Aspiring actress Lora Meredith meets Annie Johnson, a homeless black woman at Coney Island and soon they share a tiny apartment. Each woman has an intolerable daughter, though, Annie's little girl Sarah Jane, is by far the worse. Neurotic and obnoxious, Sarah Jane doesn't like being black; since she's light-skinned (her father was practically white), she spends the rest of the film passing as white, much to her mother's heartache and shame. Lora, meanwhile, virtually ignores her own daughter in a single-minded quest for stardom. Written by
For a long time Douglas Sirk was dismissed by all but he most insightful critics. It was thought that he made a series of well crafted, well acted, but ultimately empty"weepies"(as well as "americana" films, a swashbuckler( Captain Lightfoot), a revisionist western( Taza Son of Cochise),and a sandals and toga epic(Sign of the Pagan.)
However, the "weepies" have been reevaluated( and the Americana films may be reevaluated as well).Sirk is now seen as one of the most significant American directors of the fifties, and, perhaps, as one of the hundred greatest directors of all time. Imitation of Life was his last Hollywood pictures, and one of his best. I call this film, "Canned goods as caviar", because it is an example of taking a "low brow" genre and transforming it into art. Sure, the music is melodramatic, sure the performances by Gavin and Turner are somewhat contrived), sure, the story is campy, but Sirk in his genius transforms melodrama into a scathing critique of materialism, conformity, and racism. Sirk was no cynic, but a rigorous moralist-a superbly educated and sensitive man, steeped in European and American literature.
One of the most astonishing-and misunderstood- elements in this picture is the incandescent performance by Juanita Moore. Moore achieves what is almost impossible; she portrays human goodness. Ican rarely think of a time when an American film has more saintly, more purely Christian figure.
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