by Jim Ridley
You can't get a Douglas Sirk Steak at Jack Rabbit Slim's, like Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, but this is much more filling and better for you anyway. Chuck Stephens, the Film Comment/Cinema Scope contributing editor and critic who also serves as a film instructor at Watkins, is giving a talk on Sirk 11 a.m. Saturday at The Belcourt before the 12:15 p.m. screening of the director's 1954 drama Magnificent Obsession.
You don't want to miss this. For one thing, Sirk's movies — exquisitely composed, bejeweled melodramas of high-pitched intensity — are dynamite on the big screen. (We'd love to see Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels and There's Always Tomorrow in their proper scale.) For another, Stephens' presentation during last year's Bresson retrospective at The Belcourt was terrific — a free-wheeling, associative multi-media joyride that would make a great film essay along the lines of Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself.
Here's a piece the Scene ran on Magnificent Obsession when it came out on DVD:
"There's a very short distance between high art and trash," ran Douglas Sirk's famous formulation, "and trash that contains craziness is by this very quality nearer to art." Sirk's feverish 1954 melodrama practically defines the outer limits of that short distance as well as its finite edge, but it can't be faulted for lack of craziness. Rock Hudson, in the role that served as his ticket out of the backlot Western, plays the callous gadabout whose speedboat wreck indirectly causes the death of a small town's saintly sawbones. Guilty and humbled — and smitten with the dead man's widow (Jane Wyman) — he attempts to carry on the late doc's pay-it-forward altruism, only to cause another life-destroying catastrophe. Sirk undercuts the sudsy spirituality with a palette of chilly pastels; performances that, in the polar opposite of Bresson, seem to have had every inkling of humdrum humanity clubbed out of them; and a hysteric pitch that splits the difference between devotion and derangement.
Plus you won't go away hungry — the theater's laying out a spread of coffee, juice and breakfast snacks before the film. Tickets are $18 ($16 for members).