Todd Haynes wasn’t the first director to pay homage to Douglas Sirk, creator of teary melodramas such as Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life. Fassbinder had had a go with Fear Eats the Soul, a homage to All That Heaven Allows. And Haynes took the same source material for Far from Heaven, which nods like a demented thing at Sirk’s magnum opus. But why turn to something so apparently unfashionable? Three big reasons immediately suggest themselves – Sirk’s sweetshop colour palette, his unashamedly lip-chewing approach, his blowsy plot lines, they are all the antithesis of arthouse film-making and an ideal starting point for an auteur hoping to stir things up, which is exactly what Haynes was trying to do back then. All three fight for supremacy in Far from Heaven – which evokes the Tupperware/Avon lady world of the 1950s better than any film since Sirk. Then there’s that plot – perfect company wife Julianne Moore turns to black gardener Dennis Haysbert for succour after discovering her husband (Dennis Quaid) kissing another man. And the melodrama, that surely doesn’t need to be spelled out – shocked neighbours, uncomprehending, weeping children, Haysbert’s quiet dignity, Quaid’s character heading off to the doctor to get “cured”. It’s a rococo sweep and a half, played straight, served up in a movie so obsessively made there’s not a hint of an anachronistic slip.
© Steve Morrissey 2006