Thursday, July 14, 2011


USA 1959
If you have not seen imitation of life I encourage you to look it up on Netflix or pirate it or something. It might be a struggle to find, but when you do, you will not regret it.

This glossy 50's film stars the gracious and lovely Lana Turner and America's sweetheart Sandra Dee (age 16), and the lesser known Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner. The story is about ambitious Lora (Turner) and her daughter Susie's (Dee) life after they take in Annie (Moore) a black housemaid and her bi-racial daughter Sarah Jane (Kohner).

Imitation of Life is one of my favorite films. Although people say that Lana Turner is a mediocre actress, I felt that in this role she did a beautiful job. I felt the performance was genuine in relationship to the story. If one looks closely you will notice that everyone in this film is acting, and not the actors, but the characters. They all fit into their stereotypical boxes and they all play their roles. Some characters are comfortable in their roles, others are desperate to break out. 

Now the film has a heavy handed message about racial equality, which is a 30 page review by itself. But what makes this film so special is that, at the end of the day it is a story about relationships and family, not about race.

Lora's obsession with her career and her never ceasing ambition drives her to neglect her daughter. This neglect causes young Susie to seek love in the wrong places. Lora is selfish, and blindly driven by her desire for an acting career and fame. This flaw in Lora's personality leaves her young daughter desperate for love.

Annie is the polar opposite of Lora. She is kind, present and attentive to her daughter. Annie's overwhelming goodness is a product of her needing to survive in a world where she is not welcome as an equal. Annie is the eternal optimist and does not despair when life is hard, which it often was for African American women. Annie's willingness to accept the life she was given, drives a rift down the center of her relationship with her strong willed daughter, Sarah-Jane. Sarah-Jane has a hard life to be sure. Because she is bi-racial (half white half black) and is very fair skinned, she tries to pass as white in order to escape the treatment her mother endures. Despite Annie's insistence that Sarah-Jane be proud of who she is, she instead shuns her mother, not wanting the world to know that she is black. 

This film combines so many different elements of 1950’s culture. It shows the hardships of racism, and the world of fame and power. It goes from a heart wrenching story of family pain to a beautiful outdoor fashion show. It is worth a watch if you like classic films and blond bombshells.

A: Well acted, well directed, beautiful, lush cinematography. Sirk is a master. 

No comments:

Post a Comment