Thursday, December 10, 2009
The Ten Movies That Defined My Decade.
4. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)
A few years ago in film school I was asked to do a paper on one movie and dissect its influences. I approached the professor and told him I was doing "Far From Heaven".
When he told me to pick another subject and stay away from fluff like this, I knew I'd taken the correct decision.
Todd Haynes misunderstood masterpiece is the kind of movie that was dismissed by the masses when it was released, in the same way the movies it pays tribute to were seen as just "women's pictures" during their era.
A clever study of how little things have changed since the days when Douglas Sirk directed Jane Wyman in glossy, gorgeous pictures, "Far From Heaven" was never about the past or just a "remake" of sorts, it was a full out critique to a system that in the United States particularly, was becoming more and more conservative.
The Army's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was cleverly shown in how Frank Whitaker (Dennis Whitaker) has to hide his homosexuality from his town and reminds me of another wonderful movie that dealt with the same period.
In "The Hours" Julianne Moore played a quiet housewife who's become an ornament in her home, when one day she asks a neighbor (played wonderfully by Toni Collette) about heir own fears, she just replies that all she knows is that their husbands deserve them, they went to the war and everything after all...
In Haynes' delicate work of art Moore again plays the 50's housewife coming to terms with her own inner demons (she played the "same" character in the exterior in both movies, but couldn't have made each of them more intimate and distinct if she'd had facial reconstruction).
"Far From Heaven" dealt with the Bush administration in a way few movies dared to, it questioned values that Americans had been carrying for generations and simply had chosen to name "tradition".
It helps that the movie is a wonder to behold (and to listen-it features the great Elmer Bernstein's last film work) with Haynes and crew recreating every single aspect of a production circa 1950's-and on a indie budget!
When the time came for me to get working on my paper I didn't just choose Sirk as a source of inspiration, I concentrated more on the works of Norman Rockwell, who also suffered from an utter underestimation of his work based on its looks.
A few months ago I read a wonderful profile on Rockwell and history is beginning to appreciate him for the brilliant artist he was.
He got away with paintings that contain layers and layers of disturbing symbolism and hid them under lovely family scenes.
I'd like to think that we live in an era where artists no longer have to codify what they're trying to say in order to avoid repression.
That's not always true and "Far From Heaven" will forever be a proof of how ideas wrapped in the prettiest packages might just be the most subversive.