“Mildred Pierce” anticipation

26 March 2011

Is it noir, or is it a women’s weeper? Mildred Pierce (1945) was both — or maybe all women’s weepers are also noir? No one understands the women’s film genre more implicitly than Todd Haynes, so I’m thrilled to anticipate his 5½ hour remake on HBO starting tomorrow night, starring Kate Winslet. Weepers don’t get much respect, of course, and the Lifetime Channel has done nothing to lift the genre’s reputation. But Haynes’ films explore intimate spaces of people’s family and imaginative lives in ways that are profound. You can watch all 43 mins of Haynes’ first film, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987), told using Barbie dolls and the Carpenters’ hauntingly soft melodies, and you’ll never think about that music the same way again:

No wonder he could make Safe (1995) or Far From Heaven (2002) with such sensitivity. Haynes was quoted in Sunday’s New York Times last weekend talking about his affinity for the “women’s film,” saying:

“Stories about women in houses are the real stories of our lives,” he said. “They really tell what all of us experience in one way or another because they’re stories of family and love and basic relationships and disappointments.”

His films aren’t perfect, but they speak to me on an emotional level that stays with me for years afterward. (Well, not I’m Not There, but that was about the shape-shifting Bob Dylan. And Cate Blanchett was pretty amazing in her turn as Dylan.) Far From Heaven wasn’t as profound as the Douglas Sirk classic on which it was based, All That Heaven Allows (1955) with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson (below), but it shows that he gets the genre on a cellular level.

I stumbled across a fascinating — and beautifully, lavishly illustrated — essay about Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession (1954) at MUBI, which sings the praises of the filmmaker’s propensity to create scenes that feel staged and even stilted for effect. Sure, you may not think of yourself as the women’s weeper type. Apparently the film critic Molly Haskell called it “the untouchable of all film genres.” But films by Sirk and Haynes are good. And, with Haynes, I think they say something intense about the emotional lives of women in houses. I can hardly wait to see Kate Winslet as the self-sacrificing mother cum self-made female entrepreneur, wrestling with a spoiled daughter, in Mildred Pierce.

3 Responses to ““Mildred Pierce” anticipation”

  1. servetus Says:

    Can’t wait to see what you write about Kate Winslett. She’s one of my favs.

  2. JustMeMike Says:

    Okay Didion – can you help me out here?

    1) I’ve not read the Cain novel
    2) I didn’t see the 1945 film with Joan Crawford

    So I started the series last night without a clue. My question is can you fill in a small gap for me. I had a long travel day and dozed off…

    Here is a brief description of what I remember before nodding out:

    a)Mildred tells Wally of her plans for a restaurant
    b)Wally shows her this empty place and it is perfect for the restaurant location
    c) There’s a small discussion about the financing and a problem because Mildred might be considered an insider because of Bert

    then I dozed off

    d) Mildred and Monte are making love –

    leaving me with:
    Who is Monte?
    How did they meet?


  3. Didion Says:

    Ahhh!! not listening, because I haven’t seen it yet (had to prep for classes, and write a whole pile of things about the new Jane Eyre) — but I promise, I’ll answer once I get the time later this week to catch that first episode. I’m really looking forward to it.

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