By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Indeed, when Rock Hudson's millionaire bad boy first appeared onscreen, I was able to fully indulge the film geek within me. I thought about how Sirk's story of Hudson finding spiritual fervor in righting a cosmic wrong on behalf of Jane Wyman's blind widow played like a sermon delivered by a preacher still working out his feelings about faith and forgiveness. I remembered a recent press screening of Todd Haynes' loving, emotionally trenchant Sirk homage Far From Heaven, coming out soon, and realized again how Sirk's themes, his repertoire of socially conscious soaps, are as modern as ever.
Then suddenly . . . a laugh. I didn't notice a funny line -- what happened?
Another laugh rang out. Then another, rippling outward. Are they laughing at the movie?
Woman behind me: HAW! HAW! HAW! Man behind me: SNORT! SNORT! HA! Woman behind me: HAW! HAW! HAWWWWW!!!
They seemed loud enough to give Pete Townshend tinnitus all over again.
Is Magnificent Obsession kitschy? Gloriously. Is it an almost 55-year-old movie? From its line readings to its production design to its crescendo-laden score. Does it deserve the derisively snotty laughter that was permeating the Getty's Harold M. Williams auditorium? Absolutely not.
But the audience, I realized, was dividing into two factions: people there to admire Sirk, and people there to laugh. Mere shushing wasn't going to take care of the problem, either. This movement had followers. It was as if I were in grade school again, watching bullies take over the class. But did that make me a film nerd and the laughers the cool people? Was it an age thing? The guy and girl behind me -- the room's loudest -- seemed my age, mid-30s, maybe younger. A quartet of older moviegoers ahead of me -- there, perhaps, to fondly recall a film from their youth -- didn't laugh once.
Believe me, I know how to laugh at movies. I have a group of friends who regularly get together in someone's living room to ridicule iconic movies. I can't even say we've always kept our Mystery Science Theater 3000-ish fun to ourselves, once having memorably stormed the opening day of the Mariah Carey bomb Glitterto make public hash out of it. And I could definitely find the humor in the scene in which Hudson woos Wyman at a Swiss mountain village during a festive re-creation of a witch burning. But I was starting to get the picture that Rock Hudson's mere presence onscreen was setting off the laughter. Could it be that 20 years after his death people look at Hudson as a figure to mock? "Everything you do is funny because you were a secret homosexual!" the laughter seemed to say. It's a shame that his character's tortured secrecy (feeling responsible for Wyman's husband's death and wondering if anonymous philanthropy will ever heal his suffering) couldn't be seen as simply part of the rich performance that it was by an underappreciated actor.
Then came the scene where Wyman's grieving widow gets hit by a car, and the couple behind me practically convulsed with laughter. This was too much for the Sirk lovers. A woman in my row bolted up and angrily worked her way to the aisle. "I have to move because I don't have a cork!" she said. Two men behind her seconded her motion toward a neck-straining but quieter front-and-side seat.
"What's the matter?" snorted Jerk Guy when he noticed the mini-exodus his behavior was causing. "Don't they know it's a comedy?"
Well, no, actually, we didn't. Sirk's film is an exquisite tragedy. But the saddest thing that night might have been the sight of the man to my left watching the film's climax -- Hudson taking his shirt off to prep for surgery on the brainof the woman who represents his salvation -- with his hands over his ears, as the couple behind him reached a pinnacle of mood-shattering braying.