Our Bill Gosden tribute wouldn’t be complete without a wall-to-wall Technicolor classic. Bill’s love of early cinema, vibrant studio-era musicals, and frankly anything starring Elvis could be felt throughout his retrospective programming, not least in the carefully curated Live Cinema events he looked forward to most. Douglas Sirk, Hollywood’s unrivalled melodramatist, influenced some of Bill’s absolute favourites — Fassbinder and Almodóvar, most famously — and this presentation of one of the director’s late masterpieces is a fitting occasion to luxuriate in larger-than-life filmmaking on the biggest screen available, as only Bill would have it.
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Douglas Sirk’s Texas-sized melodrama, made at the twilight of Hollywood’s fabled studio system, might just be the ultimate soap opera: the stuff of Dallas and Dynasty decades before, mounted on an expressionistic scale with star power and lusty chemistry to burn. Beefcakes by name and reputation, Robert Stack and Rock Hudson are duelling best friends entangled in the riches of an oil empire and the desires – both adulterous and incestuous – of their women, played by Lauren Bacall and, most unforgettable of all, Dorothy Malone as a raging nymphomaniac. These characters only have tragedy ahead of them; their collision course contrived in a manner that’s trashy to the core, yet also scathingly satirical.
At the peak of his mastery, Sirk lets the haute bourgeois tale of vanity and self-destruction take off, all the while steeping even the smallest moments in the deepest irony. Heaving with symbolism and intention in its precise use of colour, décor and framing, everything means something in this visual explosion of a film, at once excessive and brutally exact in its picture of the American dream.