"Far from Heaven": I appreciated the meticulous art direction and Douglas Sirkisms. I understood the rather obvious points about the fifties, and oppression and so on.

But did they have to make Julianne Moore look like a clown in that wig. Yes, I know the hairstyles were like that but really.

The film is desperately overrated: "I see the eggshell, but I do not see the yolk. . ."
- bunny 3-04-2003 8:07 am

What films have you seen tackle these subjects more eloquently?
- steve 3-04-2003 9:26 am [add a comment]

  • Sorry--I started out with a potshot that became a screed.

    I can't think of any single film that attempts to tackle all these subjects at once, as FFH does. In that sense, it is admirable. As for films that tackle these topics more eloquently: "Imitation of Life," "Written on the Wind" and "All That Heaven Allows."

    However, I think, as with a lot of cultural product these days, the shiny surface overwhelms the content. The only thing it comes close to expressing in some depth is that of the claustrophia of life as a closeted gay middle-class man in the 50s. And something that bears commenting on is the privileged status, (though tenuous), of the Dennis Quaid character. He's the only one with a relatively happy ending, yet his situation is presented to us as semi-tragic.

    I think the filmmaker means for us to see the situations of all three characters as related, as part of piece. And they are, but somehow everything still stays on the surface. Many would argue that that's what the 50s and the suburban milieu was all about. Julianne Moore's ludicrous wig is all part of that, just as the hairstyles in the Sirk films were, except back then, it was the style. However, one of the many virutes of Sirk's films is how far they do go beneath the surface, even as they exploit surfaces to tell stories.

    I think what is lost in the visual and thematic allusions to Sirk in FFH is Sirk's compassion for his characters. In FFH, the characters go through the paces in a highly stylized manner, behind a glass, at more than the usual one remove from the audience. Sirk's films are high melodrama with extreme acting, but there's no irony in those performances. My half-baked point about the wig is that I think there is a static, vaguely ridiculous and slightly malevolent quality to the Julianne Moore character throughout the film. This quality belies the otherwise high-style, straight-faced depiction of the times and the characters caught within.

    I think maybe the idea is that today an art filmmaker can only present material as "hot" as this in a "cool," detached, stylized way, in the same way that Sirk used high-melodrama to present themes that would not have been as presentable otherwise.

    It is that very high stylization is what makes me see FFH as a period object in the way that Sirk's films never were. I cannot take it seriously as a film that radically "tackles" the themes of repression and oppresion of women, gays and African-Americans. It's a reminder, and it's a valentine to Sirk for what he put forth in a time when it genuinely was radical and difficult for such themes to be discussed.

    "Imitation of Life" is a great film about race, class and mother-daughter conflictcompetition. Likewise themes of classism and repression of desire, both straight and gay, in "All That Heaven Allows," "Written on the Wind," and "Tarnished Angels." In screenings today, you might hear jeers and hollers and laughs, but it's history and melodrama and anachronisms that most people laugh at. It's like being scared at a horror movie. One doesn't really want to believe that that kind of behaviour goes on today, even as one knows it does.

    I think in trying to use the 50s and Sirk style to talk about certain strands and themes of life that persist today, Haynes did an admirable job. It's just that in the coldness and unevenness of presentation, he has presented a film that is more a bad dream of the 50s than a work of art with contemporary resonance.

    - bunny (guest) 3-04-2003 7:23 pm [add a comment] [edit]

I avoided it for all these reasons. I don't want to see a film-smart filmmaker's pc homage to another era! I want to see a movie about now! Like the films that were in and out of the Angelika in a week--Todd Solondz's Storytelling and Larry Clark's Bully (both of which I caught after the fact on DVD).
- tom moody 3-04-2003 7:58 pm [add a comment]

Far From Heaven is as much about now as it is about the 50's. Todd Haynes has a lot of balls to tackle the subject of race, specifically issues dealing with being a black man in America and he does so successfully. As for the issue of women's rights, it was nearly impossible for him to get the funding needed to make the film because the central charactor was a woman. One of his points is that times haven't changed all that much.
As for Clark, (I did not see Bully) he strikes me as being one of the most out of touch artists when it comes to the here and now or "reality" or whatever you want to call it. His world is a never never land devoid of people over 30, populated by bad boy junkies and just enough girls to keep it all sexually ambiguous.
- steve 3-04-2003 8:17 pm [add a comment]

  • That's my point---Haynes attempt is noble, but he fails to make the connection with contemporary life. I have no doubt about the purity of his motives. He chose to do something incredibly difficult in this epoch of fluff.

    He wants us to realize that these forces are still in operation in society and individuals today, but the film's preoccupation with surface style and props (even in the acting approach), precludes that realization, and results in a lack of depth and resonance both in the period and in the present.

    A lot of people have praised the film, and pegged FFH as a film about how bad things were "back then." And they were, much worse.
    - bunny (guest) 3-04-2003 9:21 pm [add a comment] [edit]

  • Our points seem to me to be quite different, Mine is that Far From Heaven is connected to contemporary life. There is no denying that tese themes are still big issues today. As for the surface style, props, wigs etc. What would you have him do? It's a period piece.
    I don't dispute that Haynes is deeply interested in style, all his works are, They are also deeply sincere. A balance I think most works of post-modernism rarely achieve.
    - steve 3-05-2003 1:35 am [add a comment]

    • And yes, some things were worse back then, but his film isn't about the "worst things" of the 1950's. It's set in CT. Not China or Littlerock.
      - steve 3-05-2003 1:38 am [add a comment]

      • I don't really know what you mean by your statement that "our points are different." I just disagree with you.

        You think the film successfully points to contemporary parallels and I do not. The fact that it's a "period piece" is not what I'm complaining about. It's lack of depth in the story and characterizations.

        In what way do you think FFH makes points about contemporary racism, sexism, homophobia etc.?

        Also, if there is any validity to your point that the film deals "successfully" with racism and the experience of black men in America, then the film IS about the "worst things" of the 50s. If you acknowledge the complexity of the societal position of the Raymond character in FFH, you have to acknowledge that Connecticut was Little Rock, but worse, because even a middle-class striver like Raymond, who owned his own business, lived the experience of racism and de facto segregation every day.

        In fact, at the end of the film, he has to leave town to avoid the hatred and violence spawned by his friendship with the Moore character. And where does he choose to go? Back down South, where boundaries were both more defined in some ways, yet less rigid in others.

        - bunny (guest) 3-05-2003 3:56 am [add a comment] [edit]

        • The film is about racism, sexism and homophobia, both varieties "contemporary" and old fashioned. You complain that it lacks depth storywise, Far From Heaven is virtualy a remake of All That Heaven Allows, the scripts are almost identical in terms of story and structure. As for characterization, the characters are as deep as any as Sirk came up with.

          Todd Haynes has the gall to make films about the things we hold personal and "proprietary" The Carpenters, Glam Rock, Douglas Sirk etc. and try to make something new out of them. Shame on him.

          - steve 3-05-2003 6:22 pm [add a comment]

          • I agree that it's about those things. However, just because the film follows the template of "All That Heaven Allows" doesn't mean that it works. I haven't read anything specific in your remarks that describes why and how FFH brings its points home in contemporary life.

            Because there exists racism in society today? Because there exist closeted gays and homophobia in society today?
            Because oppression of women still exists in society? Haynes makes a film about these themes in the 50s, very specific to the period in every way, and that is enough for you to say that
            his film makes contemporary points about those issues? How? Do you seriously think those same characters in that film would be in the same situation today?

            The Dennis Quaid character might be living in suburban Connecticut, but he'd be living in a Neutra house, probably very successful, with a live-in or live-out boyfriend. He and his boyfriend might even have kids. He might not be open about his preferences/identity at work depending on where he worked, but since this character worked at an Ad agency, there probably wouldn't be any need for him not to be "out." He'd probably be in aa if he had the drinking problem described in the film.

            The Moore character might be in a stifling marriage, but she would probably at least have a job, and a nanny, in order to handle two kids and a large house. If she didn't work, she'd probably have some economic activity on the side, and at least one forthright friend who would be supportive, maybe a shrink to talk to, and scores of books and magazines telling her to fulfill her own destiny.

            As for the Raymond character, he might live in one of the large houses in her neighborhood, CEO of a nationwide chain of gardening stores, and probably working all the time. His daughter might be attending a private school, if the local school was not deemed good enough. If he wanted to date Moore after her divorce, there might be some gossip and salacious remarks initially, but there wouldn't be for long. If he and Moore had a public friendship prior to a divorce, there might be gossip, but there would be anyway, even if he weren't black. The fact of his race would just mean a little more nastiness and titillation for those who enjoy watching the conflicts and hardships of others.

            I don't really understand your parting remark, seemingly intended as a weird sarcastic retort. I don't consider Sirk any personal favorite of mine, nor do I think his work must remain untouched. Glam rock, the carpenters--I don't see these as particularly "bold" choices of subject matter either. They're clever ideas, Haynes is an extremely inventive and original filmmaker.

            Don't throw the nutria out with the bathwater.
            - bunny (guest) 3-07-2003 2:12 am [add a comment] [edit]

            • To exhaust the exhaustion:

              I guess the best I can say regarding any contemporary resonance of FFH is that the film can be appreciated as a horror film. This slice of life is what the Bush "TEAM", jurists, cheerleaders, ideologues and demogogues, would have American society go back to.

              This is where things could go back to (for the lucky, because at least all three characters looked well-fed) if the neo-conservatives get their way, as they've been getting with precious little opposition.

              Thanks for this board for allowing my screeds and pedantisms the past couple of days. I think i'll go write some letters to columnists, legislators etc. ad naus3eum.
              - bunny (guest) 3-07-2003 2:39 am [add a comment] [edit]

              • I already said my (uninformed) piece on FFH. Please see my afterthought on Bully, below.
                - tom moody 3-07-2003 3:01 am [add a comment]

Here's a review of Bully I like from Atomic Cinema: "Grueling true story of how Bobby Kent, a bossy Florida teenager came to be beaten to death by a group of his peers; aimless, stoned, pathologically amoral white Floridians. The post-moral sub-society depicted is bewildering and shocking… like watching a troop of monkeys. Violence erupts casually and is forgotten in moments, and sexual pairings are equally random and volatile. This following comment is not to detract from this movie (which is marvelous): No mainstream American film has ever contained more nudity and sexual behavior than BULLY, and, like most sexually daring mainstream films, it's stark and pathological. Can't anyone, just once, make a light romantic American film with this much sex and nudity? It's a bad sign when crime stories always contain more sex than love stories."
- tom moody 3-04-2003 8:51 pm [add a comment]

"Tulsa" was the last work of Larry Clarke's that I found sincere and engaging, and that was stills, when I was in my late teens. I thought it was brilliant and depressing and exactly right, at the time.

Haven't seen "bully" though I probably will eventually. I don't look forward to it though.
- bunny (guest) 3-04-2003 9:11 pm [add a comment]

No mainstream American film has ever contained more nudity and sexual behavior than BULLY, and, like most sexually daring mainstream films, it's stark and pathological.

this makes it good? clark is a 60-something year old man obsesssed with teenage sex. something creepy about him if you ask me.
- linda 3-04-2003 9:31 pm [add a comment]

  • What I found great and strange about the photos of "Tulsa" when I saw them was not the "glamor" of the sleaze and degradation. The pictures show people whom Clark knew over a period of time--he was of that time and place and he was from their slice of the world.

    The weird sense I had looking at them was feeling Clark's kinship and closenesswith his subjects--like family snapshots. That was the shock factor--much more than the external low-down. The kinship and intimacy hits first and then you see what they're doing in the next nanosec then there's the distress in between.

    Clarke's subsequent photo series, "teenage lust" was exactly that and seemed like an attempt to recreate the success of "Tulsa", but more pointed titillation. It lacked that magic intimacy that made "Tulsa" more than a bunch of pics of speed freaks. I didn't like "kids," I thought it was boring and poorly constructed, a hack job, and I guessed that he had harmony korinne as his surrogate to get "close," but I don't think it worked. I'll see "bully," but I wonder if what Clarke lost was his ability or willingness to identify with his subjects.

    I think that's both the lure and the drawback of the voyeurism he embraces. He gets the pictures, but there's no alchemy.
    - bunny (guest) 3-05-2003 6:52 pm [add a comment] [edit]

I liked Bully more than Kids. It's shocking but also kind of a black comedy--the kids are such clueless idiots you can't help but laugh in some places.

Many critics have said Clark's voyeurism detracts from his films. In Bully I'd say (going out on a limb here) it adds a quality of longing for beauty and connection that makes the "troop of monkeys" that much more sad. Youth truly is wasted on the young.

I think Clark connects well enough with his young actors, and I don't think he's creepy. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld--now that's creepy.
- tom moody 3-07-2003 2:58 am [add a comment]

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