World Melodrama: All That Heaven Allows, 1955
“I can’t shoot straight anymore.”
Two claims and one proof:
1) Contrary to popular belief and historical record, Douglas Sirk didn’t make films. He made affective war machines. They are emotional siege engines that frankly don’t care if you think yourself more knowing, tougher, more able to pick out the barely veiled mechanisms aimed at your heart, guts, and tear ducts. They don’t care because it doesn’t matter if you know what’s coming. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, sure, but what you do know can still make you cry when the love between a slab of beefcake wrapped in flannel (Rock Hudson) and an middle-aged Kewpie doll (Jane Wyman) keeps getting interrupted by classist neighbors, petty children, social convention, forces of nature, and a deer that stalks the scenes of their coupling like a mute, dewy nightmare.
2) When we watch melodrama now, we often laugh, hard, at things like beefcake and deer, and we often think this makes us more knowing, such that we are also laughing those who cried in earnest. This is wrong. Melodrama doesn’t care if you cry or laugh: those are just modes of affect. What it cares about is that it makes your chest and guts hurt from convulsive laughter or sorrow, that it makes the eyes wet from tears of the ridiculous, the pathetic, the agonizing, and all together in a savage compound that turns its energy back on the social institutions and relations – heterosexuality, the family, marriage, law, class belonging, race – and, like a war machine, reduces them to a hot slurry.
Proof: this film. It will do things to your body. Arguably the most infamous American melodrama, an entire dissertation on queer camp in itself, and a remarkably work of film style, you’d be a fool to miss it.
If you’re in Santa Cruz: Wednesday, November 7th Social Sciences 1, Room 101, 7 PM
If elsewhere, finish saying pffffffhhhh to all the fetid froth regarding elections and watch this with us at the same time.
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