Magnificent Obsession is the first of Douglas Sirk’s great Hollywood melodramas, a romantic tale of hubris and loss and sacrifice and rebirth in a rarified Technicolor world of storybook-pretty homes and sun-dappled preserves of nature. The setting is the lakeside village of Brightwood, part idyllic, unspoiled small town, part playground for the rich, all wooded and bright, but apart from a few location shots, the Eden-like town is artificially created in the movie studio to give the director a painter’s control of his portrait’s landscape. And paint he does, embracing the unreal hues and constantly playing with his light as if he was directing a piece of expressionist theater, while never breaking the spell of his heightened world of American affluence and emotional turmoil.
Rock Hudson plays a self absorbed, thrill chasing millionaire playboy who rejects his irresponsible lifestyle and transforms into a soft spoken saint after his reckless ways leave bystander Jane Wyman’s life a tragic wreck. While never a slave to realism, Sirk really uses the studio resources and the Technicolor palette to transform the screen into a canvas of exaggerated sets and artificially recreated settings painted in unreal hues. His lighting is not expressive of the physical world but of the emotional temperature of the scenes, rising and falling like the lush score.
It’s utterly irrational on the surface, a plot of contrivances for our characters to suffer through and come out the other end “earning” their ultimate happiness. Sirk’s response is to embrace the emotional responses. His unreal exaggerations offer a fantasy world of beautiful people and tortured emotions and grand sacrifice to the altar of love.
Criterion’s two-disc edition features commentary by film scholar Thomas Dohery, the original 1935 adaptation of the Lloyd Douglas novel directed by John Stahl and starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor and the feature-length 1991 documentary From UFA to Hollywood: Douglas Sirk Remembers.
Also new this week is Max Payne:
… the latest video game turned big-screen spectacle, featuring a high-concept premise, a boilerplate revenge plot, and heavy reliance on gunfire to solve the hero’s problems.never cracks a smile as the hard-boiled burnout of a cop who tracks his wife’s killer to a street tribe of drug addicts haunted by demons out of a crazed reworking of Norse mythology. It’s not so much directed as designed in bold, graphic strokes by John Moore, who evokes a comic book come to life and visualizes better than he dramatizes. The script makes no sense, and Moore doesn’t seem to care. He’s more taken with the possibilities of this hallucinatory underworld and moves the film forward on pure visual momentum, carried on the wings of its demon visions and hovering above the literal explanations and narrative confusion of the script.
Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column:
The Children of Huang Shi (“what director lacks in subtlety and restraint, he balances with a heartfelt passion for the material.”)
Repo! The Genetic Opera (“a “Phantom of the Paradise” by way of a slasher movie with a cult-star cast.”)
TV: The Rockford Files: Season Six – The Final Season:
“This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message, I’ll get back to you.” James Garner’s Rockford was the quintessential low-rent private detective in the best detective show of the seventies. An ex-con turned PI with a smart mouth, a quick wit, and a habit of winding up on the wrong end of a fist, he slips through the gray area between the cops and the crooks for $200 a day. If he’s lucky, he even collects on his fee. He handles his last cases in the sixth and final season of the show.
Moonlight: The Complete Series (“What is it about vampires and private eyes?”)
MI-5: Volume 6 (“…the entire season pivots on the political gamesmanship between the U.S. and Iran. MI-5 is stuck in the middle, trying to uncover the truth while both sides manipulate them…”)
Special Releases: MGM: When the Lion Roars:
The six-hour production was originally made for Ted Turner’s TNT network and is loaded with a wealth of film clips, interviews and rare glimpses behind the scenes, but it’s more than simply self-promotion for Turner’s film library. The story of MGM’s rising fortunes provides an overview of the changing face of Hollywood from the silent years to the contemporary era. It’s one of the best documentaries on Hollywood ever made.
George Wallace: (“Frankenheimer paints a portrait in contradiction and creates a visually dynamic drama on a limited budget.”)
El Norte: (“ ‘s 1983 immigrant drama… was added to the National Film Registry in 1995.”)
‘s wicked satire of power and (social) politics set in the overheated incubator of a high school student-body election is as sharp and perceptive now as it was in 1999…. Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor (adapting the novel by Tom Perrotta) are equal-opportunity satirists, and their sly wit dismantles everything from high school culture to suburban complacency. There’s a savage wit to the bad behavior motivated by unchecked ambition, emotional need and simple human nature, justified in self-serving monologues that reveal far more about themselves than the events they report. But even at their most extreme, these specimens of human frailty are awfully human…
The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.