|Born||Hans Detlef Sierck
April 26, 1897
Hamburg, German Empire
|Died||January 14, 1987
Lugano, Ticino, Switzerland
|Spouse(s)||Hilde Jary (1899–1989)
Lydia Brinken (d. 1947)
Life and work
He joined Ufa (Universum Film AG) in 1934, and started a successful career with a number of short films and musical comedies. His exotic melodramas Zu neuen Ufern and La Habanera made a star of the Nazi cinema out of Swedish singer Zarah Leander. He left Germany in 1937 because of his political leanings and his Jewish (second) wife, actress Hilde Jary. Still in Europe he worked on films in Switzerland and the Netherlands. On arrival in the United States, he soon changed his German name. By 1942 he was in Hollywood, directing the stridently anti-Nazi Hitler's Madman for the exiled German Producer Seymour Nebenzal.
He made his name with a series of lush, colorful melodramas for Universal-International Pictures from 1952 to 1959: Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), The Tarnished Angels (1957), A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958), his masterpiece according to Jean-Luc Godard, and Imitation of Life (1959). But it was at the pinnacle of his high-profile accomplishments as Universal's most successful director that he left the United States and filmmaking. He died in Lugano, Switzerland, nearly thirty years later, with only a brief return behind the camera in Germany in the 1970s, teaching at the film school Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film in Munich.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (July 2008)|
Sirk's melodramas of the 1950s, while highly commercially successful, were generally very poorly received by reviewers. His films were considered unimportant (because they revolve around female and domestic issues), banal (because of their focus on larger-than-life feelings) and unrealistic (because of their conspicuous style).
Attitudes toward Sirk's films changed drastically in the 1960s and 1970s as his work was re-examined by French, American, and British critics. From around 1970 there was a considerable interest among academic film scholars for Sirk's work - especially his American melodramas. Often centering on the formerly criticized style, his films were now seen as masterpieces of irony. The plots of the films were no longer taken at face value, and the analyses instead found that the films really criticized American society underneath the banal surface plot. The criticism of the 1970s and early 1980s was dominated by an ideological take on Sirk's work, gradually changing from being Marxist-inspired in the early 1970s to being focused on gender and sexuality in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Sirk's reputation was also helped by a widespread nostalgia for old-fashioned Hollywood films in the 1970s. His work is now widely considered to show excellent control of the visuals, extending from lighting and framing to costumes and sets that are saturated with symbolism and shot through with subtle barbs of irony. Film critic Roger Ebert has said, "To appreciate a film like Written on the Wind probably takes more sophistication than to understand one of Ingmar Bergman's masterpieces, because Bergman's themes are visible and underlined, while with Sirk the style conceals the message."
Sirk's films have also been praised and quoted in films by directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder (whose Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is partly based on All That Heaven Allows) and, later Quentin Tarantino, Todd Haynes, Pedro Almodóvar, Wong Kar-wai, John Waters and Lars von Trier. For instance, Almodóvar's vibrant use of color in 1988's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown recalls the cinematography of Sirk's films of the 1950s, while Haynes' Far From Heaven was a conscious attempt to replicate a typical Sirk melodrama - in particular All That Heaven Allows - but with a more obviously ironic take on the material. Tarantino paid homage to Sirk and his melodramatic style in Pulp Fiction, when character Vincent Vega, at a '50s-themed restaurant, orders the "Douglas Sirk steak" cooked "bloody as hell." Aki Kaurismäki paid homage as well in his silent film Juha to Sirk, the villain's sport car is named "Sierck".
- Zwei Windhunde / Zwei Genies (1934)
- Der eingebildete Kranke (1935)
- 3 x Ehe (1935)
- The Christian Brothers at Mont La Salle (1941)
- Sprich zu mir wie der Regen (1975) co-director with group of film students
- Sylvesternacht (1977) co-director with group of film students
- Bourbon Street Blues (1979) co-director with group of film students
- "This, anyhow, is what enchants me about Sirk: this delirious mixture of medieval and modern sentimentality and subtlety, tame compositions and frenzied CinemaScope." - Jean-Luc Godard in a review of Sirk's A Time to Love and a Time to Die. [SOURCE: Godard on Godard, Translated by Tom Milne, Da Capo Press]
In popular culture
- In the film Pulp Fiction, Vincent Vega orders a 'Douglas Sirk Steak - bloody as hell!'[SOURCE: Pulp Fiction Screeplay]
- Far from Heaven (2002) directed by Todd Haynes was largely inspired by Sirk's work—especially All That Heaven Allows.
- Polyester (1981) directed by John Waters was, according to Waters, informed by Sirk's Universal melodramas.
- Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf) (1974) by Rainer Werner Fassbinder transposes All That Heaven Allows into contemporary Germany, with Rock Hudson's Thoreau-esque man of the soil recast as a Moroccan "guest worker".
- Out There in the Dark (2006) by Wesley Strick features a protagonist called "Dieter Seiff" loosely based on Sirk.
- Drachenfels (1989) in this gothic fantasy novel by Kim Newman (who penned it under the pseudonym Jack Yeovil) the protagonist is a young thespian and dramatist named Detlef Sierck, who receives the task of writing a piece about a renowned epic deed by the same prince who accomplished it twenty years before.[clarification needed]
- Barbara Klinger Melodrama and Meaning: history, culture, and the films of Douglas Sirk. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, USA, 1994
- :: rogerebert.com :: Great Movies :: Written on the Wind (xhtml)
- Douglas Sirk Bibliography (via UC Berkeley)
- Klinger, Barbara. Melodrama and Meaning: history, culture, and the films of Douglas Sirk. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, USA, 1994.
- Douglas Sirk at the Internet Movie Database
- "Douglas Sirk" Yahoo! Movies
- "Douglas Sirk" MSN Movies
- "The Films of Douglas Sirk: The Epistemologist of Despair", by Fred Camper