This afternoon I was chatting online with my sister Chris, and she said one reason she found my comments about The Hours particularly interesting was that I hadn't read the book. I'm thinking something similar right now about Far From Heaven ... in this case, the "book" is Douglas Sirk's 50s melodramas, and I'm wondering what someone would make of this movie if they hadn't seen the Sirks that inspired it. No matter, I think it works anyway. It has a total lack of irony, which doesn't stop people in the audience from tittering at certain points as if they wanted to share an ironic distance that director Todd Haynes refuses to be a part of. The movie does more than mimic Sirk; in fact, it may surpass Sirk. But Douglas Sirk is something of an over-rated director; he was the best at what he did, he was committed to what he did in the same way Haynes is committed here, he offered layers in a genre where few were expected to reside, and his films had an evocative visual schemata. But even Written on the Wind or whichever one is your favorite is more the best B+ a movie can be than it is an A. All That Heaven Allows, the clearest Sirk precursor to Far From Heaven, is a 7 on a scale of 10, not a 10. I realize these kinds of grades are meaningless, but the point remains: Sirk is good-not-great, and Haynes, in many ways surpassing Sirk, still gets only an 8 out of 10 from me. Which means it's better than a lot of other 2002 Oscar nominees, better than most movies in general, but not quite at the pinnacle of film history.
On the way home, Iris DeMent popped up on the car tape, and the song could have been the soundtrack for the film we'd just seen, even though it's about a 90s Idaho couple rather than a 50s Connecticut couple:
I had a garden but my flowers died
There ain't much living here inside
Lately I don't know what I'm holding on to
I'll never make it up to Couer d'Alene
There ain't no chance of me forgetting my name
and easy, it keeps on gettin' harder every day