Imitation of Life, released in 1959 and Sirk’s final American film before banishing himself to Europe, sees Lana Turner as aspiring New York actress Lora Meredith. She’s a down-on-her-luck wannabe waiting for a big break when a day at the beach with young daughter Susie (later played by Sandra Dee) changes her life. When Susie goes missing briefly, she runs into Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) a kindly black woman Lora is surprised to learn is the mother of white girl Sarah Jane (later played by Susan Kohner). A friendship is forged as despite her own financial destitution, Lora offers Annie and Sarah-Jane a place to stay temporarily; an arrangement and friendship – with Annie as maid – that will last for many years.
Lora’s love life becomes complicated when the younger man she initially falls for, photographer Steve (John Gavin) – also first encountered on the beach that day – gets trampled by her ambitious rationalisations at every turn. Inevitably Lora is taken under the wing of the writer, David Edwards (Dan O’Herlihy), who gives her the crucial break that sets her star into orbit – cue a glitzy montage covering Lora’s decade-long rise – and she remains loyal to him, maintaining the delusion of a real love that wavers on a deeper level. —Screenfanatic.com
The film director Douglas Sirk, whose reputation blossomed in the generation after his 1959 retirement from Hollywood filmmaking, was born Hans Detlef Sierck on April 26, 1900, in Hamburg, Germany to a journalist. Both of his parents were Danish, and the future director would make movies in German, Danish and English. His reputation, which was breathed to life by the French nouvelle vague critiques who developed the “auteur” (author) theory of film criticism, casts him one of the cinema’s great ironists. In his American and European films, his characters perceive their lives quite differently than does the movie audience viewing “them” in a theater. Dealing with love, death and societal constraints, his films often depend on melodrama, particularly the high suds soap operas he lensed for producer Ross Hunter in the 1950s: Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), and his last American film, Imitation of Life (1959). (Sirk’s favorite American film was the Western… read more
One of Sirk's richest masterpieces: cruel and cynical, but moving and gorgeous to behold. Perhaps the darkest film Sirk ever made about America, as well as a triumphant farewell to it. Sirk's social criticisms are extreme and pessimistic, but what makes this timeless is the human element at the heart of it, and Sirk remains one of cinema's most powerful purveyors of human nature at its most desperate.
One of the most intricate portrayals of racial tension and gender politics I've seen. The best thing about Sirk's films is that you can read them on two levels - one, the film itself, and two, its making. The fact that a white girl is cast as Sarah Jane says something about race, doesn't it?
Anthology Film Archives' recent "Imitations of Life: Stahl vs. Sirk" series demonstrates that, though John M. Stahl and Douglas Sirk both labored