All That Heaven Allows Screen 11 articles

All That Heaven Allows


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  • In all the stunning grandeur of his heavily saturated colors and Superscope composition, Sirk never lets his characters become washed out, or treats them as secondary elements to his visual style. His sympathies save films like ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS from their own absurdities, and the more ridiculous his storylines and intricate visual compositions become (take note of the way he frames characters within things like window frames and television sets), the more beautiful his films seem.

  • More than anything else, All That Heaven Allows is simply a stunning visual achievement, with Sirk employing deeply saturated color and geometrical compositions (note how often a vertical line separates Cary and Ron in the frame) to rapturous effect. Only a good 35mm print can convey the film’s full aesthetic power, but Criterion’s Blu-ray upgrade provides a reasonable facsimile of the experience—there are blue shadows here that stagger the eye, even on a TV screen.

  • A masterpiece (1955) by one of the most inventive and recondite directors ever to work in Hollywood... Sirk's meaning is conveyed almost entirely by his mise-en-scene—a world of glistening, treacherous surfaces, of objects that take on a terrifying life of their own; he is one of those rare filmmakers who insist that you _read_ the image.

  • Objects play their own significant part in expressing the emotions blocked by convention in small-town, middle-class 1950s America. Sirk creates a cinema in which the screen itself speaks more articulately than its protagonists, tongue-tied by the conventions of their fictional setting, the powers of censorship in Hollywood at the time, and the norms of the family melodrama genre.

  • Beneath the stunningly lovely visuals - all expressionist colours, reflections, and frames-within-frames, used to produce a precise symbolism - lies a kernel of terrifying despair created by lives dedicated to respectability and security...

  • In both movies [Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows], Sirk turns to philosophy itself—in the earlier one, a spiritual thinker on an ethical quest; in the latter, Thoreau’s “Walden,” which provides the watchwords for a set of small-town freethinkers—to lay bare the thought behind the action. Yet Sirk derives his deepest inspiration not from these grafted references but from the nature and essence of melodrama itself—and, in particular, from its audacious proximity to the ridiculous.

  • Melodrama is a genre uniquely capable of fashioning such transcendental pairings, couples that simply must be together, and Sirk cultivates images of his couple that take them out of the coarse, material world and raise them up, turning them into icons, situating them in tableaux that would be familiar to the great religious painters of the Renaissance.

  • If the dissolve has traditionally been thought of as little more than a glue connecting scenes in a conventional dramaturgy, a functional symbol of time’s passage, the technique’s employment by Douglas Sirk always aimed at a more complex dimension. In Sirk’s films, the moment of the dissolve—often suspended for three or four seconds—becomes a composition in itself, a vital carrier of subtext. All That Heaven Allows... provides a rich case study in his singular knack for transitions.

  • Its frames within frames and deliberate camera moves can be picked apart in a sophomore-level film class with the rest of them, but the film is no "either/or" text meant to read in one specific way to one demographic, and an entirely different way to the other side of the generation-gender-irony gap. It's both rapturous and clinical, warm and cold.

  • ...Sirk’s direction is expressive in ways that his characters cannot be—and that the film cannot be, either. Such emotion, to be motivated by dramatic obstacles like human weakness and indecision, dated peer pressure, and the contrivances of a notably stylized genre! It contributes to a sense of a deeper, fundamental repression, which the circumstances of Hudson's tragic death, and the interventions of Todd Haynes's remake Far from Heaven, only embellish.

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    Sight & Sound: James Bell
    July 31, 2015 | September 2015 Issue (p. 18)

    The digital restorations looked vibrant and beautifully sharp in their own way, but there was an unmistakeable thrill in seeing Sirk's melodrama on a print from its time, its colours still almost deliriously, unstably lush and vivid, and wondering who else might have seen the very same print down the years (Fassbinder perhaps?).

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