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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54. “Daisy Kenyon”, Otto Preminger (1947)

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

Daisy Kenyon.jpg

 

Daisy Kenyon

dir. Otto Preminger scr. David Hertz, based on the novel by Elizabeth Janeway cin. Leon Shamroy with Joan Crawford, Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews

In 100 words: In Daisy Kenyon, Preminger created an interesting marriage of naturalism and artifice; a melodrama built like a noir with all that word implies: the expressionistic lighting, deft camerawork and subtly gauzy images imply the characters’ internal state. At the same time, the love triangle feels surprisingly realistic, which counters whatever melodramatic impulses the story may have. Characters act impulsively, but they face their choices head-on, rather than suffering quietly. I cannot think of another movie where my allegiances shifted from one obvious choice to another and back, yet still feel like I’m not being duped. This one does that and more.

Other Movies for Context: This is often been referenced as a Joan Crawford-melodrama so I’ll start there: Mildred Pierce (1946) is obviously her crowning glory. Preminger made Laura (1944), a sensational and tightly constructed (less than 90 minutes!) film, also starring Andrews, but memorable for Clifton Webb’s kooky performance. The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) did less for me, even if I do like Frank Sinatra in it.