Saturday 25 January 2014

Imitation of Life: What Delightfully Subtle Sati- MY EMOTIONS!

Douglas Sirk was the great infiltrator of Hollywood, subtly lambasting Eisenhower-American values under the guise of critically unloved "women's pictures", while leaving a deluge of subtext for future feminist film theorists and new wave directors. Most of Sirk's melodramas have lost their actual tear-inducing ability now as they are mainly viewed by hardened cinephiles, guided to them by the likes of the more overtly edgy Rein Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes. Yet Imitation of Life is possibly Sirk's masterpiece because he manages to bring the distaste for his adopted society to the surface and wring the emotion out of it.

The colour palette here isn't as stunningly over the top as All That Heaven Allows because the relatively strong script doesn't require cinematic showmanship to carry it along. Instead Sirk pulls a cunning narrative bait-and-switch, starting to tell us the story of aspiring actress Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) before trailing off into the tortured lives of submissive black maid Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) and her fair-skinned daughter Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner). As the "struggles" of Lora become more inane and materialistic the plot line involving the black characters becomes darker and more visceral. In his final Hollywood film, Sirk slowly peels off the glossy veneer he'd brilliantly disguised his films with earlier to tell one of the most viciously honest stories of contemporary racism in America. Sirk never made another Hollywood film, and although this film had nothing to do with it (in so far as not provoking significant controversy) it's thrilling to see one of Old Hollywood's most cunning, considered and pragmatic directors kick off his heels and lay into the broken and vacuous culture that had nurtured him.

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