Entertainment » Movies

All That Heaven Allows

by Jake Mulligan
Contributor
Wednesday Jun 11, 2014
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Only the most distinctive filmmakers get adjectives made out of their names - Tarantinian, Kubrickian, Wellesian, and so on. Douglas Sirk is one of them: You make a lush-looking melodrama, with ludicrously popping colors to match equally heightened emotions, you can bet the house that it’ll end up getting called Sirkian.

And as far as Sirk’s films are concerned, few are more definitive - more Sirkian - than his masterwork "All That Heaven Allows". Jane Wyman features as an "older" widowed upper-class woman, who spends her days thinking about her kids (they’ve moved out) and socializing with her friends (they throw a lot of cocktail parties.) That all ends, though, when she begins to spend time with her gardener Ron, played by Rock Hudson - she falls for the "Walden"-obsessed proto-hippie, and the two are quickly engaged.

Just as quickly, the whole town comes down on their love affair, condemning it as no more than carnal lust - forcing Wyman to call the whole thing off. Sirk manages to match all the shifting emotions with pulsating, pleasurable colors: when Wyman’s daughter confesses her conflicted emotions to Mom, for example, Sirk shoots the whole thing under a pain of multi-colored stained glass, shifting colors as quickly as his characters shift motivations and emotional trajectories.

Criterion’s Blu-ray release of "Heaven" comes with downright essential special features - in fact, there will probably be some viewers more interested in these side attractions than they are in the primary feature itself. Most notable is Mark Rappaport’s hour-long documentary feature "Rock Hudson’s Home Movies," long considered a lost landmark of the LGBTQ cinema scene. This documentary, narrated by Rappaport and filled with archival footage, speaks about the 50s Hollywood star’s sexuality, as well as his place within the culture. Rappaport’s film is a work of film criticism, a societal study, and a pop culture re-interpretation all rolled into one - something like "The Celluloid Closet," with an even more biting edge.

That’s only the first of many hours of extras included here: there’s also a half-hour featurette where actor William Reynolds discusses his work with Sirk, a 15-minute interview with Sirk himself (sourced from French television,) an hour-long documentary "profile" of Sirk (sourced from the BBC,) a commentary recorded by two "scholars" of melodrama, and even the original theatrical trailer for the film itself.

The influence of "Heaven Allows" has reverberated through cinema (particularly, queer cinema) history, recurring in other heightened melodramas, like in the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who halfway remade "Heaven" in his classic "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul") and Todd Haynes (who did the same with "Far From Heaven"). So yes, all these special features will help to give the film a lasting life, but its legacy - thanks to its sumptuous, singular construction - was already ensured.

"All That Heaven Allows"
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack
Criterion.com
$39.95

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