The folllowing sample essay on All That Heaven Allows Analysis discusses it in detail, offering basic facts and pros and cons associated with it. To read the essay’s introduction, body and conclusion, scroll down.
Genre films were created in the golden age of Hollywood as a way to pre-sell movies. The audience knew what to expect when they went to see a musical, a western or a melodrama because of the established genre archetypes. The melodrama as a film genre dates back to the inception of those genres created by Hollywood. In the forties and fifties the melodrama was referred to as women’s films or weepies. Today melodramas are often referred to as a ‘chick-flicks’ for the same reason – because they are usually a romantic tragedy aimed at female viewers.
Since Hollywood targets it’s blockbuster pictures at young men, the melodrama is often considered the red-headed step-child genre. Thomas Schatz describes the Melodrama as: “applied to popular romances that depicted a virtuous individual (usually a woman) or couple (usually lovers) victimized by repressive and inequitable social circumstances, particularly those involving marriage, occupation, and the nuclear family” (Schatz)1 Both films, Sirk’s All that Heaven Allows and Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear eats the Soul deal with women protagonists trying to find unconventional love while suffering criticism from the society around them.
The word melodrame was first used in France meaning spoken drama with some musical accompaniment and the word melos originates from Greek meaning song. One of the key features of the melodrama is the music that accompanies the dramatic moments. The music in both films can be felt throughout, contributing to the mood of the film as much as the lighting and acting. In All that Heaven Allows Sirk uses sweeping orchestrations, common at that time, to bring the high points of the dramatic moments to a crescendo.
All That Heaven Allows Remake
Fassbinder did not have much use for an orchestra using the ethnic Arabic music and contemporary music of the time to elicit his moments of drama. His choice of music also has a great impact letting the audience feel like they are somewhere exotic when Emmi steps out of the rain into the Arabic bar. All that Heaven Allows and Ali: Fear eats the Soul are ideal films to compare because Ali is Fassbinder’s remake of Sirk’s All that Heaven Allows. While the two stories share a common story thread of an older widower falling in love with a younger man, the films have a lot less in common than you’d expect.
In All that Heaven Allows Jane Wyman’s Cary Scott character is in her forties, she falls for Rock Hudson’s Ron Kirby who is a few years younger than her, but more importantly he is not in the same elite suburban class Cary. Cary’s society life and her children are just some of the forces that drive them apart. The class difference in Ali does not exist, but in its place there are cultural and race issues – topics that would have been hard for Sirk to explore in Hollywood in the fifties – and an exaggerated age difference between Brigitte Mira’s Emmi and El Hedi ben Salem’s Ali.
Fassbinder also chose to tell a larger story. While Ron and Cary meet in the beginning of All that Heaven Allows they are kept apart until the end of the film, Fassbinder chose to deal with the aftermath of Emmi and Ali’s decision to get married. To understand both films with regards to the genre and sub-genre we must look more closely at the familial interactions in the melodramas themselves. While All that Heaven Allows can be put into the sub-genre of the family melodrama, Ali: Fear eats the Soul cannot. In All that Heaven Allows Jane Wyman’s Cary sacrifices her love life for her children.
A year later her children have all but abandoned her to live their own lives and she is left trapped her living room, reflecting in her misery upon her new companion, the television screen. “The family melodrama by contrast, though dealing largely with same oedipal themes of emotional and moral identity, more often records the failure of the protagonist to act in a way that could shape the events and influence the emotional environment, let alone change the stifling social milieu. The world is closed, and the characters are acted upon.
Melodrama confers on them a negative identity through suffering, and the progressive self-immolation and disillusionment generally ends in resignation: they emerge as lesser human beings for having become wise and acquiescent to the ways of the world. (Elsaesser)2 In Ali, Emmi makes no sacrifice for her family, they have already abandoned her to her loneliness and when she gathers them up in her living room to introduce her new husband to her children they are driven even further from her life. Her son Bruno, most likely in homage to Sirk, smashes the television screen freeing Emmi from her lonlieness.
Although Emmi is upset that she has lost her children, she no longer needs the companionship of the TV because she has Ali. The subtle difference between Emmi’s actions and Cary’s actions differentiate the two films between family melodrama and melodrama. Another major difference between the two films is how Jane Wyman’s Cary is accepted by Ron’s friends compared to how Ali’s friends accept Emmi. Cary is immediately accepted into Ron’s extended family, while Emmi faced indifference, outrage and abuse when she encounters Ali’s friends and co-workers. Emmi and Ali’s whole relationship hinged on a dare that he should ask her to dance.
When both Ali and Emmi realize how terribly lonely they both are, and how they enjoy each others company their mutual friendship begins. At the lowest point of Emmi and Ali’s relationship she is mocked by his co-workers calling her his grandmother. Even he laughs at her, it is a testament to her strong character and her love for him that keeps her trying to win him back. In All that Heaven Allows Ron Kirby [Rock Hudson] was the strong character, an emotional rock that represented a positive alternative lifestyle for Cary [Jane Wyman] with his views on nature and his love of books like Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
In stark contrast Ali is a flawed character and when he is marginally accepted into Emmi’s world he has an identity crisis and flees into the bed of a former lover and her couscous. He ultimately falls to the fear and stress of being an outsider, making Emmi in some ways the stronger character. Ron Kirby’s only mistake was slipping off the side of a cliff when he sees Cary driving away. What is true with every genre holds true with the family melodrama and that is good consistent characters make the emotional highs believable and the lows sustainable until the next high arrives.
Sirk’s characters were not only believable, but they helped subvert the political climate of the time by painting a tender and desirable portrait of the outsider. The outsider, Rock Hudson’s Ron Kirby, was a good person who embraced un-American ideals – his views on work, his closeness with nature and his society-be-damned attitude could have been viewed as communist propaganda in a time where McCarthyism dictated Hollywood morals. It was precisely this outsider as a hero portrayal that Fassbinder enjoyed. Fassbinder was a gay filmmaker in Germany in the late 60’s and 70’s and he was an outsider.
As evinced in Ali, everyone could still remember what it was like when Hitler was in power, his favorite restaurants and how everyone was in the Nazi party. Twenty or thirty years earlier gays along with Gypsies, communists and Jews were the pariah of society, and were taken away for being outsiders.
There are two minor characters in each story that are sympathetic, if not supportive of the lead women’s quest to find love and happiness. In All that Heaven Allows the doctor advises her to ignore what other people think and be with Ron. Not being with him is causing her migraines and unhappiness. The landlord’s son in Ali is a similar to the Doctor. He may represent what Fassbinder hopes how all Germans should behave. When we are introduced to him, he thinks that Ali is a subletter, but when he finds out that they are to be married he is not judgmental even though the audience expects it.
When the other tenants in the building complain to him about Ali, he scolds them for trying to upset Emmi’s happiness. These characters are minor, but placing them alongside the larger story it helps the melodrama from seeming hopeless for the audience. The melodrama is close cousin to the film noir genre. Both genres use objects to box in and trap their protagonists. The use of mirrors and shadow evoke emotions that would not be as effective as dialogue. Sirk was a master at mirror and shadows, caging Jane Wyman’s Cary in a suburban house and forcing her to sit alone with her television.
Her daughter references the Egyptian widows being buried alive with their husband and how they don’t want that for her mother, but not only do they plan just that, they will move her to a smaller tomb and force her to keep company with Uncle Milty and her new Television. Fassbinder achieves the same moodiness keeping Ali and Emmi boxed in with brilliant framing. He did not use shadows to evoke emotion as did Sirk, but instead used distance to convey a sense of loneliness. When his characters were being judged by society they could be found behind doorframes, staircase railings and a sea of empty tables and chairs.
Fassbinder’s French New Wave roots let whole scenes run with one take and simply panning from one character to another as if we were eavesdropping on their lives. What is important to Cary is representative of the time that All that Heaven Allows was filmed. Standing in the community and being proper. The same can be said to be true about Emmi in Ali. What is important to her isn’t what people think, she is clueless as to what is wrong with foreigners, but the most important thing to her is happiness.
In one scene her co-workers complain that foreigners are lazy and lay about having sex and drinking all day long and in the next scene she visits her daughter and her son-in-law, who is at home pretending to be ill and drinking. Her worst critic was the cleaning woman who in the end turns out to be stealing from the company. These movie genre guidelines might seem inhibitive to creative directors like Douglas Sirk or Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but in fact they may have been liberating, allowing them greater freedom to explore character development and occasionally break these rules with greater impact.
Sirk was able to make movies during the forties and fifties that Fassbinder described as “subversive political statements” that were “effective instruments against social oppression” within the Hollywood studio system because of the freedom that the genre archetype afforded him. Sirk’s Hollywood melodramas were made at a time when studios exerted strict control over the messages in its films fearing for the industry itself during McCarthy era politics.
What Fassbinder found in Sirk’s films was a way to tell a narrative story within the boundaries of the genre while still being subversive. Fassbinder’s earlier films were more Godardian in nature pulling the viewers abruptly out of the story. With Sirk’s influence Fassbinder managed to pull the viewer into the narrative of the melodrama so the audience would care about his characters, but still maintain a topical distance so the viewer would have to think about the subject matter and apply it their everyday life.
Fassbinder was part of a movement of new German filmmakers who were flouting the classical Hollywood cinema style because they felt the characters were tepid, with problems that were glossed over for ‘pretty boy’ actors and actresses. Whether Sirk was able to slip a subversive film past the Hollywood Studios by putting in a happy deer frolicking by the window in the closing credits of All that Heaven Allows or whether there was just a different mindset running the studios back then, Sirk was able to make strong social commentary on conformism, materialism and television.