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Mildred Pierce DVD

By Mags L Halliday on 23 January 2012

Todd Haynes’ latest love letter to Sirkian Hollywood melodrama, ‘Mildred Pierce’, suggests melodrama should get a restraining order.

I like the return of slow paced drama to television. I like series unafraid to take time over revealing each twist and turn. But what works for ‘Mad Men’ doesn’t work for ‘Mildred Pierce’. In ‘Mad Men’, the long reveal is that every character is unhappy beneath their perfectly dressed images.

In ‘Mildred Pierce’ the long reveal is focused on the main character’s suffering. And nothing else. The camera lingers on it, it refracts it through glass darkly and it takes 336 agonisingly long minutes over it.

I’ve also watched a lot of post-war Hollywood melodrama, although not as much as Haynes. You know what those ‘women’s pictures’ were? Short. The Curtiz ‘Mildred Pierce’ was 111 minutes with an extra plot thrown in. Such films also offered the target audience images of women’s lives as difficult, tough and able to reduce even the basilisk-eyed Joan Crawford to tears.

I don’t have a problem with a new adaptation of Cain’s novel, or Winslet as a new Crawford. She may be one of the few mainstream film stars willing to play unlikeable women, and to have a realistic body shape, and she is undeniably excellent in this. But I do have a problem with a camera lingering on a woman’s suffering so voyeuristically.

The design detail is astonishing, and the overall mise-en-scene has been colour-graded to the perfect retro palette. Yet, again, this doesn’t work for me as well as it should. As with ‘Far From Heaven’ (my favourite Haynes), there’s been such an effort to create an image of perfection that the emotions behind the image have been burnt away.

The best example that sums up my response to all this is towards the end of episode two. Mildred has been off having her first ever orgasms with the Clark Gable-ish Monty Beragon. No sooner does she get home than she’s told her youngest daughter is dangerously ill in hospital (subtle subtext there). The images are stunning and Winslet’s expressions are wretched, but the poor exposition and prolonged lingering on pain left me cold. And this is before we get to the other daughter’s various attacks on her mother…

There’s a whole other article to be written about the dubious messages being sent here. The Great Depression is clearly supposed to make us think about the current ‘economic downturn’ but the solution to that is… baking? Really? There’s a real #middleclasswoes element to some of this. The Pierces never contemplate moving to a smaller house in a cheaper area, for example.

‘Mildred Pierce’ is beautiful but it isn’t pleasant.

‘Mildred Pierce’ is available now on DVD and Blu-ray

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