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Douglas Sirk, Aesthetic Modernism and the Culture of Modernity

Victoria L. Evans

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Examines the influence of modernist art and architecture on the work of American director Douglas Sirk

The first truly interdisciplinary analysis to link Douglas Sirk's striking visual aesthetic to key movements in twentieth century art and architecture, this book reveals how the exaggerated artifice of Sirk’s formal style emerged from his detailed understanding of the artistic debates that raged in 1920s Europe and the post-war United States. With detailed case studies of Final Chord and All That Heaven Allows, Victoria Evans demonstrates how Sirk attempted to dissolve the boundaries of cinema by assimilating elements of avant-garde art, architecture and design into the colour, composition and setting of many of his most well-known films. Treating Sirk’s oeuvre as a continuum between his German and American periods, Evans argues that his mise-en-scène was the result of an interdisciplinary, transnational dialogue, and illuminates the broader cultural context in which his films appeared by establishing links between archival documents, Modernist manifestos and the philosophical writings of his peers.


Table of Contents
List of Figures

PART ONE-Sirk and the Visual Arts

Thinking with the Heart: Sirk and Pictorial Reception
I. From the Haptic and Optic to the Affective and Brechtian
II. Going Beyond Melodrama’s Visual Metaphors

Concerning the Spiritual in Art: Magnificent Obsession and the Influence of Modernist Painting
I. Some Popular Mid-Century American Responses to Modernist Art
II. Cinema and Painting: Composing other Models

PART TWO-The Shock of the New: Traces of Modernity

The Invasion of Machines and Machine Culture
I. Softening the Armoured Heart: Douglas Sirk's The Tarnished Angels
II. Two Conflicting Views of Modern Technology

Imitation of Life and the Depiction of Suburban Space
I. Some Limitations of the Typical American Suburb
II. Stahl Versus Sirk and the Emergence of the Colour Line

PART THREE-Two Architectural Case Studies

Final Chord and "Die Neue Welt": The Mise-en-Scène of Aufbruch
I. Visions of Modernity: Interpreting the New York Skyline
II. The Weight of History: Germany's Imperial Monuments
III. Determining Final Chord’s "New World": The Textual Evidence
IV. Fashion or Revolution: Towards a Non-Bourgeois Interior

Back to the Future: Architecture and All that Heaven Allows
I. Modernism Here and There, Now and Then: Deciphering the Old Mill
II. The Mill as Architectural Art and the Selling of All That Heaven Allows
III. Stoningham as Mausoleum: a Repository of Dead Conventions
IV. The Eye of Power: Who is Looking at Whom in the Suburbs
V. Et in Arcadia Ego: The Denouement of All That Heaven Allows


About the Author

Dr Victoria Evans is the main programmer for the Dunedin Film Society and an organiser for the New Zealand International Film Festival. She is also on the national management committee of the New Zealand Federation of Film Societies. She received her phD from the University of Otago in 2008.


It has been said that many books should be written on any one auteur. Victoria L. Evans in Douglas Sirk: Aesthetic Modernism and the Culture of Modernity underscores this point. At once elegant and rigorous, Evans's attention to aesthetic, art-historical, and architectural detail make returning to Douglas Sirk a journey in intellectual delights. This book is a treasure for film studies.

- Professor David A. Gerstner, CUNY

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