Friday, March 5, 2010

1956: Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk)

1956: Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk)
After I first watched this, I wrote to my cinephile friends and told them that I felt it, more than anything else I had ever seen, influenced David Lynch's use of color and some of his more sentimental tendencies.  At the time, I was already a huge Lynch fan, but this was the first Sirk film that completely blew me away.

So many things work so well for me in this one -- the colors, the music, the production design, the camera movements, the acting, the locations, and the story.  It's one of these rare film experiences where I'm hooked from the first frame, and then Sirk only grabs hold of me more as the story goes on.  

There's an epic feeling at work (even though the film is only about 100 minutes long), and the tragedy is pitched at an extremely high level. But what really gets me is the incredible humanity Sirk is able to express.  And that he does it, in spite of the fact that he's working in an "exaggerated realm", that of melodrama.  

I can't remember ever liking Rock Hudson more.  Nor can I remember seeing a tragic view of friendship and look at the South that feel any more real, truthful, and penetrating.  I can't recommend this one enough.  To my eyes, it's a staggering artistic achievement, incredibly ambitious and almost flawlessly executed.  

Other contenders for 1956: A year where there are a number of things I still need to see.  These include:  Vincente Minnelli's Lust for Life, Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man, Alain Resnais' Toute la memoire du monde, George Stevens' Giant, Fred Wilcox's Forbidden Planet, Orson Welles' The Fountain of Youth, George Cukor's Bhowani Junction, Satyajit Ray's Aparajito, and Kon Ichikawa's The Burmese Harp.  For some reason, I've yet to fully connect with John Ford's The Searchers.  I'll keep revisiting it though, and hopefully one day it will have the impact on me that it's had on so many others.  I really like the following films from this year: Jacques Tourneur's Nightfall, Fritz Lang's While the City Sleeps, Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers,  and Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much.  I love Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman, Budd Boetticher's Seven Men from Now, Kenji Mizoguchi's Street of Shame, Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped, and Federico Fellini's Nights of Cabiria.  And my closest runner-up is one of my favorite noirs of all time, Stanley Kubrick's The Killing.

2/26/11 I watched Vincente Minnelli's Lust for Life.  It has some strong, emotional moments, and I'm always drawn to tales of artists. Douglas is wholly convincing, and Van Gogh's commitment and struggle are awe-inspiring.   The end doesn't necessarily deliver, but all in all, an extremely solid outing.  

2/28/11 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man.  This one has a major reputation, and is sometimes lumped in with the roll he's about to begin, including Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds. But this austere film never really worked for me.  It was certainly well-made and interesting as a departure for Hitch.   However, it lacks his greatest quality, his ability to entertain, and at times, like the coda, it's just downright silly.

3/3/11 I watched Fred Wilcox's Forbidden Planet.  A real head trip of a film.  Well-conceived sci-fi with thoughts and effects that still hold up. Not the kind of film I really go for, but one of the best of its kind that I've seen.  

3/19/11 I watched Kon Ichikawa's The Burmese Harp.  A masterful film.  That is one that is beautifully filmed with masterpiece ambitions, however one that always felt forced and slightly disconnected from me. Ichikawa has a great eye, and some of the camerawork is unusually expressive.  Also the non-linear structure feels incredibly modern.  And there's a certain poetry to much of it.  At the end of the day though, I never fully was in it.  

3/11/11 I watched George Stevens' Giant.  Raw and poignant but at times also heavy-handed  and corny.  An interesting epic, but one that also feels only half-formed.  Dean hints that he might have had a long, extremely interesting career, but Hudson is not as strong as he usually is.  

3/24/11 I watched Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Mystery of Picasso. It's a somewhat interesting look at the great Picasso's process.  But I wish, like Picasso says about his own work in the film, that the film went deeper.  Clouzot's process is repetitive and little engaging after awhile.

10/27/11 I watched Yasujiro Ozu's Early Spring.  Great by most people's standards but feels a little second-tier for Ozu probably because he was striving to do something somewhat topical.  

7/27/14 I watched Mark Robson's The Harder They Fall.  Entertaining enough and of interest for how dark it stays throughout.  I cannot remember Schrader's exact differentiations but I have to guess this one falls into the last nihilistic noir grouping.  At times a little repetitive and lacking significant plot surprises but worth one look at some point.  

12/28/15 I watched Satyajit Ray's Aparajito.  Not as affecting as Pather Panchali but still full of Ray's warmth and magical touches such as his handling of Apu's father walking back up the steps.  I just found it straining a little at times whereas Pather felt more effortlessly affecting.  

10/28/18 I watched Frank Tashlin's Hollywood or Bust.  Freewheeling Tashlin is entertaining and fun when the mood is for that.

4/6/20 I watched Jacques Rozier's Rentree des classes.  It is broad but an early New Wave film that captures the youth, playfulness and naturalism that would become key identifiers of the movement's initial work.  

4/14/20 I watched Jacques Rivette's Le Coup du berger.  Interesting to see as a very early film of the Nouvelle Vague.  But it does not feel particularly like Rivette or even stylistically very much like what the movement would become.  

10/27/21 I watched Douglas Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow.  It's incredible to see Sirk working in black-and-white the same year he'd make one of the most color-forward films in history (Written on the Wind).  Sirk takes the leads from Double Indemnity and substitutes extramarital romance for murder.  In doing so, he is able to create the same level of suspense found in the best noirs and achieve something even more emotionally damaging as it all feels more rooted in reality - kids, family, profession.  


  1. Good call on the Lynch connection. I always wondered if this film and (some other Sirks) influenced, in particular, BLUE VELVET, which really has that lush, '50s Technicolor feel, esp. the opening credits with the old school font for the film's title!

  2. Thanks, JD! So glad you see that, too. I've never heard Lynch say that Sirk was an influence, but I certainly think it's very possible, especially as you mention with BLUE VELVET. You always hear of Sirk's influence on Almodovar, which I would say is fairly obvious, too.

    Always great to hear from you. Thanks, JD!

  3. My Own #1 Film of 1956:

    The Burmese Harp (Ichikawa; Japan)


    A Man Escaped (Bresson; France)
    The Searchers (Ford)
    Early Spring (Ozu; Japan)
    Street of Shame (Mizoguchi; Japan)
    Aparajito (S. Ray; India)
    Written on the Wind (Sirk)
    Gervaise (Clement; France)
    Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Siegel)
    La Strada (Fellini; Italy)
    Flowing (Naruse; Japan)
    The Killing (Kubrick)
    Nights of Cabiiria (Fellini; Italy)
    Kanal (Wajda; Poland)

    I am a huge Douglas Sirk fan and of course, WIND is one of his undisputed masterpieces that pushes very close to the top spot of this year. Excellent point with the visual look influencing Lynch. Of course in a narrative sense it's Todd Haynes who is immediately thoought of. Ichikawa's THE BURMESE HARP, an elegiac Japanese masterpiece is a shattering experience in the theatre, where I first saw it (at the Film Forum).

    Outstanding qualification here!

  4. Don’t know why but I could never get into Sirk’s films. I am sure it more me than the films since you and many others like his work so much. Anyway, my pick is John Ford’s “The Searchers” one of the great westerns. Wayne, who I have always considered a limited actor though a giant movie star, gives one of his most powerful performances here. For a change Wayne was not playing John Wayne as he usually did; he embodied the character of Ethan. If Wayne ever deserved an Academy Award, it was for this film as opposed to the career Oscar he received for “True Grit.” Ford’s use of Monument Valley is exquisite, his love of the land shines throughout the film.

    #1 The Searchers

    Runner ups

    The Killing

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers
    Forbidden Planet
    La Strada
    Lust for Life
    The Lady Killers (released in the U.S. in 1956)
    Baby Doll
    Seven Men from Now

    Other HM’s include While the City Sleeps, The Wrong Man, Giant and The Man Who Knew too Much.

  5. John, I completely understand you having difficulty with Sirk. I think we all have those specific films or filmmakers who for some reason just don't connect.

    I like LA STRADA, BABY DOLL, and THE LADYKILLERS, although all a little less than the ones I mentioned above.

    Thanks, John. Always excellent to hear from you! And you make a very strong case for revisiting THE SEARCHERS, which I plan to do in the near future.

  6. Thanks, Sam! I really need to see THE BURMESE HARP. It sounds like it'll be right up my alley.

    I know from reading some of your posts that you and I share an affinity for FAR FROM HEAVEN. That'll definitely show up later in the countdown.

    Thanks, Sam. Always awesome having your perspective!

  7. I love this film too, great choice. Sirk's use of color and irony are second to none. And one other element I love in this film is the delicious sexual double entendres and sight gags, like the boy riding the toy horse in the background as a visual metaphor for impotence, or the model oil derrick in the final scene. It's such a wonderful, potent film.

  8. Jeffrey, 1956 is a strong year, and I say that without having seen Written on the Wind. All I can say is that I have seen the opening sequence and that was powerful stuff. I'm sticking with The Searchers (an epic in style if not in scale), but I'll also recommend John Huston's Moby Dick, Robert Aldrich's Attack! and Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur, among films that haven't been mentioned yet.

  9. Ed, great to hear that you also love this one! I agree that its use of visual metaphor and sight gags (as you put it) both add yet another layer to this fantastic film.

    Always great to hear from you! Thanks for stopping by.

  10. Samuel, great to hear from you! I've actually never seen Huston's MOBY DICK but I definitely need to. I will rectify that soon. It's great to see it in the mix.

    I put BOB LE FLAMBEUR as a '55 film. ATTACK! I like although I saw it around the same time as my favorite film for '57, MEN IN WAR, and I think I just liked the latter so much that it kinda dwarfed the Aldrich. But I'll have to revisit it in another context at some point.

    Always great to have you here. Thanks so much, Samuel!

  11. OK, sorry I didn't get this in yesterday, Jeffrey... had a busy one and then zonked out when I got home! :)

    My choice here has to be John Ford's THE SEARCHERS. I think it's his greatest film and is a top 5 western for me.

    There are two close contenders though - Kubrick's THE KILLING might be my favorite movie that he ever made. And Sam's choice THE BURMESE HARP by Ichickawa is amazing... possibly my favorite movie ever made in Japan. It's that good.

  12. Dave, yeah I really need to see THE BURMESE HARP and re-watch THE SEARCHERS! I'm looking forward to both.

    Thanks for the excellent comments! Always great to have you here.