Todd Haynes is a film-maker you’re never quite sure whether to champion. In the past, when he’s won accolades, it’s been for something boring and indulgent, like Safe, which moved as quickly as Laurent Blanc in diver’s boots in Montreal snow. When he took a hammering, it was for the vivacious, accurate glam rock Citizen Kane that was Velvet Goldmine. Which, relevantly, was gorged with fantastic music. Now he’s everybody’s darling again, tipped to enjoy Oscar orgies with his deeply stylised Douglas Sirk homage, Far From Heaven. Under a veneer of pristine ’50s repression, it focuses on racism, homosexuality and Julianne Moore giving a performance which will be praised as “impeccably restrained”, although one wonders if, as with Safe, she was half-asleep.
It’s a visually ravishing film, if not quite the earth-shaker US critics are claiming. What’s really odd is the use of the more-than-legendary Elmer Bernstein’s old-school score. Bernstein is now 80, and without wishing to be ageist, there’s a chance that Haynes-an avowed fan of Bowie, Grant-Lee Phillips and Shudder To Think?is deploying him with steaming cartloads of skittish irony. And that old Elmer doesn’t know it. Although he made his name with the radical jazz of The Man With The Golden Arm in 1955, and remained a young buck through such gems as The Sweet Smell Of Success, he’s been a venerable institution from The Magnificent Seven onwards, and done plenty of rubbish since his 1967 Oscar for Thoroughly Modern Millie. With Scorsese’s Cape Fear there were hints of rehabilitation: it never truly transpired. The lush, sumptuous orchestration here may be Haynes’ way of satirising the period charm; for Bernstein it was surely just another day at the office. He’s so good at the genre?he IS the genre?that you go with it. Heaven, subverted from afar.