Tears Without Laughter

Deciphering audience responses to Douglas Sirk, in the U.S. and Japan
by Chris Fujiwara   posted Aug 18, 2008

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Could it not be that the primary concern of American audience members is proving that they are among the most wised-up people in the theater, whereas the primary concern of Japanese audience members is not doing anything that might be interpreted as offensive and rude to the director, the theater manager who chose to screen the films, or other audience members who might be interpreting the moment sincerely? Hence the Japanese refusal to laugh aloud at anything that wasn't obviously originally seeking laughter.
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Ed, I fail to see how a lack of an audible reaction from an audience can possibly diminish "the visceral impact of images." If the image has an impact and you feel it, you don't need a noise to confirm for you that you feel it. On the other hand, I discuss "appropriate" laughter in the penultimate paragraph of the article, where I think I make it clear that, contrary to what you say, I don't "classify all laughter as... ironic, dismissive, or invalid." Anyway, I see that in the comments on girish's blog, you say you've never seen a Sirk film with an audience. If you ever do, I wish you luck. In the meantime, if you want to laugh at Written on the Wind in your own home, no one is arguing that you can't.
Chris F.   posted 31.08.08

You've left out an important fifth category in drawing together your assumptions about why audiences react the way they do. Why do you think it's so impossible for viewers to laugh while also appreciating the deeper emotional and thematic undercurrents behind these images? I doubt that Sirk intended for images as potent and lurid as the oil derrick or the boy riding the horse to pass by in stoic silence -- this lack of reaction diminishes the visceral impact of these images far more than laughter does. I think it's a mistake to classify all laughter as an ironic, dismissive, or invalid response to Sirk. I too wouldn't appreciate a loud, campy audience for, say, "Written on the Wind," but there are ways of laughing in response to Sirk that are not laughing AT Sirk or his characters.
Ed Howard   posted 28.08.08


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Courtesy The Criterion Collection
Lauren Bacall and Rock Hudson in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind
Photo Gallery: Tears Without Laughter


July 19-25, 2008 Douglas Sirk Retrospective


Chris Fujiwara's latest book, Jerry Lewis, is published by University of Illinois Press.

More articles by Chris Fujiwara
Author's Website: insanemute.com