his mise en scène, the simmering emotions inhabiting each frame, his playful, lucid embrace of artifice and, above all, a brilliantly sophisticated, subversive use of irony articulate the vision of America of a true master. Today it’d be impossible to think about celebrated filmmakers such as Todd Haynes, Rainer Werner Fassbinder or Pedro Almodóvar without the colossal influence of Douglas Sirk. We couldn’t be prouder to launch a three-month long retrospective of his 50s Hollywood films—a pinnacle of melodrama, and a turning point in cinema.

Imitation of Life

Douglas Sirk United States, 1959

A departure from John Stahl’s 1934 adaptation of the same novel, this is arguably the most paradigmatic of all of Douglas Sirk’s melodramas—its devastating, sly, wondrously rich incursion into America’s race tensions remains unparalleled.

A Time to Love and a Time To Die

Douglas Sirk United States, 1958

Based on a novel by Erich Maria Remarque after the success of All Quiet on the Western Front‘s film adaptation, Sirk’s penultimate Hollywood picture follows a German soldier on furlough who finds fleeting love amid the rubble-strewn remains of his hometown. A haunting, existential romance.

The Tarnished Angels

Douglas Sirk United States, 1957

The social malaise, fiery trysts, and impossible trauma continue: Rock Hudson & Robert Stack star as the male melancholics encircled by the fierce grace of Dorothy Malone in post-WWI America. The Tarnished Angels is painted with rare feeling and wit. They truly don’t make them like they used to.

There's Always Tomorrow

Douglas Sirk United States, 1955

By now you probably know the deal: more Sirk means more melodrama, laughter, and perhaps even tears—in other words, pure emotion. Melodrama is once again subterfuge in this forbidden romance wherein true love is practically outlawed by suburban American life. Starring screen legend Barbara Stanwyck.

Written on the Wind

Douglas Sirk United States, 1956

Lust and impotence, booze, oil money and family scions—and above all, desire for approval, for love. Douglas Sirk’s resplendent melodrama, too often taken as camp, is as serious as cinema gets. Only, Sirk heightens it all: colors bursting, neuroses tormenting, libidos raging—excess barely contained.

All That Heaven Allows

Douglas Sirk United States, 1955

A melodrama so suffused with emotion, so ripe with sincerity and irony, so bountiful in color and design that it was remade beautifully not only by Fassbinder but also by Todd Haynes. Yet nothing compares to the original: a sublime experience effortlessly blending sweeping story and social critique.

Magnificent Obsession

Douglas Sirk United States, 1954

Featuring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson in melodramatic top form, and shaped by impossibly baroque plot twists, this is perhaps the most exuberant and luminous of Douglas Sirk’s ironic fables. An unmistakable, gloriously charged use of Technicolor.

All I Desire

Douglas Sirk United States, 1953

We’re overjoyed to launch a retrospective dedicated to the work of German exile, melodrama maestro Douglas Sirk. To kick things off, his first collaboration with a mature and wonderfully resilient Barbara Stanwyck, a period piece that acutely dissects the prides and prejudices of small-town America.

Life is too short for bad films

Every day we hand-pick a beautiful new film and you have a whole month to watch it, so there’s always 30 perfectly curated films to discover.