Imitation of Life (1959)
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Douglas Sirk is a master.
Every time Imitation of Life (1959) has something interesting to say, it turns its head and forces us to watch the trite melodrama of Lana Turner's character trying to make it big (or bigger) on Broadway and her love affairs. It's a real shame. The only thing of any real interest here is Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), a fair-skinned African-American girl who can "pass" as white resenting her mother played by Juanita Moore. When Sarah Jane is a little girl (as the movie spans more than a decade of soap opera), we get glimpses of this, but then the false-sounding Lana drama takes over every time. I do wish the film would do more with the friendship between Turner and Moore's two mothers, but there's something more than off-putting about Moore's character happily acting like a servant to the family and calling the woman who is ostensibly her best friend "Miss Laura". I mean, the movie knows it's at least in part about race relations and racial identity, but look at that poster or how far down Juanita Moore is in the credits. There's about a half-hour of intriguing, progressive content, but the rest is quite dated. Sappy to a fault, I felt like it was trying to wring tears from me through the last act, but it felt so scripted and overwrought that I actually shouted at the screen in frustration a couple times.
Excellent movie, very powerful. Strong characters and a strong message. Should be on more lists and seen by everyone. A real gem.
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In 6 official lists
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This movie ranks #116 in Sight & Sound's The Greatest Films of All Time
This movie ranks #182 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films
This movie ranks #404 in The New York Times's Book of Movies
This movie ranks #452 in Time Out's 1000 Films to Change Your Life
This movie ranks #569 in David Thomson's Have You Seen?
This movie ranks #687 in Library of Congress's National Film Registry