In preparation for our screening of IMITATION OF LIFE, we’ve compiled a list of recommended articles. Look for a Film Note on the film early next week!
J. Hoberman’s review follows the re-release of the film in Eastmancolor, analyzing the racial politics of not just the characters, but the performers themselves. The ending’s irony is discussed as a brutal “fake happy” climax that heightens the sense of racial presence in a disillusioned environment.
Variety‘s 1959 review notes that the initial conflict in the film, an actress becoming too busy for her daughter, is overused and therefore taken over by a more secondary plot; a young black girl whom, due to her lighter features, persuades the rest of the world to believe she is white. This racially motivated and emotional relationship causes the film to evoke “love and understanding, sincerity and ambition.”
Mark Rappaport’s article offers an overview of Sirk’s career as a director and artistic partner of actor Rock Hudson. While discussing Sirk’s personal life and beliefs that enter thematically into his films, Rappaport names IMITATION OF LIFE his most successful and meaningful work.
Charles Taylor in the Village Voice claims that the film’s driving force is the director’s “deeply ironic control” over his bitter narrative. According to Taylor, the film’s tearjerker reputation is challenged by the depth of its racial viewpoints.
Ed Gonzalez’s article for Slant Magazine cites the cumulative work of Douglas Sirk as having “the very biting irony of his distinctly feminine melodramas.” While audiences can note the excessive use of color and score for its operation as a melodrama, the core of the film lies in its “rare fascination with white America’s difficulty in reading people of color.”
Thomas Caldwell’s review addresses the film’s usage of irony, gender role emphasis, and excessive stylistic choices within the mis-en-scene. Directorial decisions in music and color exaggerate the emotional status of characters in the film. Usages of “subtle racism” allow a sense of irony, particularly in a time when segregation still had an active presence in the US.