Presented in Association with The Goethe Institute
More and more, it is becoming obvious that Douglas Sirk is one of the major figures in the history of Cinema. His melodramas from the 1950s can now be seen as truly dark reflections on post-war American society. Using melodramatic formats to express a deeply pessimistic philosophy, Sirk depicts metaphorically blind characters stumbling about a mirror-world of deceptive appearances and false values. Today, Sirk is admired for his baroque explosions of color and imagery, his savage irony, and his profound comprehension of the perceptual causes of twentieth-century anxiety.
Born Hans Detlef Sierck in Hamburg in 1900, Sirk's father was a Danish newspaperman. He attended Munich University at the time of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, and later studied with Erwin Panofsky at Hamburg University. From 1921 to 1933 he worked mostly in the theater, directing plays in Hamburg, Bremen, and Leipzig. From 1935 to 1937 he directed nine films in Germany for UFA, including two enormously successful melodramas, Schlussakkord (1936) and Zu Neuen Ufern (1937). He left Germany in 1937, and made his first film - Hitler's Madman - in Hollywood in 1942. In 1949, he returned to Germany for a year in an unsuccessful attempt to work again in the German Cinema. He returned to America, and after one independent production signed with Universal, where after a few years he imposed his own daring structures, lighting and style on the series of melodramas which have become classics. After his most successful Hollywood film, Imitation of Life (1959), he retired from Hollywood, ultimately to Switzerland, coming out of retirement to stage a few plays in Munich and in Hamburg; and to teach at the Munich Film Academy, where he supervised three short student films.
His influence on the New German Cinema is enormous. Fassbinder, who considers his own Ali--Fear Eats the Soul as nothing more than a remake of Sirk's All I Desire, has written:
“...not one of us, Godard or Fuller or me or anybody else, can touch Douglas Sirk. Sirk has said: ‘cinema is blood, is tears, violence, hate, death, and love.' And Sirk has made films with blood, with tears, with violence, hate - films with death and films with love. Sirk has said: you can't make films about things, you can only make films with things, with people, with light, with flowers, with mirrors, with blood, in fact with all the fantastic things which make life worth living. Sirk has also said: a director's philosophy is lighting and camera angles. And Sirk has made the tenderest films I know, they are the films of someone who loves people....”