Both Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes have drawn on Sirk’s film melodramas in their films. Discuss the differences and similarities between their uses of Sirkian melodrama in their films Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and Far From Heaven. In developing your analysis you should engage with theoretical debates about these filmmakers’s work and theories of melodrama, and you should support your analysis through close reading of the films
Douglas Sirk, a Danish-German film director, is best known for being the father of Melodrama. He is commonly referred to as a master of the weepie (Willemen 1972) and has been an inspiration and paved the way for other directors to use and adapt his work. One film that has been embraced and recreated is All that Heaven Allows (1955). Two directors have adapted this film and they are Todd Haynes with Far From Heaven (2002), and Rainer Werner Fassbinder with Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974). They remake All that Heaven Allows in a way that uses similar concepts as Sirk does and also adapting their films to the themes and social aspects of the time they are representing (Skvirsky 2008). All that Heaven Allows Reflects on social class and age difference, where as Ali: Fear Eats the Soul demonstrates racial and age difference and Far From Heaven deals with race and homosexuality. These films are acknowledged as social melodramas, where their purpose is to encompass serious social problems that they wish to convey. Linda Williams defines several components of Sirkian qualities that are central to the melodramatic mode. They are a space of innocence, recognition of the victim-heroes virtue, and the characters struggle between their own virtues and the imposed paradigms of society (Williams 1998). I will use these concepts to compare and contrast these two adaptations of All that Heaven Allows to establish their basis as melodrama films.
According to Linda Williams, melodrama film begins in a space of innocence and also strives to end in a similar way, where at the beginning, virtue is taking pleasure in itself (Williams 1998). The stereotypical loci of such innocence are typically gardens and rural homes. This is seen in both Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and in Far From Heaven. In Ali: Fear Eats the Soul the root of the initial innocence is established in the bar that Emmi (the female protagonist) enters to avoid the rain. There she meets a Moroccan and black man by which he presents himself as Ali (his real name being too long to pronounce). Ali then asks Emmi to dance and this is where our space of innocence is presented to us. This bar is the place where the proprietor is happy to serve “guest workers” (foreigners), where there is a variety of postmodern Arab and Western music offered on the jukebox (Skvirsky 2008). Fassbinder also aesthetically strives to establish this diegetic space as the primary source of innocence through his use of soft and harmonious colours in stark contrast to the bleak and dull outside world. This is then repeated at the end of the film, after all the social strains and the tension they develop in their marriage, they find themselves dancing to the same song that they danced to at the beginning of the film. Visually, this conveys how they are trying to return to the initial place of innocence. In comparison, Far From Heaven also deploys this same technique, though not established in the same way. Instead of using a place to physical place to emphasize a space of innocence, Hayne achieves the same through his use of a symbolic object. This is manifested within Cathy’s lilac scarf, which is lost when a gust of wind blows it away. The loss of her scarf eventually leads her to Raymond Deagon (son of her original gardener) who returns it to her, and it is through this visual symbol that a sense of innocence is first established (Williams 1998). Its loss leads her to the one person who is able to converse with her, with whom she feels a deep and understanding...
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