I saw this as a teen at the Cinémathèque Québécoise. I was going through a Holden Cauldfield period where I thought everyone was a phony. And the biggest phonies were those who claimed this was a great movie. I think I half snorted, half-giggled my way through my first viewing, to the annoyance of my friends. They were talking about colour and screens and mirrors. I was, ´so stilted…and the deer!´. Learning to love and appreciate Sirk was my way of learning to see differently and learning different ways of seeing. The memory of that first experience has come in very handy when teaching the film subsequently. Laura Mulvey has written that one can map a whole history of Film Studies onto the history of the various approaches to Sirk: auteurist, Brechtian, Sociological, Feminist, Queer, etc. etc. and that is indeed the case. It´s now a film I never tire of watching…for the colours, and the mirrors, and the camera movement and the screens….and all what i then thought was ´phony´talk about it.
Seeing Todd Haynes´Far From Heaven (2002) recently, I was struck once again by the beauty and power of the work. Like with the greatest of films, new and different aspects of it catch one´s eye, in this latest instance the shot you can see above. Cathy (Julianne Moore) thinks her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is working late so she goes to his office to bring him his dinner only to discover him embracing another man. The shock of the revelation, visualised for us through a brilliant white light, makes her flee back into the darkness of the corridor, a canted angle showing her state of mind as her husband´s lover races past her.
The clip above begins in a medium close-up when she enters the elevator, shocked, out of breath, her face as if about to cry but not quite doing so. The shot then dissolves into the exterior of the Whittaker house, her house, lights on at night, with the camera low on the ground moving up past the doorway of the house, further into the darkness, then cranes up through some bushes like in a horror film and zooms in towards the light of a window, where Cathy is framed as if in prison, looking away from the camera to await the horror to come.
It´s a beautiful shot. Why the dissolve rather than a cut? Because this revelation is the cause of her house becoming a prison instead of a home. The knowledge of one thing actualises, shapes the conditions of Cathy´s subsequent existence. The shot of her shaken with the revelation in the lift becomes her entombed and imprisoned in her home, only partly visible through a window that looks like it has bars in it. We don´t get too close to her either and remain outside. A car´s headlights, ominous, and threatening, announces the arrival of Frank.
It´s a shot in which each beat is thought through, expressive, telling us not only the story as is but through metaphor, allusion, rhymings, through a particular usage of film form, also both distilling and expanding the meaning of a moment that seems true and beautiful, finding what seems the perfect form for its expression. Seeing it again, I thought this is what poetry in film looks and feels like.
It´s a shot, that like much of the film, also brought to mind Douglas Sirk´s All That Heaven Allows (1955), particularly the moment, just before Cary´s (Jane Wyman) children arrive but after she´s given up Ron (Rock Hudson) where the camera moves from children singing Christmas Carols to Cary´s icy tears, her house also now a prison.