the Locarno Film Festival recently dedicated a complete retro Douglas Sirk35 years after the death of the most famous director Melodramas filmed in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s such as Magnificent Obsession and Written on the Wind which aims to provide a new critical interpretation of his work.
Sirk, who was born in Denmark and worked in Germany, which he left for Hollywood, during Hitler’s rise to power, later returned to Europe and eventually retired to Switzerland.
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Among his most prominent fans were the late great German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Bernard Bertolucci.
For the first time, Sirk’s filmography is reviewed in the light of unpublished documents made available by the director’s family via the Douglas Sirk Foundation and kept at the Cinémathèque Suisse since 2012, thus expanding the view of this important author.
Variety spoke to Locarno’s artistic director Giona A Nazzaro about his goals for the Sirk retro. excerpts.
What are some of the main reasons behind this retro?
Douglas Sirk will always be remembered for several reasons: it is well known that when he left Hollywood he came to Switzerland and specifically to Ticino [the country’s Italian-speaking region] and he chose Ascona, a stone’s throw from Locarno, as the place where he would spend the rest of his life. First of all, let’s see Douglas Sirk as a member of the Ticino community.
The second reason is that when Locarno made a small showcase of some of his American pictures in 1978, it somehow resonated and fitted with the rediscovery of Sirk that was happening in cinephile circles at the time.
In Germany there was Fassbinder, who gave a lot of attention and is at the forefront of recognizing how important his work is. Fassbinder placed his work in a completely different context, consistent with what the Nouvelle Vague guys had done with their heroes. But since Sirk became so identified with the Hollywood melodrama rulebook, people just couldn’t look past it.
So the taste of Sirk in 1978 allowed many people to discover a master of form, and a truly political master of form.
Why is Sirk so timely?
Because he is an extremely modernist director. And in a way it’s also a continuation of the work that Locarno has done over the years to rediscover other “classic” American directors like Lubitch or Leo McCarey, Allen Dawn and others.
Yes, but why now?
The reason we are doing this now is that we finally have full access to the archives that have been deposited at the Cinematheque Swiss in Lausanne. The co-curator Bernard Eisenschitz, whose latest book is on Nicholas Ray and who has also written another pivotal book on Fritz Lang, has delved deeply into the materials. What surfaced is that Douglas Sirk isn’t just the unforgettable films he’s made in Hollywood: he’s a full-fledged European intellectual who has traversed multiple cultures. So in a way, Sirk is in line with what other directors from Germany and Austria did when they moved to Hollywood. They brought all the cultural baggage with them.
Are there other reasons?
Because right now, sirk is kind of accepted currency on the cinephile landscape. But somehow the conversation still and always revolves around these incredible Hollywood movies.
Below that and beyond there is a huge wealth of work – and also the things he did in Switzerland – this is a whole new Sirk continent to explore and we thought this was the right time .
This will be the first full Sirk retrospective. We work with several institutions Lausanne and Paris. And it will travel. It will include not only the films Sirk directed, but also those he acted in and all the documentaries made about him while he was alive and some that came after. So we’re trying to portray the man fairly thoroughly. The man; his work; His time; the different contexts in which it operated at all the different levels of complexity.