Dec 12, 2014
While it has become somewhat paradoxically trendy, especially in America and the rest of the declining West, for people to proclaim they do not care what other people think about them and to project an image of anti-conformity and uncompromising individualism, I can honestly say I could care less what most people think of me to the point of a reckless fault and hold no allegiance to anything or anyone and never well. I cannot help it, I was born that way, so it is quite incomprehensible to me that someone would throwaway a great love or passion merely because their family, clique, and/or social group does not approve of it and it almost makes me feel almost borderline murderously misanthropic to think of such a scenario. I have always found the mindless conformity of the so-called fairer sex to be especially annoying to the point where I have to somewhat agree with Otto Weininger when he wrote that women are completely devoid of true individuality, hence why they are willing to mutilate their bodies, starve themselves, or even abort their own unborn children just to fit in and dodge some petty social stigma that would not bother any man with an ounce of personal integrity. Indeed, it is no coincidence that many of the worst and most murderous authoritarian regimes were able to gain power as a result of the strong support they received from women. After all, how else would a double-bastard mulatto and glorified hustler pimp politician rise to the presidency in the United States if it were not for the masses of unthinking women who wet their panties and swooned over him. Unquestionably, one of the more tragic everyday examples of deleterious female conformity is when a woman denies herself the one man she truly loves so as not to rile up the equilibrium of her static social class, community, and/or jealous family, as if it is solely these group’s decision as to who a woman can or cannot fuck while in her bedroom. Of course, such scenarios have been the central themes of countless films ranging from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo and Juliet adaptation to Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990), but the master of such sickening everyday scenarios was New German Cinema alpha-auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder who dreamed up such daring tragic romances as that of a fellow known simply as ‘The Rich Jew’ starting a love affair with a German prostitute with a gay pimp for a husband whose drag queen cabaret singer daddy is an ex-SS man who may have gassed her lover's parents in a concentration camp via his controversial banned play The Garbage, the City, and Death. Of course, like any filmmaker, Fassbinder had his influences, with Danish-German auteur Douglas Sirk (Magnificent Obsession, A Time to Love and a Time to Die) being one of his most important and overt teachers. In fact, Fassbinder’s award-winning classic work Angst essen Seele auf (1974) aka Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is more or less an all the more subversive updated West German reworking and homage to Sirk’s lusciously kaleidoscopic Hollywood Technicolor melodramas Imitation of Life (1959) and especially All That Heaven Allows (1955). As an unrepentant Fassbinder fiend, I naturally had to get around to seeing All That Heaven Allows, which I watched for the second time just the other day. In our decidedly decadent post-Sex and the City zeitgeist of MILF mania where older women see it as some sort of status symbol to get with a younger man, Sirk’s film about a suburban New England widow who faces scorn from here college-brainwashed adult children and country club friends after she becomes engaged to her much younger and less socially conscious gardener, but the May-September romance All That Heaven Allows is still strikingly penetrating in its merciless depiction of the pettiness of people, especially of the soulless and sterile suburban sort, in the face of a very special love they dare not officially acknowledge, let alone sanctify.
Cary Scott (Ronald Reagan’s first wife, Jane Wyman) lives a banal and barren existence as a widowed mother of two idiotically idealistic college students, with the daughter being an aspiring social worker who is brainwashed by Hebraic twaddle imported from the intellectual ghettos of Europe like Freud and the son being a sort of majorly materialistic softcore psychopath and novice workholic. Everyone in Cary’s life, including her ostensibly ‘modern’ children, think they know how she should live her life and waste no time telling her what they think she should do with it, even though they clearly do not understand her at even the most fundamental level. For example, her social worker daughter Kay (Gloria Talbott), who is surely a ‘liberal’ of her time that stylizes herself as an ‘enlightened progressive’ type and ‘independent woman’ who believes she is some sort of beacon of rationality, thinks she should marry some intolerable old fart named Harvey (Conrad Nagel), who later proves he is a crypto-sleazebag after he manhandles Cary while giving her a big nasty unwelcomed kiss and then makes her the sleazy and less than subtle offer, “why don’t we meet in New York? I know a place.” As Kay states herself, “I like Harvey…He’s pleasant, amusing, and he acts his age,” as if she fears the idea of her mother having a passionate love affair or even sex. In short, Cary’s would-be well meaning children and friends have no clue what is right for her or what makes her happy, as they are only concerned with how her personal relationships affect their own shallow lives and social standings. While Cary’s husband was a successful businessman and pillar of the community who was beloved by all the automatons that lurk at the local country club, Cary is a more sensitive and introverted person who would rather disappear into a crowd than be noticed and she pretty much lives the underwhelming existence of a non-person, which she is fine with. Since she keeps a relatively low-profile, Cary is oftentimes the object of gossipy speculation, with one country club cunt remarking in regard to her, “I can never decide whether Howard’s wife is a saint or just not very bright,” thus reflecting her dubious position in the community. Indeed, Cary seems like she has been relegated to a sort of suburban purgatory of no return until she meets a tall, dark, and handsome gardener named Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), who has taken over his recently deceased father’s gardening business. Cary immediately becomes smitten with Ron’s charm, confidence, intelligence, and naturalistic yet poetic outlook on life. When Ron states regarding Koelreuteria trees that according to Chinese legend, “They say it can only thrive near a home where there’s love,” Cary replies that it is a “beautiful legend” and practically creams her panties. Undoubtedly, Ron has a sort of entrancing power over Cary and he will inspire her to do things she never thought imaginable. Unfortunately for Cary, her kids and friends have very different expectations for her.
When Ron invites Cary to his rural home under the pretense of seeing his much prized silver spruce trees, she at first says no because she instinctively knows it would be a ‘subversive’ act in the eyes of her friends, but she immediately has second thoughts and goes with him. Ron lives in a secluded country home that is largely a greenhouse and remarks to Cary upon showing it to her, “I can see that a woman might not like it, but it does very well for me,” to which she symbolically replies, “If one likes to live in a glass house.” Indeed, while Ron is not afraid to live in a ‘glass house’ as an innately individualistic man who can be himself in front of anyone at any time without feeling an inkling of shame or guilt, no matter who they are, Cary hides in the shadows of her suburban prison while hoping no one notices her. Of course, before she knows it, Ron is kissing her and from there, Cary is introduced to her new young lover’s Thoreau-esque life of simple anti-materialistic living and tree-hugging. When Cary is brought to Ron’s friends the Anderson’s remote nursery, she is initially bewildered by the experience and even becomes so paranoid that she suspects her beau’s pal Mick (Charles Drake) is laughing at her, but her fears are soon calmed by the accepting and hardly judgmental nature of these proud anti-conformist folks. Mick met Ron during the Korean War and because of him, he went from being a materialistic advertising agent who had a rocky relationship with his wife Alida (Virginia Grey) and who devoted his life to “keeping up with the Joneses,” to becoming a rabid anti-materialistic proto-hippie who calls Thoreau’s Walden his bible and lives by the personal philosophy, “To thine own self be true.” When Cary asks Alida if Walden is also Ron’s bible, she replies, “I don’t think Ron ever read it, he lives it. You see, Ron’s security comes from inside himself and nothing can ever take it away. Ron absolutely refuses to let unimportant things become important.” Unfortunately, Cary is exactly the sort of person who allows unimportant things to become important to her, as she lives in a suburban fantasy world of cowardly conformist artificiality and because of this, her romance with Ron will be the subject of unwavering hatred, scorn, and ridicule.
When Ron proclaims his love to Cary and asks her to marry him, she initially thinks the idea is crazy and hysterically complains “can’t you see it’s impossible?”, but she naturally soon gives in. As Ron tells her, “this is the only thing that matters” and “You’re running away from something important because you’re afraid,” but of course Cary will soon forget his words when she faces a deluge of venomous antagonism from her spoiled and self-centered brat kids, fair-weather friends, nosy neighbors, and compulsively callous country club comrades. Indeed, when Cary lets her kids know that she is engaged, they are quite excited as they assume she plans to marry seemingly benign old fart Harvey and her son Ned (William Reynolds) even remarks “Don’t worry, Mother. We’re all for it,” but when she reveals it is actually Ron who she plans to spend the rest of her largely misspent life with, they both turn into irrational animals of the incessantly bickering and bitchy sort. While they both reluctantly agree to meet Ron, things soon turn ugly quick when he arrives and refuses to bend the knees while being interrogated by his beloved's bratty spawn. Using what she describes as a “detached” approach to questioning her mother's less than auspicious engagement, Cary’s daughter Kay attempts to talk Ron out of the marriage by stating, “You don’t know Mother as we know her. She’s really much more conventional…than you seem to think she is. She has the innate desire for group approval, which most women have.” Ultimately, both children contrive totally bullshit excuses to get away from Ron only minutes after meeting him. When Cary brings her dashing beau to a party comprised of all her country club friends held at her best friend Sara’s home, it is ultimately an abject disaster that results in some superlatively self-righteous busybody bitch having the gall to call Ron “positively murderous” after he grabs and threatens Harvey for groping his beloved fiancée. When Kay gets home that night after the nightmarish party, her nasty little Mad Men-esque son confronts her, accusing her of being a whore by hatefully stating, “I think all you see is a good-looking set of muscles,” and even tells her that he will never ever visit her again if she gets married to Ron because he would be too “ashamed.” Even daughter Kay, who sees herself as some sort of freethinking progressive type, hatefully attacks Cary by remarking, “you love him so much you’re willing to ruin all of our lives?” while sobbing hysterically. Needless to say, the suburbanites of All That Heavens Allows provide more than enough reasons as to why the commies might be right when they call for the extermination of the bourgeoisie.
Of course, feeling depressed and isolated after all her friends and family gang up on her with the utmost malice, Cary goes to Ron and tells him that she wants to postpone the marriage so that everyone in her community can get “used to” their unconventional relationship and he replies by somewhat sarcastically remarking, “you mean we’ll invited to all the cocktail parties?,” thus reflecting his disapproval of her willingness to sacrifice their love just because a bunch of fake ass wine-sniffers disapprove of it. Unconsciously projecting her own feelings onto Ron, Cary accuses him of forcing her to choose between him and her kids. Of course, Cary chooses her kids and leaves her lover behind to drown in a poisonous cocktail of misery and loneliness. Despite breaking off her engagement with Ron, Cary’s kids show her no gratitude and even fail to show up at her home over the weekend after promising to. Of course, Cary is still hopelessly in love with Ron and when she bumps into him while she is Christmas tree shopping, she finds it nearly impossible to obfuscate her undying love for him. As for Ron, he is so hopelessly distraught by the situation that he even loses his seemingly unconquerable confidence and becomes a grumpy and pathetic pessimist, with his friend Mick even telling him that, “you’re no good to me, yourself, or anyone” and recommending that he get back in contact with Cary, arguing it is up to him to make things right because, “She doesn’t want to make up her own mind. No girl does. She wants you to make it up for her.” Meanwhile, on Christmas, Cary learns that both of her grown children are moving away, as her daughter is getting married and her son is planning to travel around the world for his job and hopes to sell the family home, thus causing her to come to the natural realization, “The whole thing’s been so pointless” in regard to dumping Ron for the sake of her unreliable children and phoney friends. Undoubtedly, Cary’s lonely life reaches its pathetic peak in terms of phoniness and artificiality when her children give her a television set for Xmas that will ostensibly allow her to have “life’s parade” at her fingertips. When Cary goes to her physician Dr. Dan Hennessy (Hayden Rorke) because of terrible headaches that she has been routinely suffering, the doc tells her that she is suffering from no diagnosable illness and that her pain is psychosomatic and the direct result of her lovelorn longing for Ron. A truly 'good' doctor in the most fullest sense of the word, Dr. Hennessy tells Cary that her headaches are a good sign that their relationship is salvageable and encourages her to go back to Ron, which she immediately does, but upon arriving at her estranged beau’s home, she cannot find him, though he spots her, so she leaves heartbroken. Tragically, while attempting in vain to gesture to Cary from the top of a snowy mountain near his home, Ron accidentally slips off a cliff and sustains a borderline life-threatening injury (notably, Sirk originally intended to conclude the film with Ron falling off the cliff, thus leaving it up to the viewer to decide whether he survived or not). Luckily, Ron’s friend Mick’s wife immediately notifies Cary about the accident and takes her to see her bedridden beloved. When Cary arrives at her great love’s humble abode she lets him know that she’s staying for good. Of course, due to Cary’s hysterical, negligent, nonsensical, and even treacherous actions, her romantic bond with Ron will be forever tainted, not to mention the fact she has destroyed her lover’s mind and body in the process, ultimately transforming him from a proud and strong yet calm and easygoing man who is more or less the living embodiment of the Thoreauvian Weltanschauung into an lovelorn mess with the confidence of a male East Asian porn star in the middle of an all-black gang bang.
In his 1971 essay Imitation of life: On the Films of Douglas Sirk, Sirk's Bavarian spiritual son Rainer Werner Fassbinder wrote regarding All That Heaven Allows and its ironic and seemingly tacked-on happy ending, “...later Jane goes back to Rock, because she keeps having headaches, which happens to all of us if we don’t fuck often enough. But when she’s back, it isn’t a happy ending, even though they’re together, the two of them. A person who creates so many problems in love won’t be able to be happy later on. That’s what he makes films about, Douglas Sirk. Human beings can’t be alone, but they can’t be together either.” Of course, Fassbinder would take what Sirk did in his work to greater and more provocative extremes in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul by demonstrating that proles and ugly people are all the more petty and pernicious in their rejection of couples that contradict their unwritten rules of conformity. Notably, homo heeb auteur Todd Haynes would pay tribute to both Sirk and Fassbinder’s films with his relatively mainstream effort Far from Heaven (2002) starring Julianne Moore, though it is unquestionably inferior in every way to the two works that it so liberally ‘borrows’ from. Unquestionably, one of Sirk’s greatest achievements with All That Heaven Allows was managing to concoct an almost decadently aesthetically ‘pretty’ and ‘glittery’ work that somehow manages to inspire hatred, misanthropy, and even misogyny in anyone with blood pumping in their veins, especially in regard to those many individuals who have had to deal with petty and oftentimes jealous self-righteous outsiders meddling with their relationships, as if it is actually their business or something. Of course, one must also respect Sirk for directing a film that ruthlessly criticizes the very same demographic of people it was made for, as he was a sort of master of superlatively scathing passive-aggressive celluloid sadism. Indeed, despite being originally peddled as a cheap soapish sort of melodrama, All That Heaven Allows could have only been assembled by the sort of highly cultivated and dignified sort of fellow who can make the age-old expression “fuck you” seem like an exceedingly elegant term of endearment. Notably, Fassbinder also wrote in his essay on his mentor, “Sirk has said that film is blood, tears, violence, hate, death, and love. And Sirk has made films, films with blood, with tears, with violence, hate, films with death and films with life. Sirk has said you can’t make films about something, you can only make films with something, with people, with light, with flowers, with mirrors, with blood, with all these crazy things that make it worthwhile. Sirk has also said that lighting and camera angles constitute the philosophy of the director. And Sirk has made the most tender ones I know, films by a man who loves human beings and doesn’t despise them as we do.” While I can agree with most of Fassbinder's sentiments, I think that, as All That Heaven Allows exquisitely demonstrates, Sirk indubitably had hatred in his heart for a specific breed of people, but certainly the right people. Indeed, the sort of people that see it fit to despoil someone's love and happiness because something about their relationship takes them out of their oh-so precious comfort zone. As a work that loves to hate those that hate those who love unconditionally, All That Heaven Allows unequivocally demonstrates that some hatred is healthy, for one justifiably hates that which threatens something they love.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:38 PM
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