Imitation of Life

“For his last Hollywood film, released in 1959, the German director Douglas Sirk unleashed a melodramatic torrent of rage at the corrupt core of American life—the unholy trinity of racism, commercialism, and puritanism. The story starts in 1948, when two widowed mothers of young daughters meet at Coney Island: Lora Meredith (Lana Turner), an aspiring actress, who is white, and Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore), a homeless and unemployed woman, who is black. The Johnsons move in with the Merediths; Annie keeps house while Lora auditions. A decade later, Lora is the toast of Broadway and Annie (who still calls her Miss Lora) continues to maintain the house. Meanwhile, Lora endures troubled relationships with a playwright (Dan O’Herlihy), an adman (John Gavin), and her daughter (Sandra Dee); Annie’s light-skinned teen-age daughter, Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), is working as a bump-and-grind showgirl and passing as white, even as whites pass as happy and Annie exhausts herself mastering her anger and maintaining her self-control. For Sirk, the grand finale was a funeral for the prevailing order, a trumpet blast against social façades and walls of silence. The price of success, in his view, may be the death of the soul, but its wages afford retirement, withdrawal, and contemplation—and, upon completing the film, that’s what Sirk did.” (Richard Brody, The New Yorker)

1959 Dir. Douglas Sirk 1.85:1 Color dcp 125 min.