You Can’t Watch That on Netflix: Douglas Sirk’s ‘All That Heaven Allows’

Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman peer out into an artificial snowfall in "All That Heaven Allows." Credit: Criterion Collection
Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman peer out into an artificial snowfall in “All That Heaven Allows.”
Credit: Criterion Collection

‘All That Heaven Allows’
The Criterion Collection

It’s said that everything you’ll ever need to see you can stream online. This isn’t even remotely true. Back on a Blu-ray/DVD pack from Criterion comes “All That Heaven Allows,” one of Douglas Sirk’s retroactively acclaimed weepies. Here are three reasons to get your mitts on it:

1 It’s said that filmmaker Douglas Sirk — primarily cherished for his “women’s pictures” from the 1950s — slipped subversion and satire past his many audiences. But it’s hard to see how anyone could miss the harsh lesson of “All That Heaven Allows,” his 1955 weepie about the May-December romance between a well-off widow (Jane Wyman) and a much younger, studly gardener (Rock Hudson). It’s all right there on-screen: The snooty country club regulars who drunkenly condescend to Hudson; Wyman’s awful children who never give him a chance. Sirk was openly attacking small town ’50s America, siding with Hudson’s alternate lifestyle — no, not that one, but his character’s dream of a bohemian utopia, far from the rigid, inhumane people that made Sirk’s movies monster hits. No wonder the film was loosely remade as one of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s darkest dramas, “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” — then quasi-remade again as Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven,” this time adding race and homosexuality to the equation.

Jane Wyman gives a heartbreakingly reserved performance in "All That Heaven Allows." Credit: The Criterion Collection
Jane Wyman gives a heartbreakingly reserved performance in “All That Heaven Allows.”
Credit: The Criterion Collection

2 Sirk was a master stylist who with “Heaven” truly outdid himself: the colors change like a mood ring attached to Wyman’s finger. Hudson’s remote cabin in winter makes he and Wyman look like they’ve holed up in an idyllic snow globe. But the best effect of all is Wyman herself, who outdoes even Julianne Moore in “Far From Heaven.” She holds everything in, reflecting a wide spectrum of emotions with the minutest expression. She’s fragile yet finds a strength in the way she withholds emotions from those too thick to notice her sinking despair. Part of it could be autobiographical: Recently divorced from Ronald Reagan, Wyman knew that — at the spinstery Hollywood age of 38 — she would soon be put out to the pasture of television. Indeed, that adds another level to the horrific scene where her children bequeath her a new television set — a symbol of her loneliness and of Wyman’s dreaded future.

3 Since his death from AIDS outed him, you can’t watch a Rock Hudson movie with some audiences without knowing snickers about the sexual preference he and an army of studio employees kept out of the public eye. Included on Criterion’s predictably bounteous new edition of “All That Heaven Allows” is Mark Rappaport’s 1992 documentary “Rock Hudson’s Home Movies,” which heads into the fray anyway, exhaustingly combing over his clips for gay subtext that may or may not have been put there as a personal in-joke by Hudson himself. But it goes past being merely funny to a deeply moving portrait of someone forced to hide his real self from his adoring fans. It tries to give the last laugh to a man who didn’t get it.

Michael Bay and Mark Wahlberg are seen on the set of the new "Transformers." Credit: Paramount Pictures
Michael Bay and Mark Wahlberg are seen on the set of the new “Transformers.”
Credit: Paramount Pictures

You CAN watch these online:

Transformers: The Premake

Two hours and twenty whole minutes shorter than the new “Transformers” and a great deal more entertaining, Kevin B. Lee’s quicksilver “Transformers: The Premake” is a kind of found footage deconstruction of this latest Michael Bay behemoth. In it, Lee — one of the best at using video for film criticism — pieces together YouTube clips by civilians capturing the making of the film. Among its subjects is the way fandom has been used by the studios to help marketing buzz, Hollywood’s increasing union with China and whether or not tax breaks in cities like Detroit (used as a cheap Beijing) are actually benefiting the flailing local economies. It doesn’t actually make these points; there is no vocal narration and minimal on-screen typing. It shows them visually, playfully, letting you come to the awareness yourself of movies’ tilt towards a subtle but still frightening form of propaganda.

‘Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons’
Netflix Instant
It’s been awhile since Stephen Chow (“Kung Fu Hustle”) dazzled with an outsized martial arts comedy fitted with ridiculous, Looney Tunes-style special effects. Chow only directed last year’s “Journey to the West,” but his presence is felt everywhere else. And if the result is no “Hustle” or “Shaolin Soccer,” it’s still a spotty but delightful blast.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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