Tate Modern Film

Warren Sonbert: Douglas Sirk’s Tarnished Angels

Tarnished Angels

Douglas Sirk, USA, 1957, 35 mm, 91 min

Tarnished Angels, based on William Faulkner's Pylon, is a Depression-era story set during the New Orleans Mardi Gras of the 1930s. Rock Hudson plays a reporter fascinated by the marginal lives of a fairground pilot and his wife, played by Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone. Shot in lush, sweeping black-and-white CinemaScope, the camera follows with fluid sweeps and pans the tragic plight of these passionate lost souls caught in a downward spiral of obsession jealousy, self-destruction and defeat. In 1975 Warren Sonbert described Sirk’s cinema as follows:

The fetid taste of intrinsic imperfection, of behavioural mistakes endlessly repeated from generation to generation, find expression in the staggeringly demonic visual motifs recurring throughout Sirk's films of the merry-go-round, the amusement park ride, the circular treadmill, the vehicle that really goes nowhere, insulated hopeless activity, the Western frame of mind, people struggling to get outside cages of their own building yet encased by their own unique palpable qualities.

Sonbert was known not only for his films and opera reviews but he was also a noted film critic. His writings about feature films are amongst his more extraordinarily profound and insightful creations. In them, he expressed admiration for a pantheon of American directors working within the studio system, including Alfred Hitchcock, Nicholas Ray, and notably Douglas Sirk who appears in Sonbert’s film Noblesse Oblige (1981). He deeply admired Sirk's ability to expose the ‘hollow cupidity and superficiality of middle class ideals’ and to accentuate the forces of destruction rent upon the nuclear family structure of the 1950s.

Tate Modern

Starr Cinema

London SE1 9TG
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Date & Time

26 October 2013 at 15.00–17.00