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Douglas Sirk was born Hans Detlef Sierck in Hamburg, Germany in 1900, but he was mostly raised in Denmark. He returned to Germany as a young man, and worked in the theater behind the scenes, eventually directing. Starting in 1934, he directed a dozen or so movies. In 1937, he saw the danger of Hitler (especially because his wife was Jewish) and he left Germany. He moved to the U.S. in 1941, where he Americanized his name. His first movie there was not until 1943, and it was fittingly Hitler's Madman. His next movie, Summer Storm, was based on a Chekhov story, and although it was set in Russia, it was a tragic romantic melodrama quite similar to the movies he became famous for a decade later. He directed a variety of movies until 1953, when he directed All I Desire, a movie way ahead of its time, about a small town woman who is an unhappy housewife and she deserts her husband and daughters so she can have a career, and she returns ten years later. Sirk had found his formula, lavish soap opera stories of the unrest under the surface in seemingly happy situations! He followed with Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, There's Always Tomorrow, Written on the Wind, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, and his masterpiece, Imitation of Life. Each of these movies are very recognizably Douglas Sirk movies, especially remarkable because some are remakes of earlier movies. At this time, the top New York and Paris film critics were expounding the "auteur" theory of directing, and they used Sirk as an example of a great auteur. Sirk liked that this helped his reputation grow, but he disagreed that his movies were "subversive", "exposing" what was wrong in American society of the 1950s, which the same critics read into his movies. But Sirk had never really liked living in the U.S., and after he made Imitation of Life he moved to Switzerland. He made two German movies in the 1970s, and passed away in 1987 at the age of 89. Many later directors, including Fassbinder, John Waters, Pedro Almodovar, and Todd Haynes were greatly influenced by Sirk's movies. Haynes' 2002 Far From Heaven was an attempt to create a Sirk-like movie as might have been made had movie censorship been much less restrictive in the 1950s, and it is a fascinating movie.
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