Magnificent Obsession (1954)

But back to Douglas Sirk. After that western we saw the other night, this is more like the “real” Sirk, or at least the sort of thing he’s generally esteemed for these days. I’m a bit puzzled by that esteem, or at least the reasons for same; once his Hollywood career was over. he was basically adopted as a master of irony and subversion, skewering the American Way of Life and all that. The main problem with this reading, I gather, is that Sirk himself refuted it to some extent; this piece by Tag Gallagher, with the sort of sneering contempt for “Sirk’s Champions” (the capital C is his throughout the piece) that comes only when one knows only they have the One True Interpretation, seems to think the sort of “irony” Sirk admitted to was actually a kind of sincerity or something. This is the sort of critical bullshit that makes my head spin. Let’s consider the story of this one: rich wastrel inadvertently causes death of beloved local doctor, then accidentally causes his widow to go blind, falls in love with her, pays for treatment, ultimately becomes a neurosurgeon himself and saves her life. It’s a basically Christian parable about getting in touch with a certain higher power by doing good for others in the shape of a soap opera, and its success defined what remained of Sirk’s career, though Sirk himself apparently hated the material and only did it because, well, he was contracted to do so… But it’s not like he did a Seijun Suzuki on the script, I’m not sure I see the “irony” Sirk’s Champions see. I’m not sure of Gallagher’s “sacramental” quality either. Maybe I’m not au fait enough with Sirk’s oeuvre to see what lies below the surface. Maybe there’s less below the surface to see than everyone else seems to think. I don’t know. Lovely cinematography and use of colour, yeah, but a fairly preposterous bore, I felt. Maybe Sirk just didn’t go OTT enough or something.

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