Sunday, December 22, 2002


Thanks to Todd Haynes' new movie FAR FROM HEAVEN, the glossy 50's melodramas of director Douglas Sirk are getting quite of bit of pop culture attention, this one in particular since the Haynes movie borrows so much from it, in terms of plot and visual style. Jane Wyman plays Cary, a resident in the New Englandish town of Stoningham, an upper-middle class community. Being past 40 and a widow, she seems a little disconnected from and perhaps stifled by her social circle. Her friends, including best buddy Agnes Moorehead, and her grown children (William Reynolds and Gloria Talbott) are trying to fix her up with Conrad Nagel, a perfectly respectable older man who is looking not for romance, but companionship. But Wyman winds up involved with hired landscaper Rock Hudson, who has three strikes against him as far as Wyman's friends and family are concerned: he's 15 years her junior, he's from a working-class background, and he's much more comfortable in nature than in country clubs or cocktail parties. The relationship is slow to grow, but once it does, Wyman becomes the subject of vicious gossip (mostly from the venomous Jacqueline De Wit). Her children subject her to tirades about her scandalous behavior, suggesting that she should be happy growing old in her lovely modern home, with a brand new TV set as her comfort. Wyman wavers about committing to Hudson with some typical soap opera results.

The reason to see this movie is the lovely use of color throughout: deep red (especially in the autumn leaves), icy blues, stark whites, pale violets. There is also a lot of blatant symbolism (the TV set, many scenes shot in mirrors or through windows, animals romping in nature), most of it reinforcing the dichotomy of the authenticity of nature vs. the artificiality and sterility of the suburban way of life. Moorehead gets to play a sympathetic character here for a change and she's very good. Charles Drake and Virginia Grey, minor character actors from the 30's and 40's, play friends of Hudson's, who of course are admirable and fully accepting of Wyman, in contrast to most of the townspeople. Wyman is fine, and Hudson is quite handsome and, well, healthy, though his character isn't as well developed as he could be. For a mainstream 50's movie, they are fairly open about the fact that Wyman and Hudson are having a physical relationship. The last shot, a Hallmark-card scene of a fawn in the snow framed by a huge picture window in Hudson's renovated mill (which winds up out-suburbaning Wyman's own living room) is a bit much. If you're going to see FAR FROM HEAVEN, this is required viewing first.

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