Far From Heaven [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (24th December 2019).
The Film

Hold on, is it 1957 again, or is this an episode of "Mad Men" (2007-2015) that I missed? Capturing that Douglas Sirk look, director Todd Haynes pays tribute to the German born filmmaker with his film, "Far From Heaven", but unlike Sirk, Haynes allows his characters to actually address the real life issues that arise. Starring Julianne Moore as Cathy Whitaker. A housewife who leads a charmed life in a wealthy Hartford community. Married to Frank (Dennis Quaid), a hard working advertising executive, the film opens on a scene where Cathy receives a phone call from the local police department that her husband has been arrested and he needs her to bail him out. This is the first hint that something dark and troubling is on the way to rock Frank’s secured world. Apparently arrested on a charge of loitering in a men’s room, Frank is the epitome of masculinity, but that façade is about to crumble before us.

Some people have criticized Haynes work for being a gag and remarked that this is a kitschy filled cliché about homosexuality and the color barrier, but I beg to differ. I believe that Haynes enjoyed the melodramas that Sirk is famous for and decided to use them as the inspiration for this film. Indeed, the film was written by Haynes and is directly influenced by Sirk’s 1955 film "All That Heaven Allows" starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman and just like his cinematic hero used the colors of Technicolor film stock to bring his story to life, so does Haynes as the film looks like it could have been made in the 1950’s, but it was made in 2002. But that is the type of director Haynes is; he is driven by details and his characters are authentic in many ways. If we examine his earlier films, we can see that Haynes is a master of the use of genre. In his first film, "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story" (1987) the director told the story of Karen Carpenter and her tragic end, but by using Barbie dolls for the actors. He next directed the film "Poison" (1991) that used three storylines influenced by the writings of Jean Genet, but it utilized the familiar horror/science fiction genres to tell its story. "Safe" (1995) was his first outing with star Julianne Moore about a modern housewife who suffers from extreme allergic reactions to modern suburban life. Next up was "Velvet Goldmine" (1998) which explored the world of glam rock and drew from the real life adventures of rock stars David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. So we can clearly see that the director liked to mix his styles up and his vision is authentically his own.

As I watched this film, I thought to myself that the neighborhood from David Lynch’s haunting vision of small town America in "Blue Velvet" (1986) must be located nearby. Then I thought of other small towns and how they were portrayed in American cinema: Alfred Hitchcock’s town of Santa Rosa in "Shadow of a Doubt" (1943), the neglected motel outside of town in "Psycho" (1960), the North Texan town in Peter Bogdanovich’s "The Last Picture Show" (1971); all these places were places where gossip freely flowed and your business quickly became someone else’s business. Whenever a stranger arrived in town, the regulars in the taverns would stop talking and stare. It’s that small town mentality that Haynes perfectly captures in this film, and it just adds to the claustrophobic feel of the film. In a small town, there are no secrets and no matter where you go or what you do, there are always plenty of prying eyes to be witness to private acts.

When Frank leaves the movie theatre and enters the unmarked gay bar, it is like he is entering a secret world, one that requires you to show identification to the doorman, and its atmosphere is dark and smoky. Haynes essentially is telling us that even though it is 1957 in Hartford, there are other places that aren’t on the brochure published by the city council. Consequently we have a similar experience when Raymond Deagen (Dennis Haysbert) takes Cathy to a black establishment for lunch; once again we are shown a strangers intrusion onto a new unfamiliar landscape, a place “even in Hartford where all the people’s skin is my color.” Haynes delights in showing the intrusion of something alien into a previously sacrosanct world, as he does when Deagen shows up at the art show, the only black face in an all-white crowd. Even the scene where Cathy ventures into the backyard to retrieve her scarf that had blown away earlier, I felt as if she had never ventured forth into this space; that this was the character’s first signs of growth as she travels the long and lonely road ahead of her.

The concept of a white woman finding an unlikely friendship with a black man, let alone feeling romantic interests in said man, in the 1950’s was unheard of, but Haynes is using a double barrelled approach to project us back into the past. Homosexuality and interracial romance may seem like old hat to us now, but back in the 1950’s these topics were considered taboo. I enjoyed the director’s use of the time period ethics to lull us into a somnambulistic like trance only to shock us with his character’s awakenings. Both Frank and Cathy experience a re-awakening of a different type with Frank realizing that he is a gay man with homosexual desires while Cathy lets down her guard and is shown that it is possible to experience desire with an individual that is outside of her normal scope of acceptability. Haynes does a magnificent job using colors and lighting to convey these feelings. In his commentary track Haynes speaks about the use of a periwinkle blue shade to convey the overwhelming emotions that are being suppressed. The two characters are stricken with such guilty feelings that they cannot even begin to discuss the issues that are threatening to unravel their tightly wound marriage. Frank seeks out a physician that speaks of electroshock treatments; he also gravely warns that the chances of recovery are extremely slim as if being homosexual were a deadly cancer that attacks the healthy host. In his sorrow, Frank turns to alcohol and becomes abusive toward Cathy. Throughout the film, Cathy is our sympathetic touchpoint and it is with her that our feelings align. She goes from living a spoiled but secure existence to a new life, one without a Rock Hudson like husband. Raymond finds out first hand that discrimination effects both sides of his new friendship and that even his race finds the idea of an interracial relationship to be offensive. Raymond’s daughter ends up getting attacked by some white bullies and eventually he makes the decision that Hartford is too small for him and her. Raymond tells Cathy that he is leaving on the train to Baltimore that weekend and even though Cathy is now free from Frank, he is leery of “mixing the two worlds.” Cathy arrives at the train station and wordlessly says goodbye to her friend.

This is a near perfect film from beginning to end with realistic characters that are being forced to face the new world with all of its hard decisions. Haynes is a sensitive director and tells his story in a truly effective manner using all the tired film clichés to breathe new life into his film.

Video

Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p 24/fps HD, beautifully shot by Edward Lachman, this film captures the essence of a 50’s film, but only uses that to disguise a modern sensibility and to deliver a powerful film. The color palette was very notable with certain shades used for a variety of characters and moods. Excellent use of color throughout and the exterior scenes were fabulous.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo option. This is a balanced sound level with all dialogue being centered and crisp. Elmer Bernstein’s score is subtle and yet powerful, hinting at the changes yet to come. Optional subtitles are included in English only.

Extras

Kino Lorber has included an audio commentary with Director Todd Haynes and is filled with valuable information and he gives additional background on his inspiration and sources. Definitely a useful learning tool for fans that are interested.

"The Making of Far from Heaven" (11:32) is a fairly generic featurette.

"Anatomy of a Scene" featurette (27:28) a full length episode about the making of the film from the Sundance Channel and features some behind the scenes footage.

"A Filmmaker's Experience with Julianne Moore and Todd Haynes" featurette (5:06) featuring Julianne Moore and Todd Haynes answering questions about the film making process.

The original theatrical trailer (1:14) is included.

There are a collection of bonus trailers for:

- "The Tarnished Angels" (2:40).
- "Untamed Heart" (2:03).
- "D.O.A." (1:40).

Packaging

Comes packaged in a regular Blu-ray case.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A

 


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