35. “Imitation of Life”, Douglas Sirk (1959)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Imitation of Life

Imitation of Life

dir. Douglas Sirk scr. Eleanore Griffin and Allan Scott based on the novel by Fannie Hurst cin. Russell Metty with Lana Turner, Juanita Moore, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, and Susan Kohner

In 100 words: The greatest of all “women’s picture”, Sirk created luxurious entertainment with a stinging view of American society. The lushness of its colors, designs and costumes, soaring symphonies, and actors’ dialed-up performances hide in plain sight the depth of its themes. I haven’t seen America’s racial consciousness depicted as vividly as I see here: as a battle between preservation and identification; a reflection of whiteness and its effect on black identity and their implicit servitude. It’s also a powerful story of mothers making sacrifices for their children, and the ways people act out roles in their lives. Heart-wrenching and deeply insightful.

Other Movies for Context: For me, this was a watershed for my moviegoing experience because it made me aware of how powerful cinematic entertainment can be when they have more to say than their pretty images would suggest and for kickstarting really my appreciation for exploring the depths of cinematic history. I’ve seen four of Sirk’s films. Apart from this, I have much love for All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956). His A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) may look and sound like a Sirk film, but less interesting. Sirk’s influence is palpable in the works of Haynes and Fassbinder as well, particularly Far from Heaven (2002) and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), respectively. Lastly, Sirk’s film is the second version of the Fannie Hurst novel, being adapted to a Claudette Colbert picture in 1934, which hued closer to Hurst’s original novel, although in spirit, Sirk’s version is closer.

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